Recent developments of genetically encoded optical sensors for cell biology

Andrey Bolbat, Carsten Schultz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Optical sensors are powerful tools for live cell research as they permit to follow the location, concentration changes or activities of key cellular players such as lipids, ions and enzymes. Most of the current sensor probes are based on fluorescence which provides great spatial and temporal precision provided that high-end microscopy is used and that the timescale of the event of interest fits the response time of the sensor. Many of the sensors developed in the past 20 years are genetically encoded. There is a diversity of designs leading to simple or sometimes complicated applications for the use in live cells. Genetically encoded sensors began to emerge after the discovery of fluorescent proteins, engineering of their improved optical properties and the manipulation of their structure through application of circular permutation. In this review, we will describe a variety of genetically encoded biosensor concepts, including those for intensiometric and ratiometric sensors based on single fluorescent proteins, Forster resonance energy transfer-based sensors, sensors utilising bioluminescence, sensors using self-labelling SNAP- and CLIP-tags, and finally tetracysteine-based sensors. We focus on the newer developments and discuss the current approaches and techniques for design and application. This will demonstrate the power of using optical sensors in cell biology and will help opening the field to more systematic applications in the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalBiology of the Cell
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Calcium
  • Fluorescence
  • Imaging
  • Kinases
  • Microscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology


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