• calcium signalling;
  • calcium stores;
  • cortical plate;
  • network connectivity;
  • neurogenesis


Spontaneous calcium activity can be detected in embryonic mouse cortical slices as fluorescence intensity variations, in the presence of a fluorescent calcium indicator. Current methods to detect and quantify these variations depend heavily on experimenters whose judgement may interfere with measurement. In the present work, we developed new software called CalSignal for automatic detection and tracking of cellular bodies and quantification of spontaneous calcium activity on time-series of confocal fluorescence images. Analysis of 28 neocortical slices revealed that 21.0% of detected cells displayed peaks of fluorescence corresponding to spontaneous activity, with a mean frequency of one peak per 4 min. This activity was blocked in the absence of extracellular calcium but was not modified after depletion of calcium stores with thapsigargin or blockade of voltage-gated calcium channels with Ni2+. Further, statistical analysis of calcium activity revealed concomitant activation of distant cells in 24 slices, and the existence of a significant network of synchrony based on such coactivations in 17 slices out of 28. These networks enclosed 84.3% of active cells, scattered throughout the neocortical wall (mean distance between cellular bodies, 111.7 µm). Finally, it was possible to identify specific cells which were synchronously active with more neighbouring cells than others. The identity of these nodal cells remains to be investigated to fully comprehend the role of spontaneous calcium activity, before synaptogenesis, in shaping cortical neurogenesis.