Epigenetics describes the heritable changes in gene function that occur independently to the DNA sequence. The molecular basis of epigenetic gene regulation is complex, but essentially involves modifications to the DNA itself or the proteins with which DNA associates. The predominant epigenetic modification of DNA in mammalian genomes is methylation of cytosine nucleotides (5-MeC). DNA methylation provides instruction to gene expression machinery as to where and when the gene should be expressed. The primary target sequence for DNA methylation in mammals is 5'-CpG-3' dinucleotides (Figure 1). CpG dinucleotides are not uniformly distributed throughout the genome, but are concentrated in regions of repetitive genomic sequences and CpG "islands" commonly associated with gene promoters (Figure 1). DNA methylation patterns are established early in development, modulated during tissue specific differentiation and disrupted in many disease states including cancer. To understand the biological role of DNA methylation and its role in human disease, precise, efficient and reproducible methods are required to detect and quantify individual 5-MeCs.
This protocol for bisulphite conversion is the "gold standard" for DNA methylation analysis and facilitates identification and quantification of DNA methylation at single nucleotide resolution. The chemistry of cytosine deamination by sodium bisulphite involves three steps (Figure 2). (1) Sulphonation: The addition of bisulphite to the 5-6 double bond of cytosine (2) Hydrolic Deamination: hydrolytic deamination of the resulting cytosine-bisulphite derivative to give a uracil-bisulphite derivative (3) Alkali Desulphonation: Removal of the sulphonate group by an alkali treatment, to give uracil. Bisulphite preferentially deaminates cytosine to uracil in single stranded DNA, whereas 5-MeC, is refractory to bisulphite-mediated deamination. Upon PCR amplification, uracil is amplified as thymine while 5-MeC residues remain as cytosines, allowing methylated CpGs to be distinguished from unmethylated CpGs by presence of a cytosine "C" versus thymine "T" residue during sequencing.
DNA modification by bisulphite conversion is a well-established protocol that can be exploited for many methods of DNA methylation analysis. Since the detection of 5-MeC by bisulphite conversion was first demonstrated by Frommer et al.1 and Clark et al.2, methods based around bisulphite conversion of genomic DNA account for the majority of new data on DNA methylation. Different methods of post PCR analysis may be utilized, depending on the degree of specificity and resolution of methylation required. Cloning and sequencing is still the most readily available method that can give single nucleotide resolution for methylation across the DNA molecule.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
High Sensitivity 5-hydroxymethylcytosine Detection in Balb/C Brain Tissue
Institutions: New England Biolabs.
DNA hydroxymethylation is a long known modification of DNA, but has recently become a focus in epigenetic research. Mammalian DNA is enzymatically modified at the 5th
carbon position of cytosine (C) residues to 5-mC, predominately in the context of CpG dinucleotides. 5-mC is amenable to enzymatic oxidation to 5-hmC by the Tet family of enzymes, which are believed to be involved in development and disease. Currently, the biological role of 5-hmC is not fully understood, but is generating a lot of interest due to its potential as a biomarker. This is due to several groundbreaking studies identifying 5-hydroxymethylcytosine in mouse embryonic stem (ES) and neuronal cells. Research techniques, including bisulfite sequencing methods, are unable to easily distinguish between 5-mC and 5-hmC . A few protocols exist that can measure global amounts of 5-hydroxymethylcytosine in the genome, including liquid chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry analysis or thin layer chromatography of single nucleosides digested from genomic DNA. Antibodies that target 5-hydroxymethylcytosine also exist, which can be used for dot blot analysis, immunofluorescence, or precipitation of hydroxymethylated DNA, but these antibodies do not have single base resolution.In addition, resolution depends on the size of the immunoprecipitated DNA and for microarray experiments, depends on probe design. Since it is unknown exactly where 5-hydroxymethylcytosine exists in the genome or its role in epigenetic regulation, new techniques are required that can identify locus specific hydroxymethylation. The EpiMark 5-hmC and 5-mC Analysis Kit provides a solution for distinguishing between these two modifications at specific loci. The EpiMark 5-hmC and 5-mC Analysis Kit is a simple and robust method for the identification and quantitation of 5-methylcytosine and 5-hydroxymethylcytosine within a specific DNA locus. This enzymatic approach utilizes the differential methylation sensitivity of the isoschizomers MspI and HpaII in a simple 3-step protocol. Genomic DNA of interest is treated with T4-BGT, adding a glucose moeity to 5-hydroxymethylcytosine. This reaction is sequence-independent, therefore all 5-hmC will be glucosylated; unmodified or 5-mC containing DNA will not be affected. This glucosylation is then followed by restriction endonuclease digestion. MspI and HpaII recognize the same sequence (CCGG) but are sensitive to different methylation states. HpaII cleaves only a completely unmodified site: any modification (5-mC, 5-hmC or 5-ghmC) at either cytosine blocks cleavage. MspI recognizes and cleaves 5-mC and 5-hmC, but not 5-ghmC. The third part of the protocol is interrogation of the locus by PCR. As little as 20 ng of input DNA can be used. Amplification of the experimental (glucosylated and digested) and control (mock glucosylated and digested) target DNA with primers flanking a CCGG site of interest (100-200 bp) is performed. If the CpG site contains 5-hydroxymethylcytosine, a band is detected after glucosylation and digestion, but not in the non-glucosylated control reaction. Real time PCR will give an approximation of how much hydroxymethylcytosine is in this particular site. In this experiment, we will analyze the 5-hydroxymethylcytosine amount in a mouse Babl/C brain sample by end point PCR.
Neuroscience, Issue 48, EpiMark, Epigenetics, 5-hydroxymethylcytosine, 5-methylcytosine, methylation, hydroxymethylation
Stimulation of Cytoplasmic DNA Sensing Pathways In Vitro and In Vivo
Institutions: University of Cambridge.
In order to efficiently stimulate an innate immune response, DNA must be of sufficient length and purity. We present a method where double stranded DNA (dsDNA) which has the requisite characteristics to stimulate the cytoplasmic DNA sensing pathways can be generated cheaply and with ease. By the concatemerization of short, synthetic oligonucleotides (which lack CpG motifs), dsDNA can be generated to be of sufficient length to activate the cytosolic DNA sensing pathway. This protocol involves blunt end ligation of the oligonucleotides in the presence of polyethylene glycol (PEG), which provides an environment for efficient ligation to occur. The dsDNA concatemers can be used, following purification by phenol/chloroform extraction, to simulate the innate immune response in vitro
by standard transfection protocols. This DNA can also be used to stimulate innate immunity in vivo
by intradermal injection into the ear pinna of a mouse, for example. By standardizing the concatemerization process and the subsequent stimulation protocols, a reliable and reproducible activation of the innate immune system can be produced.
Cellular Biology, Issue 91, innate immunity, DNA, double stranded DNA (dsDNA), concatemer, signaling, transfection, stimulation, ligation
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (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.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
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
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
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
Recording Single Neurons' Action Potentials from Freely Moving Pigeons Across Three Stages of Learning
Institutions: Ruhr-University Bochum.
While the subject of learning has attracted immense interest from both behavioral and neural scientists, only relatively few investigators have observed single-neuron activity while animals are acquiring an operantly conditioned response, or when that response is extinguished. But even in these cases, observation periods usually encompass only a single stage of learning, i.e.
acquisition or extinction, but not both (exceptions include protocols employing reversal learning; see Bingman et al.1
for an example). However, acquisition and extinction entail different learning mechanisms and are therefore expected to be accompanied by different types and/or loci of neural plasticity.
Accordingly, we developed a behavioral paradigm which institutes three stages of learning in a single behavioral session and which is well suited for the simultaneous recording of single neurons' action potentials. Animals are trained on a single-interval forced choice task which requires mapping each of two possible choice responses to the presentation of different novel visual stimuli (acquisition). After having reached a predefined performance criterion, one of the two choice responses is no longer reinforced (extinction). Following a certain decrement in performance level, correct responses are reinforced again (reacquisition). By using a new set of stimuli in every session, animals can undergo the acquisition-extinction-reacquisition process repeatedly. Because all three stages of learning occur in a single behavioral session, the paradigm is ideal for the simultaneous observation of the spiking output of multiple single neurons. We use pigeons as model systems, but the task can easily be adapted to any other species capable of conditioned discrimination learning.
Neuroscience, Issue 88, pigeon, single unit recording, learning, memory, extinction, spike sorting, operant conditioning, reward, electrophysiology, animal cognition, model species
Appetitive Associative Olfactory Learning in Drosophila Larvae
Institutions: University of Konstanz, University of Fribourg.
In the following we describe the methodological details of appetitive associative olfactory learning in Drosophila
larvae. The setup, in combination with genetic interference, provides a handle to analyze the neuronal and molecular fundamentals of specifically associative
learning in a simple larval brain.
Organisms can use past experience to adjust present behavior. Such acquisition of behavioral potential can be defined as learning, and the physical bases of these potentials as memory traces1-4
. Neuroscientists try to understand how these processes are organized in terms of molecular and neuronal changes in the brain by using a variety of methods in model organisms ranging from insects to vertebrates5,6
. For such endeavors it is helpful to use model systems that are simple and experimentally accessible. The Drosophila
larva has turned out to satisfy these demands based on the availability of robust behavioral assays, the existence of a variety of transgenic techniques and the elementary organization of the nervous system comprising only about 10,000 neurons (albeit with some concessions: cognitive limitations, few behavioral options, and richness of experience questionable)7-10
larvae can form associations between odors and appetitive gustatory reinforcement like sugar11-14
. In a standard assay, established in the lab of B. Gerber, animals receive a two-odor reciprocal training: A first group of larvae is exposed to an odor A together with a gustatory reinforcer (sugar reward) and is subsequently exposed to an odor B without reinforcement 9
. Meanwhile a second group of larvae receives reciprocal training while experiencing odor A without reinforcement and subsequently being exposed to odor B with reinforcement (sugar reward). In the following both groups are tested for their preference between the two odors. Relatively higher preferences for the rewarded odor reflect associative learning - presented as a performance index (PI). The conclusion regarding the associative nature of the performance index is compelling, because apart from the contingency between odors and tastants, other parameters, such as odor and reward exposure, passage of time and handling do not differ between the two groups9
Neuroscience, Issue 72, Developmental Biology, Neurobiology, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Physiology, Behavior, Drosophila, fruit fly, larvae, instar, olfaction, olfactory system, odor, 1-octanol, OCT, learning, reward, sugar, feeding, animal model
Genomic MRI - a Public Resource for Studying Sequence Patterns within Genomic DNA
Institutions: University of Toledo Health Science Campus.
Non-coding genomic regions in complex eukaryotes, including intergenic areas, introns, and untranslated segments of exons, are profoundly non-random in their nucleotide composition and consist of a complex mosaic of sequence patterns. These patterns include so-called Mid-Range Inhomogeneity (MRI) regions -- sequences 30-10000 nucleotides in length that are enriched by a particular base or combination of bases (e.g. (G+T)-rich, purine-rich, etc.). MRI regions are associated with unusual (non-B-form) DNA structures that are often involved in regulation of gene expression, recombination, and other genetic processes (Fedorova & Fedorov 2010). The existence of a strong fixation bias within MRI regions against mutations that tend to reduce their sequence inhomogeneity additionally supports the functionality and importance of these genomic sequences (Prakash et al.
Here we demonstrate a freely available Internet resource -- the Genomic MRI
program package -- designed for computational analysis of genomic sequences in order to find and characterize various MRI patterns within them (Bechtel et al.
2008). This package also allows generation of randomized sequences with various properties and level of correspondence to the natural input DNA sequences. The main goal of this resource is to facilitate examination of vast regions of non-coding DNA that are still scarcely investigated and await thorough exploration and recognition.
Genetics, Issue 51, bioinformatics, computational biology, genomics, non-randomness, signals, gene regulation, DNA conformation
Mouse Genome Engineering Using Designer Nucleases
Institutions: University of Zurich, University of Minnesota.
Transgenic mice carrying site-specific genome modifications (knockout, knock-in) are of vital importance for dissecting complex biological systems as well as for modeling human diseases and testing therapeutic strategies. Recent advances in the use of designer nucleases such as zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs), transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs), and the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)/CRISPR-associated (Cas) 9 system for site-specific genome engineering open the possibility to perform rapid targeted genome modification in virtually any laboratory species without the need to rely on embryonic stem (ES) cell technology. A genome editing experiment typically starts with identification of designer nuclease target sites within a gene of interest followed by construction of custom DNA-binding domains to direct nuclease activity to the investigator-defined genomic locus. Designer nuclease plasmids are in vitro
transcribed to generate mRNA for microinjection of fertilized mouse oocytes. Here, we provide a protocol for achieving targeted genome modification by direct injection of TALEN mRNA into fertilized mouse oocytes.
Genetics, Issue 86, Oocyte microinjection, Designer nucleases, ZFN, TALEN, Genome Engineering
A Novel Bayesian Change-point Algorithm for Genome-wide Analysis of Diverse ChIPseq Data Types
Institutions: Stony Brook University, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, University of Texas at Dallas.
ChIPseq is a widely used technique for investigating protein-DNA interactions. Read density profiles are generated by using next-sequencing of protein-bound DNA and aligning the short reads to a reference genome. Enriched regions are revealed as peaks, which often differ dramatically in shape, depending on the target protein1
. For example, transcription factors often bind in a site- and sequence-specific manner and tend to produce punctate peaks, while histone modifications are more pervasive and are characterized by broad, diffuse islands of enrichment2
. Reliably identifying these regions was the focus of our work.
Algorithms for analyzing ChIPseq data have employed various methodologies, from heuristics3-5
to more rigorous statistical models, e.g.
Hidden Markov Models (HMMs)6-8
. We sought a solution that minimized the necessity for difficult-to-define, ad hoc parameters that often compromise resolution and lessen the intuitive usability of the tool. With respect to HMM-based methods, we aimed to curtail parameter estimation procedures and simple, finite state classifications that are often utilized.
Additionally, conventional ChIPseq data analysis involves categorization of the expected read density profiles as either punctate or diffuse followed by subsequent application of the appropriate tool. We further aimed to replace the need for these two distinct models with a single, more versatile model, which can capably address the entire spectrum of data types.
To meet these objectives, we first constructed a statistical framework that naturally modeled ChIPseq data structures using a cutting edge advance in HMMs9
, which utilizes only explicit formulas-an innovation crucial to its performance advantages. More sophisticated then heuristic models, our HMM accommodates infinite hidden states through a Bayesian model. We applied it to identifying reasonable change points in read density, which further define segments of enrichment. Our analysis revealed how our Bayesian Change Point (BCP) algorithm had a reduced computational complexity-evidenced by an abridged run time and memory footprint. The BCP algorithm was successfully applied to both punctate peak and diffuse island identification with robust accuracy and limited user-defined parameters. This illustrated both its versatility and ease of use. Consequently, we believe it can be implemented readily across broad ranges of data types and end users in a manner that is easily compared and contrasted, making it a great tool for ChIPseq data analysis that can aid in collaboration and corroboration between research groups. Here, we demonstrate the application of BCP to existing transcription factor10,11
and epigenetic data12
to illustrate its usefulness.
Genetics, Issue 70, Bioinformatics, Genomics, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Immunology, Chromatin immunoprecipitation, ChIP-Seq, histone modifications, segmentation, Bayesian, Hidden Markov Models, epigenetics
Optimized Analysis of DNA Methylation and Gene Expression from Small, Anatomically-defined Areas of the Brain
Institutions: Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry.
Exposure to diet, drugs and early life adversity during sensitive windows of life 1,2
can lead to lasting changes in gene expression that contribute to the display of physiological and behavioural phenotypes. Such environmental programming is likely to increase the susceptibility to metabolic, cardiovascular and mental diseases 3,4
DNA methylation and histone modifications are considered key processes in the mediation of the gene-environment dialogue and appear also to underlay environmental programming 5
. In mammals, DNA methylation typically comprises the covalent addition of a methyl group at the 5-position of cytosine within the context of CpG dinucleotides.
CpG methylation occurs in a highly tissue- and cell-specific manner making it a challenge to study discrete, small regions of the brain where cellular heterogeneity is high and tissue quantity limited. Moreover, because gene expression and methylation are closely linked events, increased value can be gained by comparing both parameters in the same sample.
Here, a step-by-step protocol (Figure 1
) for the investigation of epigenetic programming in the brain is presented using the 'maternal separation' paradigm of early life adversity for illustrative purposes. The protocol describes the preparation of micropunches from differentially-aged mouse brains from which DNA and RNA can be simultaneously isolated, thus allowing DNA methylation and gene expression analyses in the same sample.
Neuroscience, Issue 65, Genetics, Physiology, Epigenetics, DNA methylation, early-life stress, maternal separation, bisulfite sequencing
Single Oocyte Bisulfite Mutagenesis
Institutions: Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Western Ontario, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Western Ontario, Children's Health Research Institute.
Epigenetics encompasses all heritable and reversible modifications to chromatin that alter gene accessibility, and thus are the primary mechanisms for regulating gene transcription1
. DNA methylation is an epigenetic modification that acts predominantly as a repressive mark. Through the covalent addition of a methyl group onto cytosines in CpG dinucleotides, it can recruit additional repressive proteins and histone modifications to initiate processes involved in condensing chromatin and silencing genes2
. DNA methylation is essential for normal development as it plays a critical role in developmental programming, cell differentiation, repression of retroviral elements, X-chromosome inactivation and genomic imprinting.
One of the most powerful methods for DNA methylation analysis is bisulfite mutagenesis. Sodium bisulfite is a DNA mutagen that deaminates cytosines into uracils. Following PCR amplification and sequencing, these conversion events are detected as thymines. Methylated cytosines are protected from deamination and thus remain as cytosines, enabling identification of DNA methylation at the individual nucleotide level3
. Development of the bisulfite mutagenesis assay has advanced from those originally reported4-6
towards ones that are more sensitive and reproducible7
. One key advancement was embedding smaller amounts of DNA in an agarose bead, thereby protecting DNA from the harsh bisulfite treatment8
. This enabled methylation analysis to be performed on pools of oocytes and blastocyst-stage embryos9
. The most sophisticated bisulfite mutagenesis protocol to date is for individual blastocyst-stage embryos10
. However, since blastocysts have on average 64 cells (containing 120-720 pg of genomic DNA), this method is not efficacious for methylation studies on individual oocytes or cleavage-stage embryos.
Taking clues from agarose embedding of minute DNA amounts including oocytes11
, here we present a method whereby oocytes are directly embedded in an agarose and lysis solution bead immediately following retrieval and removal of the zona pellucida from the oocyte. This enables us to bypass the two main challenges of single oocyte bisulfite mutagenesis: protecting a minute amount of DNA from degradation, and subsequent loss during the numerous protocol steps. Importantly, as data are obtained from single oocytes, the issue of PCR bias within pools is eliminated. Furthermore, inadvertent cumulus cell contamination is detectable by this method since any sample with more than one methylation pattern may be excluded from analysis12
. This protocol provides an improved method for successful and reproducible analyses of DNA methylation at the single-cell level and is ideally suited for individual oocytes as well as cleavage-stage embryos.
Genetics, Issue 64, Developmental Biology, Biochemistry, Bisulfite mutagenesis, DNA methylation, individual oocyte, individual embryo, mouse model, PCR, epigenetics
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
Unraveling the Unseen Players in the Ocean - A Field Guide to Water Chemistry and Marine Microbiology
Institutions: San Diego State University, University of California San Diego.
Here we introduce a series of thoroughly tested and well standardized research protocols adapted for use in remote marine environments. The sampling protocols include the assessment of resources available to the microbial community (dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, inorganic nutrients), and a comprehensive description of the viral and bacterial communities (via direct viral and microbial counts, enumeration of autofluorescent microbes, and construction of viral and microbial metagenomes). We use a combination of methods, which represent a dispersed field of scientific disciplines comprising already established protocols and some of the most recent techniques developed. Especially metagenomic sequencing techniques used for viral and bacterial community characterization, have been established only in recent years, and are thus still subjected to constant improvement. This has led to a variety of sampling and sample processing procedures currently in use. The set of methods presented here provides an up to date approach to collect and process environmental samples. Parameters addressed with these protocols yield the minimum on information essential to characterize and understand the underlying mechanisms of viral and microbial community dynamics. It gives easy to follow guidelines to conduct comprehensive surveys and discusses critical steps and potential caveats pertinent to each technique.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, nutrients, DAPI, SYBR, microbial metagenomics, viral metagenomics, marine environment
A Restriction Enzyme Based Cloning Method to Assess the In vitro Replication Capacity of HIV-1 Subtype C Gag-MJ4 Chimeric Viruses
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University.
The protective effect of many HLA class I alleles on HIV-1 pathogenesis and disease progression is, in part, attributed to their ability to target conserved portions of the HIV-1 genome that escape with difficulty. Sequence changes attributed to cellular immune pressure arise across the genome during infection, and if found within conserved regions of the genome such as Gag, can affect the ability of the virus to replicate in vitro
. Transmission of HLA-linked polymorphisms in Gag to HLA-mismatched recipients has been associated with reduced set point viral loads. We hypothesized this may be due to a reduced replication capacity of the virus. Here we present a novel method for assessing the in vitro
replication of HIV-1 as influenced by the gag
gene isolated from acute time points from subtype C infected Zambians. This method uses restriction enzyme based cloning to insert the gag
gene into a common subtype C HIV-1 proviral backbone, MJ4. This makes it more appropriate to the study of subtype C sequences than previous recombination based methods that have assessed the in vitro
replication of chronically derived gag-pro
sequences. Nevertheless, the protocol could be readily modified for studies of viruses from other subtypes. Moreover, this protocol details a robust and reproducible method for assessing the replication capacity of the Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses on a CEM-based T cell line. This method was utilized for the study of Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses derived from 149 subtype C acutely infected Zambians, and has allowed for the identification of residues in Gag that affect replication. More importantly, the implementation of this technique has facilitated a deeper understanding of how viral replication defines parameters of early HIV-1 pathogenesis such as set point viral load and longitudinal CD4+ T cell decline.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, HIV-1, Gag, viral replication, replication capacity, viral fitness, MJ4, CEM, GXR25
Microarray-based Identification of Individual HERV Loci Expression: Application to Biomarker Discovery in Prostate Cancer
Institutions: Joint Unit Hospices de Lyon-bioMérieux, BioMérieux, Hospices Civils de Lyon, Lyon 1 University, BioMérieux, Hospices Civils de Lyon, Hospices Civils de Lyon.
The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is the main diagnostic biomarker for prostate cancer in clinical use, but it lacks specificity and sensitivity, particularly in low dosage values1
. ‘How to use PSA' remains a current issue, either for diagnosis as a gray zone corresponding to a concentration in serum of 2.5-10 ng/ml which does not allow a clear differentiation to be made between cancer and noncancer2
or for patient follow-up as analysis of post-operative PSA kinetic parameters can pose considerable challenges for their practical application3,4
. Alternatively, noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs) are emerging as key molecules in human cancer, with the potential to serve as novel markers of disease, e.g.
PCA3 in prostate cancer5,6
and to reveal uncharacterized aspects of tumor biology. Moreover, data from the ENCODE project published in 2012 showed that different RNA types cover about 62% of the genome. It also appears that the amount of transcriptional regulatory motifs is at least 4.5x higher than the one corresponding to protein-coding exons. Thus, long terminal repeats (LTRs) of human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) constitute a wide range of putative/candidate transcriptional regulatory sequences, as it is their primary function in infectious retroviruses. HERVs, which are spread throughout the human genome, originate from ancestral and independent infections within the germ line, followed by copy-paste propagation processes and leading to multicopy families occupying 8% of the human genome (note that exons span 2% of our genome). Some HERV loci still express proteins that have been associated with several pathologies including cancer7-10
. We have designed a high-density microarray, in Affymetrix format, aiming to optimally characterize individual HERV loci expression, in order to better understand whether they can be active, if they drive ncRNA transcription or modulate coding gene expression. This tool has been applied in the prostate cancer field (Figure 1
Medicine, Issue 81, Cancer Biology, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Prostate, Retroviridae, Biomarkers, Pharmacological, Tumor Markers, Biological, Prostatectomy, Microarray Analysis, Gene Expression, Diagnosis, Human Endogenous Retroviruses, HERV, microarray, Transcriptome, prostate cancer, Affymetrix
Mapping Bacterial Functional Networks and Pathways in Escherichia Coli using Synthetic Genetic Arrays
Institutions: University of Toronto, University of Toronto, University of Regina.
Phenotypes are determined by a complex series of physical (e.g.
protein-protein) and functional (e.g.
gene-gene or genetic) interactions (GI)1
. While physical interactions can indicate which bacterial proteins are associated as complexes, they do not necessarily reveal pathway-level functional relationships1. GI screens, in which the growth of double mutants bearing two deleted or inactivated genes is measured and compared to the corresponding single mutants, can illuminate epistatic dependencies between loci and hence provide a means to query and discover novel functional relationships2
. Large-scale GI maps have been reported for eukaryotic organisms like yeast3-7
, but GI information remains sparse for prokaryotes8
, which hinders the functional annotation of bacterial genomes. To this end, we and others have developed high-throughput quantitative bacterial GI screening methods9, 10
Here, we present the key steps required to perform quantitative E. coli
Synthetic Genetic Array (eSGA) screening procedure on a genome-scale9
, using natural bacterial conjugation and homologous recombination to systemically generate and measure the fitness of large numbers of double mutants in a colony array format.
Briefly, a robot is used to transfer, through conjugation, chloramphenicol (Cm) - marked mutant alleles from engineered Hfr (High frequency of recombination) 'donor strains' into an ordered array of kanamycin (Kan) - marked F- recipient strains. Typically, we use loss-of-function single mutants bearing non-essential gene deletions (e.g.
the 'Keio' collection11
) and essential gene hypomorphic mutations (i.e.
alleles conferring reduced protein expression, stability, or activity9, 12, 13
) to query the functional associations of non-essential and essential genes, respectively. After conjugation and ensuing genetic exchange mediated by homologous recombination, the resulting double mutants are selected on solid medium containing both antibiotics. After outgrowth, the plates are digitally imaged and colony sizes are quantitatively scored using an in-house automated image processing system14
. GIs are revealed when the growth rate of a double mutant is either significantly better or worse than expected9
. Aggravating (or negative) GIs often result between loss-of-function mutations in pairs of genes from compensatory pathways that impinge on the same essential process2
. Here, the loss of a single gene is buffered, such that either single mutant is viable. However, the loss of both pathways is deleterious and results in synthetic lethality or sickness (i.e.
slow growth). Conversely, alleviating (or positive) interactions can occur between genes in the same pathway or protein complex2
as the deletion of either gene alone is often sufficient to perturb the normal function of the pathway or complex such that additional perturbations do not reduce activity, and hence growth, further. Overall, systematically identifying and analyzing GI networks can provide unbiased, global maps of the functional relationships between large numbers of genes, from which pathway-level information missed by other approaches can be inferred9
Genetics, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Aggravating, alleviating, conjugation, double mutant, Escherichia coli, genetic interaction, Gram-negative bacteria, homologous recombination, network, synthetic lethality or sickness, suppression
Identification of Key Factors Regulating Self-renewal and Differentiation in EML Hematopoietic Precursor Cells by RNA-sequencing Analysis
Institutions: The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston.
Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) are used clinically for transplantation treatment to rebuild a patient's hematopoietic system in many diseases such as leukemia and lymphoma. Elucidating the mechanisms controlling HSCs self-renewal and differentiation is important for application of HSCs for research and clinical uses. However, it is not possible to obtain large quantity of HSCs due to their inability to proliferate in vitro
. To overcome this hurdle, we used a mouse bone marrow derived cell line, the EML (Erythroid, Myeloid, and Lymphocytic) cell line, as a model system for this study.
RNA-sequencing (RNA-Seq) has been increasingly used to replace microarray for gene expression studies. We report here a detailed method of using RNA-Seq technology to investigate the potential key factors in regulation of EML cell self-renewal and differentiation. The protocol provided in this paper is divided into three parts. The first part explains how to culture EML cells and separate Lin-CD34+ and Lin-CD34- cells. The second part of the protocol offers detailed procedures for total RNA preparation and the subsequent library construction for high-throughput sequencing. The last part describes the method for RNA-Seq data analysis and explains how to use the data to identify differentially expressed transcription factors between Lin-CD34+ and Lin-CD34- cells. The most significantly differentially expressed transcription factors were identified to be the potential key regulators controlling EML cell self-renewal and differentiation. In the discussion section of this paper, we highlight the key steps for successful performance of this experiment.
In summary, this paper offers a method of using RNA-Seq technology to identify potential regulators of self-renewal and differentiation in EML cells. The key factors identified are subjected to downstream functional analysis in vitro
and in vivo
Genetics, Issue 93, EML Cells, Self-renewal, Differentiation, Hematopoietic precursor cell, RNA-Sequencing, Data analysis
Microfluidic Co-culture of Epithelial Cells and Bacteria for Investigating Soluble Signal-mediated Interactions
Institutions: Texas A&M University, Texas A&M University.
The human gastrointestinal (GI) tract is a unique environment in which intestinal epithelial cells and non-pathogenic (commensal) bacteria coexist. It has been proposed that the microenvironment that the pathogen encounters in the commensal layer is important in determining the extent of colonization. Current culture methods for investigating pathogen colonization are not well suited for investigating this hypothesis as they do not enable co-culture of bacteria and epithelial cells in a manner that mimics the GI tract microenvironment. Here we describe a microfluidic co-culture model that enables independent culture of eukaryotic cells and bacteria, and testing the effect of the commensal microenvironment on pathogen colonization. The co-culture model is demonstrated by developing a commensal Escherichia coli
biofilm among HeLa cells, followed by introduction of enterohemorrhagic E. coli
(EHEC) into the commensal island, in a sequence that mimics the sequence of events in GI tract infection.
Microbiology, Issue 38, Host pathogen interactions, probiotics, inter-kingdom signaling
Spinal Cord Electrophysiology II: Extracellular Suction Electrode Fabrication
Institutions: The Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
Development of neural circuitries and locomotion can be studied using neonatal rodent spinal cord central pattern generator (CPG) behavior. We demonstrate a method to fabricate suction electrodes that are used to examine CPG activity, or fictive locomotion, in dissected rodent spinal cords. The rodent spinal cords are placed in artificial cerebrospinal fluid and the ventral roots are drawn into the suction electrode. The electrode is constructed by modifying a commercially available suction electrode. A heavier silver wire is used instead of the standard wire given by the commercially available electrode. The glass tip on the commercial electrode is replaced with a plastic tip for increased durability. We prepare hand drawn electrodes and electrodes made from specific sizes of tubing, allowing consistency and reproducibility. Data is collected using an amplifier and neurogram acquisition software. Recordings are performed on an air table within a Faraday cage to prevent mechanical and electrical interference, respectively.
Neuroscience, Issue 48, Electrophysiology, spinal cord, fictive locomotion, extracellular electrode
Patterning of Embryonic Stem Cells Using the Bio Flip Chip
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Cell-cell interactions consisting of diffusible signaling and cell-cell contact (juxtacrine signaling) are important in numerous biological processes such as tumor growth, stem cell differentiation, and stem cell self-renewal. A number of methods currently exist to modulate cell signaling in vitro. One method of modulating the total amount of diffusible signaling is to vary the cell seeding density during culture. Due to the random nature of cell seeding, this results in considerable variation in the actual cell-cell spacing and amount of cell-cell contact, and cannot prescribe the local environment. A more specific approach for modulating cell signaling is to use molecular inhibitors or genetic approaches to knock down specific signaling proteins, but both of these methods are best suited to manipulating small numbers of molecules. Here, we demonstrate a new approach to modulating cell-cell signaling that modulates the local environment of a cluster of cells by placing different numbers of cells at desired locations on a substrate. This method provides a complementary way to control the local diffusible and juxtacrine signaling between cells. Our method makes use of the Bio Flip Chip (BFC), a microfabricated silicone chip containing hundreds-to-thousands of microwells, each sized to hold either a single cell or small numbers of cells. We load the chip with cells simply by pipetting them onto the array of wells and washing unloaded cells off the array. The chip is then flipped onto a substrate, whereby the cells fall out of the wells and onto the substrate, maintaining their patterning. After the cells have attached, the chip can be removed (or left on). This approach to cell patterning is unique in that it: 1) doesn't alter the chemistry of the substrate, thus allowing cells to proliferate and migrate; 2) allows patterning onto any substrate, including tissue-culture polystyrene, glass, matrigel, and even feeder cell layers; and 3) is compatible with traditional microcontact printing, allowing the creation of extracellular matrix islands with cells placed inside those islands. In this video, we demonstrate the patterning of mouse embryonic stem cells onto tissue-culture polystyrene using the BFC.
Cellular Biology,Issue 8, tissue engineering, stem cells, patterning, bioengineering, signaling, diffusible, autocrine, juxtacrine
Culture of myeloid dendritic cells from bone marrow precursors
Institutions: McMaster University, McMaster University, University of Waterloo.
Myeloid dendritic cells (DCs) are frequently used to study the interactions between innate and adaptive immune mechanisms and the early response to infection. Because these are the most potent antigen presenting cells, DCs are being increasingly used as a vaccine vector to study the induction of antigen-specific immune responses. In this video, we demonstrate the procedure for harvesting tibias and femurs from a donor mouse, processing the bone marrow and differentiating DCs in vitro. The properties of DCs change following stimulation: immature dendritic cells are potent phagocytes, whereas mature DCs are capable of antigen presentation and interaction with CD4+ and CD8+ T cells. This change in functional activity corresponds with the upregulation of cell surface markers and cytokine production. Many agents can be used to mature DCs, including cytokines and toll-like receptor ligands. In this video, we demonstrate flow cytometric comparisons of expression of two co-stimulatory molecules, CD86 and CD40, and the cytokine, IL-12, following overnight stimulation with CpG or mock treatment. After differentiation, DCs can be further manipulated for use as a vaccine vector or to generate antigen-specific immune responses by in vitro pulsing using peptides or proteins, or transduced using recombinant viral vectors.
Immunology, Issue 17, dendritic cells, GM-CSF, culture, bone marrow