Analysis of membrane potential recordings upon microelectrode impalement of four types of macrophages (cell lines P388D1 and PU5-1.8, cultured mouse peritoneal macrophages, and cultured human monocytes) reveals that these cells have membrane potentials at least two times more negative than sustained potential values (E(s)) frequently reported. Upon microelectrode entry into the cell (P388D1), the recorded potential drops to a peak value (E(p)) (mean -37 mV for 50 cells, range -15 to -70 mV) within 2 ms, after which it decays to a depolarized potential (E(n)) (mean -12 mV) in about 20 ms. Thereafter, the membrane develops one or a series of slow hyperpolarizations before a final sustained membrane potential (E(s)) (mean -14 mV, range -5 to -40) is established. The mean value of the peak of the first hyperpolarization (E(h)) is -30 mV (range -10 to -55 mV). The initial fast peak transient, measured upon microelectrode entry, was first described and analyzed by Lassen et al. (Lassen, U.V., A.M. T. Nielson, L. Pape, and L. O. Simonsen, 1971, J. Membr. Biol. 6:269-288 for other change in the membrane potential from its real value before impalement to a sustained depolarized value. This was shown to be true for macrophages by two-electrode impalements of single cells. Values of E(p), E(n), E(h), E(s), and membrane resistance (R(m)) measured for the other macrophages were similar to those of P388D1. From these results we conclude that E(p) is a better estimate of the true membrane potential of macrophages than E(s), and that the slow hyperpolarizations upon impalement should be regarded as transient repolarizations back to the original membrane potentials. Thus, analysis of the initial fast impalement transient can be a valuable aid in the estimation of the membrane potential of various sorts of small isolated cells by microelectrodes.

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