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Proceedings Paper

Birefringence In Biological Materials
Author(s): Michael W. Kaplan
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Paper Abstract

The polarizing microscope has been used to reveal submicroscopic organization in biological materials for over a century. Examples of intrinsic, form, stress and anomalous dispersion birefringence have all been found, sometimes in the same cell. A major advantage of birefringence analysis is that cells can be studied in their native state. Also, structural gradients can sometimes be seen within a cell that are not detected using other physical or anatomical methods. On the other hand, the technique is non-specific, so experiments must be carefully designed to extract information about molecular level organization. Our current insight into the structure of biological membranes had its beginnings in birefringence analyses of the multi-membrane layers found in myelin sheaths and retinal rod outer segments. Recent studies of rod outer segments have shown that the internal ordering of membrane components can change as the membrane ages. Since birefringence can be monitored in viable cells, the technique has been applied to a variety of excitable tissues. Membrane-potential dependent structure changes have been found in nerve and muscle. In rod outer segments, complex birefringence changes are initiated when light is absorbed by visual pigments. Birefringence studies may therefore eventually provide insights into membrane function as well as structure.

Paper Details

Date Published: 19 October 1977
PDF: 8 pages
Proc. SPIE 0112, Optical Polarimetry: Instrumentation and Applications, (19 October 1977); doi: 10.1117/12.955551
Show Author Affiliations
Michael W. Kaplan, Good Samaritan Hospital & Medical Center (United States)


Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 0112:
Optical Polarimetry: Instrumentation and Applications
Rasheed M. A. Azzam; David Coffeen, Editor(s)

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