Mapping neural circuits with activity-dependent nuclear import of a transcription factor

J Neurogenet. 2012 Mar;26(1):89-102. doi: 10.3109/01677063.2011.642910. Epub 2012 Jan 12.


Abstract: Nuclear factor of activated T cells (NFAT) is a calcium-responsive transcription factor. We describe here an NFAT-based neural tracing method-CaLexA (calcium-dependent nuclear import of LexA)-for labeling active neurons in behaving animals. In this system, sustained neural activity induces nuclear import of the chimeric transcription factor LexA-VP16-NFAT, which in turn drives green fluorescent protein (GFP) reporter expression only in active neurons. We tested this system in Drosophila and found that volatile sex pheromones excite specific neurons in the olfactory circuit. Furthermore, complex courtship behavior associated with multi-modal sensory inputs activated neurons in the ventral nerve cord. This method harnessing the mechanism of activity-dependent nuclear import of a transcription factor can be used to identify active neurons in specific neuronal population in behaving animals.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Active Transport, Cell Nucleus / genetics
  • Animals
  • Cell Nucleus / genetics
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism*
  • Drosophila
  • NFATC Transcription Factors / genetics
  • NFATC Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Nerve Net / metabolism*
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Olfactory Pathways / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / genetics


  • NFATC Transcription Factors