Imaging of optical reporters of neural activity across large populations of neurones is a widely used approach for investigating the function of neural circuits in slices and in vivo. Major challenges in analysing such experiments include the automatic identification of neurones and synapses, extraction of dynamic signals, and assessing the temporal and spatial relationships between active units in relation to the gross structure of the circuit. We have developed an integrated set of software tools, named SARFIA, by which these aspects of dynamic imaging experiments can be analysed semi-automatically. Key features are image-based detection of structures of interest using the Laplace operator, determining the positions of units in a layered network, clustering algorithms to classify units with similar functional responses, and a database to store, exchange and analyse results across experiments. We demonstrate the use of these tools to analyse synaptic activity in the retina of live zebrafish by multi-photon imaging of SyGCaMP2, a genetically encoded synaptically localised calcium reporter. By simultaneously recording activity across tens of bipolar cell terminals distributed throughout the IPL we made a functional map of the ON and OFF signalling channels and found that these were only partially separated. The automated detection of signals across many neurones in the retina allowed the reliable detection of small populations of neurones generating "ectopic" signals in the "ON" and "OFF" sublaminae. This software should be generally applicable for the analysis of dynamic imaging experiments across hundreds of responding units.
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