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Concept: Calcium in biology


The ability to acquire large-scale recordings of neuronal activity in awake and unrestrained animals is needed to provide new insights into how populations of neurons generate animal behavior. We present an instrument capable of recording intracellular calcium transients from the majority of neurons in the head of a freely behaving Caenorhabditis elegans with cellular resolution while simultaneously recording the animal’s position, posture, and locomotion. This instrument provides whole-brain imaging with cellular resolution in an unrestrained and behaving animal. We use spinning-disk confocal microscopy to capture 3D volumetric fluorescent images of neurons expressing the calcium indicator GCaMP6s at 6 head-volumes/s. A suite of three cameras monitor neuronal fluorescence and the animal’s position and orientation. Custom software tracks the 3D position of the animal’s head in real time and two feedback loops adjust a motorized stage and objective to keep the animal’s head within the field of view as the animal roams freely. We observe calcium transients from up to 77 neurons for over 4 min and correlate this activity with the animal’s behavior. We characterize noise in the system due to animal motion and show that, across worms, multiple neurons show significant correlations with modes of behavior corresponding to forward, backward, and turning locomotion.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Caenorhabditis elegans, Animal, Caenorhabditis, Rhabditidae, Caenorhabditis briggsae, Calcium in biology


Changes in PMCA2 and PMCA3 expression during neuronal development are tightly linked to structural and functional modifications in Ca(2+) handling machinery. Using antisense strategy we obtained stably transfected PC12 lines with reduced level of PMCA2 or PMCA3, which were then subjected to dibutyryl-cAMP differentiation. Reduced level of neuron-specific PMCAs led to acceleration of differentiation and formation of longer neurites than in control PC12 line. Treatment with dibutyryl-cAMP was associated with retraction of growth cones and intensified formation of varicosities. In PMCA2-reduced cells development of apoptosis and DNA laddering were detected. Higher amounts of constitutive isoforms PMCA1 and PMCA4, their putative extended location to gaps left after partial removal of PMCA2 or PMCA3, together with increased SERCA may indicate the induction of compensatory mechanism in modified cells. Functional studies showed altered expression of certain types of VDCCs in PMCA-reduced cells, which correlated with their higher contribution to Ca(2+) influx. The cell response to PMCAs suppression suggests the interplay between transcription level of two opposite calcium-transporting systems i.e. voltage- and store depletion-activated channels facilitating Ca(2+) influx and calcium pumps responsible for Ca(2+) clearance, as well highlights the role of both neuron-specific PMCA isoforms in the control of PC12 cells differentiation.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Molecular biology, Developmental biology, Cell culture, Plasma membrane Ca2+ ATPase, Calcium in biology


Brain-machine interfaces are not only promising for neurological applications, but also powerful for investigating neuronal ensemble dynamics during learning. We trained mice to operantly control an auditory cursor using spike-related calcium signals recorded with two-photon imaging in motor and somatosensory cortex. Mice rapidly learned to modulate activity in layer 2/3 neurons, evident both across and within sessions. Learning was accompanied by modifications of firing correlations in spatially localized networks at fine scales.

Concepts: Neuron, Spinal cord, Brain, Cerebral cortex, Skill, Cerebellum, Pyramidal cell, Calcium in biology


A neuron’s record of its previous activity underlies animal memory. A new study reveals a role for the release of calcium ions from intracellular stores in mediating spatially compartmentalized memory of the activity history of a neuron.

Concepts: Alzheimer's disease, Nervous system, Neuron, Caenorhabditis elegans, Calcium, Sodium, Potassium, Calcium in biology


Genetically encoded calcium ion (Ca2+) indicators (GECIs) are indispensable tools for measuring Ca2+ dynamics and neuronal activities in vitro and in vivo. Red fluorescent protein (RFP)-based GECIs have inherent advantages relative to green fluorescent protein-based GECIs due to the longer wavelength light used for excitation. Longer wavelength light is associated with decreased phototoxicity and deeper penetration through tissue. Red GECI can also enable multicolor visualization with blue- or cyan-excitable fluorophores.

Concepts: Light, Electromagnetic radiation, In vivo, In vitro, Sodium, Wavelength, Potassium, Calcium in biology


The dorsal pons has long been implicated in the generation of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, but the underlying circuit mechanisms remain poorly understood. Using cell-type-specific microendoscopic Ca(2+) imaging in and near the laterodorsal tegmental nucleus, we found that many glutamatergic neurons are maximally active during REM sleep (REM-max), while the majority of GABAergic neurons are maximally active during wakefulness (wake-max). Furthermore, the activity of glutamatergic neurons exhibits a medio-lateral spatial gradient, with medially located neurons more selectively active during REM sleep.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Brain, Sleep, Hippocampus, Cerebellum, Rapid eye movement sleep, Calcium in biology


A new study shows that the prolonged firing of some neurons in response to a transient signal can be caused by a high intracellular level of sodium ions, which slows the decay of the calcium spike. Read the Research Article.

Concepts: Neuron, Sodium, Potassium, Calcium in biology


Calcium ions generate versatile intracellular signals that control key functions in all types of neurons. Imaging calcium in neurons is particularly important because calcium signals exert their highly specific functions in well-defined cellular subcompartments. In this Primer, we briefly review the general mechanisms of neuronal calcium signaling. We then introduce the calcium imaging devices, including confocal and two-photon microscopy as well as miniaturized devices that are used in freely moving animals. We provide an overview of the classical chemical fluorescent calcium indicators and of the protein-based genetically encoded calcium indicators. Using application examples, we introduce new developments in the field, such as calcium imaging in awake, behaving animals and the use of calcium imaging for mapping single spine sensory inputs in cortical neurons in vivo. We conclude by providing an outlook on the prospects of calcium imaging for the analysis of neuronal signaling and plasticity in various animal models.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Caenorhabditis elegans, Coral, Cerebral cortex, Sodium, Potassium, Calcium in biology


Twenty-four hour rhythms in behavior are organized by a network of circadian pacemaker neurons. Rhythmic activity in this network is generated by intrinsic rhythms in clock neuron physiology and communication between clock neurons. However, it is poorly understood how the activity of a small number of pacemaker neurons is translated into rhythmic behavior of the whole animal. To understand this, we screened for signals that could identify circadian output circuits in Drosophila melanogaster. We found that leucokinin neuropeptide (LK) and its receptor (LK-R) were required for normal behavioral rhythms. This LK/LK-R circuit connects pacemaker neurons to brain areas that regulate locomotor activity and sleep. Our experiments revealed that pacemaker neurons impose rhythmic activity and excitability on LK- and LK-R-expressing neurons. We also found pacemaker neuron-dependent activity rhythms in a second circadian output pathway controlled by DH44 neuropeptide-expressing neurons. We conclude that rhythmic clock neuron activity propagates to multiple downstream circuits to orchestrate behavioral rhythms.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Brain, Sleep, Serotonin, Drosophila melanogaster, Drosophila, Calcium in biology


The use of genetically encodable calcium indicator proteins to monitor neuronal activity is hampered by slow response times and a narrow Ca(2+)-sensitive range. Here we identify three performance-limiting features of GCaMP3, a popular genetically encodable calcium indicator protein. First, we find that affinity is regulated by the calmodulin domain’s Ca(2+)-chelating residues. Second, we find that off-responses to Ca(2+) are rate-limited by dissociation of the RS20 domain from calmodulin’s hydrophobic pocket. Third, we find that on-responses are limited by fast binding to the N-lobe at high Ca(2+) and by slow binding to the C-lobe at lower Ca(2+). We develop Fast-GCaMPs, which have up to 20-fold accelerated off-responses and show that they have a 200-fold range of KD, allowing coexpression of multiple variants to span an expanded range of Ca(2+) concentrations. Finally, we show that Fast-GCaMPs track natural song in Drosophila auditory neurons and generate rapid responses in mammalian neurons, supporting the utility of our approach.

Concepts: Protein, Protein structure, Neuron, Nutrition, Calcium in biology