This article describes a new apparatus for making simultaneous optical measurements on single muscle fibers at three different wavelengths and two planes of linear polarization. There are two modes of operation: mode 1 measures the individual absorbances of light linearly polarized along and perpendicular to the fiber axis, and mode 2 measures retardation (or birefringence) and the average of the two absorbance components. Although some intact frog twitch fibers were studied, most experiments used cut fibers (Hille, B., and D. T. Campbell. 1976. Journal of General Physiology. 67:265-293) mounted in a double-Vaseline-gap chamber (Kovacs, L., E. Rios, and M. F. Schneider. 1983. Journal of Physiology. 343:161-196). The end-pool segments were usually exposed for 2 min to 0.01% saponin. This procedure, used in subsequent experiments to make the external membranes in the end pools permeable to Ca indicators (Maylie, J., M. Irving, N. L. Sizto, G. Boyarsky, and W. K. Chandler. 1987. Journal of General Physiology. 89:145-176; Maylie, J., M. Irving, N. L. Sizto, and W. K. Chandler. 1987. Journal of General Physiology. 89:41-143), was routinely employed so that all our cut fiber results would be comparable. A simple method, which does not require microelectrodes, allowed continual estimation of a fiber’s membrane (rm) and internal longitudinal (ri) resistances as well as the external resistance (re) under the Vaseline seals. The values of rm and ri obtained from cut fibers with this method agree reasonably well with values obtained from intact fibers using microelectrode techniques. Optical measurements were made on resting and action potential-stimulated fibers. The intrinsic fiber absorbance, defined operationally as log10 of the ratio of incident light to transmitted light intensity, was similar in intact and cut preparations, as were the changes that accompanied stimulation. On the other hand, the resting birefringence and the peak of the active change in cut fibers were, respectively, only 0.8 and 0.7 times the corresponding values in intact fibers. Both the amplitude and the half-width of the active retardation signal increased considerably during the time course of cut fiber experiments; a two fold increase in 2 h was not unusual. Such changes are probably due to a progressive alteration in the internal state of the cut fibers.
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