The electrical properties of axons critically influence the nature of communication between neurons. However, due to their small size, direct measurement of membrane potential dynamics in intact and complex mammalian axons has been a challenge. Furthermore, quantitative optical measurements of axonal membrane potential dynamics have not been available. To characterize the basic principles of somatic voltage signal propagation in intact axonal arbors, second-harmonic-generation (SHG) imaging is applied to cultured mouse hippocampal neurons. When FM4-64 is applied extracellularly to dissociated neurons, whole axonal arbors are visualized by SHG imaging. Upon action potential generation by somatic current injection, nonattenuating action potentials are recorded in intact axonal arbors. Interestingly, however, both current-and voltage-clamp recordings suggest that nonregenerative subthreshold somatic voltage changes at the soma are poorly conveyed to these axonal sites. These results reveal the nature of membrane potential dynamics of cultured hippocampal neurons, and further show the possibility of SHG imaging in physiological investigations of axons.
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