Photoactivatable CaMKII induces synaptic plasticity in single synapses

Nat Commun. 2021 Feb 2;12(1):751. doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-21025-6.


Optogenetic approaches for studying neuronal functions have proven their utility in the neurosciences. However, optogenetic tools capable of inducing synaptic plasticity at the level of single synapses have been lacking. Here, we engineered a photoactivatable (pa)CaMKII by fusing a light-sensitive domain, LOV2, to CaMKIIα. Blue light or two-photon excitation reversibly activated paCaMKII. Activation in single spines was sufficient to induce structural long-term potentiation (sLTP) in vitro and in vivo. paCaMKII activation was also sufficient for the recruitment of AMPA receptors and functional LTP in single spines. By combining paCaMKII with protein activity imaging by 2-photon FLIM-FRET, we demonstrate that paCaMKII activation in clustered spines induces robust sLTP via a mechanism that involves the actin-regulatory small GTPase, Cdc42. This optogenetic tool for dissecting the function of CaMKII activation (i.e., the sufficiency of CaMKII rather than necessity) and for manipulating synaptic plasticity will find many applications in neuroscience and other fields.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium-Calmodulin-Dependent Protein Kinase Type 2 / metabolism*
  • Electrophysiology
  • Female
  • HeLa Cells
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Humans
  • Long-Term Potentiation / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Optogenetics / methods*
  • Receptors, AMPA / genetics
  • Receptors, AMPA / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / genetics
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Synapses / metabolism*
  • Synapses / physiology


  • Receptors, AMPA
  • Calcium-Calmodulin-Dependent Protein Kinase Type 2