A primary goal of molecular physiology is to understand how conformational changes of proteins affect the function of cells, tissues, and organisms. Here, we describe an imaging method for measuring the conformational changes of the voltage sensors of endogenous ion channel proteins within live tissue, without genetic modification. We synthesized GxTX-594, a variant of the peptidyl tarantula toxin guangxitoxin-1E, conjugated to a fluorophore optimal for two-photon excitation imaging through light-scattering tissue. We term this tool EVAP (Endogenous Voltage-sensor Activity Probe). GxTX-594 targets the voltage sensors of Kv2 proteins, which form potassium channels and plasma membrane–endoplasmic reticulum junctions. GxTX-594 dynamically labels Kv2 proteins on cell surfaces in response to voltage stimulation. To interpret dynamic changes in fluorescence intensity, we developed a statistical thermodynamic model that relates the conformational changes of Kv2 voltage sensors to degree of labeling. We used two-photon excitation imaging of rat brain slices to image Kv2 proteins in neurons. We found puncta of GxTX-594 on hippocampal CA1 neurons that responded to voltage stimulation and retain a voltage response roughly similar to heterologously expressed Kv2.1 protein. Our findings show that EVAP imaging methods enable the identification of conformational changes of endogenous Kv2 voltage sensors in tissue.

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