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Oligomeric interfaces under the lens: gemini.
PUBLISHED: 03-02-2010
The assembly of subunits in protein oligomers is an important topic to study as a vast number of proteins exists as stable or transient oligomer and because it is a mechanism used by some protein oligomers for killing cells (e.g., perforin from the human immune system, pore-forming toxins from bacteria, phage, amoeba, protein misfolding diseases, etc.). Only a few of the amino acids that constitute a protein oligomer seem to regulate the capacity of the protein to assemble (to form interfaces), and some of these amino acids are localized at the interfaces that link the different chains. The identification of the residues of these interfaces is rather difficult. We have developed a series of programs, under the common name of Gemini, that can select the subset of the residues that is involved in the interfaces of a protein oligomer of known atomic structure, and generate a 2D interaction network (or graph) of the subset. The graphs generated for several oligomers demonstrate the accuracy of the selection of subsets that are involved in the geometrical and the chemical properties of interfaces. The results of the Gemini programs are in good agreement with those of similar programs with an advantage that Gemini programs can perform the residue selection much more rapidly. Moreover, Gemini programs can also perform on a single protein oligomer without the need of comparison partners. The graphs are extremely useful for comparative studies that would help in addressing questions not only on the sequence specificity of protein interfaces but also on the mechanism of the assembly of unrelated protein oligomers.
Authors: Stephanie M Dorta-Estremera, Jingjing Li, Wei Cao.
Published: 12-05-2013
Proteins carry out crucial tasks in organisms by exerting functions elicited from their specific three dimensional folds. Although the native structures of polypeptides fulfill many purposes, it is now recognized that most proteins can adopt an alternative assembly of beta-sheet rich amyloid. Insoluble amyloid fibrils are initially associated with multiple human ailments, but they are increasingly shown as functional players participating in various important cellular processes. In addition, amyloid deposited in patient tissues contains nonproteinaceous components, such as nucleic acids and glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). These cofactors can facilitate the formation of amyloid, resulting in the generation of different types of insoluble precipitates. By taking advantage of our understanding how proteins misfold via an intermediate stage of soluble amyloid precursor, we have devised a method to convert native proteins to amyloid fibrils in vitro. This approach allows one to prepare amyloid in large quantities, examine the properties of amyloid generated from specific proteins, and evaluate the structural changes accompanying the conversion.
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ReAsH/FlAsH Labeling and Image Analysis of Tetracysteine Sensor Proteins in Cells
Authors: Sevgi Irtegun, Yasmin M. Ramdzan, Terrence D. Mulhern, Danny M. Hatters.
Institutions: Bio21 Molecular Science and Biotechnology Institute.
Fluorescent proteins and dyes are essential tools for the study of protein trafficking, localization and function in cells. While fluorescent proteins such as green fluorescence protein (GFP) have been extensively used as fusion partners to proteins to track the properties of a protein of interest1, recent developments with smaller tags enable new functionalities of proteins to be examined in cells such as conformational change and protein-association 2, 3. One small tag system involves a tetracysteine motif (CCXXCC) genetically inserted into a target protein, which binds to biarsenical dyes, ReAsH (red fluorescent) and FlAsH (green fluorescent), with high specificity even in live cells 2. The TC/biarsenical dye system offers far less steric constraints to the host protein than fluorescent proteins which has enabled several new approaches to measure conformational change and protein-protein interactions 4-7. We recently developed a novel application of TC tags as sensors of oligomerization in cells expressing mutant huntingtin, which when mutated aggregates in neurons in Huntington disease 7. Huntingtin was tagged with two fluorescent dyes, one a fluorescent protein to track protein location, and the second a TC tag which only binds biarsenical dyes in monomers. Hence, changes in colocalization between protein and biarsenical dye reactivity enabled submicroscopic oligomer content to be spatially mapped within cells. Here, we describe how to label TC-tagged proteins fused to a fluorescent protein (Cherry, GFP or CFP) with FlAsH or ReAsH in live mammalian cells and how to quantify the two color fluorescence (Cherry/FlAsH, CFP/FlAsH or GFP/ReAsH combinations).
Cell Biology, Issue 54, tetracysteine, TC, ReAsH, FlAsH, biarsenical dyes, fluorescence, imaging, confocal microscopy, ImageJ, GFP
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Selection of Aptamers for Amyloid β-Protein, the Causative Agent of Alzheimer's Disease
Authors: Farid Rahimi, Gal Bitan.
Institutions: David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, Los Angeles.
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a progressive, age-dependent, neurodegenerative disorder with an insidious course that renders its presymptomatic diagnosis difficult1. Definite AD diagnosis is achieved only postmortem, thus establishing presymptomatic, early diagnosis of AD is crucial for developing and administering effective therapies2,3. Amyloid β-protein (Aβ) is central to AD pathogenesis. Soluble, oligomeric Aβ assemblies are believed to affect neurotoxicity underlying synaptic dysfunction and neuron loss in AD4,5. Various forms of soluble Aβ assemblies have been described, however, their interrelationships and relevance to AD etiology and pathogenesis are complex and not well understood6. Specific molecular recognition tools may unravel the relationships amongst Aβ assemblies and facilitate detection and characterization of these assemblies early in the disease course before symptoms emerge. Molecular recognition commonly relies on antibodies. However, an alternative class of molecular recognition tools, aptamers, offers important advantages relative to antibodies7,8. Aptamers are oligonucleotides generated by in-vitro selection: systematic evolution of ligands by exponential enrichment (SELEX)9,10. SELEX is an iterative process that, similar to Darwinian evolution, allows selection, amplification, enrichment, and perpetuation of a property, e.g., avid, specific, ligand binding (aptamers) or catalytic activity (ribozymes and DNAzymes). Despite emergence of aptamers as tools in modern biotechnology and medicine11, they have been underutilized in the amyloid field. Few RNA or ssDNA aptamers have been selected against various forms of prion proteins (PrP)12-16. An RNA aptamer generated against recombinant bovine PrP was shown to recognize bovine PrP-β17, a soluble, oligomeric, β-sheet-rich conformational variant of full-length PrP that forms amyloid fibrils18. Aptamers generated using monomeric and several forms of fibrillar β2-microglobulin (β2m) were found to bind fibrils of certain other amyloidogenic proteins besides β2m fibrils19. Ylera et al. described RNA aptamers selected against immobilized monomeric Aβ4020. Unexpectedly, these aptamers bound fibrillar Aβ40. Altogether, these data raise several important questions. Why did aptamers selected against monomeric proteins recognize their polymeric forms? Could aptamers against monomeric and/or oligomeric forms of amyloidogenic proteins be obtained? To address these questions, we attempted to select aptamers for covalently-stabilized oligomeric Aβ4021 generated using photo-induced cross-linking of unmodified proteins (PICUP)22,23. Similar to previous findings17,19,20, these aptamers reacted with fibrils of Aβ and several other amyloidogenic proteins likely recognizing a potentially common amyloid structural aptatope21. Here, we present the SELEX methodology used in production of these aptamers21.
Neuroscience, Issue 39, Cellular Biology, Aptamer, RNA, amyloid β-protein, oligomer, amyloid fibrils, protein assembly
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Monitoring Activation of the Antiviral Pattern Recognition Receptors RIG-I And PKR By Limited Protease Digestion and Native PAGE
Authors: Michaela Weber, Friedemann Weber.
Institutions: Philipps-University Marburg.
Host defenses to virus infection are dependent on a rapid detection by pattern recognition receptors (PRRs) of the innate immune system. In the cytoplasm, the PRRs RIG-I and PKR bind to specific viral RNA ligands. This first mediates conformational switching and oligomerization, and then enables activation of an antiviral interferon response. While methods to measure antiviral host gene expression are well established, methods to directly monitor the activation states of RIG-I and PKR are only partially and less well established. Here, we describe two methods to monitor RIG-I and PKR stimulation upon infection with an established interferon inducer, the Rift Valley fever virus mutant clone 13 (Cl 13). Limited trypsin digestion allows to analyze alterations in protease sensitivity, indicating conformational changes of the PRRs. Trypsin digestion of lysates from mock infected cells results in a rapid degradation of RIG-I and PKR, whereas Cl 13 infection leads to the emergence of a protease-resistant RIG-I fragment. Also PKR shows a virus-induced partial resistance to trypsin digestion, which coincides with its hallmark phosphorylation at Thr 446. The formation of RIG-I and PKR oligomers was validated by native polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (PAGE). Upon infection, there is a strong accumulation of RIG-I and PKR oligomeric complexes, whereas these proteins remained as monomers in mock infected samples. Limited protease digestion and native PAGE, both coupled to western blot analysis, allow a sensitive and direct measurement of two diverse steps of RIG-I and PKR activation. These techniques are relatively easy and quick to perform and do not require expensive equipment.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 89, innate immune response, virus infection, pathogen recognition receptor, RIG-I, PKR, IRF-3, limited protease digestion, conformational switch, native PAGE, oligomerization
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Video-rate Scanning Confocal Microscopy and Microendoscopy
Authors: Alexander J. Nichols, Conor L. Evans.
Institutions: Harvard University , Harvard-MIT, Harvard Medical School.
Confocal microscopy has become an invaluable tool in biology and the biomedical sciences, enabling rapid, high-sensitivity, and high-resolution optical sectioning of complex systems. Confocal microscopy is routinely used, for example, to study specific cellular targets1, monitor dynamics in living cells2-4, and visualize the three dimensional evolution of entire organisms5,6. Extensions of confocal imaging systems, such as confocal microendoscopes, allow for high-resolution imaging in vivo7 and are currently being applied to disease imaging and diagnosis in clinical settings8,9. Confocal microscopy provides three-dimensional resolution by creating so-called "optical sections" using straightforward geometrical optics. In a standard wide-field microscope, fluorescence generated from a sample is collected by an objective lens and relayed directly to a detector. While acceptable for imaging thin samples, thick samples become blurred by fluorescence generated above and below the objective focal plane. In contrast, confocal microscopy enables virtual, optical sectioning of samples, rejecting out-of-focus light to build high resolution three-dimensional representations of samples. Confocal microscopes achieve this feat by using a confocal aperture in the detection beam path. The fluorescence collected from a sample by the objective is relayed back through the scanning mirrors and through the primary dichroic mirror, a mirror carefully selected to reflect shorter wavelengths such as the laser excitation beam while passing the longer, Stokes-shifted fluorescence emission. This long-wavelength fluorescence signal is then passed to a pair of lenses on either side of a pinhole that is positioned at a plane exactly conjugate with the focal plane of the objective lens. Photons collected from the focal volume of the object are collimated by the objective lens and are focused by the confocal lenses through the pinhole. Fluorescence generated above or below the focal plane will therefore not be collimated properly, and will not pass through the confocal pinhole1, creating an optical section in which only light from the microscope focus is visible. (Fig 1). Thus the pinhole effectively acts as a virtual aperture in the focal plane, confining the detected emission to only one limited spatial location. Modern commercial confocal microscopes offer users fully automated operation, making formerly complex imaging procedures relatively straightforward and accessible. Despite the flexibility and power of these systems, commercial confocal microscopes are not well suited for all confocal imaging tasks, such as many in vivo imaging applications. Without the ability to create customized imaging systems to meet their needs, important experiments can remain out of reach to many scientists. In this article, we provide a step-by-step method for the complete construction of a custom, video-rate confocal imaging system from basic components. The upright microscope will be constructed using a resonant galvanometric mirror to provide the fast scanning axis, while a standard speed resonant galvanometric mirror will scan the slow axis. To create a precise scanned beam in the objective lens focus, these mirrors will be positioned at the so-called telecentric planes using four relay lenses. Confocal detection will be accomplished using a standard, off-the-shelf photomultiplier tube (PMT), and the images will be captured and displayed using a Matrox framegrabber card and the included software.
Bioengineering, Issue 56, Microscopy, confocal microscopy, microendoscopy, video-rate, fluorescence, scanning, in vivo imaging
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Atomically Defined Templates for Epitaxial Growth of Complex Oxide Thin Films
Authors: A. Petra Dral, David Dubbink, Maarten Nijland, Johan E. ten Elshof, Guus Rijnders, Gertjan Koster.
Institutions: University of Twente.
Atomically defined substrate surfaces are prerequisite for the epitaxial growth of complex oxide thin films. In this protocol, two approaches to obtain such surfaces are described. The first approach is the preparation of single terminated perovskite SrTiO3 (001) and DyScO3 (110) substrates. Wet etching was used to selectively remove one of the two possible surface terminations, while an annealing step was used to increase the smoothness of the surface. The resulting single terminated surfaces allow for the heteroepitaxial growth of perovskite oxide thin films with high crystalline quality and well-defined interfaces between substrate and film. In the second approach, seed layers for epitaxial film growth on arbitrary substrates were created by Langmuir-Blodgett (LB) deposition of nanosheets. As model system Ca2Nb3O10- nanosheets were used, prepared by delamination of their layered parent compound HCa2Nb3O10. A key advantage of creating seed layers with nanosheets is that relatively expensive and size-limited single crystalline substrates can be replaced by virtually any substrate material.
Chemistry, Issue 94, Substrates, oxides, perovskites, epitaxy, thin films, single termination, surface treatment, nanosheets, Langmuir-Blodgett
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Preparation of the Mgm101 Recombination Protein by MBP-based Tagging Strategy
Authors: Xiaowen Wang, MacMillan Mbantenkhu, Sara Wierzbicki, Xin Jie Chen.
Institutions: State University of New York Upstate Medical University.
The MGM101 gene was identified 20 years ago for its role in the maintenance of mitochondrial DNA. Studies from several groups have suggested that the Mgm101 protein is involved in the recombinational repair of mitochondrial DNA. Recent investigations have indicated that Mgm101 is related to the Rad52-type recombination protein family. These proteins form large oligomeric rings and promote the annealing of homologous single stranded DNA molecules. However, the characterization of Mgm101 has been hindered by the difficulty in producing the recombinant protein. Here, a reliable procedure for the preparation of recombinant Mgm101 is described. Maltose Binding Protein (MBP)-tagged Mgm101 is first expressed in Escherichia coli. The fusion protein is initially purified by amylose affinity chromatography. After being released by proteolytic cleavage, Mgm101 is separated from MBP by cationic exchange chromatography. Monodispersed Mgm101 is then obtained by size exclusion chromatography. A yield of ~0.87 mg of Mgm101 per liter of bacterial culture can be routinely obtained. The recombinant Mgm101 has minimal contamination of DNA. The prepared samples are successfully used for biochemical, structural and single particle image analyses of Mgm101. This protocol may also be used for the preparation of other large oligomeric DNA-binding proteins that may be misfolded and toxic to bacterial cells.
Biochemistry, Issue 76, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Microbiology, Bacteria, Proteins, Mgm101, Rad52, mitochondria, recombination, mtDNA, maltose-binding protein, MBP, E. coli., yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, chromatography, electron microscopy, cell culture
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Vascular Gene Transfer from Metallic Stent Surfaces Using Adenoviral Vectors Tethered through Hydrolysable Cross-linkers
Authors: Ilia Fishbein, Scott P. Forbes, Richard F. Adamo, Michael Chorny, Robert J. Levy, Ivan S. Alferiev.
Institutions: The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania.
In-stent restenosis presents a major complication of stent-based revascularization procedures widely used to re-establish blood flow through critically narrowed segments of coronary and peripheral arteries. Endovascular stents capable of tunable release of genes with anti-restenotic activity may present an alternative strategy to presently used drug-eluting stents. In order to attain clinical translation, gene-eluting stents must exhibit predictable kinetics of stent-immobilized gene vector release and site-specific transduction of vasculature, while avoiding an excessive inflammatory response typically associated with the polymer coatings used for physical entrapment of the vector. This paper describes a detailed methodology for coatless tethering of adenoviral gene vectors to stents based on a reversible binding of the adenoviral particles to polyallylamine bisphosphonate (PABT)-modified stainless steel surface via hydrolysable cross-linkers (HC). A family of bifunctional (amine- and thiol-reactive) HC with an average t1/2 of the in-chain ester hydrolysis ranging between 5 and 50 days were used to link the vector with the stent. The vector immobilization procedure is typically carried out within 9 hr and consists of several steps: 1) incubation of the metal samples in an aqueous solution of PABT (4 hr); 2) deprotection of thiol groups installed in PABT with tris(2-carboxyethyl) phosphine (20 min); 3) expansion of thiol reactive capacity of the metal surface by reacting the samples with polyethyleneimine derivatized with pyridyldithio (PDT) groups (2 hr); 4) conversion of PDT groups to thiols with dithiothreitol (10 min); 5) modification of adenoviruses with HC (1 hr); 6) purification of modified adenoviral particles by size-exclusion column chromatography (15 min) and 7) immobilization of thiol-reactive adenoviral particles on the thiolated steel surface (1 hr). This technique has wide potential applicability beyond stents, by facilitating surface engineering of bioprosthetic devices to enhance their biocompatibility through the substrate-mediated gene delivery to the cells interfacing the implanted foreign material.
Medicine, Issue 90, gene therapy, bioconjugation, adenoviral vectors, stents, local gene delivery, smooth muscle cells, endothelial cells, bioluminescence imaging
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Shrinkage of Dental Composite in Simulated Cavity Measured with Digital Image Correlation
Authors: Jianying Li, Preetanjali Thakur, Alex S. L. Fok.
Institutions: University of Minnesota.
Polymerization shrinkage of dental resin composites can lead to restoration debonding or cracked tooth tissues in composite-restored teeth. In order to understand where and how shrinkage strain and stress develop in such restored teeth, Digital Image Correlation (DIC) was used to provide a comprehensive view of the displacement and strain distributions within model restorations that had undergone polymerization shrinkage. Specimens with model cavities were made of cylindrical glass rods with both diameter and length being 10 mm. The dimensions of the mesial-occlusal-distal (MOD) cavity prepared in each specimen measured 3 mm and 2 mm in width and depth, respectively. After filling the cavity with resin composite, the surface under observation was sprayed with first a thin layer of white paint and then fine black charcoal powder to create high-contrast speckles. Pictures of that surface were then taken before curing and 5 min after. Finally, the two pictures were correlated using DIC software to calculate the displacement and strain distributions. The resin composite shrunk vertically towards the bottom of the cavity, with the top center portion of the restoration having the largest downward displacement. At the same time, it shrunk horizontally towards its vertical midline. Shrinkage of the composite stretched the material in the vicinity of the “tooth-restoration” interface, resulting in cuspal deflections and high tensile strains around the restoration. Material close to the cavity walls or floor had direct strains mostly in the directions perpendicular to the interfaces. Summation of the two direct strain components showed a relatively uniform distribution around the restoration and its magnitude equaled approximately to the volumetric shrinkage strain of the material.
Medicine, Issue 89, image processing, computer-assisted, polymer matrix composites, testing of materials (composite materials), dental composite restoration, polymerization shrinkage, digital image correlation, full-field strain measurement, interfacial debonding
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Constructing a Low-budget Laser Axotomy System to Study Axon Regeneration in C. elegans
Authors: Wes Williams, Paola Nix, Michael Bastiani.
Institutions: University of Utah.
Laser axotomy followed by time-lapse microscopy is a sensitive assay for axon regeneration phenotypes in C. elegans1. The main difficulty of this assay is the perceived cost ($25-100K) and technical expertise required for implementing a laser ablation system2,3. However, solid-state pulse lasers of modest costs (<$10K) can provide robust performance for laser ablation in transparent preparations where target axons are "close" to the tissue surface. Construction and alignment of a system can be accomplished in a day. The optical path provided by light from the focused condenser to the ablation laser provides a convenient alignment guide. An intermediate module with all optics removed can be dedicated to the ablation laser and assures that no optical elements need be moved during a laser ablation session. A dichroic in the intermediate module allows simultaneous imaging and laser ablation. Centering the laser beam to the outgoing beam from the focused microscope condenser lens guides the initial alignment of the system. A variety of lenses are used to condition and expand the laser beam to fill the back aperture of the chosen objective lens. Final alignment and testing is performed with a front surface mirrored glass slide target. Laser power is adjusted to give a minimum size ablation spot (<1um). The ablation spot is centered with fine adjustments of the last kinematically mounted mirror to cross hairs fixed in the imaging window. Laser power for axotomy will be approximately 10X higher than needed for the minimum ablation spot on the target slide (this may vary with the target you use). Worms can be immobilized for laser axotomy and time-lapse imaging by mounting on agarose pads (or in microfluidic chambers4). Agarose pads are easily made with 10% agarose in balanced saline melted in a microwave. A drop of molten agarose is placed on a glass slide and flattened with another glass slide into a pad approximately 200 um thick (a single layer of time tape on adjacent slides is used as a spacer). A "Sharpie" cap is used to cut out a uniformed diameter circular pad of 13mm. Anesthetic (1ul Muscimol 20mM) and Microspheres (Chris Fang-Yen personal communication) (1ul 2.65% Polystyrene 0.1 um in water) are added to the center of the pad followed by 3-5 worms oriented so they are lying on their left sides. A glass coverslip is applied and then Vaseline is used to seal the coverslip and prevent evaporation of the sample.
Neuroscience, Issue 57, laser axotomy, regeneration, growth cone, time lapse, C. elegans, neuroscience, Nd:Yag laser
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Insertion of Flexible Neural Probes Using Rigid Stiffeners Attached with Biodissolvable Adhesive
Authors: Sarah H. Felix, Kedar G. Shah, Vanessa M. Tolosa, Heeral J. Sheth, Angela C. Tooker, Terri L. Delima, Shantanu P. Jadhav, Loren M. Frank, Satinderpall S. Pannu.
Institutions: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, University of California, San Francisco.
Microelectrode arrays for neural interface devices that are made of biocompatible thin-film polymer are expected to have extended functional lifetime because the flexible material may minimize adverse tissue response caused by micromotion. However, their flexibility prevents them from being accurately inserted into neural tissue. This article demonstrates a method to temporarily attach a flexible microelectrode probe to a rigid stiffener using biodissolvable polyethylene glycol (PEG) to facilitate precise, surgical insertion of the probe. A unique stiffener design allows for uniform distribution of the PEG adhesive along the length of the probe. Flip-chip bonding, a common tool used in microelectronics packaging, enables accurate and repeatable alignment and attachment of the probe to the stiffener. The probe and stiffener are surgically implanted together, then the PEG is allowed to dissolve so that the stiffener can be extracted leaving the probe in place. Finally, an in vitro test method is used to evaluate stiffener extraction in an agarose gel model of brain tissue. This approach to implantation has proven particularly advantageous for longer flexible probes (>3 mm). It also provides a feasible method to implant dual-sided flexible probes. To date, the technique has been used to obtain various in vivo recording data from the rat cortex.
Bioengineering, Issue 79, Nervous System Diseases, Surgical Procedures, Operative, Investigative Techniques, Nonmetallic Materials, Engineering (General), neural interfaces, polymer neural probes, surgical insertion, polyethylene glycol, microelectrode arrays, chronic implantation
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Biomolecular Detection employing the Interferometric Reflectance Imaging Sensor (IRIS)
Authors: Carlos A. Lopez, George G. Daaboul, Sunmin Ahn, Alexander P. Reddington, Margo R. Monroe, Xirui Zhang, Rostem J. Irani, Chunxiao Yu, Caroline A. Genco, Marina Cretich, Marcella Chiari, Bennett B. Goldberg, John H. Connor, M. Selim Ünlü.
Institutions: Boston University , Boston University , Boston University , Boston University School of Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine, Istituto di Chimica del Riconoscimento Molecolare.
The sensitive measurement of biomolecular interactions has use in many fields and industries such as basic biology and microbiology, environmental/agricultural/biodefense monitoring, nanobiotechnology, and more. For diagnostic applications, monitoring (detecting) the presence, absence, or abnormal expression of targeted proteomic or genomic biomarkers found in patient samples can be used to determine treatment approaches or therapy efficacy. In the research arena, information on molecular affinities and specificities are useful for fully characterizing the systems under investigation. Many of the current systems employed to determine molecular concentrations or affinities rely on the use of labels. Examples of these systems include immunoassays such as the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), polymerase chain reaction (PCR) techniques, gel electrophoresis assays, and mass spectrometry (MS). Generally, these labels are fluorescent, radiological, or colorimetric in nature and are directly or indirectly attached to the molecular target of interest. Though the use of labels is widely accepted and has some benefits, there are drawbacks which are stimulating the development of new label-free methods for measuring these interactions. These drawbacks include practical facets such as increased assay cost, reagent lifespan and usability, storage and safety concerns, wasted time and effort in labelling, and variability among the different reagents due to the labelling processes or labels themselves. On a scientific research basis, the use of these labels can also introduce difficulties such as concerns with effects on protein functionality/structure due to the presence of the attached labels and the inability to directly measure the interactions in real time. Presented here is the use of a new label-free optical biosensor that is amenable to microarray studies, termed the Interferometric Reflectance Imaging Sensor (IRIS), for detecting proteins, DNA, antigenic material, whole pathogens (virions) and other biological material. The IRIS system has been demonstrated to have high sensitivity, precision, and reproducibility for different biomolecular interactions [1-3]. Benefits include multiplex imaging capacity, real time and endpoint measurement capabilities, and other high-throughput attributes such as reduced reagent consumption and a reduction in assay times. Additionally, the IRIS platform is simple to use, requires inexpensive equipment, and utilizes silicon-based solid phase assay components making it compatible with many contemporary surface chemistry approaches. Here, we present the use of the IRIS system from preparation of probe arrays to incubation and measurement of target binding to analysis of the results in an endpoint format. The model system will be the capture of target antibodies which are specific for human serum albumin (HSA) on HSA-spotted substrates.
Bioengineering, Issue 51, Interferometry, label-free, biosensing, microarray, quantification, real-time detection
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Writing and Low-Temperature Characterization of Oxide Nanostructures
Authors: Akash Levy, Feng Bi, Mengchen Huang, Shicheng Lu, Michelle Tomczyk, Guanglei Cheng, Patrick Irvin, Jeremy Levy.
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh.
Oxide nanoelectronics is a rapidly growing field which seeks to develop novel materials with multifunctional behavior at nanoscale dimensions. Oxide interfaces exhibit a wide range of properties that can be controlled include conduction, piezoelectric behavior, ferromagnetism, superconductivity and nonlinear optical properties. Recently, methods for controlling these properties at extreme nanoscale dimensions have been discovered and developed. Here are described explicit step-by-step procedures for creating LaAlO3/SrTiO3 nanostructures using a reversible conductive atomic force microscopy technique. The processing steps for creating electrical contacts to the LaAlO3/SrTiO3 interface are first described. Conductive nanostructures are created by applying voltages to a conductive atomic force microscope tip and locally switching the LaAlO3/SrTiO3 interface to a conductive state. A versatile nanolithography toolkit has been developed expressly for the purpose of controlling the atomic force microscope (AFM) tip path and voltage. Then, these nanostructures are placed in a cryostat and transport measurements are performed. The procedures described here should be useful to others wishing to conduct research in oxide nanoelectronics.
Physics, Issue 89, oxide nanostructures; nanoelectronics; semiconductor; LaAlO3/SrTiO3; lithography; AFM nanolithography
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A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Authors: Ambrish Roy, Dong Xu, Jonathan Poisson, Yang Zhang.
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
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A Practical Guide to Phylogenetics for Nonexperts
Authors: Damien O'Halloran.
Institutions: The George Washington University.
Many researchers, across incredibly diverse foci, are applying phylogenetics to their research question(s). However, many researchers are new to this topic and so it presents inherent problems. Here we compile a practical introduction to phylogenetics for nonexperts. We outline in a step-by-step manner, a pipeline for generating reliable phylogenies from gene sequence datasets. We begin with a user-guide for similarity search tools via online interfaces as well as local executables. Next, we explore programs for generating multiple sequence alignments followed by protocols for using software to determine best-fit models of evolution. We then outline protocols for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships via maximum likelihood and Bayesian criteria and finally describe tools for visualizing phylogenetic trees. While this is not by any means an exhaustive description of phylogenetic approaches, it does provide the reader with practical starting information on key software applications commonly utilized by phylogeneticists. The vision for this article would be that it could serve as a practical training tool for researchers embarking on phylogenetic studies and also serve as an educational resource that could be incorporated into a classroom or teaching-lab.
Basic Protocol, Issue 84, phylogenetics, multiple sequence alignments, phylogenetic tree, BLAST executables, basic local alignment search tool, Bayesian models
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Monitoring the Assembly of a Secreted Bacterial Virulence Factor Using Site-specific Crosslinking
Authors: Olga Pavlova, Raffaele Ieva, Harris D Bernstein.
Institutions: National Institutes of Health.
This article describes a method to detect and analyze dynamic interactions between a protein of interest and other factors in vivo. Our method is based on the amber suppression technology that was originally developed by Peter Schultz and colleagues1. An amber mutation is first introduced at a specific codon of the gene encoding the protein of interest. The amber mutant is then expressed in E. coli together with genes encoding an amber suppressor tRNA and an amino acyl-tRNA synthetase derived from Methanococcus jannaschii. Using this system, the photo activatable amino acid analog p-benzoylphenylalanine (Bpa) is incorporated at the amber codon. Cells are then irradiated with ultraviolet light to covalently link the Bpa residue to proteins that are located within 3-8 Å. Photocrosslinking is performed in combination with pulse-chase labeling and immunoprecipitation of the protein of interest in order to monitor changes in protein-protein interactions that occur over a time scale of seconds to minutes. We optimized the procedure to study the assembly of a bacterial virulence factor that consists of two independent domains, a domain that is integrated into the outer membrane and a domain that is translocated into the extracellular space, but the method can be used to study many different assembly processes and biological pathways in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. In principle interacting factors and even specific residues of interacting factors that bind to a protein of interest can be identified by mass spectrometry.
Immunology, Issue 82, Autotransporters, Bam complex, Molecular chaperones, protein-protein interactions, Site-specific photocrosslinking
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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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Polymerase Chain Reaction: Basic Protocol Plus Troubleshooting and Optimization Strategies
Authors: Todd C. Lorenz.
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
In the biological sciences there have been technological advances that catapult the discipline into golden ages of discovery. For example, the field of microbiology was transformed with the advent of Anton van Leeuwenhoek's microscope, which allowed scientists to visualize prokaryotes for the first time. The development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is one of those innovations that changed the course of molecular science with its impact spanning countless subdisciplines in biology. The theoretical process was outlined by Keppe and coworkers in 1971; however, it was another 14 years until the complete PCR procedure was described and experimentally applied by Kary Mullis while at Cetus Corporation in 1985. Automation and refinement of this technique progressed with the introduction of a thermal stable DNA polymerase from the bacterium Thermus aquaticus, consequently the name Taq DNA polymerase. PCR is a powerful amplification technique that can generate an ample supply of a specific segment of DNA (i.e., an amplicon) from only a small amount of starting material (i.e., DNA template or target sequence). While straightforward and generally trouble-free, there are pitfalls that complicate the reaction producing spurious results. When PCR fails it can lead to many non-specific DNA products of varying sizes that appear as a ladder or smear of bands on agarose gels. Sometimes no products form at all. Another potential problem occurs when mutations are unintentionally introduced in the amplicons, resulting in a heterogeneous population of PCR products. PCR failures can become frustrating unless patience and careful troubleshooting are employed to sort out and solve the problem(s). This protocol outlines the basic principles of PCR, provides a methodology that will result in amplification of most target sequences, and presents strategies for optimizing a reaction. By following this PCR guide, students should be able to: Set up reactions and thermal cycling conditions for a conventional PCR experiment Understand the function of various reaction components and their overall effect on a PCR experiment Design and optimize a PCR experiment for any DNA template Troubleshoot failed PCR experiments
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, PCR, optimization, primer design, melting temperature, Tm, troubleshooting, additives, enhancers, template DNA quantification, thermal cycler, molecular biology, genetics
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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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Analyzing Protein Dynamics Using Hydrogen Exchange Mass Spectrometry
Authors: Nikolai Hentze, Matthias P. Mayer.
Institutions: University of Heidelberg.
All cellular processes depend on the functionality of proteins. Although the functionality of a given protein is the direct consequence of its unique amino acid sequence, it is only realized by the folding of the polypeptide chain into a single defined three-dimensional arrangement or more commonly into an ensemble of interconverting conformations. Investigating the connection between protein conformation and its function is therefore essential for a complete understanding of how proteins are able to fulfill their great variety of tasks. One possibility to study conformational changes a protein undergoes while progressing through its functional cycle is hydrogen-1H/2H-exchange in combination with high-resolution mass spectrometry (HX-MS). HX-MS is a versatile and robust method that adds a new dimension to structural information obtained by e.g. crystallography. It is used to study protein folding and unfolding, binding of small molecule ligands, protein-protein interactions, conformational changes linked to enzyme catalysis, and allostery. In addition, HX-MS is often used when the amount of protein is very limited or crystallization of the protein is not feasible. Here we provide a general protocol for studying protein dynamics with HX-MS and describe as an example how to reveal the interaction interface of two proteins in a complex.   
Chemistry, Issue 81, Molecular Chaperones, mass spectrometers, Amino Acids, Peptides, Proteins, Enzymes, Coenzymes, Protein dynamics, conformational changes, allostery, protein folding, secondary structure, mass spectrometry
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From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Authors: Wen-Ting Tsai, Ahmed Hassan, Purbasha Sarkar, Joaquin Correa, Zoltan Metlagel, Danielle M. Jorgens, Manfred Auer.
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g., signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation. The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
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Designing Silk-silk Protein Alloy Materials for Biomedical Applications
Authors: Xiao Hu, Solomon Duki, Joseph Forys, Jeffrey Hettinger, Justin Buchicchio, Tabbetha Dobbins, Catherine Yang.
Institutions: Rowan University, Rowan University, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, Rowan University.
Fibrous proteins display different sequences and structures that have been used for various applications in biomedical fields such as biosensors, nanomedicine, tissue regeneration, and drug delivery. Designing materials based on the molecular-scale interactions between these proteins will help generate new multifunctional protein alloy biomaterials with tunable properties. Such alloy material systems also provide advantages in comparison to traditional synthetic polymers due to the materials biodegradability, biocompatibility, and tenability in the body. This article used the protein blends of wild tussah silk (Antheraea pernyi) and domestic mulberry silk (Bombyx mori) as an example to provide useful protocols regarding these topics, including how to predict protein-protein interactions by computational methods, how to produce protein alloy solutions, how to verify alloy systems by thermal analysis, and how to fabricate variable alloy materials including optical materials with diffraction gratings, electric materials with circuits coatings, and pharmaceutical materials for drug release and delivery. These methods can provide important information for designing the next generation multifunctional biomaterials based on different protein alloys.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, protein alloys, biomaterials, biomedical, silk blends, computational simulation, implantable electronic devices
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Photo-Induced Cross-Linking of Unmodified Proteins (PICUP) Applied to Amyloidogenic Peptides
Authors: Farid Rahimi, Panchanan Maiti, Gal Bitan.
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, Los Angeles.
The assembly of amyloidogenic proteins into toxic oligomers is a seminal event in the pathogenesis of protein misfolding diseases, including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Huntington's diseases, hereditary amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and type 2 diabetes. Owing to the metastable nature of these protein assemblies, it is difficult to assess their oligomer size distribution quantitatively using classical methods, such as electrophoresis, chromatography, fluorescence, or dynamic light scattering. Oligomers of amyloidogenic proteins exist as metastable mixtures, in which the oligomers dissociate into monomers and associate into larger assemblies simultaneously. PICUP stabilizes oligomer populations by covalent cross-linking and when combined with fractionation methods, such as sodium dodecyl sulfate polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE) or size-exclusion chromatography (SEC), PICUP provides snapshots of the oligomer size distributions that existed before cross-linking. Hence, PICUP enables visualization and quantitative analysis of metastable protein populations and can be used to monitor assembly and decipher relationships between sequence modifications and oligomerization1. Mechanistically, PICUP involves photo-oxidation of Ru2+ in a tris(bipyridyl)Ru(II) complex (RuBpy) to Ru3+ by irradiation with visible light in the presence of an electron acceptor. Ru3+ is a strong one-electron oxidizer capable of abstracting an electron from a neighboring protein molecule, generating a protein radical1,2. Radicals are unstable, highly-reactive species and therefore disappear rapidly through a variety of intra- and intermolecular reactions. A radical may utilize the high energy of an unpaired electron to react with another protein monomer forming a dimeric radical, which subsequently loses a hydrogen atom and forms a stable, covalently-linked dimer. The dimer may then react further through a similar mechanism with monomers or other dimers to form higher-order oligomers. Advantages of PICUP relative to other photo- or chemical cross-linking methods3,4 include short (≤1 s) exposure to non-destructive visible light, no need for pre facto modification of the native sequence, and zero-length covalent cross-linking. In addition, PICUP enables cross-linking of proteins within wide pH and temperature ranges, including physiologic parameters. Here, we demonstrate application of PICUP to cross-linking of three amyloidogenic proteins the 40- and 42-residue amyloid β-protein variants (Aβ40 and Aβ42), and calcitonin, and a control protein, growth-hormone releasing factor (GRF).
Cross-linking, Issue 23, PICUP, amyloid β-protein, oligomer, amyloid, protein assembly
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Genomic MRI - a Public Resource for Studying Sequence Patterns within Genomic DNA
Authors: Ashwin Prakash, Jason Bechtel, Alexei Fedorov.
Institutions: University of Toledo Health Science Campus.
Non-coding genomic regions in complex eukaryotes, including intergenic areas, introns, and untranslated segments of exons, are profoundly non-random in their nucleotide composition and consist of a complex mosaic of sequence patterns. These patterns include so-called Mid-Range Inhomogeneity (MRI) regions -- sequences 30-10000 nucleotides in length that are enriched by a particular base or combination of bases (e.g. (G+T)-rich, purine-rich, etc.). MRI regions are associated with unusual (non-B-form) DNA structures that are often involved in regulation of gene expression, recombination, and other genetic processes (Fedorova & Fedorov 2010). The existence of a strong fixation bias within MRI regions against mutations that tend to reduce their sequence inhomogeneity additionally supports the functionality and importance of these genomic sequences (Prakash et al. 2009). Here we demonstrate a freely available Internet resource -- the Genomic MRI program package -- designed for computational analysis of genomic sequences in order to find and characterize various MRI patterns within them (Bechtel et al. 2008). This package also allows generation of randomized sequences with various properties and level of correspondence to the natural input DNA sequences. The main goal of this resource is to facilitate examination of vast regions of non-coding DNA that are still scarcely investigated and await thorough exploration and recognition.
Genetics, Issue 51, bioinformatics, computational biology, genomics, non-randomness, signals, gene regulation, DNA conformation
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Interview: Bioreactors and Surfaced-Modified 3D-Scaffolds for Stem Cell Research
Authors: Karl-Friedrich Weibezahn.
Institutions: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.
A Nature Editorial in 2003 asked the question "Good-bye, flat biology?" What does this question imply? In the past, many in vitro culture systems, mainly monolayer cultures, often suffered from the disadvantage that differentiated primary cells had a relatively short life-span and de-differentiated during culture. As a consequence, most of their organ-specific functions were lost rapidly. Thus, in order to reproduce better conditions for these cells in vitro, modifications and adaptations have been made to conventional monolayer cultures. The last generation of CellChips -- micro-thermoformed containers -- a specific technology was developed, which offers the additional possibility to modify the whole surface of the 3D formed containers. This allows a surface-patterning on a submicron scale with distinct signalling molecules. Sensors and signal electrodes may be incorporated. Applications range from basic research in cell biology to toxicology and pharmacology. Using biodegradable polymers, clinical applications become a possibility. Furthermore, the last generation of micro-thermoformed chips has been optimized to allow for cheap mass production.
Cellular Biology, Issue 15, Interview, bioreactors, cell culture systems, 3D cell culture, stem cells
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Interview: Protein Folding and Studies of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Authors: Susan Lindquist.
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In this interview, Dr. Lindquist describes relationships between protein folding, prion diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. The problem of the protein folding is at the core of the modern biology. In addition to their traditional biochemical functions, proteins can mediate transfer of biological information and therefore can be considered a genetic material. This recently discovered function of proteins has important implications for studies of human disorders. Dr. Lindquist also describes current experimental approaches to investigate the mechanism of neurodegenerative diseases based on genetic studies in model organisms.
Neuroscience, issue 17, protein folding, brain, neuron, prion, neurodegenerative disease, yeast, screen, Translational Research
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