Lymphocyte membrane potential assessed with fluorescent probes

Biochim Biophys Acta. 1980;595(1):15-30. doi: 10.1016/0005-2736(80)90243-6.


The membrane potential of mouse spleen lymphocytes has been assessed with two fluorescent probes. 3,3'-Dipropylthiadicarbocyanine (diS-C3-(5)) was used for most of the experiments. Solutions with high K+ concentrations depolarised the cells. Valinomycin, an inophore which adds a highly K+-selective permeability membranes, slightly hyperpolarised cells in standard (6 mM K+) solution, and in 145 mM K+ solution produced a slight additional depolarisation. These findings indicate a membrane whose permeability is relatively selective for K+. Very small changes in potential were seen when choline replaced Na+, or gluconate replaced Cl-, supporting the idea of K+ selectivity. The resting potential could be estimated from the K+ concentration gradient at which valinomycin did not change the potential-the "valinomycin null point" - and under the conditions used the resting potential was approx.-60 mV. B cell-enriched suspensions were prepared either from the spleens of nu/nu mice or by selective destruction of T cells in mixed cell populations. The membrane potential of these cells was similar to that estimated for the mixed cells. In solution with no added K+, diS-C3-(5) itself appeared to depolarise the lymphocytes, in a concentration dependent manner. With the 100 nM dye normally used, the membrane potential in K+-free solution was around -45 mV, and 500 nM dye almost completely depolarised the cells. In standard solution quinine depolarised the cells. Valinomycin could still depolarise these cells indicating that depolarisation had not been due to dissipation of the K+ gradient. Since in K+-free solution diS-C3-(5) blocks the Ca2+-activated K+ channels in human red blood cell ghosts and quinine also blocks this K+ channel it is suggested that the resting lymphocyte membrane may have a similar Ca2+-activated K+ permeability channel. Because of the above mentioned effect of diS-C3-(5) and other biological side effects, such as inhibition of B cell capping, a chemically distinct fluorescent probe of membrane potential, bis(1,3-diethylthiobarbiturate)-trimethineoxonol was used to support the diS-C3-(5) data. This new probe proved satisfactory except that it formed complexes with valinomycin, ruling out the use of this ionophore. Results with the oxonol on both mixed lymphocytes and B cell-enriched suspensions gave confirmation of the conclusions from diS-C3-(5) experiments and indicated that despite its biological side effects, diS-C3-(5) could still give valid assessment of membrane potential.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • B-Lymphocytes / physiology*
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Carbocyanines / pharmacology
  • Fluorescent Dyes / pharmacology
  • Gramicidin / pharmacology
  • Lymphocytes / physiology*
  • Membrane Potentials / drug effects
  • Mice
  • Potassium / metabolism
  • Quinine / pharmacology
  • Sodium / metabolism
  • Thiazoles / pharmacology
  • Thiobarbiturates / pharmacology
  • Valinomycin / pharmacology


  • Carbocyanines
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Thiazoles
  • Thiobarbiturates
  • Gramicidin
  • Valinomycin
  • Sodium
  • Quinine
  • Potassium
  • Calcium