Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jenny Yang

Second Advisor

Donald Hamelberg

Third Advisor

Giovanni Gadda


The spatio-temporal attributes of intracellular calcium (Ca2+) transients activate various biological functions. These Ca2+ signaling events are triggered extracellularly through different stimuli and controlled intracellularly by the major Ca2+ storage organelle and by numerous Ca2+ pumps, channels, and Ca2+ binding proteins. Ca2+ transients can be significantly altered as a result of defects with signal modulation, leading to different diseases. Because of the fragility and intricacy of the Ca2+ signaling system, with the endo- and sarcoplasmic reticulum at the center, genetically-encoded Ca2+ probes that have been optimized for mammalian expression and fast kinetics are needed to observe global and local Ca2+ changes in different cells. Here, we first report the crystal structure determination of our genetically-encoded Ca2+ sensor CatchER which utilizes EGFP as the scaffold protein. Crystal structures of CatchER were resolved in the Ca2+-free, Ca2+-loaded, and gadolinium-loaded forms at 1.66, 1.20, and 1.78 Å, respectively. Analysis of all three structures established conformational changes in T203 and E222 produce the varying ratios of the neutral and anionic chromophore reflected in the absorbance spectrum where Ca2+ stabilizes the anionic chromophore and enhances the optical output. Since CatchER has miniscule fluorescence when expressed at 37˚C in mammalian cells, we enhanced its brightness by improving the folding at 37˚C, facilitating better chromophore formation. The resulting mutants are the CatchER-T series of Ca2+ sensors with CatchER-T’ having the most improvement in brightness at 37˚C. We also introduced the N149E mutation in the binding site to alter the Kd along with the brightness mutations. The resulting mutants were characterized and found to have weaker Kds compared to wild-type CatchER, similar quantum yields, and altered ratios of the neutral and anionic chromophore in the apo form. Then, CatchER-T’ was applied in situ to monitor Ca2+ changes globally in the ER/SR of C2C12, HEK293, and Cos-7 cells. A new construct consisting of CatchER-T’ and JP-45 was created to monitor local Ca2+ dynamics in the SR lumen of skeletal muscle cells. The results showed a difference between global and local SR Ca2+ release. We also examined the potential and spectroscopic properties to utilize some of our sensors in T cells to monitor the magnesium (Mg2+) flux in immune cells with faulty MagT1 receptors to understand the role of Mg2+ in the immune response.