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A developmental systems perspective on epistasis: computational exploration of mutational interactions in model developmental regulatory networks.
PUBLISHED: 05-04-2009
The way in which the information contained in genotypes is translated into complex phenotypic traits (i.e. embryonic expression patterns) depends on its decoding by a multilayered hierarchy of biomolecular systems (regulatory networks). Each layer of this hierarchy displays its own regulatory schemes (i.e. operational rules such as +/- feedback) and associated control parameters, resulting in characteristic variational constraints. This process can be conceptualized as a mapping issue, and in the context of highly-dimensional genotype-phenotype mappings (GPMs) epistatic events have been shown to be ubiquitous, manifested in non-linear correspondences between changes in the genotype and their phenotypic effects. In this study I concentrate on epistatic phenomena pervading levels of biological organization above the genetic material, more specifically the realm of molecular networks. At this level, systems approaches to studying GPMs are specially suitable to shed light on the mechanistic basis of epistatic phenomena. To this aim, I constructed and analyzed ensembles of highly-modular (fully interconnected) networks with distinctive topologies, each displaying dynamic behaviors that were categorized as either arbitrary or functional according to early patterning processes in the Drosophila embryo. Spatio-temporal expression trajectories in virtual syncytial embryos were simulated via reaction-diffusion models. My in silico mutational experiments show that: 1) the average fitness decay tendency to successively accumulated mutations in ensembles of functional networks indicates the prevalence of positive epistasis, whereas in ensembles of arbitrary networks negative epistasis is the dominant tendency; and 2) the evaluation of epistatic coefficients of diverse interaction orders indicates that, both positive and negative epistasis are more prevalent in functional networks than in arbitrary ones. Overall, I conclude that the phenotypic and fitness effects of multiple perturbations are strongly conditioned by both the regulatory architecture (i.e. pattern of coupled feedback structures) and the dynamic nature of the spatio-temporal expression trajectories displayed by the simulated networks.
Authors: Alla Gagarinova, Mohan Babu, Jack Greenblatt, Andrew Emili.
Published: 11-12-2012
Phenotypes are determined by a complex series of physical (e.g. protein-protein) and functional (e.g. gene-gene or genetic) interactions (GI)1. While physical interactions can indicate which bacterial proteins are associated as complexes, they do not necessarily reveal pathway-level functional relationships1. GI screens, in which the growth of double mutants bearing two deleted or inactivated genes is measured and compared to the corresponding single mutants, can illuminate epistatic dependencies between loci and hence provide a means to query and discover novel functional relationships2. Large-scale GI maps have been reported for eukaryotic organisms like yeast3-7, but GI information remains sparse for prokaryotes8, which hinders the functional annotation of bacterial genomes. To this end, we and others have developed high-throughput quantitative bacterial GI screening methods9, 10. Here, we present the key steps required to perform quantitative E. coli Synthetic Genetic Array (eSGA) screening procedure on a genome-scale9, using natural bacterial conjugation and homologous recombination to systemically generate and measure the fitness of large numbers of double mutants in a colony array format. Briefly, a robot is used to transfer, through conjugation, chloramphenicol (Cm) - marked mutant alleles from engineered Hfr (High frequency of recombination) 'donor strains' into an ordered array of kanamycin (Kan) - marked F- recipient strains. Typically, we use loss-of-function single mutants bearing non-essential gene deletions (e.g. the 'Keio' collection11) and essential gene hypomorphic mutations (i.e. alleles conferring reduced protein expression, stability, or activity9, 12, 13) to query the functional associations of non-essential and essential genes, respectively. After conjugation and ensuing genetic exchange mediated by homologous recombination, the resulting double mutants are selected on solid medium containing both antibiotics. After outgrowth, the plates are digitally imaged and colony sizes are quantitatively scored using an in-house automated image processing system14. GIs are revealed when the growth rate of a double mutant is either significantly better or worse than expected9. Aggravating (or negative) GIs often result between loss-of-function mutations in pairs of genes from compensatory pathways that impinge on the same essential process2. Here, the loss of a single gene is buffered, such that either single mutant is viable. However, the loss of both pathways is deleterious and results in synthetic lethality or sickness (i.e. slow growth). Conversely, alleviating (or positive) interactions can occur between genes in the same pathway or protein complex2 as the deletion of either gene alone is often sufficient to perturb the normal function of the pathway or complex such that additional perturbations do not reduce activity, and hence growth, further. Overall, systematically identifying and analyzing GI networks can provide unbiased, global maps of the functional relationships between large numbers of genes, from which pathway-level information missed by other approaches can be inferred9.
23 Related JoVE Articles!
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High Content Screening in Neurodegenerative Diseases
Authors: Shushant Jain, Ronald E. van Kesteren, Peter Heutink.
Institutions: VU University Medical Center, Neuroscience Campus Amsterdam.
The functional annotation of genomes, construction of molecular networks and novel drug target identification, are important challenges that need to be addressed as a matter of great urgency1-4. Multiple complementary 'omics' approaches have provided clues as to the genetic risk factors and pathogenic mechanisms underlying numerous neurodegenerative diseases, but most findings still require functional validation5. For example, a recent genome wide association study for Parkinson's Disease (PD), identified many new loci as risk factors for the disease, but the underlying causative variant(s) or pathogenic mechanism is not known6, 7. As each associated region can contain several genes, the functional evaluation of each of the genes on phenotypes associated with the disease, using traditional cell biology techniques would take too long. There is also a need to understand the molecular networks that link genetic mutations to the phenotypes they cause. It is expected that disease phenotypes are the result of multiple interactions that have been disrupted. Reconstruction of these networks using traditional molecular methods would be time consuming. Moreover, network predictions from independent studies of individual components, the reductionism approach, will probably underestimate the network complexity8. This underestimation could, in part, explain the low success rate of drug approval due to undesirable or toxic side effects. Gaining a network perspective of disease related pathways using HT/HC cellular screening approaches, and identifying key nodes within these pathways, could lead to the identification of targets that are more suited for therapeutic intervention. High-throughput screening (HTS) is an ideal methodology to address these issues9-12. but traditional methods were one dimensional whole-well cell assays, that used simplistic readouts for complex biological processes. They were unable to simultaneously quantify the many phenotypes observed in neurodegenerative diseases such as axonal transport deficits or alterations in morphology properties13, 14. This approach could not be used to investigate the dynamic nature of cellular processes or pathogenic events that occur in a subset of cells. To quantify such features one has to move to multi-dimensional phenotypes termed high-content screening (HCS)4, 15-17. HCS is the cell-based quantification of several processes simultaneously, which provides a more detailed representation of the cellular response to various perturbations compared to HTS. HCS has many advantages over HTS18, 19, but conducting a high-throughput (HT)-high-content (HC) screen in neuronal models is problematic due to high cost, environmental variation and human error. In order to detect cellular responses on a 'phenomics' scale using HC imaging one has to reduce variation and error, while increasing sensitivity and reproducibility. Herein we describe a method to accurately and reliably conduct shRNA screens using automated cell culturing20 and HC imaging in neuronal cellular models. We describe how we have used this methodology to identify modulators for one particular protein, DJ1, which when mutated causes autosomal recessive parkinsonism21. Combining the versatility of HC imaging with HT methods, it is possible to accurately quantify a plethora of phenotypes. This could subsequently be utilized to advance our understanding of the genome, the pathways involved in disease pathogenesis as well as identify potential therapeutic targets.
Medicine, Issue 59, High-throughput screening, high-content screening, neurodegeneration, automated cell culturing, Parkinson’s disease
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Plasma Lithography Surface Patterning for Creation of Cell Networks
Authors: Michael Junkin, Siu Ling Leung, Yongliang Yang, Yi Lu, Justin Volmering, Pak Kin Wong.
Institutions: University of Arizona , University of Arizona .
Systematic manipulation of a cell microenvironment with micro- and nanoscale resolution is often required for deciphering various cellular and molecular phenomena. To address this requirement, we have developed a plasma lithography technique to manipulate the cellular microenvironment by creating a patterned surface with feature sizes ranging from 100 nm to millimeters. The goal of this technique is to be able to study, in a controlled way, the behaviors of individual cells as well as groups of cells and their interactions. This plasma lithography method is based on selective modification of the surface chemistry on a substrate by means of shielding the contact of low-temperature plasma with a physical mold. This selective shielding leaves a chemical pattern which can guide cell attachment and movement. This pattern, or surface template, can then be used to create networks of cells whose structure can mimic that found in nature and produces a controllable environment for experimental investigations. The technique is well suited to studying biological phenomenon as it produces stable surface patterns on transparent polymeric substrates in a biocompatible manner. The surface patterns last for weeks to months and can thus guide interaction with cells for long time periods which facilitates the study of long-term cellular processes, such as differentiation and adaption. The modification to the surface is primarily chemical in nature and thus does not introduce topographical or physical interference for interpretation of results. It also does not involve any harsh or toxic substances to achieve patterning and is compatible for tissue culture. Furthermore, it can be applied to modify various types of polymeric substrates, which due to the ability to tune their properties are ideal for and are widely used in biological applications. The resolution achievable is also beneficial, as isolation of specific processes such as migration, adhesion, or binding allows for discrete, clear observations at the single to multicell level. This method has been employed to form diverse networks of different cell types for investigations involving migration, signaling, tissue formation, and the behavior and interactions of neurons arraigned in a network.
Bioengineering, Issue 52, Cell Network, Surface Patterning, Self-Organization, Developmental Biology, Tissue Engineering, Nanopattern, Micropattern, Self-Assembly, Cell Guidance, Neuron
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Applications of EEG Neuroimaging Data: Event-related Potentials, Spectral Power, and Multiscale Entropy
Authors: Jennifer J. Heisz, Anthony R. McIntosh.
Institutions: Baycrest.
When considering human neuroimaging data, an appreciation of signal variability represents a fundamental innovation in the way we think about brain signal. Typically, researchers represent the brain's response as the mean across repeated experimental trials and disregard signal fluctuations over time as "noise". However, it is becoming clear that brain signal variability conveys meaningful functional information about neural network dynamics. This article describes the novel method of multiscale entropy (MSE) for quantifying brain signal variability. MSE may be particularly informative of neural network dynamics because it shows timescale dependence and sensitivity to linear and nonlinear dynamics in the data.
Neuroscience, Issue 76, Neurobiology, Anatomy, Physiology, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Electroencephalography, EEG, electroencephalogram, Multiscale entropy, sample entropy, MEG, neuroimaging, variability, noise, timescale, non-linear, brain signal, information theory, brain, imaging
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Laser Microdissection Applied to Gene Expression Profiling of Subset of Cells from the Drosophila Wing Disc
Authors: Rosario Vicidomini, Giuseppe Tortoriello, Maria Furia, Gianluca Polese.
Institutions: University of Naples.
Heterogeneous nature of tissues has proven to be a limiting factor in the amount of information that can be generated from biological samples, compromising downstream analyses. Considering the complex and dynamic cellular associations existing within many tissues, in order to recapitulate the in vivo interactions thorough molecular analysis one must be able to analyze specific cell populations within their native context. Laser-mediated microdissection can achieve this goal, allowing unambiguous identification and successful harvest of cells of interest under direct microscopic visualization while maintaining molecular integrity. We have applied this technology to analyse gene expression within defined areas of the developing Drosophila wing disc, which represents an advantageous model system to study growth control, cell differentiation and organogenesis. Larval imaginal discs are precociously subdivided into anterior and posterior, dorsal and ventral compartments by lineage restriction boundaries. Making use of the inducible GAL4-UAS binary expression system, each of these compartments can be specifically labelled in transgenic flies expressing an UAS-GFP transgene under the control of the appropriate GAL4-driver construct. In the transgenic discs, gene expression profiling of discrete subsets of cells can precisely be determined after laser-mediated microdissection, using the fluorescent GFP signal to guide laser cut. Among the variety of downstream applications, we focused on RNA transcript profiling after localised RNA interference (RNAi). With the advent of RNAi technology, GFP labelling can be coupled with localised knockdown of a given gene, allowing to determinate the transcriptional response of a discrete cell population to the specific gene silencing. To validate this approach, we dissected equivalent areas of the disc from the posterior (labelled by GFP expression), and the anterior (unlabelled) compartment upon regional silencing in the P compartment of an otherwise ubiquitously expressed gene. RNA was extracted from microdissected silenced and unsilenced areas and comparative gene expression profiling determined by quantitative real-time RT-PCR. We show that this method can effectively be applied for accurate transcriptomics of subsets of cells within the Drosophila imaginal discs. Indeed, while massive disc preparation as source of RNA generally assumes cell homogeneity, it is well known that transcriptional expression can vary greatly within these structures in consequence of positional information. Using localized fluorescent GFP signal to guide laser cut, more accurate transcriptional analyses can be performed and profitably applied to disparate applications, including transcript profiling of distinct cell lineages within their native context.
Developmental Biology, Issue 38, Drosophila, Imaginal discs, Laser microdissection, Gene expression, Transcription profiling, Regulatory pathways , in vivo RNAi, GAL4-UAS, GFP labelling, Positional information
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A Method for Investigating Age-related Differences in the Functional Connectivity of Cognitive Control Networks Associated with Dimensional Change Card Sort Performance
Authors: Bianca DeBenedictis, J. Bruce Morton.
Institutions: University of Western Ontario.
The ability to adjust behavior to sudden changes in the environment develops gradually in childhood and adolescence. For example, in the Dimensional Change Card Sort task, participants switch from sorting cards one way, such as shape, to sorting them a different way, such as color. Adjusting behavior in this way exacts a small performance cost, or switch cost, such that responses are typically slower and more error-prone on switch trials in which the sorting rule changes as compared to repeat trials in which the sorting rule remains the same. The ability to flexibly adjust behavior is often said to develop gradually, in part because behavioral costs such as switch costs typically decrease with increasing age. Why aspects of higher-order cognition, such as behavioral flexibility, develop so gradually remains an open question. One hypothesis is that these changes occur in association with functional changes in broad-scale cognitive control networks. On this view, complex mental operations, such as switching, involve rapid interactions between several distributed brain regions, including those that update and maintain task rules, re-orient attention, and select behaviors. With development, functional connections between these regions strengthen, leading to faster and more efficient switching operations. The current video describes a method of testing this hypothesis through the collection and multivariate analysis of fMRI data from participants of different ages.
Behavior, Issue 87, Neurosciences, fMRI, Cognitive Control, Development, Functional Connectivity
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Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Authors: Joe Bathelt, Helen O'Reilly, Michelle de Haan.
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3.  In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis. 
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials 
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Biochemical and High Throughput Microscopic Assessment of Fat Mass in Caenorhabditis Elegans
Authors: Elizabeth C. Pino, Christopher M. Webster, Christopher E. Carr, Alexander A. Soukas.
Institutions: Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The nematode C. elegans has emerged as an important model for the study of conserved genetic pathways regulating fat metabolism as it relates to human obesity and its associated pathologies. Several previous methodologies developed for the visualization of C. elegans triglyceride-rich fat stores have proven to be erroneous, highlighting cellular compartments other than lipid droplets. Other methods require specialized equipment, are time-consuming, or yield inconsistent results. We introduce a rapid, reproducible, fixative-based Nile red staining method for the accurate and rapid detection of neutral lipid droplets in C. elegans. A short fixation step in 40% isopropanol makes animals completely permeable to Nile red, which is then used to stain animals. Spectral properties of this lipophilic dye allow it to strongly and selectively fluoresce in the yellow-green spectrum only when in a lipid-rich environment, but not in more polar environments. Thus, lipid droplets can be visualized on a fluorescent microscope equipped with simple GFP imaging capability after only a brief Nile red staining step in isopropanol. The speed, affordability, and reproducibility of this protocol make it ideally suited for high throughput screens. We also demonstrate a paired method for the biochemical determination of triglycerides and phospholipids using gas chromatography mass-spectrometry. This more rigorous protocol should be used as confirmation of results obtained from the Nile red microscopic lipid determination. We anticipate that these techniques will become new standards in the field of C. elegans metabolic research.
Genetics, Issue 73, Biochemistry, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Developmental Biology, Physiology, Anatomy, Caenorhabditis elegans, Obesity, Energy Metabolism, Lipid Metabolism, C. elegans, fluorescent lipid staining, lipids, Nile red, fat, high throughput screening, obesity, gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, GC/MS, animal model
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Preparation of Primary Myogenic Precursor Cell/Myoblast Cultures from Basal Vertebrate Lineages
Authors: Jacob Michael Froehlich, Iban Seiliez, Jean-Charles Gabillard, Peggy R. Biga.
Institutions: University of Alabama at Birmingham, INRA UR1067, INRA UR1037.
Due to the inherent difficulty and time involved with studying the myogenic program in vivo, primary culture systems derived from the resident adult stem cells of skeletal muscle, the myogenic precursor cells (MPCs), have proven indispensible to our understanding of mammalian skeletal muscle development and growth. Particularly among the basal taxa of Vertebrata, however, data are limited describing the molecular mechanisms controlling the self-renewal, proliferation, and differentiation of MPCs. Of particular interest are potential mechanisms that underlie the ability of basal vertebrates to undergo considerable postlarval skeletal myofiber hyperplasia (i.e. teleost fish) and full regeneration following appendage loss (i.e. urodele amphibians). Additionally, the use of cultured myoblasts could aid in the understanding of regeneration and the recapitulation of the myogenic program and the differences between them. To this end, we describe in detail a robust and efficient protocol (and variations therein) for isolating and maintaining MPCs and their progeny, myoblasts and immature myotubes, in cell culture as a platform for understanding the evolution of the myogenic program, beginning with the more basal vertebrates. Capitalizing on the model organism status of the zebrafish (Danio rerio), we report on the application of this protocol to small fishes of the cyprinid clade Danioninae. In tandem, this protocol can be utilized to realize a broader comparative approach by isolating MPCs from the Mexican axolotl (Ambystomamexicanum) and even laboratory rodents. This protocol is now widely used in studying myogenesis in several fish species, including rainbow trout, salmon, and sea bream1-4.
Basic Protocol, Issue 86, myogenesis, zebrafish, myoblast, cell culture, giant danio, moustached danio, myotubes, proliferation, differentiation, Danioninae, axolotl
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Using Informational Connectivity to Measure the Synchronous Emergence of fMRI Multi-voxel Information Across Time
Authors: Marc N. Coutanche, Sharon L. Thompson-Schill.
Institutions: University of Pennsylvania.
It is now appreciated that condition-relevant information can be present within distributed patterns of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain activity, even for conditions with similar levels of univariate activation. Multi-voxel pattern (MVP) analysis has been used to decode this information with great success. FMRI investigators also often seek to understand how brain regions interact in interconnected networks, and use functional connectivity (FC) to identify regions that have correlated responses over time. Just as univariate analyses can be insensitive to information in MVPs, FC may not fully characterize the brain networks that process conditions with characteristic MVP signatures. The method described here, informational connectivity (IC), can identify regions with correlated changes in MVP-discriminability across time, revealing connectivity that is not accessible to FC. The method can be exploratory, using searchlights to identify seed-connected areas, or planned, between pre-selected regions-of-interest. The results can elucidate networks of regions that process MVP-related conditions, can breakdown MVPA searchlight maps into separate networks, or can be compared across tasks and patient groups.
Neuroscience, Issue 89, fMRI, MVPA, connectivity, informational connectivity, functional connectivity, networks, multi-voxel pattern analysis, decoding, classification, method, multivariate
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Production of Haploid Zebrafish Embryos by In Vitro Fertilization
Authors: Paul T. Kroeger Jr., Shahram Jevin Poureetezadi, Robert McKee, Jonathan Jou, Rachel Miceli, Rebecca A. Wingert.
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish has become a mainstream vertebrate model that is relevant for many disciplines of scientific study. Zebrafish are especially well suited for forward genetic analysis of developmental processes due to their external fertilization, embryonic size, rapid ontogeny, and optical clarity – a constellation of traits that enable the direct observation of events ranging from gastrulation to organogenesis with a basic stereomicroscope. Further, zebrafish embryos can survive for several days in the haploid state. The production of haploid embryos in vitro is a powerful tool for mutational analysis, as it enables the identification of recessive mutant alleles present in first generation (F1) female carriers following mutagenesis in the parental (P) generation. This approach eliminates the necessity to raise multiple generations (F2, F3, etc.) which involves breeding of mutant families, thus saving the researcher time along with reducing the needs for zebrafish colony space, labor, and the husbandry costs. Although zebrafish have been used to conduct forward screens for the past several decades, there has been a steady expansion of transgenic and genome editing tools. These tools now offer a plethora of ways to create nuanced assays for next generation screens that can be used to further dissect the gene regulatory networks that drive vertebrate ontogeny. Here, we describe how to prepare haploid zebrafish embryos. This protocol can be implemented for novel future haploid screens, such as in enhancer and suppressor screens, to address the mechanisms of development for a broad number of processes and tissues that form during early embryonic stages.
Developmental Biology, Issue 89, zebrafish, haploid, in vitro fertilization, forward genetic screen, saturation, recessive mutation, mutagenesis
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High Efficiency Differentiation of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells to Cardiomyocytes and Characterization by Flow Cytometry
Authors: Subarna Bhattacharya, Paul W. Burridge, Erin M. Kropp, Sandra L. Chuppa, Wai-Meng Kwok, Joseph C. Wu, Kenneth R. Boheler, Rebekah L. Gundry.
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin, Stanford University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin, Hong Kong University, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin.
There is an urgent need to develop approaches for repairing the damaged heart, discovering new therapeutic drugs that do not have toxic effects on the heart, and improving strategies to accurately model heart disease. The potential of exploiting human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) technology to generate cardiac muscle “in a dish” for these applications continues to generate high enthusiasm. In recent years, the ability to efficiently generate cardiomyogenic cells from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) has greatly improved, offering us new opportunities to model very early stages of human cardiac development not otherwise accessible. In contrast to many previous methods, the cardiomyocyte differentiation protocol described here does not require cell aggregation or the addition of Activin A or BMP4 and robustly generates cultures of cells that are highly positive for cardiac troponin I and T (TNNI3, TNNT2), iroquois-class homeodomain protein IRX-4 (IRX4), myosin regulatory light chain 2, ventricular/cardiac muscle isoform (MLC2v) and myosin regulatory light chain 2, atrial isoform (MLC2a) by day 10 across all human embryonic stem cell (hESC) and hiPSC lines tested to date. Cells can be passaged and maintained for more than 90 days in culture. The strategy is technically simple to implement and cost-effective. Characterization of cardiomyocytes derived from pluripotent cells often includes the analysis of reference markers, both at the mRNA and protein level. For protein analysis, flow cytometry is a powerful analytical tool for assessing quality of cells in culture and determining subpopulation homogeneity. However, technical variation in sample preparation can significantly affect quality of flow cytometry data. Thus, standardization of staining protocols should facilitate comparisons among various differentiation strategies. Accordingly, optimized staining protocols for the analysis of IRX4, MLC2v, MLC2a, TNNI3, and TNNT2 by flow cytometry are described.
Cellular Biology, Issue 91, human induced pluripotent stem cell, flow cytometry, directed differentiation, cardiomyocyte, IRX4, TNNI3, TNNT2, MCL2v, MLC2a
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Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Authors: James Smadbeck, Meghan B. Peterson, George A. Khoury, Martin S. Taylor, Christodoulos A. Floudas.
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity. To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (, a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
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In Vivo Modeling of the Morbid Human Genome using Danio rerio
Authors: Adrienne R. Niederriter, Erica E. Davis, Christelle Golzio, Edwin C. Oh, I-Chun Tsai, Nicholas Katsanis.
Institutions: Duke University Medical Center, Duke University, Duke University Medical Center.
Here, we present methods for the development of assays to query potentially clinically significant nonsynonymous changes using in vivo complementation in zebrafish. Zebrafish (Danio rerio) are a useful animal system due to their experimental tractability; embryos are transparent to enable facile viewing, undergo rapid development ex vivo, and can be genetically manipulated.1 These aspects have allowed for significant advances in the analysis of embryogenesis, molecular processes, and morphogenetic signaling. Taken together, the advantages of this vertebrate model make zebrafish highly amenable to modeling the developmental defects in pediatric disease, and in some cases, adult-onset disorders. Because the zebrafish genome is highly conserved with that of humans (~70% orthologous), it is possible to recapitulate human disease states in zebrafish. This is accomplished either through the injection of mutant human mRNA to induce dominant negative or gain of function alleles, or utilization of morpholino (MO) antisense oligonucleotides to suppress genes to mimic loss of function variants. Through complementation of MO-induced phenotypes with capped human mRNA, our approach enables the interpretation of the deleterious effect of mutations on human protein sequence based on the ability of mutant mRNA to rescue a measurable, physiologically relevant phenotype. Modeling of the human disease alleles occurs through microinjection of zebrafish embryos with MO and/or human mRNA at the 1-4 cell stage, and phenotyping up to seven days post fertilization (dpf). This general strategy can be extended to a wide range of disease phenotypes, as demonstrated in the following protocol. We present our established models for morphogenetic signaling, craniofacial, cardiac, vascular integrity, renal function, and skeletal muscle disorder phenotypes, as well as others.
Molecular Biology, Issue 78, Genetics, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Developmental Biology, Biochemistry, Anatomy, Physiology, Bioengineering, Genomics, Medical, zebrafish, in vivo, morpholino, human disease modeling, transcription, PCR, mRNA, DNA, Danio rerio, animal model
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Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Authors: Johannes Felix Buyel, Rainer Fischer.
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
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Setting-up an In Vitro Model of Rat Blood-brain Barrier (BBB): A Focus on BBB Impermeability and Receptor-mediated Transport
Authors: Yves Molino, Françoise Jabès, Emmanuelle Lacassagne, Nicolas Gaudin, Michel Khrestchatisky.
Institutions: VECT-HORUS SAS, CNRS, NICN UMR 7259.
The blood brain barrier (BBB) specifically regulates molecular and cellular flux between the blood and the nervous tissue. Our aim was to develop and characterize a highly reproducible rat syngeneic in vitro model of the BBB using co-cultures of primary rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC) and astrocytes to study receptors involved in transcytosis across the endothelial cell monolayer. Astrocytes were isolated by mechanical dissection following trypsin digestion and were frozen for later co-culture. RBEC were isolated from 5-week-old rat cortices. The brains were cleaned of meninges and white matter, and mechanically dissociated following enzymatic digestion. Thereafter, the tissue homogenate was centrifuged in bovine serum albumin to separate vessel fragments from nervous tissue. The vessel fragments underwent a second enzymatic digestion to free endothelial cells from their extracellular matrix. The remaining contaminating cells such as pericytes were further eliminated by plating the microvessel fragments in puromycin-containing medium. They were then passaged onto filters for co-culture with astrocytes grown on the bottom of the wells. RBEC expressed high levels of tight junction (TJ) proteins such as occludin, claudin-5 and ZO-1 with a typical localization at the cell borders. The transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER) of brain endothelial monolayers, indicating the tightness of TJs reached 300 ohm·cm2 on average. The endothelial permeability coefficients (Pe) for lucifer yellow (LY) was highly reproducible with an average of 0.26 ± 0.11 x 10-3 cm/min. Brain endothelial cells organized in monolayers expressed the efflux transporter P-glycoprotein (P-gp), showed a polarized transport of rhodamine 123, a ligand for P-gp, and showed specific transport of transferrin-Cy3 and DiILDL across the endothelial cell monolayer. In conclusion, we provide a protocol for setting up an in vitro BBB model that is highly reproducible due to the quality assurance methods, and that is suitable for research on BBB transporters and receptors.
Medicine, Issue 88, rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC), mouse, spinal cord, tight junction (TJ), receptor-mediated transport (RMT), low density lipoprotein (LDL), LDLR, transferrin, TfR, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER),
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Analysis of Tubular Membrane Networks in Cardiac Myocytes from Atria and Ventricles
Authors: Eva Wagner, Sören Brandenburg, Tobias Kohl, Stephan E. Lehnart.
Institutions: Heart Research Center Goettingen, University Medical Center Goettingen, German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) partner site Goettingen, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
In cardiac myocytes a complex network of membrane tubules - the transverse-axial tubule system (TATS) - controls deep intracellular signaling functions. While the outer surface membrane and associated TATS membrane components appear to be continuous, there are substantial differences in lipid and protein content. In ventricular myocytes (VMs), certain TATS components are highly abundant contributing to rectilinear tubule networks and regular branching 3D architectures. It is thought that peripheral TATS components propagate action potentials from the cell surface to thousands of remote intracellular sarcoendoplasmic reticulum (SER) membrane contact domains, thereby activating intracellular Ca2+ release units (CRUs). In contrast to VMs, the organization and functional role of TATS membranes in atrial myocytes (AMs) is significantly different and much less understood. Taken together, quantitative structural characterization of TATS membrane networks in healthy and diseased myocytes is an essential prerequisite towards better understanding of functional plasticity and pathophysiological reorganization. Here, we present a strategic combination of protocols for direct quantitative analysis of TATS membrane networks in living VMs and AMs. For this, we accompany primary cell isolations of mouse VMs and/or AMs with critical quality control steps and direct membrane staining protocols for fluorescence imaging of TATS membranes. Using an optimized workflow for confocal or superresolution TATS image processing, binarized and skeletonized data are generated for quantitative analysis of the TATS network and its components. Unlike previously published indirect regional aggregate image analysis strategies, our protocols enable direct characterization of specific components and derive complex physiological properties of TATS membrane networks in living myocytes with high throughput and open access software tools. In summary, the combined protocol strategy can be readily applied for quantitative TATS network studies during physiological myocyte adaptation or disease changes, comparison of different cardiac or skeletal muscle cell types, phenotyping of transgenic models, and pharmacological or therapeutic interventions.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cardiac myocyte, atria, ventricle, heart, primary cell isolation, fluorescence microscopy, membrane tubule, transverse-axial tubule system, image analysis, image processing, T-tubule, collagenase
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Analysis of Nephron Composition and Function in the Adult Zebrafish Kidney
Authors: Kristen K. McCampbell, Kristin N. Springer, Rebecca A. Wingert.
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish model has emerged as a relevant system to study kidney development, regeneration and disease. Both the embryonic and adult zebrafish kidneys are composed of functional units known as nephrons, which are highly conserved with other vertebrates, including mammals. Research in zebrafish has recently demonstrated that two distinctive phenomena transpire after adult nephrons incur damage: first, there is robust regeneration within existing nephrons that replaces the destroyed tubule epithelial cells; second, entirely new nephrons are produced from renal progenitors in a process known as neonephrogenesis. In contrast, humans and other mammals seem to have only a limited ability for nephron epithelial regeneration. To date, the mechanisms responsible for these kidney regeneration phenomena remain poorly understood. Since adult zebrafish kidneys undergo both nephron epithelial regeneration and neonephrogenesis, they provide an outstanding experimental paradigm to study these events. Further, there is a wide range of genetic and pharmacological tools available in the zebrafish model that can be used to delineate the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate renal regeneration. One essential aspect of such research is the evaluation of nephron structure and function. This protocol describes a set of labeling techniques that can be used to gauge renal composition and test nephron functionality in the adult zebrafish kidney. Thus, these methods are widely applicable to the future phenotypic characterization of adult zebrafish kidney injury paradigms, which include but are not limited to, nephrotoxicant exposure regimes or genetic methods of targeted cell death such as the nitroreductase mediated cell ablation technique. Further, these methods could be used to study genetic perturbations in adult kidney formation and could also be applied to assess renal status during chronic disease modeling.
Cellular Biology, Issue 90, zebrafish; kidney; nephron; nephrology; renal; regeneration; proximal tubule; distal tubule; segment; mesonephros; physiology; acute kidney injury (AKI)
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Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Authors: Nikki M. Curthoys, Michael J. Mlodzianoski, Dahan Kim, Samuel T. Hess.
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
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Monitoring Cell-autonomous Circadian Clock Rhythms of Gene Expression Using Luciferase Bioluminescence Reporters
Authors: Chidambaram Ramanathan, Sanjoy K. Khan, Nimish D. Kathale, Haiyan Xu, Andrew C. Liu.
Institutions: The University of Memphis.
In mammals, many aspects of behavior and physiology such as sleep-wake cycles and liver metabolism are regulated by endogenous circadian clocks (reviewed1,2). The circadian time-keeping system is a hierarchical multi-oscillator network, with the central clock located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) synchronizing and coordinating extra-SCN and peripheral clocks elsewhere1,2. Individual cells are the functional units for generation and maintenance of circadian rhythms3,4, and these oscillators of different tissue types in the organism share a remarkably similar biochemical negative feedback mechanism. However, due to interactions at the neuronal network level in the SCN and through rhythmic, systemic cues at the organismal level, circadian rhythms at the organismal level are not necessarily cell-autonomous5-7. Compared to traditional studies of locomotor activity in vivo and SCN explants ex vivo, cell-based in vitro assays allow for discovery of cell-autonomous circadian defects5,8. Strategically, cell-based models are more experimentally tractable for phenotypic characterization and rapid discovery of basic clock mechanisms5,8-13. Because circadian rhythms are dynamic, longitudinal measurements with high temporal resolution are needed to assess clock function. In recent years, real-time bioluminescence recording using firefly luciferase as a reporter has become a common technique for studying circadian rhythms in mammals14,15, as it allows for examination of the persistence and dynamics of molecular rhythms. To monitor cell-autonomous circadian rhythms of gene expression, luciferase reporters can be introduced into cells via transient transfection13,16,17 or stable transduction5,10,18,19. Here we describe a stable transduction protocol using lentivirus-mediated gene delivery. The lentiviral vector system is superior to traditional methods such as transient transfection and germline transmission because of its efficiency and versatility: it permits efficient delivery and stable integration into the host genome of both dividing and non-dividing cells20. Once a reporter cell line is established, the dynamics of clock function can be examined through bioluminescence recording. We first describe the generation of P(Per2)-dLuc reporter lines, and then present data from this and other circadian reporters. In these assays, 3T3 mouse fibroblasts and U2OS human osteosarcoma cells are used as cellular models. We also discuss various ways of using these clock models in circadian studies. Methods described here can be applied to a great variety of cell types to study the cellular and molecular basis of circadian clocks, and may prove useful in tackling problems in other biological systems.
Genetics, Issue 67, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Chemical Biology, Circadian clock, firefly luciferase, real-time bioluminescence technology, cell-autonomous model, lentiviral vector, RNA interference (RNAi), high-throughput screening (HTS)
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RNAi Interference by dsRNA Injection into Drosophila Embryos
Authors: Ekaterini Iordanou, Rachana R. Chandran, Nicholas Blackstone, Lan Jiang.
Institutions: Oakland University.
Genetic screening is one of the most powerful methods available for gaining insights into complex biological process 1. Over the years many improvements and tools for genetic manipulation have become available in Drosophila 2. Soon after the initial discovery by Frie and Mello 3 that double stranded RNA can be used to knockdown the activity of individual genes in Caenorhabditis elegans, RNA interference (RNAi) was shown to provide a powerful reverse genetic approach to analyze gene functions in Drosophila organ development 4, 5. Many organs, including lung, kidney, liver, and vascular system, are composed of branched tubular networks that transport vital fluids or gases 6, 7. The analysis of Drosophila tracheal formation provides an excellent model system to study the morphogenesis of other tubular organs 8. The Berkeley Drosophila genome project has revealed hundreds of genes that are expressed in the tracheal system. To study the molecular and cellular mechanism of tube formation, the challenge is to understand the roles of these genes in tracheal development. Here, we described a detailed method of dsRNA injection into Drosophila embryo to knockdown individual gene expression. We successfully knocked down endogenous dysfusion(dys) gene expression by dsRNA injection. Dys is a bHLH-PAS protein expressed in tracheal fusion cells, and it is required for tracheal branch fusion 9, 10. dys-RNAi completely eliminated dys expression and resulted in tracheal fusion defect. This relatively simple method provides a tool to identify genes requried for tissure and organ development in Drosophila.
Developmental Biology, Issue 50, RNAi, dsRNA, Injection, Trachea, Development, Drosophila, Tubular
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Designing and Implementing Nervous System Simulations on LEGO Robots
Authors: Daniel Blustein, Nikolai Rosenthal, Joseph Ayers.
Institutions: Northeastern University, Bremen University of Applied Sciences.
We present a method to use the commercially available LEGO Mindstorms NXT robotics platform to test systems level neuroscience hypotheses. The first step of the method is to develop a nervous system simulation of specific reflexive behaviors of an appropriate model organism; here we use the American Lobster. Exteroceptive reflexes mediated by decussating (crossing) neural connections can explain an animal's taxis towards or away from a stimulus as described by Braitenberg and are particularly well suited for investigation using the NXT platform.1 The nervous system simulation is programmed using LabVIEW software on the LEGO Mindstorms platform. Once the nervous system is tuned properly, behavioral experiments are run on the robot and on the animal under identical environmental conditions. By controlling the sensory milieu experienced by the specimens, differences in behavioral outputs can be observed. These differences may point to specific deficiencies in the nervous system model and serve to inform the iteration of the model for the particular behavior under study. This method allows for the experimental manipulation of electronic nervous systems and serves as a way to explore neuroscience hypotheses specifically regarding the neurophysiological basis of simple innate reflexive behaviors. The LEGO Mindstorms NXT kit provides an affordable and efficient platform on which to test preliminary biomimetic robot control schemes. The approach is also well suited for the high school classroom to serve as the foundation for a hands-on inquiry-based biorobotics curriculum.
Neuroscience, Issue 75, Neurobiology, Bioengineering, Behavior, Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science, Marine Biology, Biomimetics, Marine Science, Neurosciences, Synthetic Biology, Robotics, robots, Modeling, models, Sensory Fusion, nervous system, Educational Tools, programming, software, lobster, Homarus americanus, animal model
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Quantitative Comparison of cis-Regulatory Element (CRE) Activities in Transgenic Drosophila melanogaster
Authors: William A. Rogers, Thomas M. Williams.
Institutions: University of Dayton, University of Dayton.
Gene expression patterns are specified by cis-regulatory element (CRE) sequences, which are also called enhancers or cis-regulatory modules. A typical CRE possesses an arrangement of binding sites for several transcription factor proteins that confer a regulatory logic specifying when, where, and at what level the regulated gene(s) is expressed. The full set of CREs within an animal genome encodes the organism′s program for development1, and empirical as well as theoretical studies indicate that mutations in CREs played a prominent role in morphological evolution2-4. Moreover, human genome wide association studies indicate that genetic variation in CREs contribute substantially to phenotypic variation5,6. Thus, understanding regulatory logic and how mutations affect such logic is a central goal of genetics. Reporter transgenes provide a powerful method to study the in vivo function of CREs. Here a known or suspected CRE sequence is coupled to heterologous promoter and coding sequences for a reporter gene encoding an easily observable protein product. When a reporter transgene is inserted into a host organism, the CRE′s activity becomes visible in the form of the encoded reporter protein. P-element mediated transgenesis in the fruit fly species Drosophila (D.) melanogaster7 has been used for decades to introduce reporter transgenes into this model organism, though the genomic placement of transgenes is random. Hence, reporter gene activity is strongly influenced by the local chromatin and gene environment, limiting CRE comparisons to being qualitative. In recent years, the phiC31 based integration system was adapted for use in D. melanogaster to insert transgenes into specific genome landing sites8-10. This capability has made the quantitative measurement of gene and, relevant here, CRE activity11-13 feasible. The production of transgenic fruit flies can be outsourced, including phiC31-based integration, eliminating the need to purchase expensive equipment and/or have proficiency at specialized transgene injection protocols. Here, we present a general protocol to quantitatively evaluate a CRE′s activity, and show how this approach can be used to measure the effects of an introduced mutation on a CRE′s activity and to compare the activities of orthologous CREs. Although the examples given are for a CRE active during fruit fly metamorphosis, the approach can be applied to other developmental stages, fruit fly species, or model organisms. Ultimately, a more widespread use of this approach to study CREs should advance an understanding of regulatory logic and how logic can vary and evolve.
Developmental Biology, Issue 58, Cis-regulatory element, CRE, cis-regulatory module, enhancer, site-specific integration, reporter transgenes, confocal microscopy, regulatory logic, transcription factors, binding sites, Drosophila melanogaster, Drosophila
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Reaggregate Thymus Cultures
Authors: Andrea White, Eric Jenkinson, Graham Anderson.
Institutions: University of Birmingham .
Stromal cells within lymphoid tissues are organized into three-dimensional structures that provide a scaffold that is thought to control the migration and development of haemopoeitic cells. Importantly, the maintenance of this three-dimensional organization appears to be critical for normal stromal cell function, with two-dimensional monolayer cultures often being shown to be capable of supporting only individual fragments of lymphoid tissue function. In the thymus, complex networks of cortical and medullary epithelial cells act as a framework that controls the recruitment, proliferation, differentiation and survival of lymphoid progenitors as they undergo the multi-stage process of intrathymic T-cell development. Understanding the functional role of individual stromal compartments in the thymus is essential in determining how the thymus imposes self/non-self discrimination. Here we describe a technique in which we exploit the plasticity of fetal tissues to re-associate into intact three-dimensional structures in vitro, following their enzymatic disaggregation. The dissociation of fetal thymus lobes into heterogeneous cellular mixtures, followed by their separation into individual cellular components, is then combined with the in vitro re-association of these desired cell types into three-dimensional reaggregate structures at defined ratios, thereby providing an opportunity to investigate particular aspects of T-cell development under defined cellular conditions. (This article is based on work first reported Methods in Molecular Biology 2007, Vol. 380 pages 185-196).
Immunology, Issue 18, Springer Protocols, Thymus, 2-dGuo, Thymus Organ Cultures, Immune Tolerance, Positive and Negative Selection, Lymphoid Development
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