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.
27 Related JoVE Articles!
Staining of Proteins in Gels with Coomassie G-250 without Organic Solvent and Acetic Acid
Institutions: EMBL Heidelberg.
In classical protein staining protocols using Coomassie Brilliant Blue (CBB), solutions with high contents of toxic and flammable organic solvents (Methanol, Ethanol or 2-Propanol) and acetic acid are used for fixation, staining and destaining of proteins in a gel after SDS-PAGE. To speed up the procedure, heating the staining solution in the microwave oven for a short time is frequently used. This usually results in evaporation of toxic or hazardous Methanol, Ethanol or 2-Propanol and a strong smell of acetic acid in the lab which should be avoided due to safety considerations. In a protocol originally published in two patent applications by E.M. Wondrak (US2001046709 (A1), US6319720 (B1)), an alternative composition of the staining solution is described in which no organic solvent or acid is used. The CBB is dissolved in bidistilled water (60-80mg of CBB G-250 per liter) and 35 mM HCl is added as the only other compound in the staining solution. The CBB staning of the gel is done after SDS-PAGE and thorough washing of the gel in bidistilled water. By heating the gel during the washing and staining steps, the process can be finished faster and no toxic or hazardous compunds are evaporating. The staining of proteins occurs already within 1 minute after heating the gel in staining solution and is fully developed after 15-30 min with a slightly blue background that is destained completely by prolonged washing of the stained gel in bidistilled water, without affecting the stained protein bands.
Basic Protocols, Issue 30, SDS-PAGE, Coomassie staining, Protein detection, Protein staining
Agarose Gel Electrophoresis for the Separation of DNA Fragments
Institutions: University of California Los Angeles .
Agarose gel electrophoresis is the most effective way of separating DNA fragments of varying sizes ranging from 100 bp to 25 kb1
. Agarose is isolated from the seaweed genera Gelidium
, and consists of repeated agarobiose (L- and D-galactose) subunits2
. During gelation, agarose polymers associate non-covalently and form a network of bundles whose pore sizes determine a gel's molecular sieving properties. The use of agarose gel electrophoresis revolutionized the separation of DNA. Prior to the adoption of agarose gels, DNA was primarily separated using sucrose density gradient centrifugation, which only provided an approximation of size. To separate DNA using agarose gel electrophoresis, the DNA is loaded into pre-cast wells in the gel and a current applied. The phosphate backbone of the DNA (and RNA) molecule is negatively charged, therefore when placed in an electric field, DNA fragments will migrate to the positively charged anode. Because DNA has a uniform mass/charge ratio, DNA molecules are separated by size within an agarose gel in a pattern such that the distance traveled is inversely proportional to the log of its molecular weight3
. The leading model for DNA movement through an agarose gel is "biased reptation", whereby the leading edge moves forward and pulls the rest of the molecule along4
. The rate of migration of a DNA molecule through a gel is determined by the following: 1) size of DNA molecule; 2) agarose concentration; 3) DNA conformation5
; 4) voltage applied, 5) presence of ethidium bromide, 6) type of agarose and 7) electrophoresis buffer. After separation, the DNA molecules can be visualized under uv light after staining with an appropriate dye. By following this protocol, students should be able to:
1. Understand the mechanism by which DNA fragments are separated within a gel matrix
2. Understand how conformation of the DNA molecule will determine its mobility through a gel matrix
3. Identify an agarose solution of appropriate concentration for their needs
4. Prepare an agarose gel for electrophoresis of DNA samples
5. Set up the gel electrophoresis apparatus and power supply
6. Select an appropriate voltage for the separation of DNA fragments
7. Understand the mechanism by which ethidium bromide allows for the visualization of DNA bands
8. Determine the sizes of separated DNA fragments
Genetics, Issue 62, Gel electrophoresis, agarose, DNA separation, ethidium bromide
Preparation of Complaint Matrices for Quantifying Cellular Contraction
Institutions: University of Chicago, University of Chicago, University of Chicago.
The regulation of cellular adhesion to the extracellular matrix (ECM) is essential for cell migration and ECM remodeling. Focal adhesions are macromolecular assemblies that couple the contractile F-actin cytoskeleton to the ECM. This connection allows for the transmission of intracellular mechanical forces across the cell membrane to the underlying substrate. Recent work has shown the mechanical properties of the ECM regulate focal adhesion and F-actin morphology as well as numerous physiological processes, including cell differentiation, division, proliferation and migration. Thus, the use of cell culture substrates has become an increasingly prevalent method to precisely control and modulate ECM mechanical properties.
To quantify traction forces at focal adhesions in an adherent cell, compliant substrates are used in conjunction with high-resolution imaging and computational techniques in a method termed traction force microscopy (TFM). This technique relies on measurements of the local magnitude and direction of substrate deformations induced by cellular contraction. In combination with high-resolution fluorescence microscopy of fluorescently tagged proteins, it is possible to correlate cytoskeletal organization and remodeling with traction forces.
Here we present a detailed experimental protocol for the preparation of two-dimensional, compliant matrices for the purpose of creating a cell culture substrate with a well-characterized, tunable mechanical stiffness, which is suitable for measuring cellular contraction. These protocols include the fabrication of polyacrylamide hydrogels, coating of ECM proteins on such gels, plating cells on gels, and high-resolution confocal microscopy using a perfusion chamber. Additionally, we provide a representative sample of data demonstrating location and magnitude of cellular forces using cited TFM protocols.
Bioengineering, Issue 46, Traction force microscopy, cellular adhesion, polyacrylamide gel, stiffness, elastic modulus
A Step-by-step Method for the Reconstitution of an ABC Transporter into Nanodisc Lipid Particles
Institutions: University of British Columbia .
The nanodisc is a discoidal particle (~ 10-12 nm large) that trap membrane proteins into a small patch of phospholipid bilayer. The nanodisc is a particularly attractive option for studying membrane proteins, especially in the context of ligand-receptor interactions. The method pioneered by Sligar and colleagues is based on the amphipathic properties of an engineered highly a-helical scaffold protein derived from the apolipoprotein A1. The hydrophobic faces of the scaffold protein interact with the fatty acyl side-chains of the lipid bilayer whereas the polar regions face the aqueous environment. Analyses of membrane proteins in nanodiscs have significant advantages over liposome because the particles are small, homogeneous and water-soluble. In addition, biochemical and biophysical methods normally reserved to soluble proteins can be applied, and from either side of the membrane. In this visual protocol, we present a step-by-step reconstitution of a well characterized bacterial ABC transporter, the MalE-MalFGK2
complex. The formation of the disc is a self-assembly process that depends on hydrophobic interactions taking place during the progressive removal of the detergent. We describe the essential steps and we highlight the importance of choosing a correct protein-to-lipid ratio in order to limit the formation of aggregates and larger polydisperse liposome-like particles. Simple quality controls such as gel filtration chromatography, native gel electrophoresis and dynamic light scattering spectroscopy ensure that the discs have been properly reconstituted.
Materials science, Issue 66, Nanodiscs, membrane proteins, lipids, ABC transporter, maltose transporter, MalFGK2
Culturing and Applications of Rotating Wall Vessel Bioreactor Derived 3D Epithelial Cell Models
Institutions: University of Arizona College of Medicine - Phoenix.
Cells and tissues in the body experience environmental conditions that influence their architecture, intercellular communications, and overall functions. For in vitro
cell culture models to accurately mimic the tissue of interest, the growth environment of the culture is a critical aspect to consider. Commonly used conventional cell culture systems propagate epithelial cells on flat two-dimensional (2-D) impermeable surfaces. Although much has been learned from conventional cell culture systems, many findings are not reproducible in human clinical trials or tissue explants, potentially as a result of the lack of a physiologically relevant microenvironment.
Here, we describe a culture system that overcomes many of the culture condition boundaries of 2-D cell cultures, by using the innovative rotating wall vessel (RWV) bioreactor technology. We and others have shown that organotypic RWV-derived models can recapitulate structure, function, and authentic human responses to external stimuli similarly to human explant tissues 1-6
. The RWV bioreactor is a suspension culture system that allows for the growth of epithelial cells under low physiological fluid shear conditions. The bioreactors come in two different formats, a high-aspect rotating vessel (HARV) or a slow-turning lateral vessel (STLV), in which they differ by their aeration source. Epithelial cells are added to the bioreactor of choice in combination with porous, collagen-coated microcarrier beads (Figure 1A)
. The cells utilize the beads as a growth scaffold during the constant free fall in the bioreactor (Figure 1B)
. The microenvironment provided by the bioreactor allows the cells to form three-dimensional (3-D) aggregates displaying in vivo-
like characteristics often not observed under standard 2-D culture conditions (Figure 1D)
. These characteristics include tight junctions, mucus production, apical/basal orientation, in vivo
protein localization, and additional epithelial cell-type specific properties.
The progression from a monolayer of epithelial cells to a fully differentiated 3-D aggregate varies based on cell type1, 7-13
. Periodic sampling from the bioreactor allows for monitoring of epithelial aggregate formation, cellular differentiation markers and viability (Figure 1D)
. Once cellular differentiation and aggregate formation is established, the cells are harvested from the bioreactor, and similar assays performed on 2-D cells can be applied to the 3-D aggregates with a few considerations (Figure 1E-G)
. In this work, we describe detailed steps of how to culture 3-D epithelial cell aggregates in the RWV bioreactor system and a variety of potential assays and analyses that can be executed with the 3-D aggregates. These analyses include, but are not limited to, structural/morphological analysis (confocal, scanning and transmission electron microscopy), cytokine/chemokine secretion and cell signaling (cytometric bead array and Western blot analysis), gene expression analysis (real-time PCR), toxicological/drug analysis and host-pathogen interactions. The utilization of these assays set the foundation for more in-depth and expansive studies such as metabolomics, transcriptomics, proteomics and other array-based applications. Our goal is to present a non-conventional means of culturing human epithelial cells to produce organotypic 3-D models that recapitulate the human in vivo
tissue, in a facile and robust system to be used by researchers with diverse scientific interests.
Cellular Biology, Issue 62, Rotating wall vessel bioreactor, female reproductive tract, human epithelial cells, three-dimensional in vitro cell culture, organotypic mucosal models, vaginal epithelial cells, microbicide, herpes simplex virus, toxicology, host-pathogen interactions, hormone receptors
Protocols for Vaginal Inoculation and Sample Collection in the Experimental Mouse Model of Candida vaginitis
Institutions: Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.
Vulvovaginal candidiasis (VVC), caused by Candida
species, is a fungal infection of the lower female genital tract that affects approximately 75% of otherwise healthy women during their reproductive years18,32-34
. Predisposing factors include antibiotic usage, uncontrolled diabetes and disturbance in reproductive hormone levels due to pregnancy, oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapies33,34
. Recurrent VVC (RVVC), defined as three or more episodes per year, affects a separate 5 to 8% of women with no predisposing factors33
An experimental mouse model of VVC has been established and used to study the pathogenesis and mucosal host response to Candida3,4,11,16,17,19,21,25,37
. This model has also been employed to test potential antifungal therapies in vivo13,24
. The model requires that the animals be maintained in a state of pseudoestrus for optimal Candida
. Under such conditions, inoculated animals will have detectable vaginal fungal burden for weeks to months. Past studies show an extremely high parallel between the animal model and human infection relative to immunological and physiological properties3,16,21
. Differences, however, include a lack of Candida
as normal vaginal flora and a neutral vaginal pH in the mice.
Here, we demonstrate a series of key methods in the mouse vaginitis model that include vaginal inoculation, rapid collection of vaginal specimens, assessment of vaginal fungal burden, and tissue preparations for cellular extraction/isolation. This is followed by representative results for constituents of vaginal lavage fluid, fungal burden, and draining lymph node leukocyte yields. With the use of anesthetics, lavage samples can be collected at multiple time points on the same mice for longitudinal evaluation of infection/colonization. Furthermore, this model requires no immunosuppressive agents to initiate infection, allowing immunological studies under defined host conditions. Finally, the model and each technique introduced here could potentially give rise to use of the methodologies to examine other infectious diseases of the lower female genital tract (bacterial, parasitic, viral) and respective local or systemic host defenses.
Immunology, Issue 58, Candida albicans, vaginitis, mouse, lumbar lymph nodes, vaginal tissues, vaginal lavage
A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Institutions: Arizona State University.
Insects modify their responses to stimuli through experience of associating those stimuli with events important for survival (e.g.
, food, mates, threats). There are several behavioral mechanisms through which an insect learns salient associations and relates them to these events. It is important to understand this behavioral plasticity for programs aimed toward assisting insects that are beneficial for agriculture. This understanding can also be used for discovering solutions to biomedical and agricultural problems created by insects that act as disease vectors and pests. The Proboscis Extension Response (PER) conditioning protocol was developed for honey bees (Apis mellifera
) over 50 years ago to study how they perceive and learn about floral odors, which signal the nectar and pollen resources a colony needs for survival. The PER procedure provides a robust and easy-to-employ framework for studying several different ecologically relevant mechanisms of behavioral plasticity. It is easily adaptable for use with several other insect species and other behavioral reflexes. These protocols can be readily employed in conjunction with various means for monitoring neural activity in the CNS via electrophysiology or bioimaging, or for manipulating targeted neuromodulatory pathways. It is a robust assay for rapidly detecting sub-lethal effects on behavior caused by environmental stressors, toxins or pesticides.
We show how the PER protocol is straightforward to implement using two procedures. One is suitable as a laboratory exercise for students or for quick assays of the effect of an experimental treatment. The other provides more thorough control of variables, which is important for studies of behavioral conditioning. We show how several measures for the behavioral response ranging from binary yes/no to more continuous variable like latency and duration of proboscis extension can be used to test hypotheses. And, we discuss some pitfalls that researchers commonly encounter when they use the procedure for the first time.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, PER, conditioning, honey bee, olfaction, olfactory processing, learning, memory, toxin assay
Flying Insect Detection and Classification with Inexpensive Sensors
Institutions: University of California, Riverside, University of California, Riverside, University of São Paulo - USP, ISCA Technologies.
An inexpensive, noninvasive system that could accurately classify flying insects would have important implications for entomological research, and allow for the development of many useful applications in vector and pest control for both medical and agricultural entomology. Given this, the last sixty years have seen many research efforts devoted to this task. To date, however, none of this research has had a lasting impact. In this work, we show that pseudo-acoustic optical sensors can produce superior data; that additional features, both intrinsic and extrinsic to the insect’s flight behavior, can be exploited to improve insect classification; that a Bayesian classification approach allows to efficiently learn classification models that are very robust to over-fitting, and a general classification framework allows to easily incorporate arbitrary number of features. We demonstrate the findings with large-scale experiments that dwarf all previous works combined, as measured by the number of insects and the number of species considered.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, flying insect detection, automatic insect classification, pseudo-acoustic optical sensors, Bayesian classification framework, flight sound, circadian rhythm
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
Generation of Topically Transgenic Rats by In utero Electroporation and In vivo Bioluminescence Screening
Institutions: Medical School Düsseldorf, Weizmann Institute for Science, University of Düsseldorf.
electroporation (IUE) is a technique which allows genetic modification of cells in the brain for investigating neuronal development. So far, the use of IUE for investigating behavior or neuropathology in the adult brain has been limited by insufficient methods for monitoring of IUE transfection success by non-invasive techniques in postnatal animals.
For the present study, E16 rats were used for IUE. After intraventricular injection of the nucleic acids into the embryos, positioning of the tweezer electrodes was critical for targeting either the developing cortex or the hippocampus.
Ventricular co-injection and electroporation of a luciferase gene allowed monitoring of the transfected cells postnatally after intraperitoneal luciferin injection in the anesthetized live P7 pup by in vivo
bioluminescence, using an IVIS Spectrum device with 3D quantification software.
Area definition by bioluminescence could clearly differentiate between cortical and hippocampal electroporations and detect a signal longitudinally over time up to 5 weeks after birth. This imaging technique allowed us to select pups with a sufficient number of transfected cells assumed necessary for triggering biological effects and, subsequently, to perform behavioral investigations at 3 month of age. As an example, this study demonstrates that IUE with the human full length DISC1
gene into the rat cortex led to amphetamine hypersensitivity. Co-transfected GFP could be detected in neurons by post mortem
fluorescence microscopy in cryosections indicating gene expression present at ≥6 months after birth.
We conclude that postnatal bioluminescence imaging allows evaluating the success of transient transfections with IUE in rats. Investigations on the influence of topical gene manipulations during neurodevelopment on the adult brain and its connectivity are greatly facilitated. For many scientific questions, this technique can supplement or even replace the use of transgenic rats and provide a novel technology for behavioral neuroscience.
Neuroscience, Issue 79, Hippocampus, Memory, Schizophrenia, In utero electroporation, in vivo bioluminescence imaging, Luciferase, Disrupted-in-schizophrenia-1 (DISC1)
Automated Visual Cognitive Tasks for Recording Neural Activity Using a Floor Projection Maze
Institutions: Brown University, Brown University.
Neuropsychological tasks used in primates to investigate mechanisms of learning and memory are typically visually guided cognitive tasks. We have developed visual cognitive tasks for rats using the Floor Projection Maze1,2
that are optimized for visual abilities of rats permitting stronger comparisons of experimental findings with other species.
In order to investigate neural correlates of learning and memory, we have integrated electrophysiological recordings into fully automated cognitive tasks on the Floor Projection Maze1,2
. Behavioral software interfaced with an animal tracking system allows monitoring of the animal's behavior with precise control of image presentation and reward contingencies for better trained animals. Integration with an in vivo
electrophysiological recording system enables examination of behavioral correlates of neural activity at selected epochs of a given cognitive task.
We describe protocols for a model system that combines automated visual presentation of information to rodents and intracranial reward with electrophysiological approaches. Our model system offers a sophisticated set of tools as a framework for other cognitive tasks to better isolate and identify specific mechanisms contributing to particular cognitive processes.
Neurobiology, Issue 84, Rat behavioral tasks, visual discrimination, chronic electrophysiological recordings, Floor Projection Maze, neuropsychology, learning, memory
A Method to Study the Impact of Chemically-induced Ovarian Failure on Exercise Capacity and Cardiac Adaptation in Mice
Institutions: University of Arizona.
The risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) increases in post-menopausal women, yet, the role of exercise, as a preventative measure for CVD risk in post-menopausal women has not been adequately studied. Accordingly, we investigated the impact of voluntary cage-wheel exercise and forced treadmill exercise on cardiac adaptation in menopausal mice. The most commonly used inducible model for mimicking menopause in women is the ovariectomized (OVX) rodent. However, the OVX model has a few dissimilarities from menopause in humans. In this study, we administered 4-vinylcyclohexene diepoxide (VCD) to female mice, which accelerates ovarian failure as an alternative menopause model to study the impact of exercise in menopausal mice. VCD selectively accelerates the loss of primary and primordial follicles resulting in an endocrine state that closely mimics the natural progression from pre- to peri- to post-menopause in humans. To determine the impact of exercise on exercise capacity and cardiac adaptation in VCD-treated female mice, two methods were used. First, we exposed a group of VCD-treated and untreated mice to a voluntary cage wheel. Second, we used forced treadmill exercise to determine exercise capacity in a separate group VCD-treated and untreated mice measured as a tolerance to exercise intensity and endurance.
Medicine, Issue 86, VCD, menopause, voluntary wheel running, forced treadmill exercise, exercise capacity, adaptive cardiac adaptation
An Allelotyping PCR for Identifying Salmonella enterica serovars Enteritidis, Hadar, Heidelberg, and Typhimurium
Institutions: University of Georgia.
Current commercial PCRs tests for identifying Salmonella
target genes unique to this genus. However, there are two species, six subspecies, and over 2,500 different Salmonella
serovars, and not all are equal in their significance to public health. For example, finding S. enterica subspecies
IIIa Arizona on a table egg layer farm is insignificant compared to the isolation of S. enterica
subspecies I serovar Enteritidis, the leading cause of salmonellosis linked to the consumption of table eggs. Serovars are identified based on antigenic differences in lipopolysaccharide (LPS)(O antigen) and flagellin (H1 and H2 antigens). These antigenic differences are the outward appearance of the diversity of genes and gene alleles associated with this phenotype.
We have developed an allelotyping, multiplex PCR that keys on genetic differences between four major S. enterica
subspecies I serovars found in poultry and associated with significant human disease in the US. The PCR primer pairs were targeted to key genes or sequences unique to a specific Salmonella
serovar and designed to produce an amplicon with size specific for that gene or allele. Salmonella
serovar is assigned to an isolate based on the combination of PCR test results for specific LPS and flagellin gene alleles. The multiplex PCRs described in this article are specific for the detection of S. enterica
subspecies I serovars Enteritidis, Hadar, Heidelberg, and Typhimurium.
Here we demonstrate how to use the multiplex PCRs to identify serovar for a Salmonella
Immunology, Issue 53, PCR, Salmonella, multiplex, Serovar
Polymerase Chain Reaction: Basic Protocol Plus Troubleshooting and Optimization Strategies
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
In the biological sciences there have been technological advances that catapult the discipline into golden ages of discovery. For example, the field of microbiology was transformed with the advent of Anton van Leeuwenhoek's microscope, which allowed scientists to visualize prokaryotes for the first time. The development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is one of those innovations that changed the course of molecular science with its impact spanning countless subdisciplines in biology. The theoretical process was outlined by Keppe and coworkers in 1971; however, it was another 14 years until the complete PCR procedure was described and experimentally applied by Kary Mullis while at Cetus Corporation in 1985. Automation and refinement of this technique progressed with the introduction of a thermal stable DNA polymerase from the bacterium Thermus aquaticus
, consequently the name Taq
PCR is a powerful amplification technique that can generate an ample supply of a specific segment of DNA (i.e., an amplicon) from only a small amount of starting material (i.e., DNA template or target sequence). While straightforward and generally trouble-free, there are pitfalls that complicate the reaction producing spurious results. When PCR fails it can lead to many non-specific DNA products of varying sizes that appear as a ladder or smear of bands on agarose gels. Sometimes no products form at all. Another potential problem occurs when mutations are unintentionally introduced in the amplicons, resulting in a heterogeneous population of PCR products. PCR failures can become frustrating unless patience and careful troubleshooting are employed to sort out and solve the problem(s). This protocol outlines the basic principles of PCR, provides a methodology that will result in amplification of most target sequences, and presents strategies for optimizing a reaction. By following this PCR guide, students should be able to:
● Set up reactions and thermal cycling conditions for a conventional PCR experiment
● Understand the function of various reaction components and their overall effect on a PCR experiment
● Design and optimize a PCR experiment for any DNA template
● Troubleshoot failed PCR experiments
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, PCR, optimization, primer design, melting temperature, Tm, troubleshooting, additives, enhancers, template DNA quantification, thermal cycler, molecular biology, genetics
High Throughput Quantitative Expression Screening and Purification Applied to Recombinant Disulfide-rich Venom Proteins Produced in E. coli
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 (www.venomics.eu), 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
Modeling Neural Immune Signaling of Episodic and Chronic Migraine Using Spreading Depression In Vitro
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
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
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
In Vitro Synthesis of Modified mRNA for Induction of Protein Expression in Human Cells
Institutions: University Hospital Tuebingen.
The exogenous delivery of coding synthetic messenger RNA (mRNA) for induction of protein synthesis in desired cells has enormous potential in the fields of regenerative medicine, basic cell biology, treatment of diseases, and reprogramming of cells. Here, we describe a step by step protocol for generation of modified mRNA with reduced immune activation potential and increased stability, quality control of produced mRNA, transfection of cells with mRNA and verification of the induced protein expression by flow cytometry. Up to 3 days after a single transfection with eGFP mRNA, the transfected HEK293 cells produce eGFP. In this video article, the synthesis of eGFP mRNA is described as an example. However, the procedure can be applied for production of other desired mRNA. Using the synthetic modified mRNA, cells can be induced to transiently express the desired proteins, which they normally would not express.
Genetics, Issue 93, mRNA synthesis, in vitro transcription, modification, transfection, protein synthesis, eGFP, flow cytometry
A Novel Method for Localizing Reporter Fluorescent Beads Near the Cell Culture Surface for Traction Force Microscopy
Institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
PA gels have long been used as a platform to study cell traction forces due to ease of fabrication and the ability to tune their elastic properties. When the substrate is coated with an extracellular matrix protein, cells adhere to the gel and apply forces, causing the gel to deform. The deformation depends on the cell traction and the elastic properties of the gel. If the deformation field of the surface is known, surface traction can be calculated using elasticity theory. Gel deformation is commonly measured by embedding fluorescent marker beads uniformly into the gel. The probes displace as the gel deforms. The probes near the surface of the gel are tracked. The displacements reported by these probes are considered as surface displacements. Their depths from the surface are ignored. This assumption introduces error in traction force evaluations. For precise measurement of cell forces, it is critical for the location of the beads to be known. We have developed a technique that utilizes simple chemistry to confine fluorescent marker beads, 0.1 and 1 µm in diameter, in PA gels, within 1.6 μm of the surface. We coat a coverslip with poly-D-lysine (PDL) and fluorescent beads. PA gel solution is then sandwiched between the coverslip and an adherent surface. The fluorescent beads transfer to the gel solution during curing. After polymerization, the PA gel contains fluorescent beads on a plane close to the gel surface.
Bioengineering, Issue 91, cell mechanics, polyacrylamide (PA) gel, traction force microscopy, fluorescent beads, poly-D-lysine (PDL), cell culture surface
Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1
. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2
, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3
In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis.
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials
Examining the Characteristics of Episodic Memory using Event-related Potentials in Patients with Alzheimer's Disease
Institutions: Vanderbilt University.
Our laboratory uses event-related EEG potentials (ERPs) to understand and support behavioral investigations of episodic memory in patients with amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) and Alzheimer's disease (AD). Whereas behavioral data inform us about the patients' performance, ERPs allow us to record discrete changes in brain activity. Further, ERPs can give us insight into the onset, duration, and interaction of independent cognitive processes associated with memory retrieval. In patient populations, these types of studies are used to examine which aspects of memory are impaired and which remain relatively intact compared to a control population. The methodology for collecting ERP data from a vulnerable patient population while these participants perform a recognition memory task is reviewed. This protocol includes participant preparation, quality assurance, data acquisition, and data analysis. In addition to basic setup and acquisition, we will also demonstrate localization techniques to obtain greater spatial resolution and source localization using high-density (128 channel) electrode arrays.
Medicine, Issue 54, recognition memory, episodic memory, event-related potentials, dual process, Alzheimer's disease, amnestic mild cognitive impairment
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
Denaturing Urea Polyacrylamide Gel Electrophoresis (Urea PAGE)
Institutions: Nanyang Technological University, Singapore - NTU, Singapore-MIT Alliance for Reserach and Technology (SMART).
Urea PAGE or denaturing urea polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis employs 6-8 M urea, which denatures secondary DNA or RNA structures and is used for their separation in a polyacrylamide gel matrix based on the molecular weight. Fragments between 2 to 500 bases, with length differences as small as a single nucleotide, can be separated using this method1
. The migration of the sample is dependent on the chosen acrylamide concentration. A higher percentage of polyacrylamide resolves lower molecular weight fragments. The combination of urea and temperatures of 45-55 °C during the gel run allows for the separation of unstructured DNA or RNA molecules.
In general this method is required to analyze or purify single stranded DNA or RNA fragments, such as synthesized or labeled oligonucleotides or products from enzymatic cleavage reactions.
In this video article we show how to prepare and run the denaturing urea polyacrylamide gels. Technical tips are included, in addition to the original protocol 1,2
Molecular Biology, Issue 32, DNA & RNA analysis, denaturing urea polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, Protocols
Staining Proteins in Gels
Institutions: UVP, LLC, Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences.
Following separation by electrophoretic methods, proteins in a gel can be detected by several staining methods. This unit describes protocols for detecting proteins by four popular methods. Coomassie blue staining is an easy and rapid method. Silver staining, while more time consuming, is considerably more sensitive and can thus be used to detect smaller amounts of protein. Fluorescent staining is a popular alternative to traditional staining procedures, mainly because it is more sensitive than Coomassie staining, and is often as sensitive as silver staining. Staining of proteins with SYPRO Orange and SYPRO Ruby are also demonstrated here.
Basic Protocols, Issue 17, Current Protocols Wiley, Coomassie Blue Staining, Silver Staining, SYPROruby, SYPROorange, Protein Detection
Electrophoretic Separation of Proteins
Institutions: Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences.
Electrophoresis is used to separate complex mixtures of proteins (e.g., from cells, subcellular fractions, column fractions, or immunoprecipitates), to investigate subunit compositions, and to verify homogeneity of protein samples. It can also serve to purify proteins for use in further applications. In polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, proteins migrate in response to an electrical field through pores in a polyacrylamide gel matrix; pore size decreases with increasing acrylamide concentration. The combination of pore size and protein charge, size, and shape determines the migration rate of the protein. In this unit, the standard Laemmli method is described for discontinuous gel electrophoresis under denaturing conditions, i.e., in the presence of sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS).
Basic Protocols, Issue 16, Current Protocols Wiley, Electrophoresis, Biochemistry, Protein Separage, Polyacrylamide Gel Electrophoresis, PAGE
Denaturing Gradient Gel Electrophoresis (DGGE)
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
Microbiology, Issue 2, gel, bacteria, polymorphism
Optimized Fibrin Gel Bead Assay for the Study of Angiogenesis
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
Angiogenesis is a complex multi-step process, where, in response to angiogenic stimuli, new vessels are created from the existing vasculature. These steps include: degradation of the basement membrane, proliferation and migration (sprouting) of endothelial cells (EC) into the extracellular matrix, alignment of EC into cords, branching, lumen formation, anastomosis, and formation of a new basement membrane. Many in vitro assays have been developed to study this process, but most only mimic certain stages of angiogenesis, and morphologically the vessels within the assays often do not resemble vessels in vivo. Based on earlier work by Nehls and Drenckhahn, we have optimized an in vitro angiogenesis assay that utilizes human umbilical vein EC and fibroblasts. This model recapitulates all of the key early stages of angiogenesis and, importantly, the vessels display patent intercellular lumens surrounded by polarized EC. EC are coated onto cytodex microcarriers and embedded into a fibrin gel. Fibroblasts are layered on top of the gel where they provide necessary soluble factors that promote EC sprouting from the surface of the beads. After several days, numerous vessels are present that can easily be observed under phase-contrast and time-lapse microscopy. This video demonstrates the key steps in setting up these cultures.
Cellular Biology, Issue 3, angiogenesis, fibrin, endothelial, in vitro, fibroblasts