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.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
Encapsulation and Permeability Characteristics of Plasma Polymerized Hollow Particles
Institutions: The Pennsylvania State University.
In this protocol, core-shell nanostructures are synthesized by plasma enhanced chemical vapor deposition. We produce an amorphous barrier by plasma polymerization of isopropanol on various solid substrates, including silica and potassium chloride. This versatile technique is used to treat nanoparticles and nanopowders with sizes ranging from 37 nm to 1 micron, by depositing films whose thickness can be anywhere from 1 nm to upwards of 100 nm. Dissolution of the core allows us to study the rate of permeation through the film. In these experiments, we determine the diffusion coefficient of KCl through the barrier film by coating KCL nanocrystals and subsequently monitoring the ionic conductivity of the coated particles suspended in water. The primary interest in this process is the encapsulation and delayed release of solutes. The thickness of the shell is one of the independent variables by which we control the rate of release. It has a strong effect on the rate of release, which increases from a six-hour release (shell thickness is 20 nm) to a long-term release over 30 days (shell thickness is 95 nm). The release profile shows a characteristic behavior: a fast release (35% of the final materials) during the first five minutes after the beginning of the dissolution, and a slower release till all of the core materials come out.
Physics, Issue 66, Chemical Engineering, Plasma Physics, Plasma coating, Core-shell structure, Hollow particles, Permeability, nanoparticles, nanopowders
Multiple-mouse Neuroanatomical Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Institutions: Hospital for Sick Children, University of Toronto.
The field of mouse phenotyping with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is rapidly growing, motivated by the need for improved tools for characterizing and evaluating mouse models of human disease. MRI is an excellent modality for investigating genetically altered animals. It is capable of whole brain coverage, can be used in vivo
, and provides multiple contrast mechanisms for investigating different aspects of neuranatomy and physiology. The advent of high-field scanners along with the ability to scan multiple mice simultaneously allows for rapid phenotyping of novel mutations.
Effective mouse MRI studies require attention to many aspects of experiment design. In this article, we will describe general methods to acquire quality images for mouse phenotyping using a system that images mice concurrently in shielded transmit/receive radio frequency (RF) coils in a common magnet (Bock et al.
, 2003). We focus particularly on anatomical phenotyping, an important and accessible application that has shown a high potential for impact in many mouse models at our imaging centre. Before we can provide the detailed steps to acquire such images, there are important practical considerations for both in vivo
brain imaging (Dazai et al.
, 2004) and ex vivo
brain imaging (Spring et al.
, 2007) that should be noted. These are discussed below.
Neuroscience, Issue 48, magnetic resonance imaging, mouse, phenotyping, mouse handling, monitoring, brain, multiple mouse imaging
Noninvasive In Vivo Small Animal MRI and MRS: Basic Experimental Procedures
Institutions: University of Washington, University of Washington.
Small animal Magnetic Resonance (MR) research has emerged as an important element of modern biomedical research due to its non-invasive nature and the richness of biological information it provides. MR does not require any ionizing radiation and can noninvasively provide higher resolution and better signal-to-noise ratio in comparison to other tomographic or spectroscopic modalities. In this protocol, we will focus on small animal MR imaging and MR spectroscopy (MRI/MRS) to noninvasively acquire relaxation weighted 1
H images of mouse and to obtain 31
P spectra of mouse muscle. This work does not attempt to cover every aspect of small animal MRI/MRS but rather introduces basic procedures of mouse MRI/MRS experiments. The main goal of this work is to inform researchers of the basic procedures for in vivo
MR experiments on small animals. The goal is to provide a better understanding of basic experimental procedures to allow researchers new to the MR field to better plan for non-MR components of their studies so that both MR and non-MR procedures are seamlessly integrated.
Medicine, Issue 32, Small animal, MRI, MRS, mouse, brain, skeletal muscle, tumor, ischemia
Methods for Performing Crosses in Setaria viridis, a New Model System for the Grasses
Institutions: Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, Boyce Thompson Institute.
is an emerging model system for C4
grasses. It is closely related to the bioenergy feed stock switchgrass and the grain crop foxtail millet. Recently, the 510 Mb genome of foxtail millet, S. italica,
has been sequenced 1,2
and a 25x coverage genome sequence of the weedy relative S. viridis
is in progress. S. viridis
has a number of characteristics that make it a potentially excellent model genetic system including a rapid generation time, small stature, simple growth requirements, prolific seed production 3
and developed systems for both transient and stable transformation 4
. However, the genetics of S. viridis
is largely unexplored, in part, due to the lack of detailed methods for performing crosses. To date, no standard protocol has been adopted that will permit rapid production of seeds from controlled crosses.
The protocol presented here is optimized for performing genetic crosses in S. viridis
, accession A10.1. We have employed a simple heat treatment with warm water for emasculation after pruning the panicle to retain 20-30 florets and labeling of flowers to eliminate seeds resulting from newly developed flowers after emasculation. After testing a series of heat treatments at permissive temperatures and varying the duration of dipping, we have established an optimum temperature and time range of 48 °C for 3-6 min. By using this method, a minimum of 15 crosses can be performed by a single worker per day and an average of 3-5 outcross progeny per panicle can be recovered. Therefore, an average of 45-75 outcross progeny can be produced by one person in a single day. Broad implementation of this technique will facilitate the development of recombinant inbred line populations of S. viridis
X S. viridis
or S. viridis
X S. italica
, mapping mutations through bulk segregant analysis and creating higher order mutants for genetic analysis.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, Hybridization, Genetics, plants, Setaria viridis, crosses, emasculation, flowering, seed propagation, seed dormancy
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
Assessing Differences in Sperm Competitive Ability in Drosophila
Institutions: University of California, Irvine.
Competition among conspecific males for fertilizing the ova is one of the mechanisms of sexual selection, i.e.
selection that operates on maximizing the number of successful mating events rather than on maximizing survival and viability 1
. Sperm competition represents the competition between males after copulating with the same female 2
, in which their sperm are coincidental in time and space. This phenomenon has been reported in multiple species of plants and animals 3
. For example, wild-caught D. melanogaster
females usually contain sperm from 2-3 males 4
. The sperm are stored in specialized organs with limited storage capacity, which might lead to the direct competition of the sperm from different males 2,5
Comparing sperm competitive ability of different males of interest (experimental male types) has been performed through controlled double-mating experiments in the laboratory 6,7
. Briefly, a single female is exposed to two different males consecutively, one experimental male and one cross-mating reference male. The same mating scheme is then followed using other experimental male types thus facilitating the indirect comparison of the competitive ability of their sperm through a common reference. The fraction of individuals fathered by the experimental and reference males is identified using markers, which allows one to estimate sperm competitive ability using simple mathematical expressions 7,8
. In addition, sperm competitive ability can be estimated in two different scenarios depending on whether the experimental male is second or first to mate (offense and defense assay, respectively) 9
, which is assumed to be reflective of different competence attributes.
Here, we describe an approach that helps to interrogate the role of different genetic factors that putatively underlie the phenomenon of sperm competitive ability in D. melanogaster
Developmental Biology, Issue 78, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Genetics, Biochemistry, Spermatozoa, Drosophila melanogaster, Biological Evolution, Phenotype, genetics (animal and plant), animal biology, double-mating experiment, sperm competitive ability, male fertility, Drosophila, fruit fly, animal model
Experimental Protocol for Manipulating Plant-induced Soil Heterogeneity
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University.
Coexistence theory has often treated environmental heterogeneity as being independent of the community composition; however biotic feedbacks such as plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) have large effects on plant performance, and create environmental heterogeneity that depends on the community composition. Understanding the importance of PSF for plant community assembly necessitates understanding of the role of heterogeneity in PSF, in addition to mean PSF effects. Here, we describe a protocol for manipulating plant-induced soil heterogeneity. Two example experiments are presented: (1) a field experiment with a 6-patch grid of soils to measure plant population responses and (2) a greenhouse experiment with 2-patch soils to measure individual plant responses. Soils can be collected from the zone of root influence (soils from the rhizosphere and directly adjacent to the rhizosphere) of plants in the field from conspecific and heterospecific plant species. Replicate collections are used to avoid pseudoreplicating soil samples. These soils are then placed into separate patches for heterogeneous treatments or mixed for a homogenized treatment. Care should be taken to ensure that heterogeneous and homogenized treatments experience the same degree of soil disturbance. Plants can then be placed in these soil treatments to determine the effect of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on plant performance. We demonstrate that plant-induced heterogeneity results in different outcomes than predicted by traditional coexistence models, perhaps because of the dynamic nature of these feedbacks. Theory that incorporates environmental heterogeneity influenced by the assembling community and additional empirical work is needed to determine when heterogeneity intrinsic to the assembling community will result in different assembly outcomes compared with heterogeneity extrinsic to the community composition.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Coexistence, community assembly, environmental drivers, plant-soil feedback, soil heterogeneity, soil microbial communities, soil patch
Efficient Agroinfiltration of Plants for High-level Transient Expression of Recombinant Proteins
Institutions: Arizona State University .
Mammalian cell culture is the major platform for commercial production of human vaccines and therapeutic proteins. However, it cannot meet the increasing worldwide demand for pharmaceuticals due to its limited scalability and high cost. Plants have shown to be one of the most promising alternative pharmaceutical production platforms that are robust, scalable, low-cost and safe. The recent development of virus-based vectors has allowed rapid and high-level transient expression of recombinant proteins in plants. To further optimize the utility of the transient expression system, we demonstrate a simple, efficient and scalable methodology to introduce target-gene containing Agrobacterium
into plant tissue in this study. Our results indicate that agroinfiltration with both syringe and vacuum methods have resulted in the efficient introduction of Agrobacterium
into leaves and robust production of two fluorescent proteins; GFP and DsRed. Furthermore, we demonstrate the unique advantages offered by both methods. Syringe infiltration is simple and does not need expensive equipment. It also allows the flexibility to either infiltrate the entire leave with one target gene, or to introduce genes of multiple targets on one leaf. Thus, it can be used for laboratory scale expression of recombinant proteins as well as for comparing different proteins or vectors for yield or expression kinetics. The simplicity of syringe infiltration also suggests its utility in high school and college education for the subject of biotechnology. In contrast, vacuum infiltration is more robust and can be scaled-up for commercial manufacture of pharmaceutical proteins. It also offers the advantage of being able to agroinfiltrate plant species that are not amenable for syringe infiltration such as lettuce and Arabidopsis
. Overall, the combination of syringe and vacuum agroinfiltration provides researchers and educators a simple, efficient, and robust methodology for transient protein expression. It will greatly facilitate the development of pharmaceutical proteins and promote science education.
Plant Biology, Issue 77, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Virology, Microbiology, Bioengineering, Plant Viruses, Antibodies, Monoclonal, Green Fluorescent Proteins, Plant Proteins, Recombinant Proteins, Vaccines, Synthetic, Virus-Like Particle, Gene Transfer Techniques, Gene Expression, Agroinfiltration, plant infiltration, plant-made pharmaceuticals, syringe agroinfiltration, vacuum agroinfiltration, monoclonal antibody, Agrobacterium tumefaciens, Nicotiana benthamiana, GFP, DsRed, geminiviral vectors, imaging, plant model
In Vitro Reconstitution of Light-harvesting Complexes of Plants and Green Algae
Institutions: VU University Amsterdam.
In plants and green algae, light is captured by the light-harvesting complexes (LHCs), a family of integral membrane proteins that coordinate chlorophylls and carotenoids. In vivo
, these proteins are folded with pigments to form complexes which are inserted in the thylakoid membrane of the chloroplast. The high similarity in the chemical and physical properties of the members of the family, together with the fact that they can easily lose pigments during isolation, makes their purification in a native state challenging. An alternative approach to obtain homogeneous preparations of LHCs was developed by Plumley and Schmidt in 19871
, who showed that it was possible to reconstitute these complexes in vitro
starting from purified pigments and unfolded apoproteins, resulting in complexes with properties very similar to that of native complexes. This opened the way to the use of bacterial expressed recombinant proteins for in vitro
reconstitution. The reconstitution method is powerful for various reasons: (1) pure preparations of individual complexes can be obtained, (2) pigment composition can be controlled to assess their contribution to structure and function, (3) recombinant proteins can be mutated to study the functional role of the individual residues (e.g.,
pigment binding sites) or protein domain (e.g.,
protein-protein interaction, folding). This method has been optimized in several laboratories and applied to most of the light-harvesting complexes. The protocol described here details the method of reconstituting light-harvesting complexes in vitro
currently used in our laboratory,
and examples describing applications of the method are provided.
Biochemistry, Issue 92, Reconstitution, Photosynthesis, Chlorophyll, Carotenoids, Light Harvesting Protein, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, Arabidopsis thaliana
Thermal Ablation for the Treatment of Abdominal Tumors
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Percutaneous thermal ablation is an emerging treatment option for many tumors of the abdomen not amenable to conventional treatments. During a thermal ablation procedure, a thin applicator is guided into the target tumor under imaging guidance. Energy is then applied to the tissue until temperatures rise to cytotoxic levels (50-60 °C). Various energy sources are available to heat biological tissues, including radiofrequency (RF) electrical current, microwaves, laser light and ultrasonic waves. Of these, RF and microwave ablation are most commonly used worldwide.
During RF ablation, alternating electrical current (~500 kHz) produces resistive heating around the interstitial electrode. Skin surface electrodes (ground pads) are used to complete the electrical circuit. RF ablation has been in use for nearly 20 years, with good results for local tumor control, extended survival and low complication rates1,2
. Recent studies suggest RF ablation may be a first-line treatment option for small hepatocellular carcinoma and renal-cell carcinoma3-5
. However, RF heating is hampered by local blood flow and high electrical impedance tissues (eg, lung, bone, desiccated or charred tissue)6,7
. Microwaves may alleviate some of these problems by producing faster, volumetric heating8-10
. To create larger or conformal ablations, multiple microwave antennas can be used simultaneously while RF electrodes require sequential operation, which limits their efficiency. Early experiences with microwave systems suggest efficacy and safety similar to, or better than RF devices11-13
Alternatively, cryoablation freezes the target tissues to lethal levels (-20 to -40 °C). Percutaneous cryoablation has been shown to be effective against RCC and many metastatic tumors, particularly colorectal cancer, in the liver14-16
. Cryoablation may also be associated with less post-procedure pain and faster recovery for some indications17
. Cryoablation is often contraindicated for primary liver cancer due to underlying coagulopathy and associated bleeding risks frequently seen in cirrhotic patients. In addition, sudden release of tumor cellular contents when the frozen tissue thaws can lead to a potentially serious condition known as cryoshock 16
Thermal tumor ablation can be performed at open surgery, laparoscopy or using a percutaneous approach. When performed percutaneously, the ablation procedure relies on imaging for diagnosis, planning, applicator guidance, treatment monitoring and follow-up. Ultrasound is the most popular modality for guidance and treatment monitoring worldwide, but computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are commonly used as well. Contrast-enhanced CT or MRI are typically employed for diagnosis and follow-up imaging.
Medicine, Issue 49, Thermal ablation, interventional oncology, image-guided therapy, radiology, cancer
A High-Throughput Method For Zebrafish Sperm Cryopreservation and In Vitro Fertilization
Institutions: University of California, Davis, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center - FHCRC.
This is a method for zebrafish sperm cryopreservation that is an adaptation of the Harvey method (Harvey et al., 1982). We have introduced two changes to the original protocol that both streamline the procedure and increase sample uniformity. First, we normalize all sperm volumes using freezing media that does not contain the cryoprotectant. Second, cryopreserved sperm are stored in cryovials instead of capillary tubes. The rates of sperm freezing and thawing (δ°C/time) are probably the two most critical variables to control in this procedure. For this reason, do not substitute different tubes for those specified. Working in teams of 2 it is possible to freeze the sperm of 100 males per team in ~2 hrs. Sperm cryopreserved using this protocol has an average of 25% fertility (measured as the number of viable embryos generated in an in vitro fertilization divided by the total number of eggs fertilized) and this percent fertility is stable over many years.
Developmental Biology, Issue 29, Zebrafish, sperm, cryopreservation, TILLING
Protocols for Assessing Radiofrequency Interactions with Gold Nanoparticles and Biological Systems for Non-invasive Hyperthermia Cancer Therapy
Institutions: University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Rice University , Rice University .
Cancer therapies which are less toxic and invasive than their existing counterparts are highly desirable. The use of RF electric-fields that penetrate deep into the body, causing minimal toxicity, are currently being studied as a viable means of non-invasive cancer therapy. It is envisioned that the interactions of RF energy with internalized nanoparticles (NPs) can liberate heat which can then cause overheating (hyperthermia) of the cell, ultimately ending in cell necrosis.
In the case of non-biological systems, we present detailed protocols relating to quantifying the heat liberated by highly-concentrated NP colloids. For biological systems, in the case of in vitro
experiments, we describe the techniques and conditions which must be adhered to in order to effectively expose cancer cells to RF energy without bulk media heating artifacts significantly obscuring the data. Finally, we give a detailed methodology for in vivo
mouse models with ectopic hepatic cancer tumors.
Medicine, Issue 78, Electronics and Electrical Engineering, Life Sciences (General), Radiofrequency, Cancer, Nanoparticles, Hyperthermia, Gold
Non-radioactive in situ Hybridization Protocol Applicable for Norway Spruce and a Range of Plant Species
Institutions: Uppsala University, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.
The high-throughput expression analysis technologies available today give scientists an overflow of expression profiles but their resolution in terms of tissue specific expression is limited because of problems in dissecting individual tissues. Expression data needs to be confirmed and complemented with expression patterns using e.g. in situ
hybridization, a technique used to localize cell specific mRNA expression. The in situ
hybridization method is laborious, time-consuming and often requires extensive optimization depending on species and tissue. In situ
experiments are relatively more difficult to perform in woody species such as the conifer Norway spruce (Picea abies
). Here we present a modified DIG in situ
hybridization protocol, which is fast and applicable on a wide range of plant species including P. abies
. With just a few adjustments, including altered RNase treatment and proteinase K concentration, we could use the protocol to study tissue specific expression of homologous genes in male reproductive organs of one gymnosperm and two angiosperm species; P. abies, Arabidopsis thaliana
and Brassica napus
. The protocol worked equally well for the species and genes studied. AtAP3
were observed in second and third whorl floral organs in A. thaliana
and B. napus
and DAL13 in microsporophylls of male cones from P. abies
. For P. abies
the proteinase K concentration, used to permeablize the tissues, had to be increased to 3 g/ml instead of 1 g/ml, possibly due to more compact tissues and higher levels of phenolics and polysaccharides. For all species the RNase treatment was removed due to reduced signal strength without a corresponding increase in specificity. By comparing tissue specific expression patterns of homologous genes from both flowering plants and a coniferous tree we demonstrate that the DIG in situ
protocol presented here, with only minute adjustments, can be applied to a wide range of plant species. Hence, the protocol avoids both extensive species specific optimization and the laborious use of radioactively labeled probes in favor of DIG labeled probes. We have chosen to illustrate the technically demanding steps of the protocol in our film.
Anna Karlgren and Jenny Carlsson contributed equally to this study.
Corresponding authors: Anna Karlgren at Anna.Karlgren@ebc.uu.se and Jens F. Sundström at Jens.Sundstrom@vbsg.slu.se
Plant Biology, Issue 26, RNA, expression analysis, Norway spruce, Arabidopsis, rapeseed, conifers
Optimization and Utilization of Agrobacterium-mediated Transient Protein Production in Nicotiana
Institutions: Fraunhofer USA Center for Molecular Biotechnology.
-mediated transient protein production in plants is a promising approach to produce vaccine antigens and therapeutic proteins within a short period of time. However, this technology is only just beginning to be applied to large-scale production as many technological obstacles to scale up are now being overcome. Here, we demonstrate a simple and reproducible method for industrial-scale transient protein production based on vacuum infiltration of Nicotiana
plants with Agrobacteria
carrying launch vectors. Optimization of Agrobacterium
cultivation in AB medium allows direct dilution of the bacterial culture in Milli-Q water, simplifying the infiltration process. Among three tested species of Nicotiana
, N. excelsiana
× N. excelsior
) was selected as the most promising host due to the ease of infiltration, high level of reporter protein production, and about two-fold higher biomass production under controlled environmental conditions. Induction of Agrobacterium
harboring pBID4-GFP (Tobacco mosaic virus
-based) using chemicals such as acetosyringone and monosaccharide had no effect on the protein production level. Infiltrating plant under 50 to 100 mbar for 30 or 60 sec resulted in about 95% infiltration of plant leaf tissues. Infiltration with Agrobacterium
laboratory strain GV3101 showed the highest protein production compared to Agrobacteria
laboratory strains LBA4404 and C58C1 and wild-type Agrobacteria
strains at6, at10, at77 and A4. Co-expression of a viral RNA silencing suppressor, p23 or p19, in N. benthamiana
resulted in earlier accumulation and increased production (15-25%) of target protein (influenza virus hemagglutinin).
Plant Biology, Issue 86, Agroinfiltration, Nicotiana benthamiana, transient protein production, plant-based expression, viral vector, Agrobacteria
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
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
Designing Silk-silk Protein Alloy Materials for Biomedical Applications
Institutions: Rowan University, Rowan University, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, Rowan University.
Fibrous proteins display different sequences and structures that have been used for various applications in biomedical fields such as biosensors, nanomedicine, tissue regeneration, and drug delivery. Designing materials based on the molecular-scale interactions between these proteins will help generate new multifunctional protein alloy biomaterials with tunable properties. Such alloy material systems also provide advantages in comparison to traditional synthetic polymers due to the materials biodegradability, biocompatibility, and tenability in the body. This article used the protein blends of wild tussah silk (Antheraea pernyi
) and domestic mulberry silk (Bombyx mori
) as an example to provide useful protocols regarding these topics, including how to predict protein-protein interactions by computational methods, how to produce protein alloy solutions, how to verify alloy systems by thermal analysis, and how to fabricate variable alloy materials including optical materials with diffraction gratings, electric materials with circuits coatings, and pharmaceutical materials for drug release and delivery. These methods can provide important information for designing the next generation multifunctional biomaterials based on different protein alloys.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, protein alloys, biomaterials, biomedical, silk blends, computational simulation, implantable electronic devices
A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli
and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9
addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments.
A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli
to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2
) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia
were transformed into E. coli
. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA
gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans
was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH
and ALDH (
originating from G. thermodenitrificans
) were introduced10,11
. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed.
To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli
K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources.
The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii
OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g.
under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n
-hexane in the culture medium were observed.
Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli
to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
High-Sensitivity Nuclear Magnetic Resonance at Giga-Pascal Pressures: A New Tool for Probing Electronic and Chemical Properties of Condensed Matter under Extreme Conditions
Institutions: University of Leipzig.
Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) is one of the most important techniques for the study of condensed matter systems, their chemical structure, and their electronic properties. The application of high pressure enables one to synthesize new materials, but the response of known materials to high pressure is a very useful tool for studying their electronic structure and developing theories. For example, high-pressure synthesis might be at the origin of life; and understanding the behavior of small molecules under extreme pressure will tell us more about fundamental processes in our universe. It is no wonder that there has always been great interest in having NMR available at high pressures. Unfortunately, the desired pressures are often well into the Giga-Pascal (GPa) range and require special anvil cell devices where only very small, secluded volumes are available. This has restricted the use of NMR almost entirely in the past, and only recently, a new approach to high-sensitivity GPa NMR, which has a resonating micro-coil inside the sample chamber, was put forward. This approach enables us to achieve high sensitivity with experiments that bring the power of NMR to Giga-Pascal pressure condensed matter research. First applications, the detection of a topological electronic transition in ordinary aluminum metal and the closing of the pseudo-gap in high-temperature superconductivity, show the power of such an approach. Meanwhile, the range of achievable pressures was increased tremendously with a new generation of anvil cells (up to 10.1 GPa), that fit standard-bore NMR magnets. This approach might become a new, important tool for the investigation of many condensed matter systems, in chemistry, geochemistry, and in physics, since we can now watch structural changes with the eyes of a very versatile probe.
Physics, Issue 92, NMR, micro-coil, anvil cell, high pressures, condensed matter, radio-frequency
In vivo 19F MRI for Cell Tracking
Institutions: Radboud University Medical Center, Max Planck Institute for Neurological Research, German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE).
In vivo 19
F MRI allows quantitative cell tracking without the use of ionizing radiation. It is a noninvasive technique that can be applied to humans. Here, we describe a general protocol for cell labeling, imaging, and image processing. The technique is applicable to various cell types and animal models, although here we focus on a typical mouse model for tracking murine immune cells. The most important issues for cell labeling are described, as these are relevant to all models. Similarly, key imaging parameters are listed, although the details will vary depending on the MRI system and the individual setup. Finally, we include an image processing protocol for quantification. Variations for this, and other parts of the protocol, are assessed in the Discussion section. Based on the detailed procedure described here, the user will need to adapt the protocol for each specific cell type, cell label, animal model, and imaging setup. Note that the protocol can also be adapted for human use, as long as clinical restrictions are met.
Medicine, Issue 81, Animal Models, Immune System Diseases, MRI, 19F MRI, Cell Tracking, Quantification, Cell Label, In vivo Imaging
Choice and No-Choice Assays for Testing the Resistance of A. thaliana to Chewing Insects
Institutions: Cornell University.
Larvae of the small white cabbage butterfly are a pest in agricultural settings. This caterpillar species feeds from plants in the cabbage family, which include many crops such as cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts etc. Rearing of the insects takes place on cabbage plants in the greenhouse. At least two cages are needed for the rearing of Pieris rapae. One for the larvae and the other to contain the adults, the butterflies. In order to investigate the role of plant hormones and toxic plant chemicals in resistance to this insect pest, we demonstrate two experiments. First, determination of the role of jasmonic acid (JA - a plant hormone often indicated in resistance to insects) in resistance to the chewing insect Pieris rapae. Caterpillar growth can be compared on wild-type and mutant plants impaired in production of JA. This experiment is considered "No Choice", because larvae are forced to subsist on a single plant which synthesizes or is deficient in JA. Second, we demonstrate an experiment that investigates the role of glucosinolates, which are used as oviposition (egg-laying) signals. Here, we use WT and mutant Arabidopsis impaired in glucosinolate production in a "Choice" experiment in which female butterflies are allowed to choose to lay their eggs on plants of either genotype. This video demonstrates the experimental setup for both assays as well as representative results.
Plant Biology, Issue 15, Annual Review, Plant Resistance, Herbivory, Arabidopsis thaliana, Pieris rapae, Caterpillars, Butterflies, Jasmonic Acid, Glucosinolates
Western Blotting Using the Invitrogen NuPage Novex Bis Tris MiniGels
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
Western Blotting (or immunoblotting) is a standard laboratory procedure allowing investigators to verify the expression of a protein, determine the relative amount of the protein present in different samples, and analyze the results of co-immunoprecipitation experiments. In this method, a target protein is detected with a specific primary antibody in a given sample of tissue homogenate or extract. Protein separation according to molecular weight is achieved using denaturing SDS-PAGE. After transfer to a membrane, the target protein is probed with a specific primary antibody and detected by chemiluminescence.
Since its first description, the western-blotting technique has undergone several improvements, including pre-cast gels and user-friendly equipment. In our laboratory, we have chosen to use the commercially available NuPAGE electrophoresis system from Invitrogen. It is an innovative neutral pH, discontinuous SDS-PAGE, pre-cast mini-gel system. This system presents several advantages over the traditional Laemmli technique including: i) a longer shelf life of the pre-cast gels ranging from 8 months to 1 year; ii) a broad separation range of molecular weights from 1 to 400 kDa depending of the type of gel used; and iii) greater versatility (range of acrylamide percentage, the type of gel, and the ionic composition of the running buffer).
The procedure described in this video article utilizes the Bis-Tris discontinuous buffer system with 4-12% Bis-Tris gradient gels and MES running buffer, as an illustration of how to perform a western-blot using the Invitrogen NuPAGE electrophoresis system. In our laboratory, we have obtained good and reproducible results for various biochemical applications using this western-blotting method.
Basic Protocols, Issue 7, Western Blot, Biochemistry, Electrophoreisis
Virus-induced Gene Silencing (VIGS) in Nicotiana benthamiana and Tomato
Institutions: Cornell University, Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research.
RNA interference (RNAi) is a highly specific gene-silencing phenomenon triggered by dsRNA1
. This silencing mechanism uses two major classes of RNA regulators: microRNAs, which are produced from non-protein coding genes and short interfering RNAs (siRNAs). Plants use RNAi to control transposons and to exert tight control over developmental processes such as flower organ formation and leaf development2,3,4
. Plants also use RNAi to defend themselves against infection by viruses. Consequently, many viruses have evolved suppressors of gene silencing to allow their successful colonization of their host5
Virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS) is a method that takes advantage of the plant RNAi-mediated antiviral defense mechanism. In plants infected with unmodified viruses the mechanism is specifically targeted against the viral genome. However, with virus vectors carrying sequences derived from host genes, the process can be additionally targeted against the corresponding host mRNAs. VIGS has been adapted for high-throughput functional genomics in plants by using the plant pathogen Agrobacterium tumefaciens
to deliver, via its Ti plasmid, a recombinant virus carrying the entire or part of the gene sequence targeted for silencing. Systemic virus spread and the endogenous plant RNAi machinery take care of the rest. dsRNAs corresponding to the target gene are produced and then cleaved by the ribonuclease Dicer into siRNAs of 21 to 24 nucleotides in length. These siRNAs ultimately guide the RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC) to degrade the target transcript2
Different vectors have been employed in VIGS and one of the most frequently used is based on tobacco rattle virus (TRV). TRV is a bipartite virus and, as such, two different A. tumefaciens
strains are used for VIGS. One carries pTRV1, which encodes the replication and movement viral functions while the other, pTRV2, harbors the coat protein and the sequence used for VIGS6,7
. Inoculation of Nicotiana benthamiana
and tomato seedlings with a mixture of both strains results in gene silencing. Silencing of the endogenous phytoene desaturase
) gene, which causes photobleaching, is used as a control for VIGS efficiency. It should be noted, however, that silencing in tomato is usually less efficient than in N. benthamiana
. RNA transcript abundance of the gene of interest should always be measured to ensure that the target gene has efficiently been down-regulated. Nevertheless, heterologous gene sequences from N. benthamiana
can be used to silence their respective orthologs in tomato and vice versa8
Plant Biology, Issue 28, Virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS), RNA interference (RNAi), Tobacco Rattle Virus (TRV) vectors, Nicotiana benthamiana, tomato
Functional Imaging with Reinforcement, Eyetracking, and Physiological Monitoring
Institutions: Columbia University, Columbia University, Columbia University.
We use functional brain imaging (fMRI) to study neural circuits that underlie decision-making. To understand how outcomes affect decision processes, simple perceptual tasks are combined with appetitive and aversive reinforcement. However, the use of reinforcers such as juice and airpuffs can create challenges for fMRI. Reinforcer delivery can cause head movement, which creates artifacts in the fMRI signal. Reinforcement can also lead to changes in heart rate and respiration that are mediated by autonomic pathways. Changes in heart rate and respiration can directly affect the fMRI (BOLD) signal in the brain and can be confounded with signal changes that are due to neural activity. In this presentation, we demonstrate methods for administering reinforcers in a controlled manner, for stabilizing the head, and for measuring pulse and respiration.
Medicine, Issue 21, Neuroscience, Psychiatry, fMRI, Decision Making, Reward, Punishment, Pulse, Respiration, Eye Tracking, Psychology