Genetic visualization with an improved GCaMP calcium indicator reveals spatiotemporal activation of the spinal motor neurons in zebrafish

Akira Muto, Masamichi Ohkura, Tomoya Kotani, Shin Ichi Higashijima, Junichi Nakai, Koichi Kawakami

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

150 Citations (Scopus)


Animal behaviors are generated by well-coordinated activation of neural circuits. In zebrafish, embryos start to show spontaneous muscle contractions at 17 to 19 h postfertilization. To visualize how motor circuits in the spinal cord are activated during this behavior, we developed GCaMP-HS (GCaMP-hyper sensitive), an improved version of the genetically encoded calcium indicator GCaMP, and created transgenic zebrafish carrying the GCaMP-HS gene downstream of the Gal4-recognition sequence, UAS (upstream activation sequence). Thenweperformed a gene-trap screen and identified the SAIGFF213A transgenic fish that expressed Gal4FF, a modified version of Gal4, in a subset of spinal neurons including the caudal primary (CaP) motor neurons. Weconducted calciumimaging using the SAIGFF213A; UAS:GCaMP-HS double transgenic embryos during the spontaneous contractions. We demonstrated periodic and synchronized activation of a set of ipsilateral motor neurons located on the right and left trunk in accordance with actual muscle movements. The synchronized activation of contralateral motor neurons occurred alternately with a regular interval. Furthermore, a detailed analysis revealed rostral-to-caudal propagation of activation of the ipsilateral motor neuron, which is similar to but much slower than the rostrocaudal delay observed during swimming in later stages. Our study thus demonstrated coordinated activities of the motor neurons during the first behavior in a vertebrate. We propose the GCaMP technology combined with the Gal4FF-UAS systemis a powerful tool to study functional neural circuits in zebrafish.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5425-5430
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 2011 Mar 29


  • Calcium transient
  • Gene trapping
  • Neuronal activity
  • Tol2
  • Transgenesis


Dive into the research topics of 'Genetic visualization with an improved GCaMP calcium indicator reveals spatiotemporal activation of the spinal motor neurons in zebrafish'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this