Probing membrane potential with nonlinear optics

Biophys J. 1993 Aug;65(2):672-9. doi: 10.1016/S0006-3495(93)81126-3.


The nonlinear optical phenomenon of second harmonic generation is shown to have intrinsic sensitivity to the voltage across a biological membrane. Our results demonstrate that this second order nonlinear optical process can be used to monitor membrane voltage with excellent signal to noise and other crucial advantages. These advantages suggest extensive use of this novel approach as an important new tool in elucidating membrane potential changes in biological systems. For this first demonstration of the effect we use a chiral styryl dye which exhibits gigantic second harmonic signals. Possible mechanisms of the voltage dependence of the second harmonic signal are discussed.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Fluorescent Dyes*
  • Mathematics
  • Membrane Potentials*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Molecular Structure
  • Pyridinium Compounds
  • Spectrometry, Fluorescence / instrumentation
  • Spectrometry, Fluorescence / methods


  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Pyridinium Compounds
  • 1-(3-sulfonatopropyl)-4-(beta)(2-(di-n-butylamino)-6-naphthylvinyl)pyridinium betaine