Imaging synaptic vesicle exocytosis and endocytosis with FM dyes

Nat Protoc. 2006;1(6):2916-21. doi: 10.1038/nprot.2006.476.


FM dyes have been used to label and then monitor synaptic vesicles, secretory granules and other endocytic structures in a variety of preparations. Here, we describe the general procedure for using FM dyes to study endosomal trafficking in general, and synaptic vesicle recycling in particular. The dye, dissolved in normal saline solution, is added to a chamber containing the preparation to be labeled. Stimulation evokes exocytosis, and compensatory endocytosis that follows traps FM dye inside the retrieved vesicles. The extracellular dye is then washed from the chamber, and labeled endocytic structures are examined with a fluorescence microscope. Fluorescence intensity provides a direct measure of the labeled vesicle number, a good measure of the amount of exocytosis. If the preparation is stimulated again, without dye in the chamber, dimming of the preparation provides a measure of exocytosis of labeled vesicles. With a synaptic preparation on hand, this protocol requires 1 day.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Endocytosis / physiology*
  • Exocytosis / physiology*
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Staining and Labeling / methods*
  • Synaptic Vesicles / physiology*


  • Fluorescent Dyes