Highly specialized, but exceedingly small populations of cells play important roles in many tissues. The identification of cell-type specific markers and gene expression programs for extremely rare cell subsets has been a challenge using standard whole-tissue approaches. Gene expression profiling of individual cells allows for unprecedented access to cell types that comprise only a small percentage of the total tissue1-7. In addition, this technique can be used to examine the gene expression programs that are transiently expressed in small numbers of cells during dynamic developmental transitions8.
This issue of cellular diversity arises repeatedly in the central nervous system (CNS) where neuronal connections can occur between quite diverse cells9. The exact number of distinct cell types is not precisely known, but it has been estimated that there may be as many as 1000 different types in the cortex itself10. The function(s) of complex neural circuits may rely on some of the rare neuronal types and the genes they express. By identifying new markers and helping to molecularly classify different neurons, the single-cell approach is particularly useful in the analysis of cell types in the nervous system. It may also help to elucidate mechanisms of neural development by identifying differentially expressed genes and gene pathways during early stages of neuronal progenitor development.
As a simple, easily accessed tissue with considerable neuronal diversity, the vertebrate retina is an excellent model system for studying the processes of cellular development, neuronal differentiation and neuronal diversification. However, as in other parts of the CNS, this cellular diversity can present a problem for determining the genetic pathways that drive retinal progenitors to adopt a specific cell fate, especially given that rod photoreceptors make up the majority of the total retinal cell population11. Here we report a method for the identification of the transcripts expressed in single retinal cells (Figure 1). The single-cell profiling technique allows for the assessment of the amount of heterogeneity present within different cellular populations of the retina2,4,5,12. In addition, this method has revealed a host of new candidate genes that may play role(s) in the cell fate decision-making processes that occur in subsets of retinal progenitor cells8. With some simple adjustments to the protocol, this technique can be utilized for many different tissues and cell types.
26 Related JoVE Articles!
Real-Time Impedance-based Cell Analyzer as a Tool to Delineate Molecular Pathways Involved in Neurotoxicity and Neuroprotection in a Neuronal Cell Line
Institutions: University of Zürich.
Many brain-related disorders have neuronal cell death involved in their pathophysiology. Improved in vitro
models to study neuroprotective or neurotoxic effects of drugs and downstream pathways involved would help gain insight into the molecular mechanisms of neuroprotection/neurotoxicity and could potentially facilitate drug development. However, many existing in vitro
toxicity assays have major limitations – most assess neurotoxicity and neuroprotection at a single time point, not allowing to observe the time-course and kinetics of the effect. Furthermore, the opportunity to collect information about downstream signaling pathways involved in neuroprotection in real-time would be of great importance. In the current protocol we describe the use of a real-time impedance-based cell analyzer to determine neuroprotective effects of serotonin 2A (5-HT2A
) receptor agonists in a neuronal cell line under label-free and real-time conditions using impedance measurements. Furthermore, we demonstrate that inhibitors of second messenger pathways can be used to delineate downstream molecules involved in the neuroprotective effect. We also describe the utility of this technique to determine whether an effect on cell proliferation contributes to an observed neuroprotective effect. The system utilizes special microelectronic plates referred to as E-Plates which contain alternating gold microelectrode arrays on the bottom surface of the wells, serving as cell sensors. The impedance readout is modified by the number of adherent cells, cell viability, morphology, and adhesion. A dimensionless parameter called Cell Index is derived from the electrical impedance measurements and is used to represent the cell status. Overall, the real-time impedance-based cell analyzer allows for real-time, label-free assessment of neuroprotection and neurotoxicity, and the evaluation of second messenger pathways involvement, contributing to more detailed and high-throughput assessment of potential neuroprotective compounds in vitro
, for selecting therapeutic candidates.
Neuroscience, Issue 90,
neuroscience, neuronal cell line, neurotoxicity, neuroprotection, real-time impedance-based cell analyzer, second messenger pathways, serotonin
A Method for High Fidelity Optogenetic Control of Individual Pyramidal Neurons In vivo
Institutions: University of Colorado Boulder, University of Colorado Boulder.
Optogenetic methods have emerged as a powerful tool for elucidating neural circuit activity underlying a diverse set of behaviors across a broad range of species. Optogenetic tools of microbial origin consist of light-sensitive membrane proteins that are able to activate (e.g.
, channelrhodopsin-2, ChR2) or silence (e.g.
, halorhodopsin, NpHR) neural activity ingenetically-defined cell types over behaviorally-relevant timescales. We first demonstrate a simple approach for adeno-associated virus-mediated delivery of ChR2
transgenes to the dorsal subiculum and prelimbic region of the prefrontal cortex in rat. Because ChR2 and NpHR are genetically targetable, we describe the use of this technology to control the electrical activity of specific populations of neurons (i.e.
, pyramidal neurons) embedded in heterogeneous tissue with high temporal precision. We describe herein the hardware, custom software user interface, and procedures that allow for simultaneous light delivery and electrical recording from transduced pyramidal neurons in an anesthetized in vivo
preparation. These light-responsive tools provide the opportunity for identifying the causal contributions of different cell types to information processing and behavior.
Neuroscience, Issue 79, Genetic Techniques, Genetics, Behavioral, Biological Science Disciplines, Neurosciences, genetics (animal and plant), Investigative Techniques, Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms, Behavioral Disciplines and Activities, Natural Science Disciplines, Optogenetics, prefrontal cortex, subiculum, virus injection, in vivo recording, Neurophysiology, prelimbic, optrode, molecular neurogenetics, Gene targeting
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
Nanofabrication of Gate-defined GaAs/AlGaAs Lateral Quantum Dots
Institutions: Université de Sherbrooke.
A quantum computer is a computer composed of quantum bits (qubits) that takes advantage of quantum effects, such as superposition of states and entanglement, to solve certain problems exponentially faster than with the best known algorithms on a classical computer. Gate-defined lateral quantum dots on GaAs/AlGaAs are one of many avenues explored for the implementation of a qubit. When properly fabricated, such a device is able to trap a small number of electrons in a certain region of space. The spin states of these electrons can then be used to implement the logical 0 and 1 of the quantum bit. Given the nanometer scale of these quantum dots, cleanroom facilities offering specialized equipment- such as scanning electron microscopes and e-beam evaporators- are required for their fabrication. Great care must be taken throughout the fabrication process to maintain cleanliness of the sample surface and to avoid damaging the fragile gates of the structure. This paper presents the detailed fabrication protocol of gate-defined lateral quantum dots from the wafer to a working device. Characterization methods and representative results are also briefly discussed. Although this paper concentrates on double quantum dots, the fabrication process remains the same for single or triple dots or even arrays of quantum dots. Moreover, the protocol can be adapted to fabricate lateral quantum dots on other substrates, such as Si/SiGe.
Physics, Issue 81, Nanostructures, Quantum Dots, Nanotechnology, Electronics, microelectronics, solid state physics, Nanofabrication, Nanoelectronics, Spin qubit, Lateral quantum dot
The Measurement and Treatment of Suppression in Amblyopia
Institutions: University of Auckland, McGill University , McGill University .
Amblyopia, a developmental disorder of the visual cortex, is one of the leading causes of visual dysfunction in the working age population. Current estimates put the prevalence of amblyopia at approximately 1-3%1-3
, the majority of cases being monocular2
. Amblyopia is most frequently caused by ocular misalignment (strabismus), blur induced by unequal refractive error (anisometropia), and in some cases by form deprivation.
Although amblyopia is initially caused by abnormal visual input in infancy, once established, the visual deficit often remains when normal visual input has been restored using surgery and/or refractive correction. This is because amblyopia is the result of abnormal visual cortex development rather than a problem with the amblyopic eye itself4,5
. Amblyopia is characterized by both monocular and binocular deficits6,7
which include impaired visual acuity and poor or absent stereopsis respectively. The visual dysfunction in amblyopia is often associated with a strong suppression of the inputs from the amblyopic eye under binocular viewing conditions8
. Recent work has indicated that suppression may play a central role in both the monocular and binocular deficits associated with amblyopia9,10
Current clinical tests for suppression tend to verify the presence or absence of suppression rather than giving a quantitative measurement of the degree of suppression. Here we describe a technique for measuring amblyopic suppression with a compact, portable device11,12
. The device consists of a laptop computer connected to a pair of virtual reality goggles. The novelty of the technique lies in the way we present visual stimuli to measure suppression. Stimuli are shown to the amblyopic eye at high contrast while the contrast of the stimuli shown to the non-amblyopic eye are varied. Patients perform a simple signal/noise task that allows for a precise measurement of the strength of excitatory binocular interactions. The contrast offset at which neither eye has a performance advantage is a measure of the "balance point" and is a direct measure of suppression. This technique has been validated psychophysically both in control13,14
In addition to measuring suppression this technique also forms the basis of a novel form of treatment to decrease suppression over time and improve binocular and often monocular function in adult patients with amblyopia12,15,16
. This new treatment approach can be deployed either on the goggle system described above or on a specially modified iPod touch device15
Medicine, Issue 70, Ophthalmology, Neuroscience, Anatomy, Physiology, Amblyopia, suppression, visual cortex, binocular vision, plasticity, strabismus, anisometropia
Double Whole Mount in situ Hybridization of Early Chick Embryos
Institutions: Institute of Biosciences and Technology - Texas A&M Health Science Center , Texas A&M University (TAMU).
The chick embryo is a valuable tool in the study of early embryonic development. Its transparency, accessibility and ease of manipulation, make it an ideal tool for studying gene expression in brain, neural tube, somite and heart primordia formation. This video demonstrates the different steps in 2-color whole mount in situ hybridization; First, the embryo is dissected from the egg and fixed in paraformaldehyde. Second, the embryo is processed for prehybridization. The embryo is then hybridized with two different probes, one coupled to DIG, and one coupled to FITC. Following overnight hybridization, the embryo is incubated with DIG coupled antibody. Color reaction for DIG substrate is performed, and the region of interest appears blue. The embryo is then incubated with FITC coupled antibody. The embryo is processed for color reaction with FITC, and the region of interest appears red. Finally, the embryo is fixed and processed for phtograph and sectioning. A troubleshooting guide is also presented.
Developmental Biology, Issue 20, whole mount in situ hybridization, gene expression, chick embryo
Production of Tissue Microarrays, Immunohistochemistry Staining and Digitalization Within the Human Protein Atlas
Institutions: Uppsala University .
The tissue microarray (TMA) technology provides the means for high-throughput analysis of multiple tissues and cells. The technique is used within the Human Protein Atlas project for global analysis of protein expression patterns in normal human tissues, cancer and cell lines. Here we present the assembly of 1 mm cores, retrieved from microscopically selected representative tissues, into a single recipient TMA block. The number and size of cores in a TMA block can be varied from approximately forty 2 mm cores to hundreds of 0.6 mm cores. The advantage of using TMA technology is that large amount of data can rapidly be obtained using a single immunostaining protocol to avoid experimental variability. Importantly, only limited amount of scarce tissue is needed, which allows for the analysis of large patient cohorts 1 2
. Approximately 250 consecutive sections (4 μm thick) can be cut from a TMA block and used for immunohistochemical staining to determine specific protein expression patterns for 250 different antibodies. In the Human Protein Atlas project, antibodies are generated towards all human proteins and used to acquire corresponding protein profiles in both normal human tissues from 144 individuals and cancer tissues from 216 different patients, representing the 20 most common forms of human cancer. Immunohistochemically stained TMA sections on glass slides are scanned to create high-resolution images from which pathologists can interpret and annotate the outcome of immunohistochemistry. Images together with corresponding pathology-based annotation data are made publically available for the research community through the Human Protein Atlas portal (www.proteinatlas.org) (Figure 1
) 3 4
. The Human Protein Atlas provides a map showing the distribution and relative abundance of proteins in the human body. The current version contains over 11 million images with protein expression data for 12.238 unique proteins, corresponding to more than 61% of all proteins encoded by the human genome.
Genetics, Issue 63, Immunology, Molecular Biology, tissue microarray, immunohistochemistry, slide scanning, the Human Protein Atlas, protein profiles
Fluorescence Imaging with One-nanometer Accuracy (FIONA)
Institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Fluorescence imaging with one-nanometer accuracy (FIONA) is a simple but useful technique for localizing single fluorophores with nanometer precision in the x-y plane. Here a summary of the FIONA technique is reported and examples of research that have been performed using FIONA are briefly described. First, how to set up the required equipment for FIONA experiments, i.e.
, a total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy (TIRFM), with details on aligning the optics, is described. Then how to carry out a simple FIONA experiment on localizing immobilized Cy3-DNA single molecules using appropriate protocols, followed by the use of FIONA to measure the 36 nm step size of a single truncated myosin Va motor labeled with a quantum dot, is illustrated. Lastly, recent effort to extend the application of FIONA to thick samples is reported. It is shown that, using a water immersion objective and quantum dots soaked deep in sol-gels and rabbit eye corneas (>200 µm), localization precision of 2-3 nm can be achieved.
Molecular Biology, Issue 91, FIONA, fluorescence imaging, nanometer precision, myosin walking, thick tissue
Creating Adhesive and Soluble Gradients for Imaging Cell Migration with Fluorescence Microscopy
Institutions: The University of New South Wales, The University of New South Wales.
Cells can sense and migrate towards higher concentrations of adhesive cues such as the glycoproteins of the extracellular matrix and soluble cues such as growth factors. Here, we outline a method to create opposing gradients of adhesive and soluble cues in a microfluidic chamber, which is compatible with live cell imaging. A copolymer of poly-L-lysine and polyethylene glycol (PLL-PEG) is employed to passivate glass coverslips and prevent non-specific adsorption of biomolecules and cells. Next, microcontact printing or dip pen lithography are used to create tracks of streptavidin on the passivated surfaces to serve as anchoring points for the biotinylated peptide arginine-glycine-aspartic acid (RGD) as the adhesive cue. A microfluidic device is placed onto the modified surface and used to create the gradient of adhesive cues (100% RGD to 0% RGD) on the streptavidin tracks. Finally, the same microfluidic device is used to create a gradient of a chemoattractant such as fetal bovine serum (FBS), as the soluble cue in the opposite direction of the gradient of adhesive cues.
Bioengineering, Issue 74, Microbiology, Cellular Biology, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Biophysics, Cell migration, live cell imaging, soluble and adherent gradients, microcontact printing, dip pen lithography, microfluidics, RGD, PEG, biotin, streptavidin, chemotaxis, chemoattractant, imaging
Production and Targeting of Monovalent Quantum Dots
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco, University of California, Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of California, San Francisco, University of California, San Francisco, University of California, San Francisco, University of California, San Francisco.
The multivalent nature of commercial quantum dots (QDs) and the difficulties associated with producing monovalent dots have limited their applications in biology, where clustering and the spatial organization of biomolecules is often the object of study. We describe here a protocol to produce monovalent quantum dots (mQDs) that can be accomplished in most biological research laboratories via a simple mixing of CdSe/ZnS core/shell QDs with phosphorothioate DNA (ptDNA) of defined length. After a single ptDNA strand has wrapped the QD, additional strands are excluded from the surface. Production of mQDs in this manner can be accomplished at small and large scale, with commercial reagents, and in minimal steps. These mQDs can be specifically directed to biological targets by hybridization to a complementary single stranded targeting DNA. We demonstrate the use of these mQDs as imaging probes by labeling SNAP-tagged Notch receptors on live mammalian cells, targeted by mQDs bearing a benzylguanine moiety.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, monovalent quantum dots, single particle tracking, SNAP tag, steric exclusion, phosphorothioate, DNA, nanoparticle bioconjugation, single molecule imaging
Production and Detection of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) in Cancers
Institutions: Baylor College of Medicine.
Reactive oxygen species include a number of molecules that damage DNA and RNA and oxidize proteins and lipids (lipid peroxydation). These reactive molecules contain an oxygen and include H2
(hydrogen peroxide), NO (nitric oxide), O2-
(oxide anion), peroxynitrite (ONOO-
), hydrochlorous acid (HOCl), and hydroxyl radical (OH-
Oxidative species are produced not only under pathological situations (cancers, ischemic/reperfusion, neurologic and cardiovascular pathologies, infectious diseases, inflammatory diseases 1
, autoimmune diseases 2
, etc…) but also during physiological (non-pathological) situations such as cellular metabolism 3, 4
. Indeed, ROS play important roles in many cellular signaling pathways (proliferation, cell activation 5, 6
, migration 7
etc..). ROS can be detrimental (it is then referred to as "oxidative and nitrosative stress") when produced in high amounts in the intracellular compartments and cells generally respond to ROS by upregulating antioxidants such as superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase (CAT), glutathione peroxidase (GPx) and glutathione (GSH) that protects them by converting dangerous free radicals to harmless molecules (i.e. water). Vitamins C and E have also been described as ROS scavengers (antioxidants).
Free radicals are beneficial in low amounts 3
. Macrophage and neutrophils-mediated immune responses involve the production and release of NO, which inhibits viruses, pathogens and tumor proliferation 8
. NO also reacts with other ROS and thus, also has a role as a detoxifier (ROS scavenger). Finally NO acts on vessels to regulate blood flow which is important for the adaptation of muscle to prolonged exercise 9, 10
. Several publications have also demonstrated that ROS are involved in insulin sensitivity 11, 12
Numerous methods to evaluate ROS production are available. In this article we propose several simple, fast, and affordable assays; these assays have been validated by many publications and are routinely used to detect ROS or its effects in mammalian cells. While some of these assays detect multiple ROS, others detect only a single ROS.
Medicine, Issue 57, reactive oxygen species (ROS), stress, ischemia, cancer, chemotherapy, immune response
Laser Microdissection Applied to Gene Expression Profiling of Subset of Cells from the Drosophila Wing Disc
Institutions: University of Naples.
Heterogeneous nature of tissues has proven to be a limiting factor in the amount of information that can be generated from biological samples, compromising downstream analyses. Considering the complex and dynamic cellular associations existing within many tissues, in order to recapitulate the in vivo
interactions thorough molecular analysis one must be able to analyze specific cell populations within their native context. Laser-mediated microdissection can achieve this goal, allowing unambiguous identification and successful harvest of cells of interest under direct microscopic visualization while maintaining molecular integrity. We have applied this technology to analyse gene expression within defined areas of the developing Drosophila
wing disc, which represents an advantageous model system to study growth control, cell differentiation and organogenesis. Larval imaginal discs are precociously subdivided into anterior and posterior, dorsal and ventral compartments by lineage restriction boundaries. Making use of the inducible GAL4-UAS binary expression system, each of these compartments can be specifically labelled in transgenic flies expressing an UAS-GFP transgene under the control of the appropriate GAL4-driver construct. In the transgenic discs, gene expression profiling of discrete subsets of cells can precisely be determined after laser-mediated microdissection, using the fluorescent GFP signal to guide laser cut.
Among the variety of downstream applications, we focused on RNA transcript profiling after localised RNA interference (RNAi). With the advent of RNAi technology, GFP labelling can be coupled with localised knockdown of a given gene, allowing to determinate the transcriptional response of a discrete cell population to the specific gene silencing. To validate this approach, we dissected equivalent areas of the disc from the posterior (labelled by GFP expression), and the anterior (unlabelled) compartment upon regional silencing in the P compartment of an otherwise ubiquitously expressed gene. RNA was extracted from microdissected silenced and unsilenced areas and comparative gene expression profiling determined by quantitative real-time RT-PCR. We show that this method can effectively be applied for accurate transcriptomics of subsets of cells within the Drosophila
imaginal discs. Indeed, while massive disc preparation as source of RNA generally assumes cell homogeneity, it is well known that transcriptional expression can vary greatly within these structures in consequence of positional information. Using localized fluorescent GFP signal to guide laser cut, more accurate transcriptional analyses can be performed and profitably applied to disparate applications, including transcript profiling of distinct cell lineages within their native context.
Developmental Biology, Issue 38, Drosophila, Imaginal discs, Laser microdissection, Gene expression, Transcription profiling, Regulatory pathways , in vivo RNAi, GAL4-UAS, GFP labelling, Positional information
Preparation of Segmented Microtubules to Study Motions Driven by the Disassembling Microtubule Ends
Institutions: Russian Academy of Sciences, Federal Research Center of Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Immunology, Moscow, Russia, University of Pennsylvania.
Microtubule depolymerization can provide force to transport different protein complexes and protein-coated beads in vitro
. The underlying mechanisms are thought to play a vital role in the microtubule-dependent chromosome motions during cell division, but the relevant proteins and their exact roles are ill-defined. Thus, there is a growing need to develop assays with which to study such motility in vitro
using purified components and defined biochemical milieu. Microtubules, however, are inherently unstable polymers; their switching between growth and shortening is stochastic and difficult to control. The protocols we describe here take advantage of the segmented microtubules that are made with the photoablatable stabilizing caps. Depolymerization of such segmented microtubules can be triggered with high temporal and spatial resolution, thereby assisting studies of motility at the disassembling microtubule ends. This technique can be used to carry out a quantitative analysis of the number of molecules in the fluorescently-labeled protein complexes, which move processively with dynamic microtubule ends. To optimize a signal-to-noise ratio in this and other quantitative fluorescent assays, coverslips should be treated to reduce nonspecific absorption of soluble fluorescently-labeled proteins. Detailed protocols are provided to take into account the unevenness of fluorescent illumination, and determine the intensity of a single fluorophore using equidistant Gaussian fit. Finally, we describe the use of segmented microtubules to study microtubule-dependent motions of the protein-coated microbeads, providing insights into the ability of different motor and nonmotor proteins to couple microtubule depolymerization to processive cargo motion.
Basic Protocol, Issue 85, microscopy flow chamber, single-molecule fluorescence, laser trap, microtubule-binding protein, microtubule-dependent motor, microtubule tip-tracking
Telomere Length and Telomerase Activity; A Yin and Yang of Cell Senescence
Institutions: Albert Einstein College of Medicine , Albert Einstein College of Medicine , Albert Einstein College of Medicine .
Telomeres are repeating DNA sequences at the tip ends of the chromosomes that are diverse in length and in humans can reach a length of 15,000 base pairs. The telomere serves as a bioprotective mechanism of chromosome attrition at each cell division. At a certain length, telomeres become too short to allow replication, a process that may lead to chromosome instability or cell death. Telomere length is regulated by two opposing mechanisms: attrition and elongation. Attrition occurs as each cell divides. In contrast, elongation is partially modulated by the enzyme telomerase, which adds repeating sequences to the ends of the chromosomes. In this way, telomerase could possibly reverse an aging mechanism and rejuvenates cell viability. These are crucial elements in maintaining cell life and are used to assess cellular aging. In this manuscript we will describe an accurate, short, sophisticated and cheap method to assess telomere length in multiple tissues and species. This method takes advantage of two key elements, the tandem repeat of the telomere sequence and the sensitivity of the qRT-PCR to detect differential copy numbers of tested samples. In addition, we will describe a simple assay to assess telomerase activity as a complementary backbone test for telomere length.
Genetics, Issue 75, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Genomics, Telomere length, telomerase activity, telomerase, telomeres, telomere, DNA, PCR, polymerase chain reaction, qRT-PCR, sequencing, aging, telomerase assay
Analysis of Nephron Composition and Function in the Adult Zebrafish Kidney
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish model has emerged as a relevant system to study kidney development, regeneration and disease. Both the embryonic and adult zebrafish kidneys are composed of functional units known as nephrons, which are highly conserved with other vertebrates, including mammals. Research in zebrafish has recently demonstrated that two distinctive phenomena transpire after adult nephrons incur damage: first, there is robust regeneration within existing nephrons that replaces the destroyed tubule epithelial cells; second, entirely new nephrons are produced from renal progenitors in a process known as neonephrogenesis. In contrast, humans and other mammals seem to have only a limited ability for nephron epithelial regeneration. To date, the mechanisms responsible for these kidney regeneration phenomena remain poorly understood. Since adult zebrafish kidneys undergo both nephron epithelial regeneration and neonephrogenesis, they provide an outstanding experimental paradigm to study these events. Further, there is a wide range of genetic and pharmacological tools available in the zebrafish model that can be used to delineate the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate renal regeneration. One essential aspect of such research is the evaluation of nephron structure and function. This protocol describes a set of labeling techniques that can be used to gauge renal composition and test nephron functionality in the adult zebrafish kidney. Thus, these methods are widely applicable to the future phenotypic characterization of adult zebrafish kidney injury paradigms, which include but are not limited to, nephrotoxicant exposure regimes or genetic methods of targeted cell death such as the nitroreductase mediated cell ablation technique. Further, these methods could be used to study genetic perturbations in adult kidney formation and could also be applied to assess renal status during chronic disease modeling.
Cellular Biology, Issue 90,
zebrafish; kidney; nephron; nephrology; renal; regeneration; proximal tubule; distal tubule; segment; mesonephros; physiology; acute kidney injury (AKI)
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
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
Using Coculture to Detect Chemically Mediated Interspecies Interactions
Institutions: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill .
In nature, bacteria rarely exist in isolation; they are instead surrounded by a diverse array of other microorganisms that alter the local environment by secreting metabolites. These metabolites have the potential to modulate the physiology and differentiation of their microbial neighbors and are likely important factors in the establishment and maintenance of complex microbial communities. We have developed a fluorescence-based coculture screen to identify such chemically mediated microbial interactions. The screen involves combining a fluorescent transcriptional reporter strain with environmental microbes on solid media and allowing the colonies to grow in coculture. The fluorescent transcriptional reporter is designed so that the chosen bacterial strain fluoresces when it is expressing a particular phenotype of interest (i.e.
biofilm formation, sporulation, virulence factor production, etc
.) Screening is performed under growth conditions where this phenotype is not
expressed (and therefore the reporter strain is typically nonfluorescent). When an environmental microbe secretes a metabolite that activates this phenotype, it diffuses through the agar and activates the fluorescent reporter construct. This allows the inducing-metabolite-producing microbe to be detected: they are the nonfluorescent colonies most proximal to the fluorescent colonies. Thus, this screen allows the identification of environmental microbes that produce diffusible metabolites that activate a particular physiological response in a reporter strain. This publication discusses how to: a) select appropriate coculture screening conditions, b) prepare the reporter and environmental microbes for screening, c) perform the coculture screen, d) isolate putative inducing organisms, and e) confirm their activity in a secondary screen. We developed this method to screen for soil organisms that activate biofilm matrix-production in Bacillus subtilis
; however, we also discuss considerations for applying this approach to other genetically tractable bacteria.
Microbiology, Issue 80, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Genes, Reporter, Microbial Interactions, Soil Microbiology, Coculture, microbial interactions, screen, fluorescent transcriptional reporters, Bacillus subtilis
One-channel Cell-attached Patch-clamp Recording
Institutions: University at Buffalo, SUNY, University at Buffalo, SUNY, The Scripps Research Institute, University at Buffalo, SUNY.
Ion channel proteins are universal devices for fast communication across biological membranes. The temporal signature of the ionic flux they generate depends on properties intrinsic to each channel protein as well as the mechanism by which it is generated and controlled and represents an important area of current research. Information about the operational dynamics of ion channel proteins can be obtained by observing long stretches of current produced by a single molecule. Described here is a protocol for obtaining one-channel cell-attached patch-clamp current recordings for a ligand gated ion channel, the NMDA receptor, expressed heterologously in HEK293 cells or natively in cortical neurons. Also provided are instructions on how to adapt the method to other ion channels of interest by presenting the example of the mechano-sensitive channel PIEZO1. This method can provide data regarding the channel’s conductance properties and the temporal sequence of open-closed conformations that make up the channel’s activation mechanism, thus helping to understand their functions in health and disease.
Neuroscience, Issue 88, biophysics, ion channels, single-channel recording, NMDA receptors, gating, electrophysiology, patch-clamp, kinetic analysis
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
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g.
, signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation.
The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
Inhibitory Synapse Formation in a Co-culture Model Incorporating GABAergic Medium Spiny Neurons and HEK293 Cells Stably Expressing GABAA Receptors
Institutions: University College London.
Inhibitory neurons act in the central nervous system to regulate the dynamics and spatio-temporal co-ordination of neuronal networks. GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) is the predominant inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It is released from the presynaptic terminals of inhibitory neurons within highly specialized intercellular junctions known as synapses, where it binds to GABAA
Rs) present at the plasma membrane of the synapse-receiving, postsynaptic neurons. Activation of these GABA-gated ion channels leads to influx of chloride resulting in postsynaptic potential changes that decrease the probability that these neurons will generate action potentials.
During development, diverse types of inhibitory neurons with distinct morphological, electrophysiological and neurochemical characteristics have the ability to recognize their target neurons and form synapses which incorporate specific GABAA
Rs subtypes. This principle of selective innervation of neuronal targets raises the question as to how the appropriate synaptic partners identify each other.
To elucidate the underlying molecular mechanisms, a novel in vitro
co-culture model system was established, in which medium spiny GABAergic neurons, a highly homogenous population of neurons isolated from the embryonic striatum, were cultured with stably transfected HEK293 cell lines that express different GABAA
R subtypes. Synapses form rapidly, efficiently and selectively in this system, and are easily accessible for quantification. Our results indicate that various GABAA
R subtypes differ in their ability to promote synapse formation, suggesting that this reduced in vitro
model system can be used to reproduce, at least in part, the in vivo
conditions required for the recognition of the appropriate synaptic partners and formation of specific synapses. Here the protocols for culturing the medium spiny neurons and generating HEK293 cells lines expressing GABAA
Rs are first described, followed by detailed instructions on how to combine these two cell types in co-culture and analyze the formation of synaptic contacts.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, Developmental neuroscience, synaptogenesis, synaptic inhibition, co-culture, stable cell lines, GABAergic, medium spiny neurons, HEK 293 cell line
Molecular Evolution of the Tre Recombinase
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Here we report the generation of Tre recombinase through directed, molecular evolution. Tre recombinase recognizes a pre-defined target sequence within the LTR sequences of the HIV-1 provirus, resulting in the excision and eradication of the provirus from infected human cells.
We started with Cre, a 38-kDa recombinase, that recognizes a 34-bp double-stranded DNA sequence known as loxP. Because Cre can effectively eliminate genomic sequences, we set out to tailor a recombinase that could remove the sequence between the 5'-LTR and 3'-LTR of an integrated HIV-1 provirus. As a first step we identified sequences within the LTR sites that were similar to loxP and tested for recombination activity. Initially Cre and mutagenized Cre libraries failed to recombine the chosen loxLTR sites of the HIV-1 provirus. As the start of any directed molecular evolution process requires at least residual activity, the original asymmetric loxLTR sequences were split into subsets and tested again for recombination activity. Acting as intermediates, recombination activity was shown with the subsets. Next, recombinase libraries were enriched through reiterative evolution cycles. Subsequently, enriched libraries were shuffled and recombined. The combination of different mutations proved synergistic and recombinases were created that were able to recombine loxLTR1 and loxLTR2. This was evidence that an evolutionary strategy through intermediates can be successful. After a total of 126 evolution cycles individual recombinases were functionally and structurally analyzed. The most active recombinase -- Tre -- had 19 amino acid changes as compared to Cre. Tre recombinase was able to excise the HIV-1 provirus from the genome HIV-1 infected HeLa cells (see "HIV-1 Proviral DNA Excision Using an Evolved Recombinase", Hauber J., Heinrich-Pette-Institute for Experimental Virology and Immunology, Hamburg, Germany). While still in its infancy, directed molecular evolution will allow the creation of custom enzymes that will serve as tools of "molecular surgery" and molecular medicine.
Cell Biology, Issue 15, HIV-1, Tre recombinase, Site-specific recombination, molecular evolution
Building a Better Mosquito: Identifying the Genes Enabling Malaria and Dengue Fever Resistance in A. gambiae and A. aegypti Mosquitoes
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University.
In this interview, George Dimopoulos focuses on the physiological mechanisms used by mosquitoes to combat Plasmodium falciparum and dengue virus infections. Explanation is given for how key refractory genes, those genes conferring resistance to vector pathogens, are identified in the mosquito and how this knowledge can be used to generate transgenic mosquitoes that are unable to carry the malaria parasite or dengue virus.
Cellular Biology, Issue 5, Translational Research, mosquito, malaria, virus, dengue, genetics, injection, RNAi, transgenesis, transgenic
Interview: Protein Folding and Studies of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In this interview, Dr. Lindquist describes relationships between protein folding, prion diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. The problem of the protein folding is at the core of the modern biology. In addition to their traditional biochemical functions, proteins can mediate transfer of biological information and therefore can be considered a genetic material. This recently discovered function of proteins has important implications for studies of human disorders. Dr. Lindquist also describes current experimental approaches to investigate the mechanism of neurodegenerative diseases based on genetic studies in model organisms.
Neuroscience, issue 17, protein folding, brain, neuron, prion, neurodegenerative disease, yeast, screen, Translational Research
Predicting the Effectiveness of Population Replacement Strategy Using Mathematical Modeling
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles.
Charles Taylor and John Marshall explain the utility of mathematical modeling for evaluating the effectiveness of population replacement strategy. Insight is given into how computational models can provide information on the population dynamics of mosquitoes and the spread of transposable elements through A. gambiae subspecies. The ethical considerations of releasing genetically modified mosquitoes into the wild are discussed.
Cellular Biology, Issue 5, mosquito, malaria, popuulation, replacement, modeling, infectious disease