The aim of de novo protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (http://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
27 Related JoVE Articles!
The Importance of Correct Protein Concentration for Kinetics and Affinity Determination in Structure-function Analysis
Institutions: GE Healthcare Bio-Sciences AB.
In this study, we explore the interaction between the bovine cysteine protease inhibitor cystatin B and a catalytically inactive form of papain (Fig. 1), a plant cysteine protease, by real-time label-free analysis using Biacore X100. Several cystatin B variants with point mutations in areas of interaction with papain, are produced. For each cystatin B variant we determine its specific binding concentration using calibration-free concentration analysis (CFCA) and compare the values obtained with total protein concentration as determined by A280
. After that, the kinetics of each cystatin B variant binding to papain is measured using single-cycle kinetics (SCK). We show that one of the four cystatin B variants we examine is only partially active for binding. This partial activity, revealed by CFCA, translates to a significant difference in the association rate constant (ka
) and affinity (KD
), compared to the values calculated using total protein concentration. Using CFCA in combination with kinetic analysis in a structure-function study contributes to obtaining reliable results, and helps to make the right interpretation of the interaction mechanism.
Cellular Biology, Issue 37, Protein interaction, Surface Plasmon Resonance, Biacore X100, CFCA, Cystatin B, Papain
A Visual Assay to Monitor T6SS-mediated Bacterial Competition
Institutions: Imperial College London .
Type VI secretion systems (T6SSs) are molecular nanomachines allowing Gram-negative bacteria to transport and inject proteins into a wide variety of target cells1,2
. The T6SS is composed of 13 core components and displays structural similarities with the tail-tube of bacteriophages3
. The phage uses a tube and a puncturing device to penetrate the cell envelope of target bacteria and inject DNA. It is proposed that the T6SS is an inverted bacteriophage device creating a specific path in the bacterial cell envelope to drive effectors and toxins to the surface. The process could be taken further and the T6SS device could perforate other cells with which the bacterium is in contact, thus injecting the effectors into these targets. The tail tube and puncturing device parts of the T6SS are made with Hcp and VgrG proteins, respectively4,5
The versatility of the T6SS has been demonstrated through studies using various bacterial pathogens. The Vibrio cholerae
T6SS can remodel the cytoskeleton of eukaryotic host cells by injecting an "evolved" VgrG carrying a C-terminal actin cross-linking domain6,7
. Another striking example was recently documented using Pseudomonas aeruginosa
which is able to target and kill bacteria in a T6SS-dependent manner, therefore promoting the establishment of bacteria in specific microbial niches and competitive environment8,9,10
In the latter case,
three T6SS-secreted proteins, namely Tse1, Tse2 and Tse3 have been identified as the toxins injected in the target bacteria (Figure 1
). The donor cell is protected from the deleterious effect of these effectors via an anti-toxin mechanism, mediated by the Tsi1, Tsi2 and Tsi3 immunity proteins8,9,10
. This antimicrobial activity can be monitored when T6SS-proficient bacteria are co-cultivated on solid surfaces in competition with other bacterial species or with T6SS-inactive bacteria of the same species8,11,12,13
The data available emphasized a numerical approach to the bacterial competition assay, including time-consuming CFU counting that depends greatly on antibiotic makers. In the case of antibiotic resistant strains like P. aeruginosa
, these methods can be inappropriate. Moreover, with the identification of about 200 different T6SS loci in more than 100 bacterial genomes14
, a convenient screening tool is highly desirable. We developed an assay that is easy to use and requires standard laboratory material and reagents. The method offers a rapid and qualitative technique to monitor the T6SS-dependent bactericidal/bacteriostasis activity by using a reporter strain as a prey (in this case Escherichia coli
DH5α) allowing a-complementation of the lacZ
gene. Overall, this method is graphic and allows rapid identification of T6SS-related phenotypes on agar plates. This experimental protocol may be adapted to other strains or bacterial species taking into account specific conditions such as growth media, temperature or time of contact.
Infection, Issue 73, Microbiology, Immunology, Infectious Diseases, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Biochemistry, Cellular Biology, Bacteriology, Bacteria, Type Six Secretion System, T6SS, Bacterial Competition, Killing Assay, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, E. coli, lacZ, CFU, bacterial screen, pathogens, assay
High Throughput Screening of Fungal Endoglucanase Activity in Escherichia coli
Institutions: California Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology.
Cellulase enzymes (endoglucanases, cellobiohydrolases, and β-glucosidases) hydrolyze cellulose into component sugars, which in turn can be converted into fuel alcohols1
. The potential for enzymatic hydrolysis of cellulosic biomass to provide renewable energy has intensified efforts to engineer cellulases for economical fuel production2
. Of particular interest are fungal cellulases3-8
, which are already being used industrially for foods and textiles processing.
Identifying active variants among a library of mutant cellulases is critical to the engineering process; active mutants can be further tested for improved properties and/or subjected to additional mutagenesis. Efficient engineering of fungal cellulases has been hampered by a lack of genetic tools for native organisms and by difficulties in expressing the enzymes in heterologous hosts. Recently, Morikawa and coworkers developed a method for expressing in E. coli
the catalytic domains of endoglucanases from H. jecorina3,9
, an important industrial fungus with the capacity to secrete cellulases in large quantities. Functional E. coli
expression has also been reported for cellulases from other fungi, including Macrophomina phaseolina10
and Phanerochaete chrysosporium11-12
We present a method for high throughput screening of fungal endoglucanase activity in E. coli
. (Fig 1
) This method uses the common microbial dye Congo Red (CR) to visualize enzymatic degradation of carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) by cells growing on solid medium. The activity assay requires inexpensive reagents, minimal manipulation, and gives unambiguous results as zones of degradation (“halos”) at the colony site. Although a quantitative measure of enzymatic activity cannot be determined by this method, we have found that halo size correlates with total enzymatic activity in the cell. Further characterization of individual positive clones will determine , relative protein fitness.
Traditional bacterial whole cell CMC/CR activity assays13
involve pouring agar containing CMC onto colonies, which is subject to cross-contamination, or incubating cultures in CMC agar wells, which is less amenable to large-scale experimentation. Here we report an improved protocol that modifies existing wash methods14
for cellulase activity: cells grown on CMC agar plates are removed prior to CR staining. Our protocol significantly reduces cross-contamination and is highly scalable, allowing the rapid screening of thousands of clones. In addition to H. jecorina enzymes
, we have expressed and screened endoglucanase variants from the Thermoascus aurantiacus
and Penicillium decumbens
(shown in Figure 2
), suggesting that this protocol is applicable to enzymes from a range of organisms.
Molecular Biology, Issue 54, cellulase, endoglucanase, CMC, Congo Red
Assessing Replication and Beta Cell Function in Adenovirally-transduced Isolated Rodent Islets
Institutions: Indiana University School of Medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine.
Glucose homeostasis is primarily controlled by the endocrine hormones insulin and glucagon, secreted from the pancreatic beta and alpha cells, respectively. Functional beta cell mass is determined by the anatomical beta cell mass as well as the ability of the beta cells to respond to a nutrient load. A loss of functional beta cell mass is central to both major forms of diabetes 1-3
. Whereas the declining functional beta cell mass results from an autoimmune attack in type 1 diabetes, in type 2 diabetes, this decrement develops from both an inability of beta cells to secrete insulin appropriately and the destruction of beta cells from a cadre of mechanisms. Thus, efforts to restore functional beta cell mass are paramount to the better treatment of and potential cures for diabetes.
Efforts are underway to identify molecular pathways that can be exploited to stimulate the replication and enhance the function of beta cells. Ideally, therapeutic targets would improve both beta cell growth and function. Perhaps more important though is to identify whether a strategy that stimulates beta cell growth comes at the cost of impairing beta cell function (such as with some oncogenes) and vice versa.
By systematically suppressing or overexpressing the expression of target genes in isolated rat islets, one can identify potential therapeutic targets for increasing functional beta cell mass 4-6
. Adenoviral vectors can be employed to efficiently overexpress or knockdown proteins in isolated rat islets 4,7-15
. Here, we present a method to manipulate gene expression utilizing adenoviral transduction and assess islet replication and beta cell function in isolated rat islets (Figure 1
). This method has been used previously to identify novel targets that modulate beta cell replication or function 5,6,8,9,16,17
Medicine, Issue 64, Physiology, beta cell, gene expression, islet, diabetes, insulin secretion, proliferation, adenovirus, rat
A Convenient and General Expression Platform for the Production of Secreted Proteins from Human Cells
Institutions: University of Toronto.
Recombinant protein expression in bacteria, typically E. coli
, has been the most successful strategy for milligram quantity expression of proteins. However, prokaryotic hosts are often not as appropriate for expression of human, viral or eukaryotic proteins due to toxicity of the foreign macromolecule, differences in the protein folding machinery, or due to the lack of particular co- or post-translational modifications in bacteria. Expression systems based on yeast (P. pastoris
or S. cerevisiae
, baculovirus-infected insect (S. frugiperda
or T. ni
) cells 3
, and cell-free in vitro
translation systems 2,4
have been successfully used to produce mammalian proteins. Intuitively, the best match is to use a mammalian host to ensure the production of recombinant proteins that contain the proper post-translational modifications. A number of mammalian cell lines (Human Embryonic Kidney (HEK) 293, C
V-1 cells in O
rigin carrying the S
V40 larget T-antigen (COS), Chinese Hamster Ovary (CHO), and others) have been successfully utilized to overexpress milligram quantities of a number of human proteins 5-9
. However, the advantages of using mammalian cells are often countered by higher costs, requirement of specialized laboratory equipment, lower protein yields, and lengthy times to develop stable expression cell lines. Increasing yield and producing proteins faster, while keeping costs low, are major factors for many academic and commercial laboratories.
Here, we describe a time- and cost-efficient, two-part procedure for the expression of secreted human proteins from adherent HEK 293T cells. This system is capable of producing microgram to milligram quantities of functional protein for structural, biophysical and biochemical studies. The first part, multiple constructs of the gene of interest are produced in parallel and transiently transfected into adherent HEK 293T cells in small scale. The detection and analysis of recombinant protein secreted into the cell culture medium is performed by western blot analysis using commercially available antibodies directed against a vector-encoded protein purification tag. Subsequently, suitable constructs for large-scale protein production are transiently transfected using polyethyleneimine (PEI) in 10-layer cell factories. Proteins secreted into litre-volumes of conditioned medium are concentrated into manageable amounts using tangential flow filtration, followed by purification by anti-HA affinity chromatography. The utility of this platform is proven by its ability to express milligram quantities of cytokines, cytokine receptors, cell surface receptors, intrinsic restriction factors, and viral glycoproteins. This method was also successfully used in the structural determination of the trimeric ebolavirus glycoprotein 5,10
In conclusion, this platform offers ease of use, speed and scalability while maximizing protein quality and functionality. Moreover, no additional equipment, other than a standard humidified CO2
incubator, is required. This procedure may be rapidly expanded to systems of greater complexity, such as co-expression of protein complexes, antigens and antibodies, production of virus-like particles for vaccines, or production of adenoviruses or lentiviruses for transduction of difficult cell lines.
Genetics, Issue 65, Medicine, Molecular Biology, Human protein expression, HEK 293T, glycoproteins, cytokines, cellular surface receptors, extracellular proteins, restriction factors, viral proteins, mammalian expression protocol, high-throughput
Expression of Recombinant Cellulase Cel5A from Trichoderma reesei in Tobacco Plants
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology.
Cellulose degrading enzymes, cellulases, are targets of both research and industrial interests. The preponderance of these enzymes in difficult-to-culture organisms, such as hyphae-building fungi and anaerobic bacteria, has hastened the use of recombinant technologies in this field. Plant expression methods are a desirable system for large-scale production of enzymes and other industrially useful proteins. Herein, methods for the transient expression of a fungal endoglucanase, Trichoderma reesei
Cel5A, in Nicotiana tabacum
are demonstrated. Successful protein expression is shown, monitored by fluorescence using an mCherry-enzyme fusion protein. Additionally, a set of basic tests are used to examine the activity of transiently expressed T. reesei
Cel5A, including SDS-PAGE, Western blotting, zymography, as well as fluorescence and dye-based substrate degradation assays. The system described here can be used to produce an active cellulase in a short time period, so as to assess the potential for further production in plants through constitutive or inducible expression systems.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 88, heterologous expression, endoplasmic reticulum, endoglucanase, cellulose, glycosyl-hydrolase, fluorescence, cellulase, Trichoderma reesei, tobacco plants
GENPLAT: an Automated Platform for Biomass Enzyme Discovery and Cocktail Optimization
Institutions: Michigan State University, Michigan State University.
The high cost of enzymes for biomass deconstruction is a major impediment to the economic conversion of lignocellulosic feedstocks to liquid transportation fuels such as ethanol. We have developed an integrated high throughput platform, called GENPLAT, for the discovery and development of novel enzymes and enzyme cocktails for the release of sugars from diverse pretreatment/biomass combinations. GENPLAT comprises four elements: individual pure enzymes, statistical design of experiments, robotic pipeting of biomass slurries and enzymes, and automated colorimeteric determination of released Glc and Xyl. Individual enzymes are produced by expression in Pichia pastoris
or Trichoderma reesei
, or by chromatographic purification from commercial cocktails or from extracts of novel microorganisms. Simplex lattice (fractional factorial) mixture models are designed using commercial Design of Experiment statistical software. Enzyme mixtures of high complexity are constructed using robotic pipeting into a 96-well format. The measurement of released Glc and Xyl is automated using enzyme-linked colorimetric assays. Optimized enzyme mixtures containing as many as 16 components have been tested on a variety of feedstock and pretreatment combinations.
GENPLAT is adaptable to mixtures of pure enzymes, mixtures of commercial products (e.g., Accellerase 1000 and Novozyme 188), extracts of novel microbes, or combinations thereof. To make and test mixtures of ˜10 pure enzymes requires less than 100 μg of each protein and fewer than 100 total reactions, when operated at a final total loading of 15 mg protein/g glucan. We use enzymes from several sources. Enzymes can be purified from natural sources such as fungal cultures (e.g., Aspergillus niger
, Cochliobolus carbonum
, and Galerina marginata
), or they can be made by expression of the encoding genes (obtained from the increasing number of microbial genome sequences) in hosts such as E. coli, Pichia pastoris
, or a filamentous fungus such as T. reesei
. Proteins can also be purified from commercial enzyme cocktails (e.g., Multifect Xylanase, Novozyme 188). An increasing number of pure enzymes, including glycosyl hydrolases, cell wall-active esterases, proteases, and lyases, are available from commercial sources, e.g., Megazyme, Inc. (www.megazyme.com), NZYTech (www.nzytech.com), and PROZOMIX (www.prozomix.com).
Design-Expert software (Stat-Ease, Inc.) is used to create simplex-lattice designs and to analyze responses (in this case, Glc and Xyl release). Mixtures contain 4-20 components, which can vary in proportion between 0 and 100%. Assay points typically include the extreme vertices with a sufficient number of intervening points to generate a valid model. In the terminology of experimental design, most of our studies are "mixture" experiments, meaning that the sum of all components adds to a total fixed protein loading (expressed as mg/g glucan). The number of mixtures in the simplex-lattice depends on both the number of components in the mixture and the degree of polynomial (quadratic or cubic). For example, a 6-component experiment will entail 63 separate reactions with an augmented special cubic model, which can detect three-way interactions, whereas only 23 individual reactions are necessary with an augmented quadratic model. For mixtures containing more than eight components, a quadratic experimental design is more practical, and in our experience such models are usually statistically valid.
All enzyme loadings are expressed as a percentage of the final total loading (which for our experiments is typically 15 mg protein/g glucan). For "core" enzymes, the lower percentage limit is set to 5%. This limit was derived from our experience in which yields of Glc and/or Xyl were very low if any core enzyme was present at 0%. Poor models result from too many samples showing very low Glc or Xyl yields. Setting a lower limit in turn determines an upper limit. That is, for a six-component experiment, if the lower limit for each single component is set to 5%, then the upper limit of each single component will be 75%. The lower limits of all other enzymes considered as "accessory" are set to 0%. "Core" and "accessory" are somewhat arbitrary designations and will differ depending on the substrate, but in our studies the core enzymes for release of Glc from corn stover comprise the following enzymes from T. reesei
: CBH1 (also known as Cel7A), CBH2 (Cel6A), EG1(Cel7B), BG (β-glucosidase), EX3 (endo-β1,4-xylanase, GH10), and BX (β-xylosidase).
Bioengineering, Issue 56, cellulase, cellobiohydrolase, glucanase, xylanase, hemicellulase, experimental design, biomass, bioenergy, corn stover, glycosyl hydrolase
Reporter-based Growth Assay for Systematic Analysis of Protein Degradation
Institutions: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Protein degradation by the ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS) is a major regulatory mechanism for protein homeostasis in all eukaryotes. The standard approach to determining intracellular protein degradation relies on biochemical assays for following the kinetics of protein decline. Such methods are often laborious and time consuming and therefore not amenable to experiments aimed at assessing multiple substrates and degradation conditions. As an alternative, cell growth-based assays have been developed, that are, in their conventional format, end-point assays that cannot quantitatively determine relative changes in protein levels.
Here we describe a method that faithfully determines changes in protein degradation rates by coupling them to yeast cell-growth kinetics. The method is based on an established selection system where uracil auxotrophy of URA3
-deleted yeast cells is rescued by an exogenously expressed reporter protein, comprised of a fusion between the essential URA3
gene and a degradation determinant (degron). The reporter protein is designed so that its synthesis rate is constant whilst its degradation rate is determined by the degron. As cell growth in uracil-deficient medium is proportional to the relative levels of Ura3, growth kinetics are entirely dependent on the reporter protein degradation.
This method accurately measures changes in intracellular protein degradation kinetics. It was applied to: (a) Assessing the relative contribution of known ubiquitin-conjugating factors to proteolysis (b) E2 conjugating enzyme structure-function analyses (c) Identification and characterization of novel degrons. Application of the degron-URA3
-based system transcends the protein degradation field, as it can also be adapted to monitoring changes of protein levels associated with functions of other cellular pathways.
Cellular Biology, Issue 93, Protein Degradation, Ubiquitin, Proteasome, Baker's Yeast, Growth kinetics, Doubling time
The ChroP Approach Combines ChIP and Mass Spectrometry to Dissect Locus-specific Proteomic Landscapes of Chromatin
Institutions: European Institute of Oncology.
Chromatin is a highly dynamic nucleoprotein complex made of DNA and proteins that controls various DNA-dependent processes. Chromatin structure and function at specific regions is regulated by the local enrichment of histone post-translational modifications (hPTMs) and variants, chromatin-binding proteins, including transcription factors, and DNA methylation. The proteomic characterization of chromatin composition at distinct functional regions has been so far hampered by the lack of efficient protocols to enrich such domains at the appropriate purity and amount for the subsequent in-depth analysis by Mass Spectrometry (MS). We describe here a newly designed chromatin proteomics strategy, named ChroP (Chromatin Proteomics
), whereby a preparative chromatin immunoprecipitation is used to isolate distinct chromatin regions whose features, in terms of hPTMs, variants and co-associated non-histonic proteins, are analyzed by MS. We illustrate here the setting up of ChroP for the enrichment and analysis of transcriptionally silent heterochromatic regions, marked by the presence of tri-methylation of lysine 9 on histone H3. The results achieved demonstrate the potential of ChroP
in thoroughly characterizing the heterochromatin proteome and prove it as a powerful analytical strategy for understanding how the distinct protein determinants of chromatin interact and synergize to establish locus-specific structural and functional configurations.
Biochemistry, Issue 86, chromatin, histone post-translational modifications (hPTMs), epigenetics, mass spectrometry, proteomics, SILAC, chromatin immunoprecipitation , histone variants, chromatome, hPTMs cross-talks
Reconstitution Of β-catenin Degradation In Xenopus Egg Extract
Institutions: Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
egg extract is a well-characterized, robust system for studying the biochemistry of diverse cellular processes. Xenopus
egg extract has been used to study protein turnover in many cellular contexts, including the cell cycle and signal transduction pathways1-3
. Herein, a method is described for isolating Xenopus
egg extract that has been optimized to promote the degradation of the critical Wnt pathway component, β-catenin. Two different methods are described to assess β-catenin protein degradation in Xenopus
egg extract. One method is visually informative ([35
S]-radiolabeled proteins), while the other is more readily scaled for high-throughput assays (firefly luciferase-tagged fusion proteins). The techniques described can be used to, but are not limited to, assess β-catenin protein turnover and identify molecular components contributing to its turnover. Additionally, the ability to purify large volumes of homogenous Xenopus
egg extract combined with the quantitative and facile readout of luciferase-tagged proteins allows this system to be easily adapted for high-throughput screening for modulators of β-catenin degradation.
Molecular Biology, Issue 88, Xenopus laevis, Xenopus egg extracts, protein degradation, radiolabel, luciferase, autoradiography, high-throughput screening
Methods to Identify the NMR Resonances of the 13C-Dimethyl N-terminal Amine on Reductively Methylated Proteins
Institutions: Louisiana State University.
Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy is a proven technique for protein structure and dynamic studies. To study proteins with NMR, stable magnetic isotopes are typically incorporated metabolically to improve the sensitivity and allow for sequential resonance assignment. Reductive 13
C-methylation is an alternative labeling method for proteins that are not amenable to bacterial host over-expression, the most common method of isotope incorporation. Reductive 13
C-methylation is a chemical reaction performed under mild conditions that modifies a protein's primary amino groups (lysine ε-amino groups and the N
-terminal α-amino group) to 13
C-dimethylamino groups. The structure and function of most proteins are not altered by the modification, making it a viable alternative to metabolic labeling. Because reductive 13
C-methylation adds sparse, isotopic labels, traditional methods of assigning the NMR signals are not applicable. An alternative assignment method using mass spectrometry (MS) to aid in the assignment of protein 13
C-dimethylamine NMR signals has been developed. The method relies on partial and different amounts of 13
C-labeling at each primary amino group. One limitation of the method arises when the protein's N
-terminal residue is a lysine because the α- and ε-dimethylamino groups of Lys1 cannot be individually measured with MS. To circumvent this limitation, two methods are described to identify the NMR resonance of the 13
C-dimethylamines associated with both the N
-terminal α-amine and the side chain ε-amine. The NMR signals of the N
-terminal α-dimethylamine and the side chain ε-dimethylamine of hen egg white lysozyme, Lys1, are identified in 1
C heteronuclear single-quantum coherence spectra.
Chemistry, Issue 82, Boranes, Formaldehyde, Dimethylamines, Tandem Mass Spectrometry, nuclear magnetic resonance, MALDI-TOF, Reductive methylation, lysozyme, dimethyllysine, mass spectrometry, NMR
Study of Phagolysosome Biogenesis in Live Macrophages
Institutions: Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research, National Institute for Medical Research.
Phagocytic cells play a major role in the innate immune system by removing and eliminating invading microorganisms in their phagosomes. Phagosome maturation is the complex and tightly regulated process during which a nascent phagosome undergoes drastic transformation through well-orchestrated interactions with various cellular organelles and compartments in the cytoplasm. This process, which is essential for the physiological function of phagocytic cells by endowing phagosomes with their lytic and bactericidal properties, culminates in fusion of phagosomes with lysosomes and biogenesis of phagolysosomes which is considered to be the last and critical stage of maturation for phagosomes. In this report, we describe a live cell imaging based method for qualitative and quantitative analysis of the dynamic process of lysosome to phagosome content delivery, which is a hallmark of phagolysosome biogenesis. This approach uses IgG-coated microbeads as a model for phagocytosis and fluorophore-conjugated dextran molecules as a luminal lysosomal cargo probe, in order to follow the dynamic delivery of lysosmal content to the phagosomes in real time in live macrophages using time-lapse imaging and confocal laser scanning microscopy. Here we describe in detail the background, the preparation steps and the step-by-step experimental setup to enable easy and precise deployment of this method in other labs. Our described method is simple, robust, and most importantly, can be easily adapted to study phagosomal interactions and maturation in different systems and under various experimental settings such as use of various phagocytic cells types, loss-of-function experiments, different probes, and phagocytic particles.
Immunology, Issue 85, Lysosome, Phagosome, phagolysosome, live-cell imaging, phagocytes, macrophages
Using the Overlay Assay to Qualitatively Measure Bacterial Production of and Sensitivity to Pneumococcal Bacteriocins
Institutions: University of Michigan, University of Michigan.
colonizes the highly diverse polymicrobial community of the nasopharynx where it must compete with resident organisms. We have shown that bacterially produced antimicrobial peptides (bacteriocins) dictate the outcome of these competitive interactions. All fully-sequenced pneumococcal strains harbor a bacteriocin-like peptide
) locus. The blp
locus encodes for a range of diverse bacteriocins and all of the highly conserved components needed for their regulation, processing, and secretion. The diversity of the bacteriocins found in the bacteriocin immunity region (BIR) of the locus is a major contributor of pneumococcal competition. Along with the bacteriocins, immunity genes are found in the BIR and are needed to protect the producer cell from the effects of its own bacteriocin. The overlay assay is a quick method for examining a large number of strains for competitive interactions mediated by bacteriocins. The overlay assay also allows for the characterization of bacteriocin-specific immunity, and detection of secreted quorum sensing peptides. The assay is performed by pre-inoculating an agar plate with a strain to be tested for bacteriocin production followed by application of a soft agar overlay containing a strain to be tested for bacteriocin sensitivity. A zone of clearance surrounding the stab indicates that the overlay strain is sensitive to the bacteriocins produced by the pre-inoculated strain. If no zone of clearance is observed, either the overlay strain is immune to the bacteriocins being produced or the pre-inoculated strain does not produce bacteriocins. To determine if the blp
locus is functional in a given strain, the overlay assay can be adapted to evaluate for peptide pheromone secretion by the pre-inoculated strain. In this case, a series of four lacZ-
reporter strains with different pheromone specificity are used in the overlay.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 91, bacteriocins, antimicrobial peptides, blp locus, bacterial competition, Streptococcus pneumoniae, overlay assay
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
Non-chromatographic Purification of Recombinant Elastin-like Polypeptides and their Fusions with Peptides and Proteins from Escherichia coli
Institutions: Duke University, Duke University.
Elastin-like polypeptides are repetitive biopolymers that exhibit a lower critical solution temperature phase transition behavior, existing as soluble unimers below a characteristic transition temperature and aggregating into micron-scale coacervates above their transition temperature. The design of elastin-like polypeptides at the genetic level permits precise control of their sequence and length, which dictates their thermal properties. Elastin-like polypeptides are used in a variety of applications including biosensing, tissue engineering, and drug delivery, where the transition temperature and biopolymer architecture of the ELP can be tuned for the specific application of interest. Furthermore, the lower critical solution temperature phase transition behavior of elastin-like polypeptides allows their purification by their thermal response, such that their selective coacervation and resolubilization allows the removal of both soluble and insoluble contaminants following expression in Escherichia coli
. This approach can be used for the purification of elastin-like polypeptides alone or as a purification tool for peptide or protein fusions where recombinant peptides or proteins genetically appended to elastin-like polypeptide tags can be purified without chromatography. This protocol describes the purification of elastin-like polypeptides and their peptide or protein fusions and discusses basic characterization techniques to assess the thermal behavior of pure elastin-like polypeptide products.
Molecular Biology, Issue 88, elastin-like polypeptides, lower critical solution temperature, phase separation, inverse transition cycling, protein purification, batch purification
A Microfluidic Chip for the Versatile Chemical Analysis of Single Cells
Institutions: ETH Zurich, Switzerland.
We present a microfluidic device that enables the quantitative determination of intracellular biomolecules in multiple single cells in parallel. For this purpose, the cells are passively trapped in the middle of a microchamber. Upon activation of the control layer, the cell is isolated from the surrounding volume in a small chamber. The surrounding volume can then be exchanged without affecting the isolated cell. However, upon short opening and closing of the chamber, the solution in the chamber can be replaced within a few hundred milliseconds. Due to the reversibility of the chambers, the cells can be exposed to different solutions sequentially in a highly controllable fashion, e.g.
for incubation, washing, and finally, cell lysis. The tightly sealed microchambers enable the retention of the lysate, minimize and control the dilution after cell lysis. Since lysis and analysis occur at the same location, high sensitivity is retained because no further dilution or loss of the analytes occurs during transport. The microchamber design therefore enables the reliable and reproducible analysis of very small copy numbers of intracellular molecules (attomoles, zeptomoles) released from individual cells. Furthermore, many microchambers can be arranged in an array format, allowing the analysis of many cells at once, given that suitable optical instruments are used for monitoring. We have already used the platform for proof-of-concept studies to analyze intracellular proteins, enzymes, cofactors and second messengers in either relative or absolute quantifiable manner.
Immunology, Issue 80, Microfluidics, proteomics, systems biology, single-cell analysis, Immunoassays, Lab on a chip, chemical analysis
Transient Expression of Proteins by Hydrodynamic Gene Delivery in Mice
Institutions: Hunter College, CUNY.
Efficient expression of transgenes in vivo
is of critical importance in studying gene function and developing treatments for diseases. Over the past years, hydrodynamic gene delivery (HGD) has emerged as a simple, fast, safe and effective method for delivering transgenes into rodents. This technique relies on the force generated by the rapid injection of a large volume of physiological solution to increase the permeability of cell membranes of perfused organs and thus deliver DNA into cells. One of the main advantages of HGD is the ability to introduce transgenes into mammalian cells using naked plasmid DNA (pDNA). Introducing an exogenous gene using a plasmid is minimally laborious, highly efficient and, contrary to viral carriers, remarkably safe. HGD was initially used to deliver genes into mice, it is now used to deliver a wide range of substances, including oligonucleotides, artificial chromosomes, RNA, proteins and small molecules into mice, rats and, to a limited degree, other animals. This protocol describes HGD in mice and focuses on three key aspects of the method that are critical to performing the procedure successfully: correct insertion of the needle into the vein, the volume of injection and the speed of delivery. Examples are given to show the application of this method to the transient expression of two genes that encode secreted, primate-specific proteins, apolipoprotein L-I (APOL-I) and haptoglobin-related protein (HPR).
Genetics, Issue 87, hydrodynamic gene delivery, hydrodynamics-based transfection, mouse, gene therapy, plasmid DNA, transient gene expression, tail vein injection
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
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
Setting-up an In Vitro Model of Rat Blood-brain Barrier (BBB): A Focus on BBB Impermeability and Receptor-mediated Transport
Institutions: VECT-HORUS SAS, CNRS, NICN UMR 7259.
The blood brain barrier (BBB) specifically regulates molecular and cellular flux between the blood and the nervous tissue. Our aim was to develop and characterize a highly reproducible rat syngeneic in vitro
model of the BBB using co-cultures of primary rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC) and astrocytes to study receptors involved in transcytosis across the endothelial cell monolayer. Astrocytes were isolated by mechanical dissection following trypsin digestion and were frozen for later co-culture. RBEC were isolated from 5-week-old rat cortices. The brains were cleaned of meninges and white matter, and mechanically dissociated following enzymatic digestion. Thereafter, the tissue homogenate was centrifuged in bovine serum albumin to separate vessel fragments from nervous tissue. The vessel fragments underwent a second enzymatic digestion to free endothelial cells from their extracellular matrix. The remaining contaminating cells such as pericytes were further eliminated by plating the microvessel fragments in puromycin-containing medium. They were then passaged onto filters for co-culture with astrocytes grown on the bottom of the wells. RBEC expressed high levels of tight junction (TJ) proteins such as occludin, claudin-5 and ZO-1 with a typical localization at the cell borders. The transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER) of brain endothelial monolayers, indicating the tightness of TJs reached 300 ohm·cm2
on average. The endothelial permeability coefficients (Pe) for lucifer yellow (LY) was highly reproducible with an average of 0.26 ± 0.11 x 10-3
cm/min. Brain endothelial cells organized in monolayers expressed the efflux transporter P-glycoprotein (P-gp), showed a polarized transport of rhodamine 123, a ligand for P-gp, and showed specific transport of transferrin-Cy3 and DiILDL across the endothelial cell monolayer. In conclusion, we provide a protocol for setting up an in vitro
BBB model that is highly reproducible due to the quality assurance methods, and that is suitable for research on BBB transporters and receptors.
Medicine, Issue 88, rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC), mouse, spinal cord, tight junction (TJ), receptor-mediated transport (RMT), low density lipoprotein (LDL), LDLR, transferrin, TfR, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER),
Profiling of Estrogen-regulated MicroRNAs in Breast Cancer Cells
Institutions: University of Houston.
Estrogen plays vital roles in mammary gland development and breast cancer progression. It mediates its function by binding to and activating the estrogen receptors (ERs), ERα, and ERβ. ERα is frequently upregulated in breast cancer and drives the proliferation of breast cancer cells. The ERs function as transcription factors and regulate gene expression. Whereas ERα's regulation of protein-coding genes is well established, its regulation of noncoding microRNA (miRNA) is less explored. miRNAs play a major role in the post-transcriptional regulation of genes, inhibiting their translation or degrading their mRNA. miRNAs can function as oncogenes or tumor suppressors and are also promising biomarkers. Among the miRNA assays available, microarray and quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) have been extensively used to detect and quantify miRNA levels. To identify miRNAs regulated by estrogen signaling in breast cancer, their expression in ERα-positive breast cancer cell lines were compared before and after estrogen-activation using both the µParaflo-microfluidic microarrays and Dual Labeled Probes-low density arrays. Results were validated using specific qPCR assays, applying both Cyanine dye-based and Dual Labeled Probes-based chemistry. Furthermore, a time-point assay was used to identify regulations over time. Advantages of the miRNA assay approach used in this study is that it enables a fast screening of mature miRNA regulations in numerous samples, even with limited sample amounts. The layout, including the specific conditions for cell culture and estrogen treatment, biological and technical replicates, and large-scale screening followed by in-depth confirmations using separate techniques, ensures a robust detection of miRNA regulations, and eliminates false positives and other artifacts. However, mutated or unknown miRNAs, or regulations at the primary and precursor transcript level, will not be detected. The method presented here represents a thorough investigation of estrogen-mediated miRNA regulation.
Medicine, Issue 84, breast cancer, microRNA, estrogen, estrogen receptor, microarray, qPCR
Using Caenorhabditis elegans as a Model System to Study Protein Homeostasis in a Multicellular Organism
Institutions: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
The folding and assembly of proteins is essential for protein function, the long-term health of the cell, and longevity of the organism. Historically, the function and regulation of protein folding was studied in vitro
, in isolated tissue culture cells and in unicellular organisms. Recent studies have uncovered links between protein homeostasis (proteostasis), metabolism, development, aging, and temperature-sensing. These findings have led to the development of new tools for monitoring protein folding in the model metazoan organism Caenorhabditis elegans
. In our laboratory, we combine behavioral assays, imaging and biochemical approaches using temperature-sensitive or naturally occurring metastable proteins as sensors of the folding environment to monitor protein misfolding. Behavioral assays that are associated with the misfolding of a specific protein provide a simple and powerful readout for protein folding, allowing for the fast screening of genes and conditions that modulate folding. Likewise, such misfolding can be associated with protein mislocalization in the cell. Monitoring protein localization can, therefore, highlight changes in cellular folding capacity occurring in different tissues, at various stages of development and in the face of changing conditions. Finally, using biochemical tools ex vivo
, we can directly monitor protein stability and conformation. Thus, by combining behavioral assays, imaging and biochemical techniques, we are able to monitor protein misfolding at the resolution of the organism, the cell, and the protein, respectively.
Biochemistry, Issue 82, aging, Caenorhabditis elegans, heat shock response, neurodegenerative diseases, protein folding homeostasis, proteostasis, stress, temperature-sensitive
A Method for Mouse Pancreatic Islet Isolation and Intracellular cAMP Determination
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Waterloo.
Uncontrolled glycemia is a hallmark of diabetes mellitus and promotes morbidities like neuropathy, nephropathy, and retinopathy. With the increasing prevalence of diabetes, both immune-mediated type 1 and obesity-linked type 2, studies aimed at delineating diabetes pathophysiology and therapeutic mechanisms are of critical importance. The β-cells of the pancreatic islets of Langerhans are responsible for appropriately secreting insulin in response to elevated blood glucose concentrations. In addition to glucose and other nutrients, the β-cells are also stimulated by specific hormones, termed incretins, which are secreted from the gut in response to a meal and act on β-cell receptors that increase the production of intracellular cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP). Decreased β-cell function, mass, and incretin responsiveness are well-understood to contribute to the pathophysiology of type 2 diabetes, and are also being increasingly linked with type 1 diabetes. The present mouse islet isolation and cAMP determination protocol can be a tool to help delineate mechanisms promoting disease progression and therapeutic interventions, particularly those that are mediated by the incretin receptors or related receptors that act through modulation of intracellular cAMP production. While only cAMP measurements will be described, the described islet isolation protocol creates a clean preparation that also allows for many other downstream applications, including glucose stimulated insulin secretion, [3H
]-thymidine incorporation, protein abundance, and mRNA expression.
Physiology, Issue 88, islet, isolation, insulin secretion, β-cell, diabetes, cAMP production, mouse
Detection and Isolation of Viable Mouse IL-17-Secreting T Cells
Institutions: Miltenyi Biotec,GmbH.
The MACS Cytokine Secretion Assay technology allows detection of secreted cytokines on the single cell level and sensitive isolation of viable cytokine-secreting cells. In order to label IL-17-secreting cells, a single cell suspension of mouse splenocytes is prepared and stimulated at 37°C with PMA/ionomycin to induce cytokine secretion. To stop secretion cells are then placed on ice and are exposed to the IL-17 Catch Reagent a bi-specific antibody that binds to CD45 on the cell surface of leukocytes and to IL-17 as it is secreted and caught near the cell surface. Secretion is then re-started by increasing the temperature to 37°C and IL-17 is trapped by the Catch Reagent. Secretion is then stopped again, by placing cells on ice. To detect the trapped IL-17, cells are incubated with a second IL-17-specific antibody conjugated to biotin and an Anti-Biotin-PE antibody. Cells can now be directly analyzed by flow cytometry or prepared for isolation and enrichment by subsequent labeling with Anti-PE conjugated MicroBeads.
Immunology, Issue 22, Miltenyi, leukocytes, cytokine, IL-17, MACS, FACS, TH17, cell separation
Coculture Analysis of Extracellular Protein Interactions Affecting Insulin Secretion by Pancreatic Beta Cells
Institutions: University of California, San Diego, Janssen Research & Development, University of California, San Diego.
Interactions between cell-surface proteins help coordinate the function of neighboring cells. Pancreatic beta cells are clustered together within pancreatic islets and act in a coordinated fashion to maintain glucose homeostasis. It is becoming increasingly clear that interactions between transmembrane proteins on the surfaces of adjacent beta cells are important determinants of beta-cell function.
Elucidation of the roles of particular transcellular interactions by knockdown, knockout or overexpression studies in cultured beta cells or in vivo
necessitates direct perturbation of mRNA and protein expression, potentially affecting beta-cell health and/or function in ways that could confound analyses of the effects of specific interactions. These approaches also alter levels of the intracellular domains of the targeted proteins and may prevent effects due to interactions between proteins within the same cell membrane to be distinguished from the effects of transcellular interactions.
Here a method for determining the effect of specific transcellular interactions on the insulin secreting capacity and responsiveness of beta cells is presented. This method is applicable to beta-cell lines, such as INS-1 cells, and to dissociated primary beta cells. It is based on coculture models developed by neurobiologists, who found that exposure of cultured neurons to specific neuronal proteins expressed on HEK293 (or COS) cell layers identified proteins important for driving synapse formation. Given the parallels between the secretory machinery of neuronal synapses and of beta cells, we reasoned that beta-cell functional maturation might be driven by similar transcellular interactions. We developed a system where beta cells are cultured on a layer of HEK293 cells expressing a protein of interest. In this model, the beta-cell cytoplasm is untouched while extracellular protein-protein interactions are manipulated. Although we focus here primarily on studies of glucose-stimulated insulin secretion, other processes can be analyzed; for example, changes in gene expression as determined by immunoblotting or qPCR.
Medicine, Issue 76, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Immunology, Hepatology, Islets of Langerhans, islet, Insulin, Coculture, pancreatic beta cells, INS-1 cells, extracellular contact, transmembrane protein, transcellular interactions, insulin secretion, diabetes, cell culture
Expression of Recombinant Proteins in the Methylotrophic Yeast Pichia pastoris
Institutions: University of British Columbia - UBC.
Protein expression in the microbial eukaryotic host Pichia pastoris
offers the possibility to generate high amounts of recombinant protein in a fast and easy to use expression system.
As a single-celled microorganism P. pastoris
is easy to manipulate and grows rapidly on inexpensive media at high cell densities. Being a eukaryote, P. pastoris
is able to perform many of the post-translational modifications performed by higher eukaryotic cells and the obtained recombinant proteins undergo protein folding, proteolytic processing, disulfide bond formation and glycosylation .
As a methylotrophic yeast P. pastoris
is capable of metabolizing methanol as its sole carbon source. The strong promoter for alcohol oxidase, AOX1,
is tightly regulated and induced by methanol and it is used for the expression of the gene of interest. Accordingly, the expression of the foreign protein can be induced by adding methanol to the growth medium [2; 3].
Another important advantage is the secretion of the recombinant protein into the growth medium, using a signal sequence to target the foreign protein to the secretory pathway of P. pastoris. With only low levels of endogenous protein secreted to the media by the yeast itself and no added proteins to the media, a heterologous protein builds the majority of the total protein in the medium and facilitates following protein purification steps [3; 4].
The vector used here (pPICZαA) contains the AOX1
promoter for tightly regulated, methanol-induced expression of the gene of interest; the α-factor secretion signal for secretion of the recombinant protein, a Zeocin resistance gene for selection in both E. coli
and a C-terminal peptide containing the c-myc
epitope and a polyhistidine (6xHis) tag for detection and purification of a recombinant protein. We also show western blot analysis of the recombinant protein using the specific Anti-myc
-HRP antibody recognizing the c-myc
epitope on the parent vector.
Microbiology, Issue 36, protein expression, recombinant protein, methylotrophic, yeast, Pichia pastoris, western blot, yeast DNA purification, protein purification
A Strategy to Identify de Novo Mutations in Common Disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia
Institutions: Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal.
There are several lines of evidence supporting the role of de novo
mutations as a mechanism for common disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. First, the de novo
mutation rate in humans is relatively high, so new mutations are generated at a high frequency in the population. However, de novo
mutations have not been reported in most common diseases. Mutations in genes leading to severe diseases where there is a strong negative selection against the phenotype, such as lethality in embryonic stages or reduced reproductive fitness, will not be transmitted to multiple family members, and therefore will not be detected by linkage gene mapping or association studies. The observation of very high concordance in monozygotic twins and very low concordance in dizygotic twins also strongly supports the hypothesis that a significant fraction of cases may result from new mutations. Such is the case for diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. Second, despite reduced reproductive fitness1
and extremely variable environmental factors, the incidence of some diseases is maintained worldwide at a relatively high and constant rate. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia, with an incidence of approximately 1% worldwide. Mutational load can be thought of as a balance between selection for or against a deleterious mutation and its production by de novo
mutation. Lower rates of reproduction constitute a negative selection factor that should reduce the number of mutant alleles in the population, ultimately leading to decreased disease prevalence. These selective pressures tend to be of different intensity in different environments. Nonetheless, these severe mental disorders have been maintained at a constant relatively high prevalence in the worldwide population across a wide range of cultures and countries despite a strong negative selection against them2
. This is not what one would predict in diseases with reduced reproductive fitness, unless there was a high new mutation rate. Finally, the effects of paternal age: there is a significantly increased risk of the disease with increasing paternal age, which could result from the age related increase in paternal de novo
mutations. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia3
. The male-to-female ratio of mutation rate is estimated at about 4–6:1, presumably due to a higher number of germ-cell divisions with age in males. Therefore, one would predict that de novo
mutations would more frequently come from males, particularly older males4
. A high rate of new mutations may in part explain why genetic studies have so far failed to identify many genes predisposing to complexes diseases genes, such as autism and schizophrenia, and why diseases have been identified for a mere 3% of genes in the human genome. Identification for de novo
mutations as a cause of a disease requires a targeted molecular approach, which includes studying parents and affected subjects. The process for determining if the genetic basis of a disease may result in part from de novo
mutations and the molecular approach to establish this link will be illustrated, using autism and schizophrenia as examples.
Medicine, Issue 52, de novo mutation, complex diseases, schizophrenia, autism, rare variations, DNA sequencing