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 (http://www.proteinwisdom.org), 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.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
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
Monitoring Kinase and Phosphatase Activities Through the Cell Cycle by Ratiometric FRET
Institutions: Karolinska Institutet.
Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET)-based reporters1
allow the assessment of endogenous kinase and phosphatase activities in living cells. Such probes typically consist of variants of CFP and YFP, intervened by a phosphorylatable sequence and a phospho-binding domain. Upon phosphorylation, the probe changes conformation, which results in a change of the distance or orientation between CFP and YFP, leading to a change in FRET efficiency (Fig 1). Several probes have been published during the last decade, monitoring the activity balance of multiple kinases and phosphatases, including reporters of PKA2
, Aurora B9
. Given the modular design, additional probes are likely to emerge in the near future10
Progression through the cell cycle is affected by stress signaling pathways 11
. Notably, the cell cycle is regulated differently during unperturbed growth compared to when cells are recovering from stress12
.Time-lapse imaging of cells through the cell cycle therefore requires particular caution. This becomes a problem particularly when employing ratiometric imaging, since two images with a high signal to noise ratio are required to correctly interpret the results. Ratiometric FRET imaging of cell cycle dependent changes in kinase and phosphatase activities has predominately been restricted to sub-sections of the cell cycle8,9,13,14
Here, we discuss a method to monitor FRET-based probes using ratiometric imaging throughout the human cell cycle. The method relies on equipment that is available to many researchers in life sciences and does not require expert knowledge of microscopy or image processing.
Molecular Biology, Issue 59, FRET, kinase, phosphatase, live cell, cell cycle, mitosis, Plk1
Measuring Cell Cycle Progression Kinetics with Metabolic Labeling and Flow Cytometry
Institutions: University of British Columbia .
Precise control of the initiation and subsequent progression through the various phases of the cell cycle are of paramount importance in proliferating cells. Cell cycle division is an integral part of growth and reproduction and deregulation of key cell cycle components have been implicated in the precipitating events of carcinogenesis 1,2
. Molecular agents in anti-cancer therapies frequently target biological pathways responsible for the regulation and coordination of cell cycle division 3
. Although cell cycle kinetics tend to vary according to cell type, the distribution of cells amongst the four stages of the cell cycle is rather consistent within a particular cell line due to the consistent pattern of mitogen and growth factor expression. Genotoxic events and other cellular stressors can result in a temporary block of cell cycle progression, resulting in arrest or a temporary pause in a particular cell cycle phase to allow for instigation of the appropriate response mechanism.
The ability to experimentally observe the behavior of a cell population with reference to their cell cycle progression stage is an important advance in cell biology. Common procedures such as mitotic shake off, differential centrifugation or flow cytometry-based sorting are used to isolate cells at specific stages of the cell cycle 4-6
. These fractionated, cell cycle phase-enriched populations are then subjected to experimental treatments. Yield, purity and viability of the separated fractions can often be compromised using these physical separation methods. As well, the time lapse between separation of the cell populations and the start of experimental treatment, whereby the fractionated cells can progress from the selected cell cycle stage, can pose significant challenges in the successful implementation and interpretation of these experiments.
Other approaches to study cell cycle stages include the use of chemicals to synchronize cells. Treatment of cells with chemical inhibitors of key metabolic processes for each cell cycle stage are useful in blocking the progression of the cell cycle to the next stage. For example, the ribonucleotide reductase inhibitor hydroxyurea halts cells at the G1/S juncture by limiting the supply of deoxynucleotides, the building blocks of DNA. Other notable chemicals include treatment with aphidicolin, a polymerase alpha inhibitor for G1 arrest, treatment with colchicine and nocodazole, both of which interfere with mitotic spindle formation to halt cells in M phase and finally, treatment with the DNA chain terminator 5-fluorodeoxyridine to initiate S phase arrest 7-9
. Treatment with these chemicals is an effective means of synchronizing an entire population of cells at a particular phase. With removal of the chemical, cells rejoin the cell cycle in unison. Treatment of the test agent following release from the cell cycle blocking chemical ensures that the drug response elicited is from a uniform, cell cycle stage-specific population. However, since many of the chemical synchronizers are known genotoxic compounds, teasing apart the participation of various response pathways (to the synchronizers vs. the test agents) is challenging.
Here we describe a metabolic labeling method for following a subpopulation of actively cycling cells through their progression from the DNA replication phase, through to the division and separation of their daughter cells. Coupled with flow cytometry quantification, this protocol enables for measurement of kinetic progression of the cell cycle in the absence of either mechanically- or chemically- induced cellular stresses commonly associated with other cell cycle synchronization methodologies 10
. In the following sections we will discuss the methodology, as well as some of its applications in biomedical research.
Cellular Biology, Issue 63, cell cycle, kinetics, metabolic labeling, flow cytometry, biomedical, genetics, DNA replication
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
Determination of Protein-ligand Interactions Using Differential Scanning Fluorimetry
Institutions: University of Exeter.
A wide range of methods are currently available for determining the dissociation constant between a protein and interacting small molecules. However, most of these require access to specialist equipment, and often require a degree of expertise to effectively establish reliable experiments and analyze data. Differential scanning fluorimetry (DSF) is being increasingly used as a robust method for initial screening of proteins for interacting small molecules, either for identifying physiological partners or for hit discovery. This technique has the advantage that it requires only a PCR machine suitable for quantitative PCR, and so suitable instrumentation is available in most institutions; an excellent range of protocols are already available; and there are strong precedents in the literature for multiple uses of the method. Past work has proposed several means of calculating dissociation constants from DSF data, but these are mathematically demanding. Here, we demonstrate a method for estimating dissociation constants from a moderate amount of DSF experimental data. These data can typically be collected and analyzed within a single day. We demonstrate how different models can be used to fit data collected from simple binding events, and where cooperative binding or independent binding sites are present. Finally, we present an example of data analysis in a case where standard models do not apply. These methods are illustrated with data collected on commercially available control proteins, and two proteins from our research program. Overall, our method provides a straightforward way for researchers to rapidly gain further insight into protein-ligand interactions using DSF.
Biophysics, Issue 91, differential scanning fluorimetry, dissociation constant, protein-ligand interactions, StepOne, cooperativity, WcbI.
Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2
proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness
) (Figure 1
). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6
. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7
. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
Preparation of Primary Neurons for Visualizing Neurites in a Frozen-hydrated State Using Cryo-Electron Tomography
Institutions: Baylor College of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, University of California at San Diego, Baylor College of Medicine.
Neurites, both dendrites and axons, are neuronal cellular processes that enable the conduction of electrical impulses between neurons. Defining the structure of neurites is critical to understanding how these processes move materials and signals that support synaptic communication. Electron microscopy (EM) has been traditionally used to assess the ultrastructural features within neurites; however, the exposure to organic solvent during dehydration and resin embedding can distort structures. An important unmet goal is the formulation of procedures that allow for structural evaluations not impacted by such artifacts.
Here, we have established a detailed and reproducible protocol for growing and flash-freezing whole neurites of different primary neurons on electron microscopy grids followed by their examination with cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET). This technique allows for 3-D visualization of frozen, hydrated neurites at nanometer resolution, facilitating assessment of their morphological differences. Our protocol yields an unprecedented view of dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurites, and a visualization of hippocampal neurites in their near-native state. As such, these methods create a foundation for future studies on neurites of both normal neurons and those impacted by neurological disorders.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, Neurons, Cryo-electron Microscopy, Electron Microscope Tomography, Brain, rat, primary neuron culture, morphological assay
Prediction of HIV-1 Coreceptor Usage (Tropism) by Sequence Analysis using a Genotypic Approach
Institutions: University of Cologne, Max Planck Institute for Informatics, Institute for Immune genetics, University of Duesseldorf, University of Essen, University of Cologne, Augustinerinnen Hospital.
Maraviroc (MVC) is the first licensed antiretroviral drug from the class of coreceptor antagonists. It binds to the host coreceptor CCR5, which is used by the majority of HIV strains in order to infect the human immune cells (Fig. 1). Other HIV isolates use a different coreceptor, the CXCR4. Which receptor is used, is determined in the virus by the Env protein (Fig. 2). Depending on the coreceptor used, the viruses are classified as R5 or X4, respectively. MVC binds to the CCR5 receptor inhibiting the entry of R5 viruses into the target cell. During the course of disease, X4 viruses may emerge and outgrow the R5 viruses. Determination of coreceptor usage (also called tropism) is therefore mandatory prior to administration of MVC, as demanded by EMA and FDA.
The studies for MVC efficiency MOTIVATE, MERIT and 1029 have been performed with the Trofile assay from Monogram, San Francisco, U.S.A. This is a high quality assay based on sophisticated recombinant tests. The acceptance for this test for daily routine is rather low outside of the U.S.A., since the European physicians rather tend to work with decentralized expert laboratories, which also provide concomitant resistance testing. These laboratories have undergone several quality assurance evaluations, the last one being presented in 20111
For several years now, we have performed tropism determinations based on sequence analysis from the HIV env-V3 gene region (V3)2
. This region carries enough information to perform a reliable prediction.
The genotypic determination of coreceptor usage presents advantages such as: shorter turnover time (equivalent to resistance testing), lower costs, possibility to adapt the results to the patients' needs and possibility of analysing clinical samples with very low or even undetectable viral load (VL), particularly since the number of samples analysed with VL<1000 copies/μl roughly increased in the last years (Fig. 3).
The main steps for tropism testing (Fig. 4) demonstrated in this video:
1. Collection of a blood sample
2. Isolation of the HIV RNA from the plasma and/or HIV proviral DNA from blood mononuclear cells
3. Amplification of the env
4. Amplification of the V3 region
5. Sequence reaction of the V3 amplicon
6. Purification of the sequencing samples
7. Sequencing the purified samples
8. Sequence editing
9. Sequencing data interpretation and tropism prediction
Immunology, Issue 58, HIV-1, coreceptor, coreceptor antagonist, prediction of coreceptor usage, tropism, R5, X4, maraviroc, MVC
Creating Objects and Object Categories for Studying Perception and Perceptual Learning
Institutions: Georgia Health Sciences University, Georgia Health Sciences University, Georgia Health Sciences University, Palo Alto Research Center, Palo Alto Research Center, University of Minnesota .
In order to quantitatively study object perception, be it perception by biological systems or by machines, one needs to create objects and object categories with precisely definable, preferably naturalistic, properties1
. Furthermore, for studies on perceptual learning, it is useful to create novel objects and object categories (or object classes
) with such properties2
Many innovative and useful methods currently exist for creating novel objects and object categories3-6
(also see refs. 7,8). However, generally speaking, the existing methods have three broad types of shortcomings.
First, shape variations are generally imposed by the experimenter5,9,10
, and may therefore be different from the variability in natural categories, and optimized for a particular recognition algorithm. It would be desirable to have the variations arise independently of the externally imposed constraints.
Second, the existing methods have difficulty capturing the shape complexity of natural objects11-13
. If the goal is to study natural object perception, it is desirable for objects and object categories to be naturalistic, so as to avoid possible confounds and special cases.
Third, it is generally hard to quantitatively measure the available information in the stimuli created by conventional methods. It would be desirable to create objects and object categories where the available information can be precisely measured and, where necessary, systematically manipulated (or 'tuned'). This allows one to formulate the underlying object recognition tasks in quantitative terms.
Here we describe a set of algorithms, or methods, that meet all three of the above criteria. Virtual morphogenesis (VM) creates novel, naturalistic virtual 3-D objects called 'digital embryos' by simulating the biological process of embryogenesis14
. Virtual phylogenesis (VP) creates novel, naturalistic object categories by simulating the evolutionary process of natural selection9,12,13
. Objects and object categories created by these simulations can be further manipulated by various morphing methods to generate systematic variations of shape characteristics15,16
. The VP and morphing methods can also be applied, in principle, to novel virtual objects other than digital embryos, or to virtual versions of real-world objects9,13
. Virtual objects created in this fashion can be rendered as visual images using a conventional graphical toolkit, with desired manipulations of surface texture, illumination, size, viewpoint and background. The virtual objects can also be 'printed' as haptic objects using a conventional 3-D prototyper.
We also describe some implementations of these computational algorithms to help illustrate the potential utility of the algorithms. It is important to distinguish the algorithms from their implementations. The implementations are demonstrations offered solely as a 'proof of principle' of the underlying algorithms. It is important to note that, in general, an implementation of a computational algorithm often has limitations that the algorithm itself does not have.
Together, these methods represent a set of powerful and flexible tools for studying object recognition and perceptual learning by biological and computational systems alike. With appropriate extensions, these methods may also prove useful in the study of morphogenesis and phylogenesis.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, machine learning, brain, classification, category learning, cross-modal perception, 3-D prototyping, inference
Models and Methods to Evaluate Transport of Drug Delivery Systems Across Cellular Barriers
Institutions: University of Maryland, University of Maryland.
Sub-micrometer carriers (nanocarriers; NCs) enhance efficacy of drugs by improving solubility, stability, circulation time, targeting, and release. Additionally, traversing cellular barriers in the body is crucial for both oral delivery of therapeutic NCs into the circulation and transport from the blood into tissues, where intervention is needed. NC transport across cellular barriers is achieved by: (i) the paracellular route, via transient disruption of the junctions that interlock adjacent cells, or (ii) the transcellular route, where materials are internalized by endocytosis, transported across the cell body, and secreted at the opposite cell surface (transyctosis). Delivery across cellular barriers can be facilitated by coupling therapeutics or their carriers with targeting agents that bind specifically to cell-surface markers involved in transport. Here, we provide methods to measure the extent and mechanism of NC transport across a model cell barrier, which consists of a monolayer of gastrointestinal (GI) epithelial cells grown on a porous membrane located in a transwell insert. Formation of a permeability barrier is confirmed by measuring transepithelial electrical resistance (TEER), transepithelial transport of a control substance, and immunostaining of tight junctions. As an example, ~200 nm polymer NCs are used, which carry a therapeutic cargo and are coated with an antibody that targets a cell-surface determinant. The antibody or therapeutic cargo is labeled with 125
I for radioisotope tracing and labeled NCs are added to the upper chamber over the cell monolayer for varying periods of time. NCs associated to the cells and/or transported to the underlying chamber can be detected. Measurement of free 125
I allows subtraction of the degraded fraction. The paracellular route is assessed by determining potential changes caused by NC transport to the barrier parameters described above. Transcellular transport is determined by addressing the effect of modulating endocytosis and transcytosis pathways.
Bioengineering, Issue 80, Antigens, Enzymes, Biological Therapy, bioengineering (general), Pharmaceutical Preparations, Macromolecular Substances, Therapeutics, Digestive System and Oral Physiological Phenomena, Biological Phenomena, Cell Physiological Phenomena, drug delivery systems, targeted nanocarriers, transcellular transport, epithelial cells, tight junctions, transepithelial electrical resistance, endocytosis, transcytosis, radioisotope tracing, immunostaining
Time-lapse Imaging of Mitosis After siRNA Transfection
Institutions: University of Utah, University of Utah.
Changes in cellular organization and chromosome dynamics that occur during mitosis are tightly coordinated to ensure accurate inheritance of genomic and cellular content. Hallmark events of mitosis, such as chromosome movement, can be readily tracked on an individual cell basis using time-lapse fluorescence microscopy of mammalian cell lines expressing specific GFP-tagged proteins. In combination with RNAi-based depletion, this can be a powerful method for pinpointing the stage(s) of mitosis where defects occur after levels of a particular protein have been lowered. In this protocol, we present a basic method for assessing the effect of depleting a potential mitotic regulatory protein on the timing of mitosis. Cells are transfected with siRNA, placed in a stage-top incubation chamber, and imaged using an automated fluorescence microscope. We describe how to use software to set up a time-lapse experiment, how to process the image sequences to make either still-image montages or movies, and how to quantify and analyze the timing of mitotic stages using a cell-line expressing mCherry-tagged histone H2B. Finally, we discuss important considerations for designing a time-lapse experiment. This strategy is complementary to other approaches and offers the advantages of 1) sensitivity to changes in kinetics that might not be observed when looking at cells as a population and 2) analysis of mitosis without the need to synchronize the cell cycle using drug treatments. The visual information from such imaging experiments not only allows the sub-stages of mitosis to be assessed, but can also provide unexpected insight that would not be apparent from cell cycle analysis by FACS.
Cellular Biology, Issue 40, microscopy, live imaging, mitosis, transfection, siRNA
Ex vivo Culturing of Whole, Developing Drosophila Brains
Institutions: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD.
We describe a method for ex vivo
culturing of whole Drosophila
brains. This can be used as a counterpoint to chronic genetic manipulations for investigating the cell biology and development of central brain structures by allowing acute pharmacological interventions and live imaging of cellular processes. As an example of the technique, prior work from our lab1
has shown that a previously unrecognized subcellular compartment lies between the axonal and somatodendritic compartments of axons of the Drosophila
central brain. The development of this compartment, referred to as the axon initial segment (AIS)2
, was shown genetically to depend on the neuron-specific cyclin-dependent kinase, Cdk5. We show here that ex vivo
treatment of wild-type Drosophila
larval brains with the Cdk5-specific pharmacological inhibitors roscovitine and olomoucine3
causes acute changes in actin organization, and in localization of the cell-surface protein Fasciclin 2, that mimic the changes seen in mutants that lack Cdk5 activity genetically.
A second example of the ex vivo
culture technique is provided for remodeling of the connections of embryonic mushroom body (MB) gamma neurons during metamorphosis from larva to adult. The mushroom body is the center of olfactory learning and memory in the fly4
, and these gamma neurons prune their axonal and dendritic branches during pupal development and then re-extend branches at a later timepoint to establish the adult innervation pattern5
. Pruning of these neurons of the MB has been shown to occur via local degeneration of neurite branches6
, by a mechanism that is triggered by ecdysone, a steroid hormone, acting at the ecdysone receptor B17
, and that is dependent on the activity of the ubiquitin-proteasome system6
. Our method of ex vivo
culturing can be used to interrogate further the mechanism of developmental remodeling. We found that in the ex vivo
culture setting, gamma neurons of the MB recapitulated the process of developmental pruning with a time course similar to that in vivo
. It was essential, however, to wait until 1.5 hours after puparium formation before explanting the tissue in order for the cells to commit irreversibly to metamorphosis; dissection of animals at the onset of pupariation led to little or no metamorphosis in culture. Thus, with appropriate modification, the ex vivo
culture approach can be applied to study dynamic as well as steady state aspects of central brain biology.
Neuroscience, Issue 65, Developmental Biology, Physiology, Drosophila, mushroom body, ex vivo, organ culture, pruning, pharmacology
A Practical Guide to Phylogenetics for Nonexperts
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
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
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
A Manual Small Molecule Screen Approaching High-throughput Using Zebrafish Embryos
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)
A New Approach for the Comparative Analysis of Multiprotein Complexes Based on 15N Metabolic Labeling and Quantitative Mass Spectrometry
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 (14
N) 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
High Efficiency Differentiation of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells to Cardiomyocytes and Characterization by Flow Cytometry
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
Acquiring Fluorescence Time-lapse Movies of Budding Yeast and Analyzing Single-cell Dynamics using GRAFTS
Institutions: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Fluorescence time-lapse microscopy has become a powerful tool in the study of many biological processes at the single-cell level. In particular, movies depicting the temporal dependence of gene expression provide insight into the dynamics of its regulation; however, there are many technical challenges to obtaining and analyzing fluorescence movies of single cells. We describe here a simple protocol using a commercially available microfluidic culture device to generate such data, and a MATLAB-based, graphical user interface (GUI) -based software package to quantify the fluorescence images. The software segments and tracks cells, enables the user to visually curate errors in the data, and automatically assigns lineage and division times. The GUI further analyzes the time series to produce whole cell traces as well as their first and second time derivatives. While the software was designed for S. cerevisiae
, its modularity and versatility should allow it to serve as a platform for studying other cell types with few modifications.
Microbiology, Issue 77, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Biophysics, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Microscopy, Fluorescence, Cell Biology, microscopy/fluorescence and time-lapse, budding yeast, gene expression dynamics, segmentation, lineage tracking, image tracking, software, yeast, cells, imaging
DNA-affinity-purified Chip (DAP-chip) Method to Determine Gene Targets for Bacterial Two component Regulatory Systems
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
methods such as ChIP-chip are well-established techniques used to determine global gene targets for transcription factors. However, they are of limited use in exploring bacterial two component regulatory systems with uncharacterized activation conditions. Such systems regulate transcription only when activated in the presence of unique signals. Since these signals are often unknown, the in vitro
microarray based method described in this video article can be used to determine gene targets and binding sites for response regulators. This DNA-affinity-purified-chip method may be used for any purified regulator in any organism with a sequenced genome. The protocol involves allowing the purified tagged protein to bind to sheared genomic DNA and then affinity purifying the protein-bound DNA, followed by fluorescent labeling of the DNA and hybridization to a custom tiling array. Preceding steps that may be used to optimize the assay for specific regulators are also described. The peaks generated by the array data analysis are used to predict binding site motifs, which are then experimentally validated. The motif predictions can be further used to determine gene targets of orthologous response regulators in closely related species. We demonstrate the applicability of this method by determining the gene targets and binding site motifs and thus predicting the function for a sigma54-dependent response regulator DVU3023 in the environmental bacterium Desulfovibrio vulgaris
Genetics, Issue 89, DNA-Affinity-Purified-chip, response regulator, transcription factor binding site, two component system, signal transduction, Desulfovibrio, lactate utilization regulator, ChIP-chip
Modeling Astrocytoma Pathogenesis In Vitro and In Vivo Using Cortical Astrocytes or Neural Stem Cells from Conditional, Genetically Engineered Mice
Institutions: University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
Current astrocytoma models are limited in their ability to define the roles of oncogenic mutations in specific brain cell types during disease pathogenesis and their utility for preclinical drug development. In order to design a better model system for these applications, phenotypically wild-type cortical astrocytes and neural stem cells (NSC) from conditional, genetically engineered mice (GEM) that harbor various combinations of floxed oncogenic alleles were harvested and grown in culture. Genetic recombination was induced in vitro
using adenoviral Cre-mediated recombination, resulting in expression of mutated oncogenes and deletion of tumor suppressor genes. The phenotypic consequences of these mutations were defined by measuring proliferation, transformation, and drug response in vitro
. Orthotopic allograft models, whereby transformed cells are stereotactically injected into the brains of immune-competent, syngeneic littermates, were developed to define the role of oncogenic mutations and cell type on tumorigenesis in vivo
. Unlike most established human glioblastoma cell line xenografts, injection of transformed GEM-derived cortical astrocytes into the brains of immune-competent littermates produced astrocytomas, including the most aggressive subtype, glioblastoma, that recapitulated the histopathological hallmarks of human astrocytomas, including diffuse invasion of normal brain parenchyma. Bioluminescence imaging of orthotopic allografts from transformed astrocytes engineered to express luciferase was utilized to monitor in vivo
tumor growth over time. Thus, astrocytoma models using astrocytes and NSC harvested from GEM with conditional oncogenic alleles provide an integrated system to study the genetics and cell biology of astrocytoma pathogenesis in vitro
and in vivo
and may be useful in preclinical drug development for these devastating diseases.
Neuroscience, Issue 90, astrocytoma, cortical astrocytes, genetically engineered mice, glioblastoma, neural stem cells, orthotopic allograft
Analyzing and Building Nucleic Acid Structures with 3DNA
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 http://w3dna.rutgers.edu, 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
Automated Midline Shift and Intracranial Pressure Estimation based on Brain CT Images
Institutions: Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Commonwealth University Reanimation Engineering Science (VCURES) Center, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Commonwealth University.
In this paper we present an automated system based mainly on the computed tomography (CT) images consisting of two main components: the midline shift estimation and intracranial pressure (ICP) pre-screening system. To estimate the midline shift, first an estimation of the ideal midline is performed based on the symmetry of the skull and anatomical features in the brain CT scan. Then, segmentation of the ventricles from the CT scan is performed and used as a guide for the identification of the actual midline through shape matching. These processes mimic the measuring process by physicians and have shown promising results in the evaluation. In the second component, more features are extracted related to ICP, such as the texture information, blood amount from CT scans and other recorded features, such as age, injury severity score to estimate the ICP are also incorporated. Machine learning techniques including feature selection and classification, such as Support Vector Machines (SVMs), are employed to build the prediction model using RapidMiner. The evaluation of the prediction shows potential usefulness of the model. The estimated ideal midline shift and predicted ICP levels may be used as a fast pre-screening step for physicians to make decisions, so as to recommend for or against invasive ICP monitoring.
Medicine, Issue 74, Biomedical Engineering, Molecular Biology, Neurobiology, Biophysics, Physiology, Anatomy, Brain CT Image Processing, CT, Midline Shift, Intracranial Pressure Pre-screening, Gaussian Mixture Model, Shape Matching, Machine Learning, traumatic brain injury, TBI, imaging, clinical techniques
In Vitro Nuclear Assembly Using Fractionated Xenopus Egg Extracts
Institutions: Emory University.
Nuclear membrane assembly is an essential step in the cell division cycle; this process can be replicated in the test tube by combining Xenopus sperm chromatin, cytosol, and light membrane fractions. Complete nuclei are formed, including nuclear membranes with pore complexes, and these reconstituted nuclei are capable of normal nuclear processes.
Cellular Biology, Issue 19, Current Protocols Wiley, Xenopus Egg Extracts, Nuclear Assembly, Nuclear Membrane
Using SCOPE to Identify Potential Regulatory Motifs in Coregulated Genes
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