Recent developments in genetically encoded indicators of neural activity (GINAs) have greatly advanced the field of systems neuroscience. As they are encoded by DNA, GINAs can be targeted to genetically defined cellular populations. Combined with fluorescence microscopy, most notably multi-photon imaging, GINAs allow chronic simultaneous optical recordings from large populations of neurons or glial cells in awake, behaving mammals, particularly rodents. This large-scale recording of neural activity at multiple temporal and spatial scales has greatly advanced our understanding of the dynamics of neural circuitry underlying behavior-a critical first step toward understanding the complexities of brain function, such as sensorimotor integration and learning. Here, we summarize the recent development and applications of the major classes of GINAs. In particular, we take an in-depth look at the design of available GINA families with a particular focus on genetically encoded calcium indicators (GCaMPs), sensors probing synaptic activity, and genetically encoded voltage indicators. Using the family of the GCaMP as an example, we review established sensor optimization pipelines. We also discuss practical considerations for end users of GINAs about experimental methods including approaches for gene delivery, imaging system requirements, and data analysis techniques. With the growing toolbox of GINAs and with new microscopy techniques pushing beyond their current limits, the age of light can finally achieve the goal of broad and dense sampling of neuronal activity across time and brain structures to obtain a dynamic picture of brain function.
Keywords: calcium sensor; genetically encoded sensors; in vivo imaging; mammalian and rodent brain; neural activity; synaptic activity reporter; voltage sensor.