Optical signals from neurons with internally applied voltage-sensitive dyes

J Neurosci. 1995 Feb;15(2):1392-405. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.15-02-01392.1995.


We carried out experiments to monitor optically the generation and spread of action potentials and subthreshold potentials in the processes of individual neurons in ganglia of the snail, Helix aspersa. The neurons were selectively stained by intracellular pressure injection of voltage-sensitive dyes. Optical signals were detected by a system for fast, multiple-site optical monitoring, utilizing a silicon photodiode array. After testing 30 voltage-sensitive dyes using absorption, we concluded that this mode was probably not sensitive enough to allow monitoring neuronal signals from distal processes. Satisfactory signals were obtained in fluorescence measurements using a newly synthesized styryl dye, JPW1114, specifically designed for intracellular application. There was an improvement in sensitivity (as defined by the signal-to-noise ratio) by a factor of about 50 over previously reported absorption and fluorescence signals from neuronal processes stained by either intra- or extracellular application of dyes. Recordings with good signal-to-noise ratio and adequate spatial and temporal resolution were obtained simultaneously from the cell body and long axonal branches. From this data, the site of action potential initiation was determined. Also, the propagation velocity of the action potential was calculated for different axonal segments; the results suggest that different regions have different velocities ranging from 0.53 m/sec to 0.07 m/sec. The present sensitivity was adequate to allow the recording of a 10 mV hyperpolarizing electrotonic response along axonal branches and to observe directly the decline of this passive response with distance from the site of stimulation. Relatively modest improvements in sensitivity will allow systematic analyses of the spread and summation of synaptic potentials in individual neurons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Electrophysiology / methods
  • Fluorescence
  • Fluorescent Dyes / chemistry
  • Ganglia, Invertebrate / cytology
  • Ganglia, Invertebrate / physiology
  • Helix, Snails / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Optics and Photonics*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Fluorescent Dyes