The absorption changes of two merocyanine dyes in response to membrane potential changes were measured on several neuronal preparations to see whether the dyes would be useful in recording from these cells. We were able to record large signals without averaging from barnacle and leech neurons. The greatest signal with WW375 was seen at 750 nm. Much smaller increases in transmitted light intensity were seen at all other wavelengths between 500 and 780 nm. In contrast, vertebrate neuronal preparations produced much smaller signals with an entirely different action spectrum. Essentially the same spectrum was seen in cells of the sympathetic ganglion of the bullfrog, Rana catesbiana, dissociated chick spinal cord neurons, or dissociated rat superior cervical ganglion neurons. In each case an action potential was accompanied by increases in transmitted light intensity between 500 and 600 nm and 730 and 780 nm, and decreases in intensity between 600 and 730 nm with the dye WW375, the best dye tested. Similar results were obtained with dye NK2367 on both vertebrate and invertebrate preparations, except that the spectral properties were shifted 30 nm towards the blue. Both dyes caused some photodynamic damage to the cultured neurons after a few minute's exposure to the illuminating light. Several analogues of these dyes were also tried, but did not produce larger signals.