Real-time visualization of neuronal activity during perception

Curr Biol. 2013 Feb 18;23(4):307-11. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.12.040. Epub 2013 Jan 31.


To understand how the brain perceives the external world, it is desirable to observe neuronal activity in the brain in real time during perception. The zebrafish is a suitable model animal for fluorescence imaging studies to visualize neuronal activity because its body is transparent through the embryonic and larval stages. Imaging studies have been carried out to monitor neuronal activity in the larval spinal cord and brain using Ca(2+) indicator dyes and DNA-encoded Ca(2+) indicators, such as Cameleon, GFP-aequorin, and GCaMPs. However, temporal and spatial resolution and sensitivity of these tools are still limited, and imaging of brain activity during perception of a natural object has not yet been demonstrated. Here we demonstrate visualization of neuronal activity in the optic tectum of larval zebrafish by genetically expressing the new version of GCaMP. First, we demonstrate Ca(2+) transients in the tectum evoked by a moving spot on a display and identify direction-selective neurons. Second, we show tectal activity during perception of a natural object, a swimming paramecium, revealing a functional visuotopic map. Finally, we image the tectal responses of a free-swimming larval fish to a paramecium and thereby correlate neuronal activity in the brain with prey capture behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Functional Neuroimaging*
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Optic Nerve / physiology*
  • Perception
  • Spinal Cord / physiology
  • Superior Colliculi / metabolism
  • Superior Colliculi / physiology
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*
  • Zebrafish


  • Green Fluorescent Proteins