Use of a Fluorescence-Based Assay To Measure Escherichia coli Membrane Potential Changes in High Throughput. Academic Article uri icon


  • Bacterial membrane potential is difficult to measure using classical electrophysiology techniques due to the small cell size and the presence of the peptidoglycan cell wall. Instead, chemical probes are often used to study membrane potential changes under conditions of interest. Many of these probes are fluorescent molecules that accumulate in a charge-dependent manner, and the resulting fluorescence change can be analyzed via flow cytometry or using a fluorescence microplate reader. Although this technique works well in many Gram-positive bacteria, it generates fairly low signal-to-noise ratios in Gram-negative bacteria due to dye exclusion by the outer membrane. We detail an optimized workflow that uses the membrane potential probe, 3,3'-diethyloxacarbocyanine iodide [DiOC2(3)], to measure Escherichia coli membrane potential changes in high throughput and describe the assay conditions that generate significant signal-to-noise ratios to detect membrane potential changes using a fluorescence microplate reader. A valinomycin calibration curve demonstrates this approach can robustly report membrane potentials over at least an ∼144-mV range with an accuracy of ∼12 mV. As a proof of concept, we used this approach to characterize the effects of some commercially available small molecules known to elicit membrane potential changes in other systems, increasing the repertoire of compounds known to perturb E. coli membrane energetics. One compound, the eukaryotic Ca2+ channel blocker amlodipine, was found to alter E. coli membrane potential and decrease the MIC of kanamycin, further supporting the value of this screening approach. This detailed methodology permits studying E. coli membrane potential changes quickly and reliably at the population level.

published proceedings

  • Antimicrob Agents Chemother

altmetric score

  • 6.2

author list (cited authors)

  • Hudson, M. A., Siegele, D. A., & Lockless, S. W.

citation count

  • 20

complete list of authors

  • Hudson, M Ashley||Siegele, Deborah A||Lockless, Steve W

publication date

  • August 2020