Freeze-frame imaging of synaptic activity using SynTagMA

Nat Commun. 2020 May 18;11(1):2464. doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-16315-4.


Information within the brain travels from neuron to neuron across billions of synapses. At any given moment, only a small subset of neurons and synapses are active, but finding the active synapses in brain tissue has been a technical challenge. Here we introduce SynTagMA to tag active synapses in a user-defined time window. Upon 395-405 nm illumination, this genetically encoded marker of activity converts from green to red fluorescence if, and only if, it is bound to calcium. Targeted to presynaptic terminals, preSynTagMA allows discrimination between active and silent axons. Targeted to excitatory postsynapses, postSynTagMA creates a snapshot of synapses active just before photoconversion. To analyze large datasets, we show how to identify and track the fluorescence of thousands of individual synapses in an automated fashion. Together, these tools provide an efficient method for repeatedly mapping active neurons and synapses in cell culture, slice preparations, and in vivo during behavior.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Axons / metabolism
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Female
  • Fluorescence
  • Hippocampus / cytology
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional*
  • Light
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Presynaptic Terminals / metabolism
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synaptophysin / metabolism
  • Time Factors


  • Biomarkers
  • Synaptophysin