A method has been developed for selective detection of the zinc-deficient form of Cu, Zn superoxide dismutase (SOD1) in vitro. Zinc-deficient SOD1 mutants have been implicated in the death of motor neurons leading in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gerhig's disease). Thus, this method may have applicability for detecting zinc-deficient SOD1 mutants in human ALS patients samples as well as in a transgenic mouse model of ALS and in cultured motor neurons. We determined previously that structural analogs of 1,10 phenanthroline, which react specifically with Cu(I), react with the active Cu(I) of SOD1 when zinc is absent, but not when zinc is also bound, as evidenced by the fact that the reaction is inhibited by pretreatment of the enzyme with zinc. We report herein that bathocuproine, or its water-soluble derivative bathocuproine disulfonate, react with zinc-deficient SOD1 to form a complex which fluoresces at 734 nm when excited at 482 nm. Fluorescent intensity is concentration dependent, thus we propose to use fluorescent confocal microscopy to measure intracellular levels of zinc-deficient SOD1 in situ. © 2003 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.