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A new method for predicting the subcellular localization of eukaryotic proteins with both single and multiple sites: Euk-mPLoc 2.0.
PUBLISHED: 02-01-2010
Information of subcellular locations of proteins is important for in-depth studies of cell biology. It is very useful for proteomics, system biology and drug development as well. However, most existing methods for predicting protein subcellular location can only cover 5 to 12 location sites. Also, they are limited to deal with single-location proteins and hence failed to work for multiplex proteins, which can simultaneously exist at, or move between, two or more location sites. Actually, multiplex proteins of this kind usually posses some important biological functions worthy of our special notice. A new predictor called "Euk-mPLoc 2.0" is developed by hybridizing the gene ontology information, functional domain information, and sequential evolutionary information through three different modes of pseudo amino acid composition. It can be used to identify eukaryotic proteins among the following 22 locations: (1) acrosome, (2) cell wall, (3) centriole, (4) chloroplast, (5) cyanelle, (6) cytoplasm, (7) cytoskeleton, (8) endoplasmic reticulum, (9) endosome, (10) extracell, (11) Golgi apparatus, (12) hydrogenosome, (13) lysosome, (14) melanosome, (15) microsome (16) mitochondria, (17) nucleus, (18) peroxisome, (19) plasma membrane, (20) plastid, (21) spindle pole body, and (22) vacuole. Compared with the existing methods for predicting eukaryotic protein subcellular localization, the new predictor is much more powerful and flexible, particularly in dealing with proteins with multiple locations and proteins without available accession numbers. For a newly-constructed stringent benchmark dataset which contains both single- and multiple-location proteins and in which none of proteins has pairwise sequence identity to any other in a same location, the overall jackknife success rate achieved by Euk-mPLoc 2.0 is more than 24% higher than those by any of the existing predictors. As a user-friendly web-server, Euk-mPLoc 2.0 is freely accessible at For a query protein sequence of 400 amino acids, it will take about 15 seconds for the web-server to yield the predicted result; the longer the sequence is, the more time it may usually need. It is anticipated that the novel approach and the powerful predictor as presented in this paper will have a significant impact to Molecular Cell Biology, System Biology, Proteomics, Bioinformatics, and Drug Development.
Authors: Matthew D. Mattozzi, Mathias J. Voges, Pamela A. Silver, Jeffrey C. Way.
Published: 04-18-2014
In order to target a single protein to multiple subcellular organelles, plants typically duplicate the relevant genes, and express each gene separately using complex regulatory strategies including differential promoters and/or signal sequences. Metabolic engineers and synthetic biologists interested in targeting enzymes to a particular organelle are faced with a challenge: For a protein that is to be localized to more than one organelle, the engineer must clone the same gene multiple times. This work presents a solution to this strategy: harnessing alternative splicing of mRNA. This technology takes advantage of established chloroplast and peroxisome targeting sequences and combines them into a single mRNA that is alternatively spliced. Some splice variants are sent to the chloroplast, some to the peroxisome, and some to the cytosol. Here the system is designed for multiple-organelle targeting with alternative splicing. In this work, GFP was expected to be expressed in the chloroplast, cytosol, and peroxisome by a series of rationally designed 5’ mRNA tags. These tags have the potential to reduce the amount of cloning required when heterologous genes need to be expressed in multiple subcellular organelles. The constructs were designed in previous work11, and were cloned using Gibson assembly, a ligation independent cloning method that does not require restriction enzymes. The resultant plasmids were introduced into Nicotiana benthamiana epidermal leaf cells with a modified Gene Gun protocol. Finally, transformed leaves were observed with confocal microscopy.
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Direct Imaging of ER Calcium with Targeted-Esterase Induced Dye Loading (TED)
Authors: Samira Samtleben, Juliane Jaepel, Caroline Fecher, Thomas Andreska, Markus Rehberg, Robert Blum.
Institutions: University of Wuerzburg, Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology, Martinsried, Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich.
Visualization of calcium dynamics is important to understand the role of calcium in cell physiology. To examine calcium dynamics, synthetic fluorescent Ca2+ indictors have become popular. Here we demonstrate TED (= targeted-esterase induced dye loading), a method to improve the release of Ca2+ indicator dyes in the ER lumen of different cell types. To date, TED was used in cell lines, glial cells, and neurons in vitro. TED bases on efficient, recombinant targeting of a high carboxylesterase activity to the ER lumen using vector-constructs that express Carboxylesterases (CES). The latest TED vectors contain a core element of CES2 fused to a red fluorescent protein, thus enabling simultaneous two-color imaging. The dynamics of free calcium in the ER are imaged in one color, while the corresponding ER structure appears in red. At the beginning of the procedure, cells are transduced with a lentivirus. Subsequently, the infected cells are seeded on coverslips to finally enable live cell imaging. Then, living cells are incubated with the acetoxymethyl ester (AM-ester) form of low-affinity Ca2+ indicators, for instance Fluo5N-AM, Mag-Fluo4-AM, or Mag-Fura2-AM. The esterase activity in the ER cleaves off hydrophobic side chains from the AM form of the Ca2+ indicator and a hydrophilic fluorescent dye/Ca2+ complex is formed and trapped in the ER lumen. After dye loading, the cells are analyzed at an inverted confocal laser scanning microscope. Cells are continuously perfused with Ringer-like solutions and the ER calcium dynamics are directly visualized by time-lapse imaging. Calcium release from the ER is identified by a decrease in fluorescence intensity in regions of interest, whereas the refilling of the ER calcium store produces an increase in fluorescence intensity. Finally, the change in fluorescent intensity over time is determined by calculation of ΔF/F0.
Cellular Biology, Issue 75, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Bioengineering, Virology, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Surgery, Endoplasmic Reticulum, ER, Calcium Signaling, calcium store, calcium imaging, calcium indicator, metabotropic signaling, Ca2+, neurons, cells, mouse, animal model, cell culture, targeted esterase induced dye loading, imaging
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Protein-protein Interactions Visualized by Bimolecular Fluorescence Complementation in Tobacco Protoplasts and Leaves
Authors: Regina Schweiger, Serena Schwenkert.
Institutions: Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, München.
Many proteins interact transiently with other proteins or are integrated into multi-protein complexes to perform their biological function. Bimolecular fluorescence complementation (BiFC) is an in vivo method to monitor such interactions in plant cells. In the presented protocol the investigated candidate proteins are fused to complementary halves of fluorescent proteins and the respective constructs are introduced into plant cells via agrobacterium-mediated transformation. Subsequently, the proteins are transiently expressed in tobacco leaves and the restored fluorescent signals can be detected with a confocal laser scanning microscope in the intact cells. This allows not only visualization of the interaction itself, but also the subcellular localization of the protein complexes can be determined. For this purpose, marker genes containing a fluorescent tag can be coexpressed along with the BiFC constructs, thus visualizing cellular structures such as the endoplasmic reticulum, mitochondria, the Golgi apparatus or the plasma membrane. The fluorescent signal can be monitored either directly in epidermal leaf cells or in single protoplasts, which can be easily isolated from the transformed tobacco leaves. BiFC is ideally suited to study protein-protein interactions in their natural surroundings within the living cell. However, it has to be considered that the expression has to be driven by strong promoters and that the interaction partners are modified due to fusion of the relatively large fluorescence tags, which might interfere with the interaction mechanism. Nevertheless, BiFC is an excellent complementary approach to other commonly applied methods investigating protein-protein interactions, such as coimmunoprecipitation, in vitro pull-down assays or yeast-two-hybrid experiments.
Plant Biology, Issue 85, Tetratricopeptide repeat domain, chaperone, chloroplasts, endoplasmic reticulum, HSP90, Toc complex, Sec translocon, BiFC
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Correlative Light and Electron Microscopy (CLEM) as a Tool to Visualize Microinjected Molecules and their Eukaryotic Sub-cellular Targets
Authors: L. Evan Reddick, Neal M. Alto.
Institutions: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center .
The eukaryotic cell relies on complex, highly regulated, and functionally distinct membrane bound compartments that preserve a biochemical polarity necessary for proper cellular function. Understanding how the enzymes, proteins, and cytoskeletal components govern and maintain this biochemical segregation is therefore of paramount importance. The use of fluorescently tagged molecules to localize to and/or perturb subcellular compartments has yielded a wealth of knowledge and advanced our understanding of cellular regulation. Imaging techniques such as fluorescent and confocal microscopy make ascertaining the position of a fluorescently tagged small molecule relatively straightforward, however the resolution of very small structures is limited 1. On the other hand, electron microscopy has revealed details of subcellular morphology at very high resolution, but its static nature makes it difficult to measure highly dynamic processes with precision 2,3. Thus, the combination of light microscopy with electron microscopy of the same sample, termed Correlative Light and Electron Microscopy (CLEM) 4,5, affords the dual advantages of ultrafast fluorescent imaging with the high-resolution of electron microscopy 6. This powerful technique has been implemented to study many aspects of cell biology 5,7. Since its inception, this procedure has increased our ability to distinguish subcellular architectures and morphologies at high resolution. Here, we present a streamlined method for performing rapid microinjection followed by CLEM (Fig. 1). The microinjection CLEM procedure can be used to introduce specific quantities of small molecules and/or proteins directly into the eukaryotic cell cytoplasm and study the effects from millimeter to multi-nanometer resolution (Fig. 2). The technique is based on microinjecting cells grown on laser etched glass gridded coverslips affixed to the bottom of live cell dishes and imaging with both confocal fluorescent and electron microscopy. Localization of the cell(s) of interest is facilitated by the grid pattern, which is easily transferred, along with the cells of interest, to the Epon resin used for immobilization of samples and sectioning prior to electron microscopy analysis (Fig. 3). Overlay of fluorescent and EM images allows the user to determine the subcellular localization as well as any morphological and/or ultrastructural changes induced by the microinjected molecule of interest (Fig. 4). This technique is amenable to time points ranging from ≤5 s up to several hours, depending on the nature of the microinjected sample.
Cellular Biology, Issue 63, Correlative light and electron microscopy, microinjection, subcellular localization, fluorescent microscopy, microscopy, CLEM
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Isolation of mRNAs Associated with Yeast Mitochondria to Study Mechanisms of Localized Translation
Authors: Chen Lesnik, Yoav Arava.
Institutions: Technion - Israel Institute of Technology.
Most of mitochondrial proteins are encoded in the nucleus and need to be imported into the organelle. Import may occur while the protein is synthesized near the mitochondria. Support for this possibility is derived from recent studies, in which many mRNAs encoding mitochondrial proteins were shown to be localized to the mitochondria vicinity. Together with earlier demonstrations of ribosomes’ association with the outer membrane, these results suggest a localized translation process. Such localized translation may improve import efficiency, provide unique regulation sites and minimize cases of ectopic expression. Diverse methods have been used to characterize the factors and elements that mediate localized translation. Standard among these is subcellular fractionation by differential centrifugation. This protocol has the advantage of isolation of mRNAs, ribosomes and proteins in a single procedure. These can then be characterized by various molecular and biochemical methods. Furthermore, transcriptomics and proteomics methods can be applied to the resulting material, thereby allow genome-wide insights. The utilization of yeast as a model organism for such studies has the advantages of speed, costs and simplicity. Furthermore, the advanced genetic tools and available deletion strains facilitate verification of candidate factors.
Biochemistry, Issue 85, mitochondria, mRNA localization, Yeast, S. cerevisiae, microarray, localized translation, biochemical fractionation
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Inhibitory Synapse Formation in a Co-culture Model Incorporating GABAergic Medium Spiny Neurons and HEK293 Cells Stably Expressing GABAA Receptors
Authors: Laura E. Brown, Celine Fuchs, Martin W. Nicholson, F. Anne Stephenson, Alex M. Thomson, Jasmina N. Jovanovic.
Institutions: University College London.
Inhibitory neurons act in the central nervous system to regulate the dynamics and spatio-temporal co-ordination of neuronal networks. GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) is the predominant inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It is released from the presynaptic terminals of inhibitory neurons within highly specialized intercellular junctions known as synapses, where it binds to GABAA receptors (GABAARs) present at the plasma membrane of the synapse-receiving, postsynaptic neurons. Activation of these GABA-gated ion channels leads to influx of chloride resulting in postsynaptic potential changes that decrease the probability that these neurons will generate action potentials. During development, diverse types of inhibitory neurons with distinct morphological, electrophysiological and neurochemical characteristics have the ability to recognize their target neurons and form synapses which incorporate specific GABAARs subtypes. This principle of selective innervation of neuronal targets raises the question as to how the appropriate synaptic partners identify each other. To elucidate the underlying molecular mechanisms, a novel in vitro co-culture model system was established, in which medium spiny GABAergic neurons, a highly homogenous population of neurons isolated from the embryonic striatum, were cultured with stably transfected HEK293 cell lines that express different GABAAR subtypes. Synapses form rapidly, efficiently and selectively in this system, and are easily accessible for quantification. Our results indicate that various GABAAR subtypes differ in their ability to promote synapse formation, suggesting that this reduced in vitro model system can be used to reproduce, at least in part, the in vivo conditions required for the recognition of the appropriate synaptic partners and formation of specific synapses. Here the protocols for culturing the medium spiny neurons and generating HEK293 cells lines expressing GABAARs are first described, followed by detailed instructions on how to combine these two cell types in co-culture and analyze the formation of synaptic contacts.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, Developmental neuroscience, synaptogenesis, synaptic inhibition, co-culture, stable cell lines, GABAergic, medium spiny neurons, HEK 293 cell line
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Fluorescence Microscopy Methods for Determining the Viability of Bacteria in Association with Mammalian Cells
Authors: M. Brittany Johnson, Alison K. Criss.
Institutions: University of Virginia Health Sciences Center.
Central to the field of bacterial pathogenesis is the ability to define if and how microbes survive after exposure to eukaryotic cells. Current protocols to address these questions include colony count assays, gentamicin protection assays, and electron microscopy. Colony count and gentamicin protection assays only assess the viability of the entire bacterial population and are unable to determine individual bacterial viability. Electron microscopy can be used to determine the viability of individual bacteria and provide information regarding their localization in host cells. However, bacteria often display a range of electron densities, making assessment of viability difficult. This article outlines protocols for the use of fluorescent dyes that reveal the viability of individual bacteria inside and associated with host cells. These assays were developed originally to assess survival of Neisseria gonorrhoeae in primary human neutrophils, but should be applicable to any bacterium-host cell interaction. These protocols combine membrane-permeable fluorescent dyes (SYTO9 and 4',6-diamidino-2-phenylindole [DAPI]), which stain all bacteria, with membrane-impermeable fluorescent dyes (propidium iodide and SYTOX Green), which are only accessible to nonviable bacteria. Prior to eukaryotic cell permeabilization, an antibody or fluorescent reagent is added to identify extracellular bacteria. Thus these assays discriminate the viability of bacteria adherent to and inside eukaryotic cells. A protocol is also provided for using the viability dyes in combination with fluorescent antibodies to eukaryotic cell markers, in order to determine the subcellular localization of individual bacteria. The bacterial viability dyes discussed in this article are a sensitive complement and/or alternative to traditional microbiology techniques to evaluate the viability of individual bacteria and provide information regarding where bacteria survive in host cells.
Microbiology, Issue 79, Immunology, Infection, Cancer Biology, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Microscopy, Confocal, Microscopy, Fluorescence, Bacteria, Bacterial Infections and Mycoses, bacteria, infection, viability, fluorescence microscopy, cell, imaging
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The ITS2 Database
Authors: Benjamin Merget, Christian Koetschan, Thomas Hackl, Frank Förster, Thomas Dandekar, Tobias Müller, Jörg Schultz, Matthias Wolf.
Institutions: University of Würzburg, University of Würzburg.
The internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS2) has been used as a phylogenetic marker for more than two decades. As ITS2 research mainly focused on the very variable ITS2 sequence, it confined this marker to low-level phylogenetics only. However, the combination of the ITS2 sequence and its highly conserved secondary structure improves the phylogenetic resolution1 and allows phylogenetic inference at multiple taxonomic ranks, including species delimitation2-8. The ITS2 Database9 presents an exhaustive dataset of internal transcribed spacer 2 sequences from NCBI GenBank11 accurately reannotated10. Following an annotation by profile Hidden Markov Models (HMMs), the secondary structure of each sequence is predicted. First, it is tested whether a minimum energy based fold12 (direct fold) results in a correct, four helix conformation. If this is not the case, the structure is predicted by homology modeling13. In homology modeling, an already known secondary structure is transferred to another ITS2 sequence, whose secondary structure was not able to fold correctly in a direct fold. The ITS2 Database is not only a database for storage and retrieval of ITS2 sequence-structures. It also provides several tools to process your own ITS2 sequences, including annotation, structural prediction, motif detection and BLAST14 search on the combined sequence-structure information. Moreover, it integrates trimmed versions of 4SALE15,16 and ProfDistS17 for multiple sequence-structure alignment calculation and Neighbor Joining18 tree reconstruction. Together they form a coherent analysis pipeline from an initial set of sequences to a phylogeny based on sequence and secondary structure. In a nutshell, this workbench simplifies first phylogenetic analyses to only a few mouse-clicks, while additionally providing tools and data for comprehensive large-scale analyses.
Genetics, Issue 61, alignment, internal transcribed spacer 2, molecular systematics, secondary structure, ribosomal RNA, phylogenetic tree, homology modeling, phylogeny
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Visualizing Protein-DNA Interactions in Live Bacterial Cells Using Photoactivated Single-molecule Tracking
Authors: Stephan Uphoff, David J. Sherratt, Achillefs N. Kapanidis.
Institutions: University of Oxford, University of Oxford.
Protein-DNA interactions are at the heart of many fundamental cellular processes. For example, DNA replication, transcription, repair, and chromosome organization are governed by DNA-binding proteins that recognize specific DNA structures or sequences. In vitro experiments have helped to generate detailed models for the function of many types of DNA-binding proteins, yet, the exact mechanisms of these processes and their organization in the complex environment of the living cell remain far less understood. We recently introduced a method for quantifying DNA-repair activities in live Escherichia coli cells using Photoactivated Localization Microscopy (PALM) combined with single-molecule tracking. Our general approach identifies individual DNA-binding events by the change in the mobility of a single protein upon association with the chromosome. The fraction of bound molecules provides a direct quantitative measure for the protein activity and abundance of substrates or binding sites at the single-cell level. Here, we describe the concept of the method and demonstrate sample preparation, data acquisition, and data analysis procedures.
Immunology, Issue 85, Super-resolution microscopy, single-particle tracking, Live-cell imaging, DNA-binding proteins, DNA repair, molecular diffusion
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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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Methods to Assess Subcellular Compartments of Muscle in C. elegans
Authors: Christopher J. Gaffney, Joseph J. Bass, Thomas F. Barratt, Nathaniel J. Szewczyk.
Institutions: University of Nottingham.
Muscle is a dynamic tissue that responds to changes in nutrition, exercise, and disease state. The loss of muscle mass and function with disease and age are significant public health burdens. We currently understand little about the genetic regulation of muscle health with disease or age. The nematode C. elegans is an established model for understanding the genomic regulation of biological processes of interest. This worm’s body wall muscles display a large degree of homology with the muscles of higher metazoan species. Since C. elegans is a transparent organism, the localization of GFP to mitochondria and sarcomeres allows visualization of these structures in vivo. Similarly, feeding animals cationic dyes, which accumulate based on the existence of a mitochondrial membrane potential, allows the assessment of mitochondrial function in vivo. These methods, as well as assessment of muscle protein homeostasis, are combined with assessment of whole animal muscle function, in the form of movement assays, to allow correlation of sub-cellular defects with functional measures of muscle performance. Thus, C. elegans provides a powerful platform with which to assess the impact of mutations, gene knockdown, and/or chemical compounds upon muscle structure and function. Lastly, as GFP, cationic dyes, and movement assays are assessed non-invasively, prospective studies of muscle structure and function can be conducted across the whole life course and this at present cannot be easily investigated in vivo in any other organism.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, Physiology, C. elegans, muscle, mitochondria, sarcomeres, ageing
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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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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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A New Approach for the Comparative Analysis of Multiprotein Complexes Based on 15N Metabolic Labeling and Quantitative Mass Spectrometry
Authors: Kerstin Trompelt, Janina Steinbeck, Mia Terashima, Michael Hippler.
Institutions: University of Münster, Carnegie Institution for Science.
The introduced protocol provides a tool for the analysis of multiprotein complexes in the thylakoid membrane, by revealing insights into complex composition under different conditions. In this protocol the approach is demonstrated by comparing the composition of the protein complex responsible for cyclic electron flow (CEF) in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, isolated from genetically different strains. The procedure comprises the isolation of thylakoid membranes, followed by their separation into multiprotein complexes by sucrose density gradient centrifugation, SDS-PAGE, immunodetection and comparative, quantitative mass spectrometry (MS) based on differential metabolic labeling (14N/15N) of the analyzed strains. Detergent solubilized thylakoid membranes are loaded on sucrose density gradients at equal chlorophyll concentration. After ultracentrifugation, the gradients are separated into fractions, which are analyzed by mass-spectrometry based on equal volume. This approach allows the investigation of the composition within the gradient fractions and moreover to analyze the migration behavior of different proteins, especially focusing on ANR1, CAS, and PGRL1. Furthermore, this method is demonstrated by confirming the results with immunoblotting and additionally by supporting the findings from previous studies (the identification and PSI-dependent migration of proteins that were previously described to be part of the CEF-supercomplex such as PGRL1, FNR, and cyt f). Notably, this approach is applicable to address a broad range of questions for which this protocol can be adopted and e.g. used for comparative analyses of multiprotein complex composition isolated from distinct environmental conditions.
Microbiology, Issue 85, Sucrose density gradients, Chlamydomonas, multiprotein complexes, 15N metabolic labeling, thylakoids
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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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Investigating Protein-protein Interactions in Live Cells Using Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer
Authors: Pelagia Deriziotis, Sarah A. Graham, Sara B. Estruch, Simon E. Fisher.
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour.
Assays based on Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer (BRET) provide a sensitive and reliable means to monitor protein-protein interactions in live cells. BRET is the non-radiative transfer of energy from a 'donor' luciferase enzyme to an 'acceptor' fluorescent protein. In the most common configuration of this assay, the donor is Renilla reniformis luciferase and the acceptor is Yellow Fluorescent Protein (YFP). Because the efficiency of energy transfer is strongly distance-dependent, observation of the BRET phenomenon requires that the donor and acceptor be in close proximity. To test for an interaction between two proteins of interest in cultured mammalian cells, one protein is expressed as a fusion with luciferase and the second as a fusion with YFP. An interaction between the two proteins of interest may bring the donor and acceptor sufficiently close for energy transfer to occur. Compared to other techniques for investigating protein-protein interactions, the BRET assay is sensitive, requires little hands-on time and few reagents, and is able to detect interactions which are weak, transient, or dependent on the biochemical environment found within a live cell. It is therefore an ideal approach for confirming putative interactions suggested by yeast two-hybrid or mass spectrometry proteomics studies, and in addition it is well-suited for mapping interacting regions, assessing the effect of post-translational modifications on protein-protein interactions, and evaluating the impact of mutations identified in patient DNA.
Cellular Biology, Issue 87, Protein-protein interactions, Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer, Live cell, Transfection, Luciferase, Yellow Fluorescent Protein, Mutations
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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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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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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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Staining Proteins in Gels
Authors: Sean Gallagher, Deb Chakavarti.
Institutions: UVP, LLC, Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences.
Following separation by electrophoretic methods, proteins in a gel can be detected by several staining methods. This unit describes protocols for detecting proteins by four popular methods. Coomassie blue staining is an easy and rapid method. Silver staining, while more time consuming, is considerably more sensitive and can thus be used to detect smaller amounts of protein. Fluorescent staining is a popular alternative to traditional staining procedures, mainly because it is more sensitive than Coomassie staining, and is often as sensitive as silver staining. Staining of proteins with SYPRO Orange and SYPRO Ruby are also demonstrated here.
Basic Protocols, Issue 17, Current Protocols Wiley, Coomassie Blue Staining, Silver Staining, SYPROruby, SYPROorange, Protein Detection
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Polarized Translocation of Fluorescent Proteins in Xenopus Ectoderm in Response to Wnt Signaling
Authors: Keiji Itoh, Sergei Y. Sokol.
Institutions: Mount Sinai School of Medicine .
Cell polarity is a fundamental property of eukaryotic cells that is dynamically regulated by both intrinsic and extrinsic factors during embryonic development 1, 2. One of the signaling pathways involved in this regulation is the Wnt pathway, which is used many times during embryogenesis and critical for human disease3, 4, 5. Multiple molecular components of this pathway coordinately regulate signaling in a spatially-restricted manner, but the underlying mechanisms are not fully understood. Xenopus embryonic epithelial cells is an excellent system to study subcellular localization of various signaling proteins. Fluorescent fusion proteins are expressed in Xenopus embryos by RNA microinjection, ectodermal explants are prepared and protein localization is evaluated by epifluorescence. In this experimental protocol we describe how subcellular localization of Diversin, a cytoplasmic protein that has been implicated in signaling and cell polarity determination6, 7 is visualized in Xenopus ectodermal cells to study Wnt signal transduction8. Coexpression of a Wnt ligand or a Frizzled receptor alters the distribution of Diversin fused with red fluorescent protein, RFP, and recruits it to the cell membrane in a polarized fashion 8, 9. This ex vivo protocol should be a useful addition to in vitro studies of cultured mammalian cells, in which spatial control of signaling differs from that of the intact tissue and is much more difficult to analyze.
Developmental Biology, Issue 51, Xenopus embryo, ectoderm, Diversin, Frizzled, membrane recruitment, polarity, Wnt
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Analyzing and Building Nucleic Acid Structures with 3DNA
Authors: Andrew V. Colasanti, Xiang-Jun Lu, Wilma K. Olson.
Institutions: Rutgers - The State University of New Jersey, Columbia University .
The 3DNA software package is a popular and versatile bioinformatics tool with capabilities to analyze, construct, and visualize three-dimensional nucleic acid structures. This article presents detailed protocols for a subset of new and popular features available in 3DNA, applicable to both individual structures and ensembles of related structures. Protocol 1 lists the set of instructions needed to download and install the software. This is followed, in Protocol 2, by the analysis of a nucleic acid structure, including the assignment of base pairs and the determination of rigid-body parameters that describe the structure and, in Protocol 3, by a description of the reconstruction of an atomic model of a structure from its rigid-body parameters. The most recent version of 3DNA, version 2.1, has new features for the analysis and manipulation of ensembles of structures, such as those deduced from nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) measurements and molecular dynamic (MD) simulations; these features are presented in Protocols 4 and 5. In addition to the 3DNA stand-alone software package, the w3DNA web server, located at, provides a user-friendly interface to selected features of the software. Protocol 6 demonstrates a novel feature of the site for building models of long DNA molecules decorated with bound proteins at user-specified locations.
Genetics, Issue 74, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Bioengineering, Biophysics, Genomics, Chemical Biology, Quantitative Biology, conformational analysis, DNA, high-resolution structures, model building, molecular dynamics, nucleic acid structure, RNA, visualization, bioinformatics, three-dimensional, 3DNA, software
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Electrophoretic Separation of Proteins
Authors: Bulbul Chakavarti, Deb Chakavarti.
Institutions: Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences.
Electrophoresis is used to separate complex mixtures of proteins (e.g., from cells, subcellular fractions, column fractions, or immunoprecipitates), to investigate subunit compositions, and to verify homogeneity of protein samples. It can also serve to purify proteins for use in further applications. In polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, proteins migrate in response to an electrical field through pores in a polyacrylamide gel matrix; pore size decreases with increasing acrylamide concentration. The combination of pore size and protein charge, size, and shape determines the migration rate of the protein. In this unit, the standard Laemmli method is described for discontinuous gel electrophoresis under denaturing conditions, i.e., in the presence of sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS).
Basic Protocols, Issue 16, Current Protocols Wiley, Electrophoresis, Biochemistry, Protein Separage, Polyacrylamide Gel Electrophoresis, PAGE
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Using SCOPE to Identify Potential Regulatory Motifs in Coregulated Genes
Authors: Viktor Martyanov, Robert H. Gross.
Institutions: Dartmouth College.
SCOPE is an ensemble motif finder that uses three component algorithms in parallel to identify potential regulatory motifs by over-representation and motif position preference1. Each component algorithm is optimized to find a different kind of motif. By taking the best of these three approaches, SCOPE performs better than any single algorithm, even in the presence of noisy data1. In this article, we utilize a web version of SCOPE2 to examine genes that are involved in telomere maintenance. SCOPE has been incorporated into at least two other motif finding programs3,4 and has been used in other studies5-8. The three algorithms that comprise SCOPE are BEAM9, which finds non-degenerate motifs (ACCGGT), PRISM10, which finds degenerate motifs (ASCGWT), and SPACER11, which finds longer bipartite motifs (ACCnnnnnnnnGGT). These three algorithms have been optimized to find their corresponding type of motif. Together, they allow SCOPE to perform extremely well. Once a gene set has been analyzed and candidate motifs identified, SCOPE can look for other genes that contain the motif which, when added to the original set, will improve the motif score. This can occur through over-representation or motif position preference. Working with partial gene sets that have biologically verified transcription factor binding sites, SCOPE was able to identify most of the rest of the genes also regulated by the given transcription factor. Output from SCOPE shows candidate motifs, their significance, and other information both as a table and as a graphical motif map. FAQs and video tutorials are available at the SCOPE web site which also includes a "Sample Search" button that allows the user to perform a trial run. Scope has a very friendly user interface that enables novice users to access the algorithm's full power without having to become an expert in the bioinformatics of motif finding. As input, SCOPE can take a list of genes, or FASTA sequences. These can be entered in browser text fields, or read from a file. The output from SCOPE contains a list of all identified motifs with their scores, number of occurrences, fraction of genes containing the motif, and the algorithm used to identify the motif. For each motif, result details include a consensus representation of the motif, a sequence logo, a position weight matrix, and a list of instances for every motif occurrence (with exact positions and "strand" indicated). Results are returned in a browser window and also optionally by email. Previous papers describe the SCOPE algorithms in detail1,2,9-11.
Genetics, Issue 51, gene regulation, computational biology, algorithm, promoter sequence motif
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