Understanding the Fluorescence Change in Red Genetically Encoded Calcium Ion Indicators

Biophys J. 2019 May 21;116(10):1873-1886. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2019.04.007. Epub 2019 Apr 13.


For over 20 years, genetically encoded Ca2+ indicators have illuminated dynamic Ca2+ signaling activity in living cells and, more recently, whole organisms. We are just now beginning to understand how they work. Various fluorescence colors of these indicators have been developed, including red. Red ones are promising because longer wavelengths of light scatter less in tissue, making it possible to image deeper. They are engineered from a red fluorescent protein that is circularly permuted and fused to a Ca2+-sensing domain. When Ca2+ binds, a conformational change in the sensing domain causes a change in fluorescence. Three factors can contribute to this fluorescence change: 1) a shift in the protonation equilibrium of the chromophore, 2) a change in fluorescence quantum yield, and 3) a change in the extinction coefficient or the two-photon cross section, depending on if it is excited with one or two photons. Here, we conduct a systematic study of the photophysical properties of a range of red Ca2+ indicators to determine which factors are the most important. In total, we analyzed nine indicators, including jRGECO1a, K-GECO1, jRCaMP1a, R-GECO1, R-GECO1.2, CAR-GECO1, O-GECO1, REX-GECO1, and a new variant termed jREX-GECO1. We find that these could be separated into three classes that each rely on a particular set of factors. Furthermore, in some cases, the magnitude of the change in fluorescence was larger with two-photon excitation compared to one-photon because of a change in the two-photon cross section, by up to a factor of two.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Calcium / metabolism*
  • Color
  • Fluorescence*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Conformation
  • Recombinant Proteins / chemistry*
  • Recombinant Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Proteins / metabolism


  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Calcium