Action potentials in neurons have been studied traditionally by intracellular electrophysiological recordings and more recently by the fluorescence detection methods. Here we describe a label-free optical imaging method that can measure mechanical motion in single cells with a sub-nanometer detection limit. Using the method, we have observed sub-nanometer mechanical motion accompanying the action potential in single mammalian neurons by averaging the repeated action potential spikes. The shape and width of the transient displacement are similar to those of the electrically recorded action potential, but the amplitude varies from neuron to neuron, and from one region of a neuron to another, ranging from 0.2-0.4 nm. The work indicates that action potentials may be studied noninvasively in single mammalian neurons by label-free imaging of the accompanying sub-nanometer mechanical motion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4186-4193
Number of pages8
JournalACS nano
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 22 2018


  • action potential
  • label-free imaging
  • mechanical motion
  • sub-nanometer
  • tracking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Materials Science(all)
  • Engineering(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)

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