Quantitative analysis of spontaneous mitochondrial depolarizations

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Physiology and Biomedical Imaging Group

Publication Date


Document Type



Animals; Bufo marinus; Cells, Cultured; Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted; Imaging, Three-Dimensional; Membrane Potentials; Microscopy, Fluorescence; Mitochondria; Myocytes, Smooth Muscle; *Organometallic Compounds


Life Sciences | Medicine and Health Sciences


Spontaneous transient depolarizations in mitochondrial membrane potential (DeltaPsi(m)), mitochondrial flickers, have been observed in isolated mitochondria and intact cells using the fluorescent probe, tetramethylrhodamine ethyl ester (TMRE). In theory, the ratio of [TMRE] in cytosol and mitochondrion allows DeltaPsi(m) to be calculated with the Nernst equation, but this has proven difficult in practice due to fluorescence quenching and binding of dye to mitochondrial membranes. We developed a new method to determine the amplitude of flickers in terms of millivolts of depolarization. TMRE fluorescence was monitored using high-speed, high-sensitivity three-dimensional imaging to track individual mitochondria in freshly dissociated smooth muscle cells. Resting mitochondrial fluorescence, an exponential function of resting DeltaPsi(m), varied among mitochondria and was approximately normally distributed. Spontaneous changes in mitochondrial fluorescence, indicating depolarizations and repolarizations in DeltaPsi(m), were observed. The depolarizations were reversible and did not result in permanent depolarization of the mitochondria. The magnitude of the flickers ranged from100 mV with a mean of 17.6 +/- 1.0 mV (n = 360) and a distribution skewed to smaller values. Nearly all mitochondria flickered, and they did so independently of one another, indicating that mitochondria function as independent units in the myocytes employed here.

DOI of Published Version



Biophys J. 2003 Nov;85(5):3350-7.

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Biophysical journal

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Link to article in PubMed

PubMed ID