A number of cellular functions have recently been associated with alterations of the membrane potential in non‐excitable cells. To assess the electrophysiologic regulation of osteoblast function, a method for measuring the membrane potential (Em) of a rat osteogenic sarcoma cell line (UMR 106) by the voltage‐sensitive oxonol dye di‐BA‐C4(3) was developed. The fluorescent signal of di‐BA‐C4(3) was calibrated through a null point method using the protonophore FCCP. At null point, Em is equivalent to H+ equilibrium potential, and may be calculated by the Nernst equation. Intracellular pH (pHi) changes induced by the protonophore were monitored using BCECF, a pH‐sensitive fluorescent probe. In the presence of FCCP, intracellular pH was found to be linearly correlated to extracellular pH (pHo). Therefore, the value of pHi at null point was extrapolated as well. With this technique, we estimated the plasma membrane potential of the “putative” rat osteoblasts (UMR 106) as ‐ 28.3 ± 4.0 mV (n = 10). This method corrected the 16% overestimation of Em derived from the assumption that pHi does not change during the calibration procedure, as described in previous studies employing pH null point techniques. With null point methods, using BCECF and the carboxylic ionophores nigericin and monensin, intracellular concentrations of potassium and sodium were also measured and found to be 125 ± 0.7 mM (n = 3) and 24 ± 5.3 mM (n = 3), respectively. Although the Em of UMR 106 cells was dependent on extracellular potassium concentration, these cells did not behave as a potassium electrode. The sodium/potassium permeability ratio, calculated by the Goldman equation, was estimated at 0.317. This high membrane permeability to sodium may contribute to the genesis of the low plasma membrane potential of UMR 106 cells.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)434-441
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Cellular Physiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1987


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