Merocyanine 540 (MC 540) has been reported to interact specifically with excitable plasma membranes in live cells . Here we show that the MC 540 fluorescence staining pattern previously believed to be characteristic of viable myotubes  is observed in formaldehyde-fixed cells. In contrast, viable myotubes show an MC 540 fluorescence staining pattern that is characteristic of cell surface staining (no internal structures fluoresce). The specific I-band and H-zone fluorescence of isolated myofibrils is also consistent with the interpretation that the fluorescence patterns previously reported for viable myotubes are in fact characteristic of cells with disrupted plasma membranes. Time-course observations of MC 540 and trypan blue staining of myotubes suggest that when plasma membrane integrity is lost, MC 540 fluorescence can be visualized inside the cell 5–10 min before trypan blue absorbance. Thus the trypan blue viability assay can be misleading when applied to myotubes.