We have applied multiple site optical recording of transmembrane voltage (MSORTV) to patterned growth cultures of heart cells to analyze the effect of geometry per se on impulse propagation in excitable tissue, with cellular and subcellular resolution. Extensive dye screening led to the choice of di-8-ANEPPS as the most suitable voltage-sensitive dye for this application; it is internalized slowly and permits optical recording with signal-to-noise ratios as high as 40:1 (measured peak-to-peak) and average fractional fluorescence changes of 15% per 100 mV. Using a x 100 objective and a fast data acquisition system, we could resolve impulse propagation on a microscopic scale (15 microns) with high temporal resolution (uncertainty of +/- 5 microseconds). We could observe the decrease in conduction velocity of an impulse propagating along a narrow cell strand as it enters a region of abrupt expansion, and we could explain this phenomenon in terms of the micro-architecture of the tissue. In contrast with the elongated and aligned cells forming the narrow strands, the cells forming the expansions were aligned at random and presented 2.5 times as many cell-to-cell appositions per unit length. If the decrease in conduction velocity results entirely from this increased number of cell-to-cell boundaries per unit length, the mean activation delay introduced by each boundary can be estimated to be 70 microseconds. Using this novel experimental system, we could also demonstrate the electrical coupling of fibroblasts and endotheloid cells to myocytes in culture.