Intracellular Calcium Spikes in Rat Suprachiasmatic Nucleus Neurons Induced by BAPTA-Based Calcium Dyes
BACKGROUND Circadian rhythms in spontaneous action potential (AP) firing frequencies and in cytosolic free calcium concentrations have been reported for mammalian circadian pacemaker neurons located within the hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). Also reported is the existence of "Ca(2+) spikes" (i.e., [Ca(2+)](c) transients having a bandwidth of 10 approximately 100 seconds) in SCN neurons, but it is unclear if these SCN Ca(2+) spikes are related to the slow circadian rhythms. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS We addressed this issue based on a Ca(2+) indicator dye (fluo-4) and a protein Ca(2+) sensor (yellow cameleon). Using fluo-4 AM dye, we found spontaneous Ca(2+) spikes in 18% of rat SCN cells in acute brain slices, but the Ca(2+) spiking frequencies showed no day/night variation. We repeated the same experiments with rat (and mouse) SCN slice cultures that expressed yellow cameleon genes for a number of different circadian phases and, surprisingly, spontaneous Ca(2+) spike was barely observed (<3%). When fluo-4 AM or BAPTA-AM was loaded in addition to the cameleon-expressing SCN cultures, however, the number of cells exhibiting Ca(2+) spikes was increased to 13 approximately 14%. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE Despite our extensive set of experiments, no evidence of a circadian rhythm was found in the spontaneous Ca(2+) spiking activity of SCN. Furthermore, our study strongly suggests that the spontaneous Ca(2+) spiking activity is caused by the Ca(2+) chelating effect of the BAPTA-based fluo-4 dye. Therefore, this induced activity seems irrelevant to the intrinsic circadian rhythm of [Ca(2+)](c) in SCN neurons. The problems with BAPTA based dyes are widely known and our study provides a clear case for concern, in particular, for SCN Ca(2+) spikes. On the other hand, our study neither invalidates the use of these dyes as a whole, nor undermines the potential role of SCN Ca(2+) spikes in the function of SCN.