SparkMaster: automated calcium spark analysis with ImageJ

Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2007 Sep;293(3):C1073-81. doi: 10.1152/ajpcell.00586.2006. Epub 2007 Mar 21.


Ca sparks are elementary Ca-release events from intracellular Ca stores that are observed in virtually all types of muscle. Typically, Ca sparks are measured in the line-scan mode with confocal laser-scanning microscopes, yielding two-dimensional images (distance vs. time). The manual analysis of these images is time consuming and prone to errors as well as investigator bias. Therefore, we developed SparkMaster, an automated analysis program that allows rapid and reliable spark analysis. The underlying analysis algorithm is adapted from the threshold-based standard method of spark analysis developed by Cheng et al. (Biophys J 76: 606-617, 1999) and is implemented here in the freely available image-processing software ImageJ. SparkMaster offers a graphical user interface through which all analysis parameters and output options are selected. The analysis includes general image parameters (number of detected sparks, spark frequency) and individual spark parameters (amplitude, full width at half-maximum amplitude, full duration at half-maximum amplitude, full width, full duration, time to peak, maximum steepness of spark upstroke, time constant of spark decay). We validated the algorithm using images with synthetic sparks embedded into backgrounds with different signal-to-noise ratios to determine an analysis criteria at which a high sensitivity is combined with a low frequency of false-positive detections. Finally, we applied SparkMaster to analyze experimental data of sparks measured in intact and permeabilized ventricular cardiomyocytes, permeabilized mammalian skeletal muscle, and intact smooth muscle cells. We found that SparkMaster provides a reliable, easy to use, and fast way of analyzing Ca sparks in a wide variety of experimental conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Calcium Signaling / physiology*
  • Cats
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Confocal / instrumentation*
  • Microscopy, Confocal / methods
  • Microscopy, Confocal / standards
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / metabolism*
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / metabolism
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sarcoplasmic Reticulum / metabolism*
  • Software*


  • Calcium