Biochemical changes in living cells are detected using a fiber probe system composed of a single chalcogenide fiber acting as both the sensor and transmission line for infrared optical signals. The signal is collected via evanescent wave absorption along the tapered sensing zone of the fiber. We spectroscopically monitored the effects of the surfactant Triton X-100, which serves as a toxic agent simulant on a transformed human lung carcinoma type II epithelial cell line (A549). We observe spectral changes between 2800–3000 cm<sup>-1</sup> in four absorptions bands, which are assigned to hydrocarbon vibrations of methylene and methyl groups in membrane lipids. Comparison of fiber and transmission spectra shows that the present technique allows one to locally probe the cell plasma membrane in the lipid spectral region. These optical responses are correlated with cellular metabolic activity measurements and LDH (lactate dehydrogenase) release assays that indicate a loss of cellular function and membrane integrity as would be expected in response to the membrane solubilizing Triton. The spectroscopic technique shows a significantly greater detection resolution in time and concentration.

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