JoVE Logo
Faculty Resource Center

Sign In





Representative Results






In vivo Neuronal Calcium Imaging in C. elegans

Published: April 10th, 2013



1Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Boston University School of Medicine, 2Boston University Photonics Center
* These authors contributed equally

With its small transparent body, well-documented neuroanatomy and a host of amenable genetic techniques and reagents, C. elegans makes an ideal model organism for in vivo neuronal imaging using relatively simple, low-cost techniques. Here we describe single neuron imaging within intact adult animals using genetically encoded fluorescent calcium indicators.

The nematode worm C. elegans is an ideal model organism for relatively simple, low cost neuronal imaging in vivo. Its small transparent body and simple, well-characterized nervous system allows identification and fluorescence imaging of any neuron within the intact animal. Simple immobilization techniques with minimal impact on the animal's physiology allow extended time-lapse imaging. The development of genetically-encoded calcium sensitive fluorophores such as cameleon 1 and GCaMP 2 allow in vivo imaging of neuronal calcium relating both cell physiology and neuronal activity. Numerous transgenic strains expressing these fluorophores in specific neurons are readily available or can be constructed using well-established techniques. Here, we describe detailed procedures for measuring calcium dynamics within a single neuron in vivo using both GCaMP and cameleon. We discuss advantages and disadvantages of both as well as various methods of sample preparation (animal immobilization) and image analysis. Finally, we present results from two experiments: 1) Using GCaMP to measure the sensory response of a specific neuron to an external electrical field and 2) Using cameleon to measure the physiological calcium response of a neuron to traumatic laser damage. Calcium imaging techniques such as these are used extensively in C. elegans and have been extended to measurements in freely moving animals, multiple neurons simultaneously and comparison across genetic backgrounds. C. elegans presents a robust and flexible system for in vivo neuronal imaging with advantages over other model systems in technical simplicity and cost.

Here we present practical methods for in vivo calcium imaging in C. elegans neurons. The development of genetically encoded calcium-sensitive fluorophores with high signal-to-noise ratio makes C. elegans a comparatively straightforward and cost effective system for measurement of neurophysiology and activity. Our imaging is done with a standard compound microscope using wide-field fluorescence imaging of commonly available fluorophores. We present several techniques employing various fluorophores and different sample preparations, discussing the strengths and weakness of each. Data is then presented from two example experiments. An ....

Log in or to access full content. Learn more about your institution’s access to JoVE content here

1. Optical Setup

  1. Use a standard compound microscope with epifluorescence imaging capabilities. We use a Nikon Eclipse Ti-U inverted microscope with an Intensilight HG Illuminator.
  2. For best image and signal quality use a high magnification, high numerical aperture objective. We typically use a Nikon X60 1.4 N.A. oil immersion objective. In some cases it is possible to use lower magnification (X40, X20) depending on expression level of the fluorophore and signal strength.
  3. Use.......

Log in or to access full content. Learn more about your institution’s access to JoVE content here

Here we present results from two separate experiments. The first employs GCaMP to measure the response of a specific sensory neuron to a defined external stimulus, giving a good example of how fluorescent calcium reporters can be used to optically monitor neuronal activity in intact C. elegans. The second employs cameleon to measure the intracellular calcium transient triggered within a neuron in response to specific laser damage, thus illustrating how calcium physiology can be measured within a single cell .......

Log in or to access full content. Learn more about your institution’s access to JoVE content here

Genetically encoded calcium indicators have been widely utilized in C. elegans neurobiology. Numerous groups have employed these techniques to study response of primary sensory neurons to external stimuli as demonstrated here with the ASJ response to an electrical field. Prominent examples include sensation of mechanical touch, specific chemicals, temperature and an electric field 12, 16-19. Activity of interneuron and muscle cells have also been monitored both in response to stimuli and in con.......

Log in or to access full content. Learn more about your institution’s access to JoVE content here

Several people contributed to the work described in this paper. CVG built the experimental setup, and LS, SHC, and CVG performed the experiments. CVG and SHC wrote the manuscript. All authors subsequently took part in the revision process and approved the final copy of the manuscript. We thank Paul Sternberg for the GCaMP strain. Some nematode strains used in this work were provided by the Caenorhabditis Genetics Center (CGC), which is funded by the NIH National Center for Research Resources (NCRR). The MATLAB image analysis program was adapted from that used in 18. The authors were supported by Boston University and The Massachusetts Life Sciences C....

Log in or to access full content. Learn more about your institution’s access to JoVE content here

Name Company Catalog Number Comments
Name of Reagent/Material Company Catalog Number Comments
Eclipse Ti-U inverted
Intensilight HG Illuminator Nikon C-HGFI Fluorescent light source
CFI Plan Apo VC 60X Oil Nikon    
Optical table or 3'X3' optical
grade breadboard
Thor Labs   If an optical table is not used an
optical grade breadboard on a
solid laboratory bench should
Clara Interline Camera Andor
  High-sensitivity CCD camera
wtGFP Longpass Emission Chroma Technology
41015 GFP filter set for imaging GCaMP
Filter 440 +/- 10 nm Chroma D440/20x EX excitation filter for cameleon
Dichroic mirror > 455 nm
Chroma 455DCLP BS microscope dichroic for cameleon
Dichroic mirror > 515 nm
Chroma 515DCLP BS dichroic mirror for cameleon
Filter 535 +/- 15 nm Chroma D535/30m EM YFP emission filter
Filter 480 +/- 20 nm Chroma D485/40m EM CFP emission filter
Lens, 200 mm, Achromat Thor Labs AC508-200-A1 Relay lens for FRET optics (3)
Silver broadband mirror Thor Labs ME2S-P01 FRET optics (2)
NGM buffer      
Levamisole Sigma    
Polybead Microspheres Polysciences, Inc. 08691-10, 2.5% by
volume, 50 nm
polystyrene nanoparticles for C.
elegans immobilization
Transgenic strain, Strain
gpa-9::GCaMP3(in pha-1;
him-5 bkg)
Sternberg Lab Strain PS6388  
Transgenic strain, mec-
Gabel Lab Strain CG1B  

  1. Miyawaki, A., Llopis, J., Heim, R., McCaffery, J. M., Adams, J. A., Ikura, M., Tsien, R. Y. Fluorescent indicators for Ca2+ based on green fluorescent proteins and calmodulin. Nature. 388, 882-887 (1997).
  2. Nakai, J., Ohkura, M., Imoto, K. A high signal-to-noise Ca(2+) probe composed of a single green fluorescent protein. Nat. Biotechnol. 19, 137-141 (2001).
  3. Kerr, R. Imaging the activity of neurons and muscles. WormBook. , (2006).
  4. Tian, L., Hires, S. A., Mao, T., Huber, D., Chiappe, M. E., Chalasani, S. H., Petreanu, L., Akerboom, J., McKinney, S. A., Schreiter, E. R., et al. Imaging neural activity in worms, flies and mice with improved GCaMP calcium indicators. Nat. Methods. 6, 875 (2009).
  5. Reiff, D. F., Ihring, A., Guerrero, G., Isacoff, E. Y., Joesch, M., Nakai, J., Borst, A. In vivo performance of genetically encoded indicators of neural activity in flies. J. Neurosci. 25, 4766-4778 (2005).
  6. Rand, J. B. Acetylcholine. WormBook. , (2005).
  7. Kim, E., Sun, L., Gabel, C. V., Fang-Yen, C. Long-term imaging of Caenorhabditis elegans using nanoparticle-mediated immobilization. PLoS ONE. 8 (1), e53419 (2013).
  8. Byrne, A. B., Edwards, T. J., Hammarlund, M. In vivo Laser Axotomy in C. elegans. J. Vis. Exp. (51), e2707 (2011).
  9. Kerr, R., Lev-Ram, V., Baird, G., Vincent, P., Tsien, R. Y., Schafer, W. R. Optical imaging of calcium transients in neurons and pharyngeal muscle of C. elegans. Neuron. 26, 583-594 (2000).
  10. Chronis, N., Zimmer, M., Bargmann, C. I. Microfluidics for in vivo imaging of neuronal and behavioral activity in Caenorhabditis elegans. Nat. Methods. 4, 727-731 (2007).
  11. Hulme, S. E., Shevkoplyas, S. S., Apfeld, J., Fontana, W., Whitesides, G. M. A microfabricated array of clamps for immobilizing and imaging C. elegans. Lab. Chip. 7, 1515-1523 (2007).
  12. Gabel, C. V., Gabel, H., Pavlichin, D., Kao, A., Clark, D. A., Samuel, A. D. Neural circuits mediate electrosensory behavior in Caenorhabditis elegans. J. Neurosci. 27, 7586-7596 (2007).
  13. Pinan-Lucarre, B., Gabel, C. V., Reina, C. P., Hulme, S. E., Shevkoplyas, S. S., Slone, R. D., Xue, J., Qiao, Y., Weisberg, S., Roodhouse, K., et al. The Core Apoptotic Executioner Proteins CED-3 and CED-4 Promote Initiation of Neuronal Regeneration in Caenorhabditis elegans. PLoS Biol. 10, e1001331 (2012).
  14. Chung, S. H., Clark, D. A., Gabel, C. V., Mazur, E., Samuel, A. D. The role of the AFD neuron in C. elegans thermotaxis analyzed using femtosecond laser ablation. BMC Neurosci. 7, 30 (2006).
  15. Nagai, T., Yamada, S., Tominaga, T., Ichikawa, M., Miyawaki, A. Expanded dynamic range of fluorescent indicators for Ca(2+) by circularly permuted yellow fluorescent proteins. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 101, 10554-10559 (2004).
  16. Kindt, K. S., Quast, K. B., Giles, A. C., De, S., Hendrey, D., Nicastro, I., Rankin, C. H., Schafer, W. R. Dopamine mediates context-dependent modulation of sensory plasticity in C. elegans. Neuron. 55, 662-676 (2007).
  17. Chalasani, S. H., Chronis, N., Tsunozaki, M., Gray, J. M., Ramot, D., Goodman, M. B., Bargmann, C. I. Dissecting a circuit for olfactory behaviour in Caenorhabditis elegans. Nature. 450, 63-70 (2007).
  18. Clark, D. A., Gabel, C. V., Gabel, H., Samuel, A. D. Temporal activity patterns in thermosensory neurons of freely moving Caenorhabditis elegans encode spatial thermal gradients. J. Neurosci. 27, 6083-6090 (2007).
  19. Biron, D., Shibuya, M., Gabel, C., Wasserman, S. M., Clark, D. A., Brown, A., Sengupta, P., Samuel, A. D. A diacylglycerol kinase modulates long-term thermotactic behavioral plasticity in C. elegans. Nat. Neurosci. 9, 1499-1505 (2006).
  20. Ghosh-Roy, A., Wu, Z. L., Goncharov, A., Jin, Y. S., Chisholm, A. D. Calcium and Cyclic AMP Promote Axonal Regeneration in Caenorhabditis elegans and Require DLK-1 Kinase. Journal of Neuroscience. 30, 3175-3183 (2010).
  21. Bianchi, L., Gerstbrein, B., Frokjaer-Jensen, C., Royal, D. C., Mukherjee, G., Royal, M. A., Xue, J., Schafer, W. R., Driscoll, M. The neurotoxic MEC-4(d) DEG/ENaC sodium channel conducts calcium: implications for necrosis initiation. Nat. Neurosci. 7, 1337-1344 (2004).

This article has been published

Video Coming Soon

JoVE Logo


Terms of Use





Copyright © 2024 MyJoVE Corporation. All rights reserved