Permeant cationic fluorescent probes are widely employed to monitor mitochondrial transmembrane potential and its changes. The application of such potential-dependent probes in conjunction with both fluorescence microscopy and fluorescence spectroscopy allows the monitoring of mitochondrial membrane potential in individual living cells as well as in large population of cells. These approaches to the analysis of membrane potential is of extremely high value to obtain insights into both the basic energy metabolism and its dysfunction in pathologic cells. However, the use of fluorescent molecules to probe biological phenomena must follow the awareness of some principles of fluorescence emission, quenching, and quantum yield since it is a very sensitive tool, but because of this extremely high sensitivity it is also strongly affected by the environment. In addition, the instruments used to monitor fluorescence and its changes in biological systems have also to be employed with cautions due to technical limits that may affect the signals. We have therefore undertaken to review the most currently used analytical methods, providing a summary of practical tips that should precede data acquisition and subsequent analysis. Furthermore, we discuss the application and feasibility of various techniques and discuss their respective strength and weakness.
Membrane fluidity plays an important role in cellular functions. Membrane proteins are mobile in the lipid fluid environment; lateral diffusion of membrane proteins is slower than expected by theory, due to both the effect of protein crowding in the membrane and to constraints from the aqueous matrix. A major aspect of diffusion is in macromolecular associations: reduction of dimensionality for membrane diffusion facilitates collisional encounters, as those concerned with receptor-mediated signal transduction and with electron transfer chains. In mitochondrial electron transfer, diffusional control is prevented by the excess of collisional encounters between fast-diffusing ubiquinone and the respiratory complexes. Another aspect of dynamics of membrane proteins is their conformational flexibility. Lipids may induce the optimal conformation for catalytic activity. Breaks in Arrhenius plots of membrane-bound enzymes may be related to lipid fluidity: the break could occur when a limiting viscosity is reached for catalytic activity. Viscosity can affect protein conformational changes by inhibiting thermal fluctuations to the inner core of the protein molecule.