The great demand for long-wavelength and high signal-to-noise Ca2+ indicators has led us to develop CaRuby-Nano, a new functionalizable red calcium indicator with nanomolar affinity for use in cell biology and neuroscience research. In addition, we generated CaRuby-Nano dextran conjugates and an AM-ester variant for bulk loading of tissue. We tested the new indicator using in vitro and in vivo experiments demonstrating the high sensitivity of CaRuby-Nano as well as its power in dual color imaging experiments.
The movement of calcium ions within cells controls many vital biological processes, ranging from cell growth to muscle contraction and brain activity. These calcium signals are triggered by stimuli, such as nerve impulses, which drive calcium entry into cells or release calcium from internal stores. These changes in calcium levels can span several orders of magnitude, and can be either localized to very small parts of the cell or span the entire cell.
Scientists have developed numerous indicators or ‘probes’ that can detect even very low levels of calcium. One common method uses proteins that fluoresce when viewed under a fluorescence microscope each time the protein senses increases of calcium. Most of these probes fluoresce green, and so to view a second signal that occurs in the cell at the same time it's easier to use a probe that fluoresces with a different color, such as red. However, the red-shifted probes that are currently available either produce unreliable results because they tend to leak through cell membranes, or are not very sensitive to calcium ions. New types of red-shifted probes are therefore urgently needed.
In 2012, researchers developed a family of red fluorescent probes known as Calcium Ruby (CaRuby for short) that were more versatile than earlier red probes. Now, Collot, Wilms et al.—including several of the researchers involved in the 2012 research—have enhanced the properties of CaRuby by modifying the chemical structure of the probes. This increased the ability of CaRuby to bind calcium ions, making it more sensitive to small calcium changes. Testing the usefulness of the newly developed probes—called CaRuby Nano—in mouse nerve cells revealed the probes are highly sensitive and can even detect the calcium signal resulting from a single nerve impulse.
Collot, Wilms et al. then went on to demonstrate that CaRuby-Nano can be used alongside a green-fluorescing probe to record two signals at the same time. In one experiment, the release of chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters was stimulated, which caused calcium ions to flow into the observed nerve cells. The researchers succeeded in simultaneously detecting a green signal indicating an increase in neurotransmitter levels and a red signal produced by the corresponding release of calcium. Such dual-color imaging was not possible with previous probes. Finally, it was shown that CaRuby-Nano can also be used to produce dual-color images of the brain activity of live mice.
In summary, these results demonstrate that CaRuby-Nano is a highly sensitive and versatile indicator and can be used together with other probes to observe two simultaneous events in cells.