Design and mechanistic insight into ultrafast calcium indicators for monitoring intracellular calcium dynamics

Sci Rep. 2016 Dec 6:6:38276. doi: 10.1038/srep38276.


Calmodulin-based genetically encoded fluorescent calcium indicators (GCaMP-s) are powerful tools of imaging calcium dynamics from cells to freely moving animals. High affinity indicators with slow kinetics however distort the temporal profile of calcium transients. Here we report the development of reduced affinity ultrafast variants of GCaMP6s and GCaMP6f. We hypothesized that GCaMP-s have a common kinetic mechanism with a rate-limiting process in the interaction of the RS20 peptide and calcium-calmodulin. Therefore we targeted specific residues in the binding interface by rational design generating improved indicators with GCaMP6fu displaying fluorescence rise and decay times (t1/2) of 1 and 3 ms (37 °C) in vitro, 9 and 22-fold faster than GCaMP6f respectively. In HEK293T cells, GCaMP6fu revealed a 4-fold faster decay of ATP-evoked intracellular calcium transients than GCaMP6f. Stimulation of hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons with five action potentials fired at 100 Hz resulted in a single dendritic calcium transient with a 2-fold faster rise and 7-fold faster decay time (t1/2 of 40 ms) than GCaMP6f, indicating that tracking high frequency action potentials may be limited by calcium dynamics. We propose that the design strategy used for generating GCaMP6fu is applicable for the acceleration of the response kinetics of GCaMP-type calcium indicators.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • CA1 Region, Hippocampal / cytology
  • CA1 Region, Hippocampal / metabolism*
  • Calcium / metabolism*
  • Calcium Signaling
  • Calmodulin / chemistry
  • Calmodulin / genetics
  • Calmodulin / metabolism*
  • Dendrites / metabolism*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Fluorescent Dyes / chemistry*
  • Fluorescent Dyes / metabolism
  • Gene Expression
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / chemistry
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / genetics
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / metabolism*
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • Peptides / chemistry
  • Peptides / genetics
  • Peptides / metabolism
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Conformation, alpha-Helical
  • Protein Conformation, beta-Strand
  • Pyramidal Cells / cytology
  • Pyramidal Cells / metabolism*
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Tissue Culture Techniques


  • Calmodulin
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Peptides
  • enhanced green fluorescent protein
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Calcium