Evaluating a genetically encoded optical sensor of neural activity using electrophysiology in intact adult fruit flies

Front Neural Circuits. 2007 Nov 2;1:3. doi: 10.3389/neuro.04.003.2007. eCollection 2007.


Genetically encoded optical indicators hold the promise of enabling non-invasive monitoring of activity in identified neurons in behaving organisms. However, the interpretation of images of brain activity produced using such sensors is not straightforward. Several recent studies of sensory coding used G-CaMP 1.3-a calcium sensor-as an indicator of neural activity; some of these studies characterized the imaged neurons as having narrow tuning curves, a conclusion not always supported by parallel electrophysiological studies. To better understand the possible cause of these conflicting results, we performed simultaneous in vivo 2-photon imaging and electrophysiological recording of G-CaMP 1.3 expressing neurons in the antennal lobe (AL) of intact fruitflies. We find that G-CaMP has a relatively high threshold, that its signal often fails to capture spiking response kinetics, and that it can miss even high instantaneous rates of activity if those are not sustained. While G-CaMP can be misleading, it is clearly useful for the identification of promising neural targets: when electrical activity is well above the sensor's detection threshold, its signal is fairly well correlated with mean firing rate and G-CaMP does not appear to alter significantly the responses of neurons that express it. The methods we present should enable any genetically encoded sensor, activator, or silencer to be evaluated in an intact neural circuit in vivo in Drosophila.

Keywords: 2-photon imaging; Drosophila; G-CaMP; antennal lobe; electrophysiology; genetically encoded calcium indicators; neural coding; olfaction.