Monte Carlo Calcium Spike Detection

9 02 2010

I somehow missed that Josh Vogelstein’s method on action potential detection was published last summer. In Spike Inference from Calcium Imaging Using Sequential Monte Carlo Methods, the authors use a Monte Carlo approach to determine spike times from calcium imaging with superior performance to other deconvolution methods.  It does a great job on simulated and in vitro data, I’d love to see performance on real in vivo recordings.  If you are serious about calcium imaging, you should definitely get in touch with Josh and see what magic he can do with all that math.  You should also ask him about the benefits of linen pants vs. denim, he’s got strong opinions on that subject as well…

Using only strongly saturating and very noisy in vitro fluorescence measurements to infer precise spike times in a ‘‘naturalistic’’ spike train recorded in vitro


Three Cheers for GCaMP : Optogenetic Brain Reading

9 11 2009

Three papers are out online in Nature Methods that show big improvements in calcium imaging with genetically encoded sensors.  They are are based on the fluorescence intensity indicator, GCaMP.   GCaMP, first developed by Junichi Nakai, consists of a GFP that has been circularly permuted so that the N and C termini are fused and new termini are made in the middle of the protein.  Fused to one terminus is calmodulin and the other is a peptide, M13, that calmodulin (CaM) binds to in the presence of calcium. The name is supposed to look like GFP with a CaM inserted into it, G-CaM-P.  Normally the GFP is dim, as there is a hole from the outside of its barrel into the chromophore.  Upon binding calcium, this hole is plugged and fluorescence increases.

Crystal structure of GCaMP2

The first paper, A genetically encoded reporter of synaptic activity in vivo, from Leon Lagnado’s group, targets GCaMP2 to the outer surface of synaptic vesicles. This localization allows the fluorescence signal to be confined to the presynaptic terminal, where calcium fluxes in response to action potentials are high.  This targeting improves the response magnitude of GCaMP2 and permits the optical recording of synaptic inputs into whatever region of the brain one looks at.  They demonstrate the technique in live zebrafish.

In the second paper, Optical interrogation of neural circuits in Caenorhabditis elegans, from Sharad Ramanathan’s group, GCaMP2 has been combined with Channelrhodopsin-2 to perform functional circuit mapping in the worm.   Since the worm’s structural wiring diagram has been essentially solved, functional data could say much about how “thick” the wires between each cell are.  Unfortunately, with GCaMP2, the responses are too slow and weak to distinguish direct from indirect connections.

Finally, we have published a paper, Imaging neural activity in worms, flies and mice with improved GCaMP calcium indicators, describing the improved GCaMP3.  This indicator has between 2-10x better signal to noise than GCaMP2, D3cpv and TN-XXL, depending on the system you are using.  It’s kinetics are faster and it is more photostable than FRET indicators, and the responses are huge.  When expressed in motor cortex of the mouse, neuronal activity is easily seen directly in the raw data.  Furthermore, the sensor can be expressed stably for months, making it a potential tool for observing how learning reshapes the patterns of activity in the cortex.

Screen shot 2009-11-09 at 7.19.27 PM

Imaging of mouse motor cortex (M1) expressing the genetically-encoded calcium indicator GCaMP3 through a cortical window. After 72 days of GCaMP3 expression, large fluorescence transients can be seen in many neurons that are highly correlated with mouse running.

GCaMP3 is not perfect. It cannot reliably detect single action potential in vivo in mammals, though I doubt that any existing GECI can. Work continues on future generations of GCaMP that may achieve 100% fidelity in optical reading of the bits in the brain. However, there is considerable evidence from a number of groups that have been beta-testing the sensor, including the Tank lab of “quake mouse” fame, that it is a significant leap forward and unlocks much of the fantastic and fantasized potential of genetically-encoded calcium indicators.

Screen shot 2009-11-09 at 7.20.12 PM

Comparison of fluorescence changes in response to trains of action potentials in acute cortical slices.

I will try to post a more complete writeup of GCaMP3 for Brain Windows soon, with an unbiased eye to its strengths and weaknesses.  We worked very hard to carefully characterize this sensor’s effects on cellular and circuit properties.  If you have any questions about GCaMP3, please post them to the comments.

For further info about strategies for GECI use and optimization, check out our previous paper, Reporting neural activity with genetically encoded calcium indicators in Brain Cell Biology.

The official press release from HHMI regarding GCaMP3 is available here.

Symposium : A Revolution in Fluorescence Imaging

11 02 2009


This coming Tuesday and Wednesday (Feb 17th & 18th) at UCSD, there will be a symposium honoring Roger Tsien, featuring presentations from 32 former and current members of the Tsien Lab. The topics are quite diverse, concentrated in genetically-encoded indicators, but also featuring fluorescent cell penetrating peptides for cancer therapy, photophore ligases for imaging synaptic development, and even a radical new design for the internal combustion engine.

The quality of speakers and subjects looks to be outstanding.  Here is a complete schedule.  You may notice that at 11:15 AM on Tuesday in Price Center East Ballroom, I will be presenting recent progress we have made in the development of genetically-encoded calcium indicators and their application to in vivo imaging.  Don’t miss that one!  🙂  Roger’s talk, which will assuredly be equal parts absorbing, humorous, and illuminating, is at 4pm Wednesday in the Price Center Theater.

If you live in Southern California and are interesting in imaging technology, there isn’t a better place to be than this symposium.  If you can’t make it, Brain Windows will have a full write-up following the event.

Here is the un-official schedule.

Tuesday February 17th – Price Center East Ballroom

9:00 -9:05 Varda  Levram -Ellisman Opening

9:05-9:15 Palmer Taylor

Designing the next generation of genetically encoded sensors

9:15-9:30 Roger Heim

FRET for compound screening at Aurora/Vertex

9:30-9:45 Amy Palmer

Designing and using genetically encoded sensors: Lessons I learned from Roger

9:45-10:00 Robert Campbell

Beyond brightness: colony screens for fluorescent protein photo stability and biosensor FRET changes

10:00-10:15 Colette Dooley

GFP sensors for reactive oxygen species: Tying up loose ends and looking forward.

10:15-10:30 Peter Wang

Fluorescent Proteins and FRET biosensors for visualizing cell motility and mechanotransduction

Fluorescent proteins in neuroscience

11:00-11:15 Brian Bacskai

Aberrant calcium homeostasis in the Alzheimer mouse brain

11:15-11:30 Andrew Hires

Watching a mouse think: Novel fluorescent genetically-encoded calcium indicators applied to in vivo brain imaging

11:30-11:45 Alice Ting

Imaging synapse development with engineered photophore ligases

11:45-12:00 Rex Kerr

3D calcium imaging in C. elegans

Clinical applications

12:00-12:15 Todd Aguilera

Activatable Cell Penetrating Peptides for use in clinical contrast agent and therapeutic development

12:15-12:30 Quyen Nguyen

Surgery with Molecular Fluorescence Imaging Guidance

Fluorescent probes (Chemistry)

1:30-1:45 Tito Gonzalez

Voltage-Sensitive FRET Probes & Applications

1:45-2:00 Paul Negulescu

From watching ions to moving them

2:00-2:15 Timothy Dore

Roger-Inspired Photochemistry: Releasing Biological Effectors with 2PE

2:00-2:15 Joe Kao

Electron Paramagnetic Resonance Imaging in Living Animals

2:15-2:30 Brent Martin

Chemical probes for studying protein acylation

2:30-2:45 Jianghong Rao

Non-GFP based probes for imaging of the hydrolytic enzyme activity

Cellular research with and without Fluorescent probes

3:15-3:30 Carsten Schultz

Cell membrane repair visualized by GFP fusion proteins

3:30-3:45 David Green

Transcriptomes and Systems Biology: application to early mammalian embryogenesis

3:45-4:00 Clotilde Randriamampita

Paradoxical aspects of T cell activation revealed with fluorescent proteins

4:15-4:30 Wen-Hong Li

Studying dynamic cell-cell communication in vivo by Trojan-LAMP

4:30-4:45 Martin Poenie

Aim and Shoot: Two roles for dynein in T cell effector function

4:45-5:00 Gregor Zlokarnik

From bla to blah, blah in 20 years

5:00-5:15                        James Sharp

President, Zeiss MicroImaging Gmbh

February 18 2009 – Leichtag 107

Cellular research with and without fluorescent proteins

9:00-9:15 David Zacharias

Fluorescent Proteins, Palmitoylation and Cancer: two out of three ain’t bad

9:15-9:30 Jin Zhang

Visualization of Cell Signaling Dynamics: A Tale of MAPK

9:30-9:45 Paul Sammak

Nuclear organization and movement in pluripotent stem cells measured by Histone GFP H2B

Branching out

9:45-10:00 Yong Yao

NIH Toolbox Program

10:00-10:15 Oded Tour

The Tour Engine – A novel Internal Combustion Engine with the potential to boost efficiency and cut emissions

Into the future

10:45-11:00 Xiaokun Shu

Visibly and infrared fluorescent proteins: photophysics and engineering

11:00-11:15 Michael Lin

Engineering fluorescent proteins for visualizing newly synthesized proteins and improving FRET-based biosensors

11:15-11:30 Jeremy Babendure

Training our next generation of Fluorescent Protein Enthusiasts

Main Event – Price Center Theater

4:00-5:00 Roger Tsien

Chancellor invitational lecture 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Update : Structure of G-CaMP2

12 01 2009

Today, Brain Windows welcomes its first guest contributor.  Dr. Jasper Akerboom is a post-doctoral associate in the lab of Loren Looger at Janelia Farm, and is the lead author on a recently published report on the structure of the genetically-encoded calcium sensor, G-CaMP2.  We are very grateful for his contribution!

After the previous post describing G-CaMP2 crystallization two papers describing the crystallization and structure determination appeared online:

Crystal structures of the GCaMP calcium sensor reveal the mechanism of fluorescence signal change and aid rational design. Akerboom J, Vélez Rivera JD, Rodríguez Guilbe MM, Alfaro Malavé EC, Hernandez HH, Tian L, Hires SA, Marvin JS, Looger LL, Schreiter ER. J Biol Chem. 2008 Dec 18.


Structural Basis for Calcium Sensing by GCaMP2. Wang Q, Shui B, Kotlikoff MI, Sondermann H.Structure. 2008 Dec 12;16(12):1817-27.

Both papers are very similar, with minor differences in the approach of some of the problems, which will be described below.

In the paper of Wang et al., crystallization of GCaMP2 is achieved by removing the pRSET tag, important for in vivo GCaMP2 function (Nakai et al).  Removal of disordered expression tags often is essential for protein crystallization, however,  Akerboom et al crystallized GCaMP2 with this tag still present. Spectrophotometric properties of purified GCaMP2 protein with and without pRSET module are identical.

Both in the JBC paper as well as the Structure paper the authors describe the presence of dimeric calcium loaded GCaMP2, appearing as a minor fraction during gel filtration analysis.
Size-exclusion trace of calcium loaded (blue line) and calcium free (red line) G-CaMP2

Akerboom et al initially only crystallized the dimeric form of GCaMP2. Attempts to crystallize monomeric GCaMP2 failed. Selection and mutagenesis of amino acids partaking in the dimer interface in GCaMP2 resulted in the subsequent crystallization of monomeric GCaMP2. Wang and coworkers were able to crystallize both forms without mutagenesis, although their GCAMP2 molecule had its pRSET module removed, indicating a potential role for the pRSET peptide in dimerization.

Both monomeric and the dimeric crystal forms described in both papers are essentially the same.

Dimeric G-CaMP2

Dimeric G-CaMP2

Monomeric G-CaMP2

Monomeric G-CaMP2

The dimeric form of G-CaMP2 is a domain swapped dimer with the M13 peptide (magenta) of each monomer bound by the calcium loaded CaM domain (cyan) of the other. The monomer is very different from the dimer, with the M13 peptide bound by the CaM domain of the own molecule. The interface between CaM and cpEGFP is considerably different between the two different oligomeric states of G-CaMP2.

Wang hypothesizes about a potential role of residue T116 (T203 in GFP numbering) playing in chromophore stabilization in calcium saturated G-CaMP2; this residue adopt a different rotamer in the dimeric structure, in a way that this threonine cannot partake in the hydrogen bond network, dimeric G-CaMP2 is less bright. In the paper by akerboom et al this residue adopts double conformations, so its not clear if this residue is actually the reason for this effect. In addition the mutation T203V results in increased fluorescence in G-CaMP2. Valine is hydrophobic and cannot participate in hydrogen bond formation at all.

Both groups performed mutational analysis of G-CaMP2. Both groups actually described a few identical positions (R81 and R377), and came roughly to the same conclusions, R81 and R377 play a role in the calcium loaded state of the protein. Wang et al performed the experiment using both mutations, and showed a profound decrease of fluorescence.

The group from Janelia Farm made some efforts to improve sensor functionality, and showed that replacing an aspartate close to the chromophore in the calcium saturated state with a tyrosine increases fluorescence by lowering the percentage of protonated chromophore.

Both Wang et al and Akerboom et al tried to study apo-G-CaMP2. Wang and co-workers used small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) of apo-G-CaMP2 and solved the structure of cpEGFP. The other group mutagenised all four EF-hands of CaM, removing the calcium binding capacity of G-CaMP2, and subsequently crystallizated the calcium binding deficient G-CaMP2. Both SAXS and crystallization indicated a more open structure of GCaMP2 compared to the calcium loaded state.

SAXS with fitted cpEGFP and 3CLN structures

SAXS with fitted cpEGFP and 3CLN structures

 apo G-CaMP2 structure

apo G-CaMP2 structure

In the crystal structure, the M13 peptide and the C-terminal domain of CaM are disordered, indicating the large degree of freedom in apo G-CaMP2. Part of the linker between the M13 peptide and cpEGFP in the apo structure forms part of the beta barrel of cpEGFP.

Both papers will contribute to the understanding of the GECI G-CaMP2. Further directed mutagenesis studies on the basis of the results described in both manuscripts will hopefully result in a better sensor for in vivo imaging.

BrainStorm 1 : The Calcium Memory Sensor

9 01 2009

As mentioned in the previous post, this is the first installment of BrainStorm, a section of ideas I have under development, but don’t have the time to physically work on.  This section will contain organically developed ideas, organized by project.  Reader feedback is encouraged.

How can we identify the group of neurons that encode a particular thought?  

I don’t want to simply see correlations of in activity of a few scattered neurons with a given thought, but identify the entire neuronal ensemble.  Which neurons are active at a precise moment in a task?  How are they wired together? Which are the drivers of activity?

Existing technology is inadequate to identify the entire neural ensemble that encodes a thought. Immediate early gene expression  patterns have not been shown to be precisely correlated with brain activity, and have a temporal resolution on the order of minutes. Genetically encoded calcium sensors (GECIs) have the necessary temporal and spatial resolution, but their response is nearly as fleeting as a thought, making it impossible to simultaneously record from networks of thousands of possible participants with current microscopy techniques.

In BrainStorm 1, I will outline a technology, photoswitchable genetically-encoded calcium memory sensors, that can identify all the neurons in a large network that are active during user-specified, aribitrarly brief or long time periods.  I will propose four potential strategies for construction of these sensors, and detail practical considerations for sensor design, screening and application.

Preview : Structure of G-CaMP2

10 12 2008

A high-resolution crystal structure of the genetically-encoded calcium indicator G-CaMP2 would aid in rational design of improved calcium indicators. Crystallization of G-CaMP2 was first reported here :

Crystallization and preliminary X-ray characterization of the genetically encoded fluorescent calcium indicator protein GCaMP2

M. M. Rodríguez Guilbe, E. C. Alfaro Malavé, J. Akerboom, J. S. Marvin, L. L. Looger and E. R. Schreiter

Fluorescent proteins and their engineered variants have played an important role in the study of biology. The genetically encoded calcium-indicator protein GCaMP2 comprises a circularly permuted fluorescent protein coupled to the calcium-binding protein calmodulin and a calmodulin target peptide, M13, derived from the intracellular calmodulin target myosin light-chain kinase and has been used to image calcium transients in vivo. To aid rational efforts to engineer improved variants of GCaMP2, this protein was crystallized in the calcium-saturated form. X-ray diffraction data were collected to 2.0 Å resolution. The crystals belong to space group C2, with unit-cell parameters a = 126.1, b = 47.1, c = 68.8 Å, [beta] = 100.5° and one GCaMP2 molecule in the asymmetric unit. The structure was phased by molecular replacement and refinement is currently under way.

High-resolution atomic structures and mutational analysis were presented at SfN 2008 (see this previous post)

However, today a competing group has published an independent report on a similar set of G-CaMP2 structures in Cell Structure.  More details to come…


Structural Basis for Calcium Sensing by GCaMP2

Qi Wang1,Bo Shui2,Michael I. Kotlikoff2andHolger Sondermann1,Go To Corresponding Author,

Genetically encoded Ca2+ indicators are important tools that enable the measurement of Ca2+ dynamics in a physiologically relevant context. GCaMP2, one ofthe most robust indicators, is a circularly permutated EGFP (cpEGFP)/M13/calmodulin (CaM) fusion protein that has been successfully used for studying Ca2+ fluxes invivo in the heart and vasculature of transgenic mice. Here we describe crystal structures of bright and dim states of GCaMP2 that reveala sophisticated molecular mechanism for Ca2+ sensing. In the bright state, CaM stabilizes the fluorophore in an ionized state similar to that observed in EGFP. Mutational analysis confirmed critical interactions between the fluorophore and elements of the fused peptides. Solution scattering studies indicate thatthe Ca2+-free form of GCaMP2 is a compact, predocked state, suggesting a molecular basis for the relatively rapid signaling kinetics reported for this indicator. These studies provide a structural basis for the rational design of improved Ca2+-sensitive probes.

A brief history of calcium imaging

8 10 2008

A few months ago I threw together a short presentation on the history of calcium imaging for a journal club here at Janelia. It is incomplete. It lacks notes. It is technical. It focuses much attention on early genetically-encoded indicators. However, calcium imaging is so intertwined with the work of Roger Tsien, my Ph.D. thesis advisor, and since he just won the Nobel Prize, I thought it might be of interest to some of the audience of Brain Windows. It does provide a little bit of background for some of the more recent developments chronicled on this site.