GCaMP6 plasmids at addgene

8 11 2012

GCaMP6 variants are on addgene. Three flavors, fast kinetics or big signals. Bigger responses than OGB-1, some are MUCH bigger.  The responses to drifting gratings in visual cortex are spectacular. Sorry no pics for now. Hopefully the reviewers will be nice so we can all read about it soon. Still work to be done getting true 1AP resolution when simultaneously imaging large populations of neurons, but for single neuron imaging in vivo, this has 1AP resolution.  If you have been waiting for the GCaMPs that will blow your expectations away, these are them.

From the SfN abstract :

Using structure-guided mutagenesis and high-throughput screening, we increased the fluorescence change in response to single action potentials (APs) by >10-fold compared to GCaMP3. We also accelerated the kinetics by ~2-fold. These new GECIs reliably report single APs in single trials in vivo with near 100% accuracy. In the mouse visual cortex, we detected ~5-fold more visually responsive neurons. The sensitivity, dynamic range and speed of the new GECIs exceed those of the synthetic indicator OGB-1. The improved sensitivity further facilitated reliable measurement of synaptic calcium signals in the dendrites of pyramidal cells and parvabumin (PV)-positive interneurons in vivo. Hot spots of orientation-selective domains can be resolved both in single pyramidal cell spines and small segments of PV cell dendrites. These improved GECIs will permit a more complete description of neuronal circuit function and enable long-term functional imaging of single synapses.

G-CaMP5 is finally published!

3 10 2012

The paper on G-CaMP5 has been published.

Optimization of a GCaMP Calcium Indicator for Neural Activity Imaging

Genetically encoded calcium indicators (GECIs) are powerful tools for systems neuroscience. Recent efforts in protein engineering have significantly increased the performance of GECIs. The state-of-the art single-wavelength GECI, GCaMP3, has been deployed in a number of model organisms and can reliably detect three or more action potentials in short bursts in several systems in vivo. Through protein structure determination, targeted mutagenesis, high-throughput screening, and a battery of in vitro assays, we have increased the dynamic range of GCaMP3 by severalfold, creating a family of “GCaMP5” sensors. We tested GCaMP5s in several systems: cultured neurons and astrocytes, mouse retina, and in vivo in Caenorhabditischemosensory neurons, Drosophila larval neuromuscular junction and adult antennal lobe, zebrafish retina and tectum, and mouse visual cortex. Signal-to-noise ratio was improved by at least 2- to 3-fold. In the visual cortex, two GCaMP5 variants detected twice as many visual stimulus-responsive cells as GCaMP3. By combining in vivoimaging with electrophysiology we show that GCaMP5 fluorescence provides a more reliable measure of neuronal activity than its predecessor GCaMP3. GCaMP5 allows more sensitive detection of neural activity in vivo and may find widespread applications for cellular imaging in general.


This is the best fully-characterized GECI available, but publication of the paper was repeatedly delayed. Why? Because reviewers viewed it as ‘too incremental’ of an upgrade, and not worth publishing in a prominent journal (no, I’m not talking Nature or Science level) when the plasmids are already available.

A friendly suggestion for authors and future GCaMP6+ reviewers : You can’t have it both ways. If you want access to the best molecular tools before publication (GCaMP5 has been available for over a YEAR), you cannot turn around and say its not worth publishing because you already have the plasmid. Multiple post-docs spent years of their lives developing and carefully testing this tool. They deserve a quality publication for their efforts. Furthermore, the rigorous performance data collected NEEDS to be available to current and future users. Finally, there is no doubt that this will be a highly cited and viewed paper in whatever journal were to publish it. Our GCaMP3 paper already has 182 citations in less than 3 years, this may do even better.

Journal Scan – Calcium Imaging in Auditory and Visual Cortex

4 03 2010

A few papers on in vivo calcium imaging have just come out and are worth a careful read.

The first two examine the fine organization of layer 2/3 of the mouse auditory cortex.  The canonical view of auditory cortex organization is that neurons are arranged in a tonotopic pattern, with a smooth gradient in auditory frequency tuning across the surface of the cortex.  Using two-photon imaging in anesthetized mice, the groups saw that, while there was an overall gradient, the tuning of neighboring neurons was highly variable.  These are similar results to what Sato et al and Kerr et al found in the whisker barrel cortex back in 2007.  Moral of the story : mapping brain organization by microstimulation or sparse sampling (as in the classic papers) can be very misleading.

UPDATE : David Kleinfeld kindly directed me to the 40 year old work by Moshe Abeles and others that showed a similar spread in frequency tuning using microelectrodes…

Now, back to the more recent papers…

Functional organization and population dynamics in the mouse primary auditory cortexRothschild GNelken IMizrahi A. Nat Neurosci. 2010 Mar;13(3):353-60. Epub 2010 Jan 31.

Cortical processing of auditory stimuli involves large populations of neurons with distinct individual response profiles. However, the functional organization and dynamics of local populations in the auditory cortex have remained largely unknown. Using in vivo two-photon calcium imaging, we examined the response profiles and network dynamics of layer 2/3 neurons in the primary auditory cortex (A1) of mice in response to pure tones. We found that local populations in A1 were highly heterogeneous in the large-scale tonotopic organization. Despite the spatial heterogeneity, the tendency of neurons to respond together (measured as noise correlation) was high on average. This functional organization and high levels of noise correlations are consistent with the existence of partially overlapping cortical subnetworks. Our findings may account for apparent discrepancies between ordered large-scale organization and local heterogeneity.

In vivo two-photon calcium imaging from dozens of neurons simultaneously in A1.

Dichotomy of functional organization in the mouse auditory cortexBandyopadhyay SShamma SAKanold PO. Nat Neurosci. 2010 Mar;13(3):361-8. Epub 2010 Jan 31.

The sensory areas of the cerebral cortex possess multiple topographic representations of sensory dimensions. The gradient of frequency selectivity (tonotopy) is the dominant organizational feature in the primary auditory cortex, whereas other feature-based organizations are less well established. We probed the topographic organization of the mouse auditory cortex at the single-cell level using in vivo two-photon Ca(2+) imaging. Tonotopy was present on a large scale but was fractured on a fine scale. Intensity tuning, which is important in level-invariant representation, was observed in individual cells, but was not topographically organized. The presence or near absence of putative subthreshold responses revealed a dichotomy in topographic organization. Inclusion of subthreshold responses revealed a topographic clustering of neurons with similar response properties, whereas such clustering was absent in supra-threshold responses. This dichotomy indicates that groups of nearby neurons with locally shared inputs can perform independent parallel computations in the auditory cortex.

Tonotopy exists in A1 and AAF on a large scale, but not on small spatial scales.

The third paper uses a GECI (YC3.6) to do chronic imaging in visual cortex. Their results are noteworthy in that they look at visual responses to both a passive viewing and an ACTIVE discrimination task in an awake, head-fixed mouse.  The patterns of neural activity between anesthetized, awake but passively receiving sensory input, and awake while paying attention and using the sensory input are likely to be hugely different. Recording from neurons that are actively involved in a discrimination task is essential to understanding how the cortex is actually processing information.  Although this paper is more focused on simply presenting the technique rather than in depth analysis of the activity, we will be seeing more of this style of neuroscience in high-profile journals very soon…

Chronic cellular imaging of mouse visual cortex during operant behavior and passive viewing  –  Andermann ML, Kerlin AM and Reid RC, Front. Cell. Neurosci. 4:3.

Nearby neurons in mammalian neocortex demonstrate a great diversity of cell types and connectivity patterns. The importance of this diversity for computation is not understood. While extracellular recording studies in visual cortex have provided a particularly rich description of behavioral modulation of neural activity, new methods are needed to dissect the contribution of specific circuit elements in guiding visual perception. Here, we describe a method for three-dimensional cellular imaging of neural activity in the awake mouse visual cortex during active discrimination and passive viewing of visual stimuli. Head-fixed mice demonstrated robust discrimination for many hundred trials per day after initial task acquisition. To record from multiple neurons during operant behavior with single-trial resolution and minimal artifacts, we built a sensitive microscope for two-photon calcium imaging, capable of rapid tracking of neurons in three dimensions. We demonstrate stable recordings of cellular calcium activity during discrimination behavior across hours, days, and weeks, using both synthetic and genetically-encoded calcium indicators. When combined with molecular and genetic technologies in mice (e.g., cell-type specific transgenic labeling), this approach allows the identification of neuronal classes in vivo. Physiological measurements from distinct classes of neighboring neurons will enrich our understanding of the coordinated roles of diverse elements of cortical microcircuits in guiding sensory perception and perceptual learning. Further, our method provides a high-throughput, chronic in vivo assay of behavioral influences on cellular activity that is applicable to a wide range of mouse models of neurologic disease.

Mapping visual responses in identified excitatory and inhibitory neurons in awake mice

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.

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.