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Measurement of contractile stress generated by cultured rat muscle on silicon cantilevers for toxin detection and muscle performance enhancement.
PUBLISHED: 04-28-2010
To date, biological components have been incorporated into MEMS devices to create cell-based sensors and assays, motors and actuators, and pumps. Bio-MEMS technologies present a unique opportunity to study fundamental biological processes at a level unrealized with previous methods. The capability to miniaturize analytical systems enables researchers to perform multiple experiments in parallel and with a high degree of control over experimental variables for high-content screening applications.
Authors: Hohyun Keum, Seok Kim.
Published: 08-01-2014
Transfer printing is a method to transfer solid micro/nanoscale materials (herein called ‘inks’) from a substrate where they are generated to a different substrate by utilizing elastomeric stamps. Transfer printing enables the integration of heterogeneous materials to fabricate unexampled structures or functional systems that are found in recent advanced devices such as flexible and stretchable solar cells and LED arrays. While transfer printing exhibits unique features in material assembly capability, the use of adhesive layers or the surface modification such as deposition of self-assembled monolayer (SAM) on substrates for enhancing printing processes hinders its wide adaptation in microassembly of microelectromechanical system (MEMS) structures and devices. To overcome this shortcoming, we developed an advanced mode of transfer printing which deterministically assembles individual microscale objects solely through controlling surface contact area without any surface alteration. The absence of an adhesive layer or other modification and the subsequent material bonding processes ensure not only mechanical bonding, but also thermal and electrical connection between assembled materials, which further opens various applications in adaptation in building unusual MEMS devices.
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Utilization of Microscale Silicon Cantilevers to Assess Cellular Contractile Function In Vitro
Authors: Alec S.T. Smith, Christopher J. Long, Christopher McAleer, Nathaniel Bobbitt, Balaji Srinivasan, James J. Hickman.
Institutions: University of Central Florida.
The development of more predictive and biologically relevant in vitro assays is predicated on the advancement of versatile cell culture systems which facilitate the functional assessment of the seeded cells. To that end, microscale cantilever technology offers a platform with which to measure the contractile functionality of a range of cell types, including skeletal, cardiac, and smooth muscle cells, through assessment of contraction induced substrate bending. Application of multiplexed cantilever arrays provides the means to develop moderate to high-throughput protocols for assessing drug efficacy and toxicity, disease phenotype and progression, as well as neuromuscular and other cell-cell interactions. This manuscript provides the details for fabricating reliable cantilever arrays for this purpose, and the methods required to successfully culture cells on these surfaces. Further description is provided on the steps necessary to perform functional analysis of contractile cell types maintained on such arrays using a novel laser and photo-detector system. The representative data provided highlights the precision and reproducible nature of the analysis of contractile function possible using this system, as well as the wide range of studies to which such technology can be applied. Successful widespread adoption of this system could provide investigators with the means to perform rapid, low cost functional studies in vitro, leading to more accurate predictions of tissue performance, disease development and response to novel therapeutic treatment.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cantilever, in vitro, contraction, skeletal muscle, NMJ, cardiomyocytes, functional
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Bladder Smooth Muscle Strip Contractility as a Method to Evaluate Lower Urinary Tract Pharmacology
Authors: F. Aura Kullmann, Stephanie L. Daugherty, William C. de Groat, Lori A. Birder.
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
We describe an in vitro method to measure bladder smooth muscle contractility, and its use for investigating physiological and pharmacological properties of the smooth muscle as well as changes induced by pathology. This method provides critical information for understanding bladder function while overcoming major methodological difficulties encountered in in vivo experiments, such as surgical and pharmacological manipulations that affect stability and survival of the preparations, the use of human tissue, and/or the use of expensive chemicals. It also provides a way to investigate the properties of each bladder component (i.e. smooth muscle, mucosa, nerves) in healthy and pathological conditions. The urinary bladder is removed from an anesthetized animal, placed in Krebs solution and cut into strips. Strips are placed into a chamber filled with warm Krebs solution. One end is attached to an isometric tension transducer to measure contraction force, the other end is attached to a fixed rod. Tissue is stimulated by directly adding compounds to the bath or by electric field stimulation electrodes that activate nerves, similar to triggering bladder contractions in vivo. We demonstrate the use of this method to evaluate spontaneous smooth muscle contractility during development and after an experimental spinal cord injury, the nature of neurotransmission (transmitters and receptors involved), factors involved in modulation of smooth muscle activity, the role of individual bladder components, and species and organ differences in response to pharmacological agents. Additionally, it could be used for investigating intracellular pathways involved in contraction and/or relaxation of the smooth muscle, drug structure-activity relationships and evaluation of transmitter release. The in vitro smooth muscle contractility method has been used extensively for over 50 years, and has provided data that significantly contributed to our understanding of bladder function as well as to pharmaceutical development of compounds currently used clinically for bladder management.
Medicine, Issue 90, Krebs, species differences, in vitro, smooth muscle contractility, neural stimulation
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Evaluation of Muscle Function of the Extensor Digitorum Longus Muscle Ex vivo and Tibialis Anterior Muscle In situ in Mice
Authors: Chady H. Hakim, Nalinda B. Wasala, Dongsheng Duan.
Institutions: University of Missouri.
Body movements are mainly provided by mechanical function of skeletal muscle. Skeletal muscle is composed of numerous bundles of myofibers that are sheathed by intramuscular connective tissues. Each myofiber contains many myofibrils that run longitudinally along the length of the myofiber. Myofibrils are the contractile apparatus of muscle and they are composed of repeated contractile units known as sarcomeres. A sarcomere unit contains actin and myosin filaments that are spaced by the Z discs and titin protein. Mechanical function of skeletal muscle is defined by the contractile and passive properties of muscle. The contractile properties are used to characterize the amount of force generated during muscle contraction, time of force generation and time of muscle relaxation. Any factor that affects muscle contraction (such as interaction between actin and myosin filaments, homeostasis of calcium, ATP/ADP ratio, etc.) influences the contractile properties. The passive properties refer to the elastic and viscous properties (stiffness and viscosity) of the muscle in the absence of contraction. These properties are determined by the extracellular and the intracellular structural components (such as titin) and connective tissues (mainly collagen) 1-2. The contractile and passive properties are two inseparable aspects of muscle function. For example, elbow flexion is accomplished by contraction of muscles in the anterior compartment of the upper arm and passive stretch of muscles in the posterior compartment of the upper arm. To truly understand muscle function, both contractile and passive properties should be studied. The contractile and/or passive mechanical properties of muscle are often compromised in muscle diseases. A good example is Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), a severe muscle wasting disease caused by dystrophin deficiency 3. Dystrophin is a cytoskeletal protein that stabilizes the muscle cell membrane (sarcolemma) during muscle contraction 4. In the absence of dystrophin, the sarcolemma is damaged by the shearing force generated during force transmission. This membrane tearing initiates a chain reaction which leads to muscle cell death and loss of contractile machinery. As a consequence, muscle force is reduced and dead myofibers are replaced by fibrotic tissues 5. This later change increases muscle stiffness 6. Accurate measurement of these changes provides important guide to evaluate disease progression and to determine therapeutic efficacy of novel gene/cell/pharmacological interventions. Here, we present two methods to evaluate both contractile and passive mechanical properties of the extensor digitorum longus (EDL) muscle and the contractile properties of the tibialis anterior (TA) muscle.
Medicine, Issue 72, Immunology, Microbiology, Anatomy, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Muscle, Skeletal, Neuromuscular Diseases, Drug Therapy, Gene Therapy, Musculoskeletal Diseases, Skeletal Muscle, Tibialis Anterior, Contractile Properties, Passive Properties, EDL, TA, animal model
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Nanomechanics of Drug-target Interactions and Antibacterial Resistance Detection
Authors: Joseph W. Ndieyira, Moyu Watari, Rachel A. McKendry.
Institutions: University College London.
The cantilever sensor, which acts as a transducer of reactions between model bacterial cell wall matrix immobilized on its surface and antibiotic drugs in solution, has shown considerable potential in biochemical sensing applications with unprecedented sensitivity and specificity1-5. The drug-target interactions generate surface stress, causing the cantilever to bend, and the signal can be analyzed optically when it is illuminated by a laser. The change in surface stress measured with nano-scale precision allows disruptions of the biomechanics of model bacterial cell wall targets to be tracked in real time. Despite offering considerable advantages, multiple cantilever sensor arrays have never been applied in quantifying drug-target binding interactions. Here, we report on the use of silicon multiple cantilever arrays coated with alkanethiol self-assembled monolayers mimicking bacterial cell wall matrix to quantitatively study antibiotic binding interactions. To understand the impact of vancomycin on the mechanics of bacterial cell wall structures1,6,7. We developed a new model1 which proposes that cantilever bending can be described by two independent factors; i) namely a chemical factor, which is given by a classical Langmuir adsorption isotherm, from which we calculate the thermodynamic equilibrium dissociation constant (Kd) and ii) a geometrical factor, essentially a measure of how bacterial peptide receptors are distributed on the cantilever surface. The surface distribution of peptide receptors (p) is used to investigate the dependence of geometry and ligand loading. It is shown that a threshold value of p ~10% is critical to sensing applications. Below which there is no detectable bending signal while above this value, the bending signal increases almost linearly, revealing that stress is a product of a local chemical binding factor and a geometrical factor combined by the mechanical connectivity of reacted regions and provides a new paradigm for design of powerful agents to combat superbug infections.
Immunology, Issue 80, Engineering, Technology, Diagnostic Techniques and Procedures, Early Diagnosis, Bacterial Infections and Mycoses, Lipids, Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, Chemical Actions and Uses, Diagnosis, Therapeutics, Surface stress, vancomycin, mucopeptides, cantilever sensor
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Ex Vivo Assessment of Contractility, Fatigability and Alternans in Isolated Skeletal Muscles
Authors: Ki Ho Park, Leticia Brotto, Oanh Lehoang, Marco Brotto, Jianjie Ma, Xiaoli Zhao.
Institutions: UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Ohio State University .
Described here is a method to measure contractility of isolated skeletal muscles. Parameters such as muscle force, muscle power, contractile kinetics, fatigability, and recovery after fatigue can be obtained to assess specific aspects of the excitation-contraction coupling (ECC) process such as excitability, contractile machinery and Ca2+ handling ability. This method removes the nerve and blood supply and focuses on the isolated skeletal muscle itself. We routinely use this method to identify genetic components that alter the contractile property of skeletal muscle though modulating Ca2+ signaling pathways. Here, we describe a newly identified skeletal muscle phenotype, i.e., mechanic alternans, as an example of the various and rich information that can be obtained using the in vitro muscle contractility assay. Combination of this assay with single cell assays, genetic approaches and biochemistry assays can provide important insights into the mechanisms of ECC in skeletal muscle.
Physiology, Issue 69, extensor digitorum longus, soleus, in vitro contractility, calcium signaling, muscle-tendon complex, mechanic alternans
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Tissue Triage and Freezing for Models of Skeletal Muscle Disease
Authors: Hui Meng, Paul M.L. Janssen, Robert W. Grange, Lin Yang, Alan H. Beggs, Lindsay C. Swanson, Stacy A. Cossette, Alison Frase, Martin K. Childers, Henk Granzier, Emanuela Gussoni, Michael W. Lawlor.
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin, The Ohio State University, Virginia Tech, University of Kentucky, Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Cure Congenital Muscular Dystrophy, Joshua Frase Foundation, University of Washington, University of Arizona.
Skeletal muscle is a unique tissue because of its structure and function, which requires specific protocols for tissue collection to obtain optimal results from functional, cellular, molecular, and pathological evaluations. Due to the subtlety of some pathological abnormalities seen in congenital muscle disorders and the potential for fixation to interfere with the recognition of these features, pathological evaluation of frozen muscle is preferable to fixed muscle when evaluating skeletal muscle for congenital muscle disease. Additionally, the potential to produce severe freezing artifacts in muscle requires specific precautions when freezing skeletal muscle for histological examination that are not commonly used when freezing other tissues. This manuscript describes a protocol for rapid freezing of skeletal muscle using isopentane (2-methylbutane) cooled with liquid nitrogen to preserve optimal skeletal muscle morphology. This procedure is also effective for freezing tissue intended for genetic or protein expression studies. Furthermore, we have integrated our freezing protocol into a broader procedure that also describes preferred methods for the short term triage of tissue for (1) single fiber functional studies and (2) myoblast cell culture, with a focus on the minimum effort necessary to collect tissue and transport it to specialized research or reference labs to complete these studies. Overall, this manuscript provides an outline of how fresh tissue can be effectively distributed for a variety of phenotypic studies and thereby provides standard operating procedures (SOPs) for pathological studies related to congenital muscle disease.
Basic Protocol, Issue 89, Tissue, Freezing, Muscle, Isopentane, Pathology, Functional Testing, Cell Culture
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Isolation and Quantification of Botulinum Neurotoxin From Complex Matrices Using the BoTest Matrix Assays
Authors: F. Mark Dunning, Timothy M. Piazza, Füsûn N. Zeytin, Ward C. Tucker.
Institutions: BioSentinel Inc., Madison, WI.
Accurate detection and quantification of botulinum neurotoxin (BoNT) in complex matrices is required for pharmaceutical, environmental, and food sample testing. Rapid BoNT testing of foodstuffs is needed during outbreak forensics, patient diagnosis, and food safety testing while accurate potency testing is required for BoNT-based drug product manufacturing and patient safety. The widely used mouse bioassay for BoNT testing is highly sensitive but lacks the precision and throughput needed for rapid and routine BoNT testing. Furthermore, the bioassay's use of animals has resulted in calls by drug product regulatory authorities and animal-rights proponents in the US and abroad to replace the mouse bioassay for BoNT testing. Several in vitro replacement assays have been developed that work well with purified BoNT in simple buffers, but most have not been shown to be applicable to testing in highly complex matrices. Here, a protocol for the detection of BoNT in complex matrices using the BoTest Matrix assays is presented. The assay consists of three parts: The first part involves preparation of the samples for testing, the second part is an immunoprecipitation step using anti-BoNT antibody-coated paramagnetic beads to purify BoNT from the matrix, and the third part quantifies the isolated BoNT's proteolytic activity using a fluorogenic reporter. The protocol is written for high throughput testing in 96-well plates using both liquid and solid matrices and requires about 2 hr of manual preparation with total assay times of 4-26 hr depending on the sample type, toxin load, and desired sensitivity. Data are presented for BoNT/A testing with phosphate-buffered saline, a drug product, culture supernatant, 2% milk, and fresh tomatoes and includes discussion of critical parameters for assay success.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, Botulinum, food testing, detection, quantification, complex matrices, BoTest Matrix, Clostridium, potency testing
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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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Isolation, Culture, and Functional Characterization of Adult Mouse Cardiomyoctyes
Authors: Evan Lee Graham, Cristina Balla, Hannabeth Franchino, Yonathan Melman, Federica del Monte, Saumya Das.
Institutions: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Sapienza University.
The use of primary cardiomyocytes (CMs) in culture has provided a powerful complement to murine models of heart disease in advancing our understanding of heart disease. In particular, the ability to study ion homeostasis, ion channel function, cellular excitability and excitation-contraction coupling and their alterations in diseased conditions and by disease-causing mutations have led to significant insights into cardiac diseases. Furthermore, the lack of an adequate immortalized cell line to mimic adult CMs, and the limitations of neonatal CMs (which lack many of the structural and functional biomechanics characteristic of adult CMs) in culture have hampered our understanding of the complex interplay between signaling pathways, ion channels and contractile properties in the adult heart strengthening the importance of studying adult isolated cardiomyocytes. Here, we present methods for the isolation, culture, manipulation of gene expression by adenoviral-expressed proteins, and subsequent functional analysis of cardiomyocytes from the adult mouse. The use of these techniques will help to develop mechanistic insight into signaling pathways that regulate cellular excitability, Ca2+ dynamics and contractility and provide a much more physiologically relevant characterization of cardiovascular disease.
Cellular Biology, Issue 79, Medicine, Cardiology, Cellular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Mice, Ion Channels, Primary Cell Culture, Cardiac Electrophysiology, adult mouse cardiomyocytes, cell isolation, IonOptix, Cell Culture, adenoviral transfection, patch clamp, fluorescent nanosensor
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Analysis of Tubular Membrane Networks in Cardiac Myocytes from Atria and Ventricles
Authors: Eva Wagner, Sören Brandenburg, Tobias Kohl, Stephan E. Lehnart.
Institutions: Heart Research Center Goettingen, University Medical Center Goettingen, German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) partner site Goettingen, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
In cardiac myocytes a complex network of membrane tubules - the transverse-axial tubule system (TATS) - controls deep intracellular signaling functions. While the outer surface membrane and associated TATS membrane components appear to be continuous, there are substantial differences in lipid and protein content. In ventricular myocytes (VMs), certain TATS components are highly abundant contributing to rectilinear tubule networks and regular branching 3D architectures. It is thought that peripheral TATS components propagate action potentials from the cell surface to thousands of remote intracellular sarcoendoplasmic reticulum (SER) membrane contact domains, thereby activating intracellular Ca2+ release units (CRUs). In contrast to VMs, the organization and functional role of TATS membranes in atrial myocytes (AMs) is significantly different and much less understood. Taken together, quantitative structural characterization of TATS membrane networks in healthy and diseased myocytes is an essential prerequisite towards better understanding of functional plasticity and pathophysiological reorganization. Here, we present a strategic combination of protocols for direct quantitative analysis of TATS membrane networks in living VMs and AMs. For this, we accompany primary cell isolations of mouse VMs and/or AMs with critical quality control steps and direct membrane staining protocols for fluorescence imaging of TATS membranes. Using an optimized workflow for confocal or superresolution TATS image processing, binarized and skeletonized data are generated for quantitative analysis of the TATS network and its components. Unlike previously published indirect regional aggregate image analysis strategies, our protocols enable direct characterization of specific components and derive complex physiological properties of TATS membrane networks in living myocytes with high throughput and open access software tools. In summary, the combined protocol strategy can be readily applied for quantitative TATS network studies during physiological myocyte adaptation or disease changes, comparison of different cardiac or skeletal muscle cell types, phenotyping of transgenic models, and pharmacological or therapeutic interventions.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cardiac myocyte, atria, ventricle, heart, primary cell isolation, fluorescence microscopy, membrane tubule, transverse-axial tubule system, image analysis, image processing, T-tubule, collagenase
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Modeling Neural Immune Signaling of Episodic and Chronic Migraine Using Spreading Depression In Vitro
Authors: Aya D. Pusic, Yelena Y. Grinberg, Heidi M. Mitchell, Richard P. Kraig.
Institutions: The University of Chicago Medical Center, The University of Chicago Medical Center.
Migraine and its transformation to chronic migraine are healthcare burdens in need of improved treatment options. We seek to define how neural immune signaling modulates the susceptibility to migraine, modeled in vitro using spreading depression (SD), as a means to develop novel therapeutic targets for episodic and chronic migraine. SD is the likely cause of migraine aura and migraine pain. It is a paroxysmal loss of neuronal function triggered by initially increased neuronal activity, which slowly propagates within susceptible brain regions. Normal brain function is exquisitely sensitive to, and relies on, coincident low-level immune signaling. Thus, neural immune signaling likely affects electrical activity of SD, and therefore migraine. Pain perception studies of SD in whole animals are fraught with difficulties, but whole animals are well suited to examine systems biology aspects of migraine since SD activates trigeminal nociceptive pathways. However, whole animal studies alone cannot be used to decipher the cellular and neural circuit mechanisms of SD. Instead, in vitro preparations where environmental conditions can be controlled are necessary. Here, it is important to recognize limitations of acute slices and distinct advantages of hippocampal slice cultures. Acute brain slices cannot reveal subtle changes in immune signaling since preparing the slices alone triggers: pro-inflammatory changes that last days, epileptiform behavior due to high levels of oxygen tension needed to vitalize the slices, and irreversible cell injury at anoxic slice centers. In contrast, we examine immune signaling in mature hippocampal slice cultures since the cultures closely parallel their in vivo counterpart with mature trisynaptic function; show quiescent astrocytes, microglia, and cytokine levels; and SD is easily induced in an unanesthetized preparation. Furthermore, the slices are long-lived and SD can be induced on consecutive days without injury, making this preparation the sole means to-date capable of modeling the neuroimmune consequences of chronic SD, and thus perhaps chronic migraine. We use electrophysiological techniques and non-invasive imaging to measure neuronal cell and circuit functions coincident with SD. Neural immune gene expression variables are measured with qPCR screening, qPCR arrays, and, importantly, use of cDNA preamplification for detection of ultra-low level targets such as interferon-gamma using whole, regional, or specific cell enhanced (via laser dissection microscopy) sampling. Cytokine cascade signaling is further assessed with multiplexed phosphoprotein related targets with gene expression and phosphoprotein changes confirmed via cell-specific immunostaining. Pharmacological and siRNA strategies are used to mimic and modulate SD immune signaling.
Neuroscience, Issue 52, innate immunity, hormesis, microglia, T-cells, hippocampus, slice culture, gene expression, laser dissection microscopy, real-time qPCR, interferon-gamma
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Real-Time DC-dynamic Biasing Method for Switching Time Improvement in Severely Underdamped Fringing-field Electrostatic MEMS Actuators
Authors: Joshua Small, Adam Fruehling, Anurag Garg, Xiaoguang Liu, Dimitrios Peroulis.
Institutions: University of California, Davis, Texas Instruments, Purdue University.
Mechanically underdamped electrostatic fringing-field MEMS actuators are well known for their fast switching operation in response to a unit step input bias voltage. However, the tradeoff for the improved switching performance is a relatively long settling time to reach each gap height in response to various applied voltages. Transient applied bias waveforms are employed to facilitate reduced switching times for electrostatic fringing-field MEMS actuators with high mechanical quality factors. Removing the underlying substrate of the fringing-field actuator creates the low mechanical damping environment necessary to effectively test the concept. The removal of the underlying substrate also a has substantial improvement on the reliability performance of the device in regards to failure due to stiction. Although DC-dynamic biasing is useful in improving settling time, the required slew rates for typical MEMS devices may place aggressive requirements on the charge pumps for fully-integrated on-chip designs. Additionally, there may be challenges integrating the substrate removal step into the back-end-of-line commercial CMOS processing steps. Experimental validation of fabricated actuators demonstrates an improvement of 50x in switching time when compared to conventional step biasing results. Compared to theoretical calculations, the experimental results are in good agreement.
Physics, Issue 90, microelectromechanical systems, actuators, switching time, settling time, electrostatic devices, micromachining, thin film devices
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High Throughput Microfluidic Rapid and Low Cost Prototyping Packaging Methods
Authors: Amine Miled, Mohamad Sawan.
Institutions: Polytechnique Montreal.
In this work, 3 different packaging and assembly techniques are presented. They can be classified into two categories: one-time use and reusable packaging techniques. The one-time use packaging technique employs UV-based and temperature curing epoxies to connect microtubes to access holes, wire-bonding for integrated circuit connections, and silver epoxy for electrical connections. This method is based on a robust assembly technique that can support relatively high pressure close to 1 psi and does not need any support to strengthen the microfluidic architecture. Reusable packaging techniques consist of PDMS-based microtube interconnectors and anisotropic adhesive films for electrical connections. These devices are more sensitive and fragile. Consequently, Plexiglas support is added to the microfluidic structure to improve the electrical contact when anisotropic adhesive films are used, and also to strengthen the microfluidic architecture. In addition, a micromanipulator is needed to maintain tubes while using a thin PDMS layer to connect them to the access holes. Different PDMS layer thicknesses, ranging from 0.45-3 mm, are tested to compare the best adherence versus injection rates. Applied injection rates are varied from 50-300 μl/hr for 0.45-3 mm PDMS layers, respectively. These techniques are mainly applicable for low-pressure applications. However, they can be extended for high-pressure ones through plasma-oxygen process to permanently seal the PDMS to glass substrates. The main advantage of this technique, besides the fact that it is reusable, consists of keeping the device observable when the microchannel length is very short (in the range of 3 mm or lower).
Bioengineering, Issue 82, Microfluidics, PDMS, Lab-on-chip, Rapid-Prototyping, Microfabrication
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A Microfluidic-based Electrochemical Biochip for Label-free DNA Hybridization Analysis
Authors: Hadar Ben-Yoav, Peter H. Dykstra, Tanya Gordonov, William E. Bentley, Reza Ghodssi.
Institutions: University of Maryland, University of Maryland.
Miniaturization of analytical benchtop procedures into the micro-scale provides significant advantages in regards to reaction time, cost, and integration of pre-processing steps. Utilizing these devices towards the analysis of DNA hybridization events is important because it offers a technology for real time assessment of biomarkers at the point-of-care for various diseases. However, when the device footprint decreases the dominance of various physical phenomena increases. These phenomena influence the fabrication precision and operation reliability of the device. Therefore, there is a great need to accurately fabricate and operate these devices in a reproducible manner in order to improve the overall performance. Here, we describe the protocols and the methods used for the fabrication and the operation of a microfluidic-based electrochemical biochip for accurate analysis of DNA hybridization events. The biochip is composed of two parts: a microfluidic chip with three parallel micro-channels made of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), and a 3 x 3 arrayed electrochemical micro-chip. The DNA hybridization events are detected using electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS) analysis. The EIS analysis enables monitoring variations of the properties of the electrochemical system that are dominant at these length scales. With the ability to monitor changes of both charge transfer and diffusional resistance with the biosensor, we demonstrate the selectivity to complementary ssDNA targets, a calculated detection limit of 3.8 nM, and a 13% cross-reactivity with other non-complementary ssDNA following 20 min of incubation. This methodology can improve the performance of miniaturized devices by elucidating on the behavior of diffusion at the micro-scale regime and by enabling the study of DNA hybridization events.
Bioengineering, Issue 91, electrochemical impedance spectroscopy, DNA hybridization, biosensor, biochip, microfluidics, label-free detection, restricted diffusion, microfabrication
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A Manual Small Molecule Screen Approaching High-throughput Using Zebrafish Embryos
Authors: Shahram Jevin Poureetezadi, Eric K. Donahue, Rebecca A. Wingert.
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
Zebrafish have become a widely used model organism to investigate the mechanisms that underlie developmental biology and to study human disease pathology due to their considerable degree of genetic conservation with humans. Chemical genetics entails testing the effect that small molecules have on a biological process and is becoming a popular translational research method to identify therapeutic compounds. Zebrafish are specifically appealing to use for chemical genetics because of their ability to produce large clutches of transparent embryos, which are externally fertilized. Furthermore, zebrafish embryos can be easily drug treated by the simple addition of a compound to the embryo media. Using whole-mount in situ hybridization (WISH), mRNA expression can be clearly visualized within zebrafish embryos. Together, using chemical genetics and WISH, the zebrafish becomes a potent whole organism context in which to determine the cellular and physiological effects of small molecules. Innovative advances have been made in technologies that utilize machine-based screening procedures, however for many labs such options are not accessible or remain cost-prohibitive. The protocol described here explains how to execute a manual high-throughput chemical genetic screen that requires basic resources and can be accomplished by a single individual or small team in an efficient period of time. Thus, this protocol provides a feasible strategy that can be implemented by research groups to perform chemical genetics in zebrafish, which can be useful for gaining fundamental insights into developmental processes, disease mechanisms, and to identify novel compounds and signaling pathways that have medically relevant applications.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, zebrafish, chemical genetics, chemical screen, in vivo small molecule screen, drug discovery, whole mount in situ hybridization (WISH), high-throughput screening (HTS), high-content screening (HCS)
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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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High Efficiency Differentiation of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells to Cardiomyocytes and Characterization by Flow Cytometry
Authors: Subarna Bhattacharya, Paul W. Burridge, Erin M. Kropp, Sandra L. Chuppa, Wai-Meng Kwok, Joseph C. Wu, Kenneth R. Boheler, Rebekah L. Gundry.
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin, Stanford University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin, Hong Kong University, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin.
There is an urgent need to develop approaches for repairing the damaged heart, discovering new therapeutic drugs that do not have toxic effects on the heart, and improving strategies to accurately model heart disease. The potential of exploiting human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) technology to generate cardiac muscle “in a dish” for these applications continues to generate high enthusiasm. In recent years, the ability to efficiently generate cardiomyogenic cells from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) has greatly improved, offering us new opportunities to model very early stages of human cardiac development not otherwise accessible. In contrast to many previous methods, the cardiomyocyte differentiation protocol described here does not require cell aggregation or the addition of Activin A or BMP4 and robustly generates cultures of cells that are highly positive for cardiac troponin I and T (TNNI3, TNNT2), iroquois-class homeodomain protein IRX-4 (IRX4), myosin regulatory light chain 2, ventricular/cardiac muscle isoform (MLC2v) and myosin regulatory light chain 2, atrial isoform (MLC2a) by day 10 across all human embryonic stem cell (hESC) and hiPSC lines tested to date. Cells can be passaged and maintained for more than 90 days in culture. The strategy is technically simple to implement and cost-effective. Characterization of cardiomyocytes derived from pluripotent cells often includes the analysis of reference markers, both at the mRNA and protein level. For protein analysis, flow cytometry is a powerful analytical tool for assessing quality of cells in culture and determining subpopulation homogeneity. However, technical variation in sample preparation can significantly affect quality of flow cytometry data. Thus, standardization of staining protocols should facilitate comparisons among various differentiation strategies. Accordingly, optimized staining protocols for the analysis of IRX4, MLC2v, MLC2a, TNNI3, and TNNT2 by flow cytometry are described.
Cellular Biology, Issue 91, human induced pluripotent stem cell, flow cytometry, directed differentiation, cardiomyocyte, IRX4, TNNI3, TNNT2, MCL2v, MLC2a
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High Throughput Quantitative Expression Screening and Purification Applied to Recombinant Disulfide-rich Venom Proteins Produced in E. coli
Authors: Natalie J. Saez, Hervé Nozach, Marilyne Blemont, Renaud Vincentelli.
Institutions: Aix-Marseille Université, Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA) Saclay, France.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) is the most widely used expression system for the production of recombinant proteins for structural and functional studies. However, purifying proteins is sometimes challenging since many proteins are expressed in an insoluble form. When working with difficult or multiple targets it is therefore recommended to use high throughput (HTP) protein expression screening on a small scale (1-4 ml cultures) to quickly identify conditions for soluble expression. To cope with the various structural genomics programs of the lab, a quantitative (within a range of 0.1-100 mg/L culture of recombinant protein) and HTP protein expression screening protocol was implemented and validated on thousands of proteins. The protocols were automated with the use of a liquid handling robot but can also be performed manually without specialized equipment. Disulfide-rich venom proteins are gaining increasing recognition for their potential as therapeutic drug leads. They can be highly potent and selective, but their complex disulfide bond networks make them challenging to produce. As a member of the FP7 European Venomics project (, our challenge is to develop successful production strategies with the aim of producing thousands of novel venom proteins for functional characterization. Aided by the redox properties of disulfide bond isomerase DsbC, we adapted our HTP production pipeline for the expression of oxidized, functional venom peptides in the E. coli cytoplasm. The protocols are also applicable to the production of diverse disulfide-rich proteins. Here we demonstrate our pipeline applied to the production of animal venom proteins. With the protocols described herein it is likely that soluble disulfide-rich proteins will be obtained in as little as a week. Even from a small scale, there is the potential to use the purified proteins for validating the oxidation state by mass spectrometry, for characterization in pilot studies, or for sensitive micro-assays.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, E. coli, expression, recombinant, high throughput (HTP), purification, auto-induction, immobilized metal affinity chromatography (IMAC), tobacco etch virus protease (TEV) cleavage, disulfide bond isomerase C (DsbC) fusion, disulfide bonds, animal venom proteins/peptides
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Magnetic Tweezers for the Measurement of Twist and Torque
Authors: Jan Lipfert, Mina Lee, Orkide Ordu, Jacob W. J. Kerssemakers, Nynke H. Dekker.
Institutions: Delft University of Technology.
Single-molecule techniques make it possible to investigate the behavior of individual biological molecules in solution in real time. These techniques include so-called force spectroscopy approaches such as atomic force microscopy, optical tweezers, flow stretching, and magnetic tweezers. Amongst these approaches, magnetic tweezers have distinguished themselves by their ability to apply torque while maintaining a constant stretching force. Here, it is illustrated how such a “conventional” magnetic tweezers experimental configuration can, through a straightforward modification of its field configuration to minimize the magnitude of the transverse field, be adapted to measure the degree of twist in a biological molecule. The resulting configuration is termed the freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers. Additionally, it is shown how further modification of the field configuration can yield a transverse field with a magnitude intermediate between that of the “conventional” magnetic tweezers and the freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers, which makes it possible to directly measure the torque stored in a biological molecule. This configuration is termed the magnetic torque tweezers. The accompanying video explains in detail how the conversion of conventional magnetic tweezers into freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers and magnetic torque tweezers can be accomplished, and demonstrates the use of these techniques. These adaptations maintain all the strengths of conventional magnetic tweezers while greatly expanding the versatility of this powerful instrument.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, magnetic tweezers, magnetic torque tweezers, freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers, twist, torque, DNA, single-molecule techniques
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BioMEMS and Cellular Biology: Perspectives and Applications
Authors: Albert Folch.
Institutions: University of Washington.
The ability to culture cells has revolutionized hypothesis testing in basic cell and molecular biology research. It has become a standard methodology in drug screening, toxicology, and clinical assays, and is increasingly used in regenerative medicine. However, the traditional cell culture methodology essentially consisting of the immersion of a large population of cells in a homogeneous fluid medium and on a homogeneous flat substrate has become increasingly limiting both from a fundamental and practical perspective. Microfabrication technologies have enabled researchers to design, with micrometer control, the biochemical composition and topology of the substrate, and the medium composition, as well as the neighboring cell type in the surrounding cellular microenvironment. Additionally, microtechnology is conceptually well-suited for the development of fast, low-cost in vitro systems that allow for high-throughput culturing and analysis of cells under large numbers of conditions. In this interview, Albert Folch explains these limitations, how they can be overcome with soft lithography and microfluidics, and describes some relevant examples of research in his lab and future directions.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 8, BioMEMS, Soft Lithography, Microfluidics, Agrin, Axon Guidance, Olfaction, Interview
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Silicon Microchips for Manipulating Cell-cell Interaction
Authors: Elliot E Hui, Sangeeta N Bhatia.
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The role of the cellular microenvironment is recognized as crucial in determining cell fate and function in virtually all mammalian tissues from development to malignant transformation.  In particular, interaction with neighboring stroma has been implicated in a plethora of biological phenomena; however, conventional techniques limit the ability to interrogate the spatial and dynamic elements of such interactions. In Micromechanical Reconfigurable Culture (RC), we employ a micromachined silicon substrate with moving parts to dynamically control cell-cell interactions through mechanical repositioning. Previously, this method has been applied to investigate intercellular communication in co-cultures of hepatocytes and non-parenchymal cells, demonstrating time-dependent interactions and a limited range for soluble signaling 1. Here, we describe in detail the preparation and use of the RC system. We begin by demonstrating the handling of the device parts using tweezers, including actuating between the gap and contact configurations (cell populations separated by a narrow 80-µm gap, or in direct intimate contact). Next, we detail the process of preparing the substrates for culture, and the multi-step cell seeding process required for obtaining confluent cell monolayers. Using live microscopy, we then illustrate real-time manipulation of cells between the different possible experimental configurations. Finally, we demonstrate the steps required in order to regenerate the device surface for reuse: toluene and piranha cleaning, polystyrene coating, and oxygen plasma treatment.
Issue 7, tissue engineering, MEMS, microfabrication, microenvironment, Bioengineering
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Determining Cell Number During Cell Culture using the Scepter Cell Counter
Authors: Kathleen Ongena, Chandreyee Das, Janet L. Smith, Sónia Gil, Grace Johnston.
Institutions: Millipore Inc.
Counting cells is often a necessary but tedious step for in vitro cell culture. Consistent cell concentrations ensure experimental reproducibility and accuracy. Cell counts are important for monitoring cell health and proliferation rate, assessing immortalization or transformation, seeding cells for subsequent experiments, transfection or infection, and preparing for cell-based assays. It is important that cell counts be accurate, consistent, and fast, particularly for quantitative measurements of cellular responses. Despite this need for speed and accuracy in cell counting, 71% of 400 researchers surveyed1 who count cells using a hemocytometer. While hemocytometry is inexpensive, it is laborious and subject to user bias and misuse, which results in inaccurate counts. Hemocytometers are made of special optical glass on which cell suspensions are loaded in specified volumes and counted under a microscope. Sources of errors in hemocytometry include: uneven cell distribution in the sample, too many or too few cells in the sample, subjective decisions as to whether a given cell falls within the defined counting area, contamination of the hemocytometer, user-to-user variation, and variation of hemocytometer filling rate2. To alleviate the tedium associated with manual counting, 29% of researchers count cells using automated cell counting devices; these include vision-based counters, systems that detect cells using the Coulter principle, or flow cytometry1. For most researchers, the main barrier to using an automated system is the price associated with these large benchtop instruments1. The Scepter cell counter is an automated handheld device that offers the automation and accuracy of Coulter counting at a relatively low cost. The system employs the Coulter principle of impedance-based particle detection3 in a miniaturized format using a combination of analog and digital hardware for sensing, signal processing, data storage, and graphical display. The disposable tip is engineered with a microfabricated, cell- sensing zone that enables discrimination by cell size and cell volume at sub-micron and sub-picoliter resolution. Enhanced with precision liquid-handling channels and electronics, the Scepter cell counter reports cell population statistics graphically displayed as a histogram.
Cellular Biology, Issue 45, Scepter, cell counting, cell culture, hemocytometer, Coulter, Impedance-based particle detection
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Using Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) to Develop Diagnostic Tools
Authors: Utkan Demirci.
Institutions: Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Cellular Biology, Issue 8, microfluidics, diagnostics, capture, blood, HIV, bioengineering
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Title Cell Encapsulation by Droplets
Authors: Sangjun Moon, Pei-Ann Lin, Hasan Onur Keles, Seung-Schick Yoo, Utkan Demirci.
Institutions: Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Cellular Biology, Issue 8, tissue engineering, microfluidics, ejection, imaging, bioengineering
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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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