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Protein docking by the interface structure similarity: how much structure is needed?
The increasing availability of co-crystallized protein-protein complexes provides an opportunity to use template-based modeling for protein-protein docking. Structure alignment techniques are useful in detection of remote target-template similarities. The size of the structure involved in the alignment is important for the success in modeling. This paper describes a systematic large-scale study to find the optimal definition/size of the interfaces for the structure alignment-based docking applications. The results showed that structural areas corresponding to the cutoff values <12 Å across the interface inadequately represent structural details of the interfaces. With the increase of the cutoff beyond 12 Å, the success rate for the benchmark set of 99 protein complexes, did not increase significantly for higher accuracy models, and decreased for lower-accuracy models. The 12 Å cutoff was optimal in our interface alignment-based docking, and a likely best choice for the large-scale (e.g., on the scale of the entire genome) applications to protein interaction networks. The results provide guidelines for the docking approaches, including high-throughput applications to modeled structures.
Authors: Ambrish Roy, Dong Xu, Jonathan Poisson, Yang Zhang.
Published: 11-03-2011
Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
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Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Authors: James Smadbeck, Meghan B. Peterson, George A. Khoury, Martin S. Taylor, Christodoulos A. Floudas.
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity. To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (, a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
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A Practical Guide to Phylogenetics for Nonexperts
Authors: Damien O'Halloran.
Institutions: The George Washington University.
Many researchers, across incredibly diverse foci, are applying phylogenetics to their research question(s). However, many researchers are new to this topic and so it presents inherent problems. Here we compile a practical introduction to phylogenetics for nonexperts. We outline in a step-by-step manner, a pipeline for generating reliable phylogenies from gene sequence datasets. We begin with a user-guide for similarity search tools via online interfaces as well as local executables. Next, we explore programs for generating multiple sequence alignments followed by protocols for using software to determine best-fit models of evolution. We then outline protocols for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships via maximum likelihood and Bayesian criteria and finally describe tools for visualizing phylogenetic trees. While this is not by any means an exhaustive description of phylogenetic approaches, it does provide the reader with practical starting information on key software applications commonly utilized by phylogeneticists. The vision for this article would be that it could serve as a practical training tool for researchers embarking on phylogenetic studies and also serve as an educational resource that could be incorporated into a classroom or teaching-lab.
Basic Protocol, Issue 84, phylogenetics, multiple sequence alignments, phylogenetic tree, BLAST executables, basic local alignment search tool, Bayesian models
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Visualizing Proteins and Macromolecular Complexes by Negative Stain EM: from Grid Preparation to Image Acquisition
Authors: David S. Booth, Agustin Avila-Sakar, Yifan Cheng.
Institutions: University of California San Francisco , University of California San Francisco .
Single particle electron microscopy (EM), of both negative stained or frozen hydrated biological samples, has become a versatile tool in structural biology 1. In recent years, this method has achieved great success in studying structures of proteins and macromolecular complexes 2, 3. Compared with electron cryomicroscopy (cryoEM), in which frozen hydrated protein samples are embedded in a thin layer of vitreous ice 4, negative staining is a simpler sample preparation method in which protein samples are embedded in a thin layer of dried heavy metal salt to increase specimen contrast 5. The enhanced contrast of negative stain EM allows examination of relatively small biological samples. In addition to determining three-dimensional (3D) structure of purified proteins or protein complexes 6, this method can be used for much broader purposes. For example, negative stain EM can be easily used to visualize purified protein samples, obtaining information such as homogeneity/heterogeneity of the sample, formation of protein complexes or large assemblies, or simply to evaluate the quality of a protein preparation. In this video article, we present a complete protocol for using an EM to observe negatively stained protein sample, from preparing carbon coated grids for negative stain EM to acquiring images of negatively stained sample in an electron microscope operated at 120kV accelerating voltage. These protocols have been used in our laboratory routinely and can be easily followed by novice users.
Bioengineering, Issue 58, Electron Microscopy, EM, cryoEM, protein, negative stain, 3D structures
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Detection of Rare Genomic Variants from Pooled Sequencing Using SPLINTER
Authors: Francesco Vallania, Enrique Ramos, Sharon Cresci, Robi D. Mitra, Todd E. Druley.
Institutions: Washington University School of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine.
As DNA sequencing technology has markedly advanced in recent years2, it has become increasingly evident that the amount of genetic variation between any two individuals is greater than previously thought3. In contrast, array-based genotyping has failed to identify a significant contribution of common sequence variants to the phenotypic variability of common disease4,5. Taken together, these observations have led to the evolution of the Common Disease / Rare Variant hypothesis suggesting that the majority of the "missing heritability" in common and complex phenotypes is instead due to an individual's personal profile of rare or private DNA variants6-8. However, characterizing how rare variation impacts complex phenotypes requires the analysis of many affected individuals at many genomic loci, and is ideally compared to a similar survey in an unaffected cohort. Despite the sequencing power offered by today's platforms, a population-based survey of many genomic loci and the subsequent computational analysis required remains prohibitive for many investigators. To address this need, we have developed a pooled sequencing approach1,9 and a novel software package1 for highly accurate rare variant detection from the resulting data. The ability to pool genomes from entire populations of affected individuals and survey the degree of genetic variation at multiple targeted regions in a single sequencing library provides excellent cost and time savings to traditional single-sample sequencing methodology. With a mean sequencing coverage per allele of 25-fold, our custom algorithm, SPLINTER, uses an internal variant calling control strategy to call insertions, deletions and substitutions up to four base pairs in length with high sensitivity and specificity from pools of up to 1 mutant allele in 500 individuals. Here we describe the method for preparing the pooled sequencing library followed by step-by-step instructions on how to use the SPLINTER package for pooled sequencing analysis ( We show a comparison between pooled sequencing of 947 individuals, all of whom also underwent genome-wide array, at over 20kb of sequencing per person. Concordance between genotyping of tagged and novel variants called in the pooled sample were excellent. This method can be easily scaled up to any number of genomic loci and any number of individuals. By incorporating the internal positive and negative amplicon controls at ratios that mimic the population under study, the algorithm can be calibrated for optimal performance. This strategy can also be modified for use with hybridization capture or individual-specific barcodes and can be applied to the sequencing of naturally heterogeneous samples, such as tumor DNA.
Genetics, Issue 64, Genomics, Cancer Biology, Bioinformatics, Pooled DNA sequencing, SPLINTER, rare genetic variants, genetic screening, phenotype, high throughput, computational analysis, DNA, PCR, primers
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Synthesis of an Intein-mediated Artificial Protein Hydrogel
Authors: Miguel A. Ramirez, Zhilei Chen.
Institutions: Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas A&M University, College Station.
We present the synthesis of a highly stable protein hydrogel mediated by a split-intein-catalyzed protein trans-splicing reaction. The building blocks of this hydrogel are two protein block-copolymers each containing a subunit of a trimeric protein that serves as a crosslinker and one half of a split intein. A highly hydrophilic random coil is inserted into one of the block-copolymers for water retention. Mixing of the two protein block copolymers triggers an intein trans-splicing reaction, yielding a polypeptide unit with crosslinkers at either end that rapidly self-assembles into a hydrogel. This hydrogel is very stable under both acidic and basic conditions, at temperatures up to 50 °C, and in organic solvents. The hydrogel rapidly reforms after shear-induced rupture. Incorporation of a "docking station peptide" into the hydrogel building block enables convenient incorporation of "docking protein"-tagged target proteins. The hydrogel is compatible with tissue culture growth media, supports the diffusion of 20 kDa molecules, and enables the immobilization of bioactive globular proteins. The application of the intein-mediated protein hydrogel as an organic-solvent-compatible biocatalyst was demonstrated by encapsulating the horseradish peroxidase enzyme and corroborating its activity.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, split-intein, self-assembly, shear-thinning, enzyme, immobilization, organic synthesis
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Analyzing Protein Dynamics Using Hydrogen Exchange Mass Spectrometry
Authors: Nikolai Hentze, Matthias P. Mayer.
Institutions: University of Heidelberg.
All cellular processes depend on the functionality of proteins. Although the functionality of a given protein is the direct consequence of its unique amino acid sequence, it is only realized by the folding of the polypeptide chain into a single defined three-dimensional arrangement or more commonly into an ensemble of interconverting conformations. Investigating the connection between protein conformation and its function is therefore essential for a complete understanding of how proteins are able to fulfill their great variety of tasks. One possibility to study conformational changes a protein undergoes while progressing through its functional cycle is hydrogen-1H/2H-exchange in combination with high-resolution mass spectrometry (HX-MS). HX-MS is a versatile and robust method that adds a new dimension to structural information obtained by e.g. crystallography. It is used to study protein folding and unfolding, binding of small molecule ligands, protein-protein interactions, conformational changes linked to enzyme catalysis, and allostery. In addition, HX-MS is often used when the amount of protein is very limited or crystallization of the protein is not feasible. Here we provide a general protocol for studying protein dynamics with HX-MS and describe as an example how to reveal the interaction interface of two proteins in a complex.   
Chemistry, Issue 81, Molecular Chaperones, mass spectrometers, Amino Acids, Peptides, Proteins, Enzymes, Coenzymes, Protein dynamics, conformational changes, allostery, protein folding, secondary structure, mass spectrometry
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Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Authors: C. R. Gallistel, Fuat Balci, David Freestone, Aaron Kheifets, Adam King.
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
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Genetically-encoded Molecular Probes to Study G Protein-coupled Receptors
Authors: Saranga Naganathan, Amy Grunbeck, He Tian, Thomas Huber, Thomas P. Sakmar.
Institutions: The Rockefeller University.
To facilitate structural and dynamic studies of G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) signaling complexes, new approaches are required to introduce informative probes or labels into expressed receptors that do not perturb receptor function. We used amber codon suppression technology to genetically-encode the unnatural amino acid, p-azido-L-phenylalanine (azF) at various targeted positions in GPCRs heterologously expressed in mammalian cells. The versatility of the azido group is illustrated here in different applications to study GPCRs in their native cellular environment or under detergent solubilized conditions. First, we demonstrate a cell-based targeted photocrosslinking technology to identify the residues in the ligand-binding pocket of GPCR where a tritium-labeled small-molecule ligand is crosslinked to a genetically-encoded azido amino acid. We then demonstrate site-specific modification of GPCRs by the bioorthogonal Staudinger-Bertozzi ligation reaction that targets the azido group using phosphine derivatives. We discuss a general strategy for targeted peptide-epitope tagging of expressed membrane proteins in-culture and its detection using a whole-cell-based ELISA approach. Finally, we show that azF-GPCRs can be selectively tagged with fluorescent probes. The methodologies discussed are general, in that they can in principle be applied to any amino acid position in any expressed GPCR to interrogate active signaling complexes.
Genetics, Issue 79, Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled, Protein Engineering, Signal Transduction, Biochemistry, Unnatural amino acid, site-directed mutagenesis, G protein-coupled receptor, targeted photocrosslinking, bioorthogonal labeling, targeted epitope tagging
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The ITS2 Database
Authors: Benjamin Merget, Christian Koetschan, Thomas Hackl, Frank Förster, Thomas Dandekar, Tobias Müller, Jörg Schultz, Matthias Wolf.
Institutions: University of Würzburg, University of Würzburg.
The internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS2) has been used as a phylogenetic marker for more than two decades. As ITS2 research mainly focused on the very variable ITS2 sequence, it confined this marker to low-level phylogenetics only. However, the combination of the ITS2 sequence and its highly conserved secondary structure improves the phylogenetic resolution1 and allows phylogenetic inference at multiple taxonomic ranks, including species delimitation2-8. The ITS2 Database9 presents an exhaustive dataset of internal transcribed spacer 2 sequences from NCBI GenBank11 accurately reannotated10. Following an annotation by profile Hidden Markov Models (HMMs), the secondary structure of each sequence is predicted. First, it is tested whether a minimum energy based fold12 (direct fold) results in a correct, four helix conformation. If this is not the case, the structure is predicted by homology modeling13. In homology modeling, an already known secondary structure is transferred to another ITS2 sequence, whose secondary structure was not able to fold correctly in a direct fold. The ITS2 Database is not only a database for storage and retrieval of ITS2 sequence-structures. It also provides several tools to process your own ITS2 sequences, including annotation, structural prediction, motif detection and BLAST14 search on the combined sequence-structure information. Moreover, it integrates trimmed versions of 4SALE15,16 and ProfDistS17 for multiple sequence-structure alignment calculation and Neighbor Joining18 tree reconstruction. Together they form a coherent analysis pipeline from an initial set of sequences to a phylogeny based on sequence and secondary structure. In a nutshell, this workbench simplifies first phylogenetic analyses to only a few mouse-clicks, while additionally providing tools and data for comprehensive large-scale analyses.
Genetics, Issue 61, alignment, internal transcribed spacer 2, molecular systematics, secondary structure, ribosomal RNA, phylogenetic tree, homology modeling, phylogeny
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Diffusion Tensor Magnetic Resonance Imaging in the Analysis of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Authors: Hans-Peter Müller, Jan Kassubek.
Institutions: University of Ulm.
Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) techniques provide information on the microstructural processes of the cerebral white matter (WM) in vivo. The present applications are designed to investigate differences of WM involvement patterns in different brain diseases, especially neurodegenerative disorders, by use of different DTI analyses in comparison with matched controls. DTI data analysis is performed in a variate fashion, i.e. voxelwise comparison of regional diffusion direction-based metrics such as fractional anisotropy (FA), together with fiber tracking (FT) accompanied by tractwise fractional anisotropy statistics (TFAS) at the group level in order to identify differences in FA along WM structures, aiming at the definition of regional patterns of WM alterations at the group level. Transformation into a stereotaxic standard space is a prerequisite for group studies and requires thorough data processing to preserve directional inter-dependencies. The present applications show optimized technical approaches for this preservation of quantitative and directional information during spatial normalization in data analyses at the group level. On this basis, FT techniques can be applied to group averaged data in order to quantify metrics information as defined by FT. Additionally, application of DTI methods, i.e. differences in FA-maps after stereotaxic alignment, in a longitudinal analysis at an individual subject basis reveal information about the progression of neurological disorders. Further quality improvement of DTI based results can be obtained during preprocessing by application of a controlled elimination of gradient directions with high noise levels. In summary, DTI is used to define a distinct WM pathoanatomy of different brain diseases by the combination of whole brain-based and tract-based DTI analysis.
Medicine, Issue 77, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Anatomy, Physiology, Neurodegenerative Diseases, nuclear magnetic resonance, NMR, MR, MRI, diffusion tensor imaging, fiber tracking, group level comparison, neurodegenerative diseases, brain, imaging, clinical techniques
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Averaging of Viral Envelope Glycoprotein Spikes from Electron Cryotomography Reconstructions using Jsubtomo
Authors: Juha T. Huiskonen, Marie-Laure Parsy, Sai Li, David Bitto, Max Renner, Thomas A. Bowden.
Institutions: University of Oxford.
Enveloped viruses utilize membrane glycoproteins on their surface to mediate entry into host cells. Three-dimensional structural analysis of these glycoprotein ‘spikes’ is often technically challenging but important for understanding viral pathogenesis and in drug design. Here, a protocol is presented for viral spike structure determination through computational averaging of electron cryo-tomography data. Electron cryo-tomography is a technique in electron microscopy used to derive three-dimensional tomographic volume reconstructions, or tomograms, of pleomorphic biological specimens such as membrane viruses in a near-native, frozen-hydrated state. These tomograms reveal structures of interest in three dimensions, albeit at low resolution. Computational averaging of sub-volumes, or sub-tomograms, is necessary to obtain higher resolution detail of repeating structural motifs, such as viral glycoprotein spikes. A detailed computational approach for aligning and averaging sub-tomograms using the Jsubtomo software package is outlined. This approach enables visualization of the structure of viral glycoprotein spikes to a resolution in the range of 20-40 Å and study of the study of higher order spike-to-spike interactions on the virion membrane. Typical results are presented for Bunyamwera virus, an enveloped virus from the family Bunyaviridae. This family is a structurally diverse group of pathogens posing a threat to human and animal health.
Immunology, Issue 92, electron cryo-microscopy, cryo-electron microscopy, electron cryo-tomography, cryo-electron tomography, glycoprotein spike, enveloped virus, membrane virus, structure, subtomogram, averaging
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Optimized Negative Staining: a High-throughput Protocol for Examining Small and Asymmetric Protein Structure by Electron Microscopy
Authors: Matthew Rames, Yadong Yu, Gang Ren.
Institutions: The Molecular Foundry.
Structural determination of proteins is rather challenging for proteins with molecular masses between 40 - 200 kDa. Considering that more than half of natural proteins have a molecular mass between 40 - 200 kDa1,2, a robust and high-throughput method with a nanometer resolution capability is needed. Negative staining (NS) electron microscopy (EM) is an easy, rapid, and qualitative approach which has frequently been used in research laboratories to examine protein structure and protein-protein interactions. Unfortunately, conventional NS protocols often generate structural artifacts on proteins, especially with lipoproteins that usually form presenting rouleaux artifacts. By using images of lipoproteins from cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) as a standard, the key parameters in NS specimen preparation conditions were recently screened and reported as the optimized NS protocol (OpNS), a modified conventional NS protocol 3 . Artifacts like rouleaux can be greatly limited by OpNS, additionally providing high contrast along with reasonably high‐resolution (near 1 nm) images of small and asymmetric proteins. These high-resolution and high contrast images are even favorable for an individual protein (a single object, no average) 3D reconstruction, such as a 160 kDa antibody, through the method of electron tomography4,5. Moreover, OpNS can be a high‐throughput tool to examine hundreds of samples of small proteins. For example, the previously published mechanism of 53 kDa cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) involved the screening and imaging of hundreds of samples 6. Considering cryo-EM rarely successfully images proteins less than 200 kDa has yet to publish any study involving screening over one hundred sample conditions, it is fair to call OpNS a high-throughput method for studying small proteins. Hopefully the OpNS protocol presented here can be a useful tool to push the boundaries of EM and accelerate EM studies into small protein structure, dynamics and mechanisms.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, small and asymmetric protein structure, electron microscopy, optimized negative staining
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Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Authors: Marcus Cheetham, Lutz Jancke.
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2 proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness (DHL) (Figure 1). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
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Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Authors: Nikki M. Curthoys, Michael J. Mlodzianoski, Dahan Kim, Samuel T. Hess.
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
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Scalable Nanohelices for Predictive Studies and Enhanced 3D Visualization
Authors: Kwyn A. Meagher, Benjamin N. Doblack, Mercedes Ramirez, Lilian P. Davila.
Institutions: University of California Merced, University of California Merced.
Spring-like materials are ubiquitous in nature and of interest in nanotechnology for energy harvesting, hydrogen storage, and biological sensing applications.  For predictive simulations, it has become increasingly important to be able to model the structure of nanohelices accurately.  To study the effect of local structure on the properties of these complex geometries one must develop realistic models.  To date, software packages are rather limited in creating atomistic helical models.  This work focuses on producing atomistic models of silica glass (SiO2) nanoribbons and nanosprings for molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. Using an MD model of “bulk” silica glass, two computational procedures to precisely create the shape of nanoribbons and nanosprings are presented.  The first method employs the AWK programming language and open-source software to effectively carve various shapes of silica nanoribbons from the initial bulk model, using desired dimensions and parametric equations to define a helix.  With this method, accurate atomistic silica nanoribbons can be generated for a range of pitch values and dimensions.  The second method involves a more robust code which allows flexibility in modeling nanohelical structures.  This approach utilizes a C++ code particularly written to implement pre-screening methods as well as the mathematical equations for a helix, resulting in greater precision and efficiency when creating nanospring models.  Using these codes, well-defined and scalable nanoribbons and nanosprings suited for atomistic simulations can be effectively created.  An added value in both open-source codes is that they can be adapted to reproduce different helical structures, independent of material.  In addition, a MATLAB graphical user interface (GUI) is used to enhance learning through visualization and interaction for a general user with the atomistic helical structures.  One application of these methods is the recent study of nanohelices via MD simulations for mechanical energy harvesting purposes.
Physics, Issue 93, Helical atomistic models; open-source coding; graphical user interface; visualization software; molecular dynamics simulations; graphical processing unit accelerated simulations.
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From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Authors: Wen-Ting Tsai, Ahmed Hassan, Purbasha Sarkar, Joaquin Correa, Zoltan Metlagel, Danielle M. Jorgens, Manfred Auer.
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
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Determination of Protein-ligand Interactions Using Differential Scanning Fluorimetry
Authors: Mirella Vivoli, Halina R. Novak, Jennifer A. Littlechild, Nicholas J. Harmer.
Institutions: University of Exeter.
A wide range of methods are currently available for determining the dissociation constant between a protein and interacting small molecules. However, most of these require access to specialist equipment, and often require a degree of expertise to effectively establish reliable experiments and analyze data. Differential scanning fluorimetry (DSF) is being increasingly used as a robust method for initial screening of proteins for interacting small molecules, either for identifying physiological partners or for hit discovery. This technique has the advantage that it requires only a PCR machine suitable for quantitative PCR, and so suitable instrumentation is available in most institutions; an excellent range of protocols are already available; and there are strong precedents in the literature for multiple uses of the method. Past work has proposed several means of calculating dissociation constants from DSF data, but these are mathematically demanding. Here, we demonstrate a method for estimating dissociation constants from a moderate amount of DSF experimental data. These data can typically be collected and analyzed within a single day. We demonstrate how different models can be used to fit data collected from simple binding events, and where cooperative binding or independent binding sites are present. Finally, we present an example of data analysis in a case where standard models do not apply. These methods are illustrated with data collected on commercially available control proteins, and two proteins from our research program. Overall, our method provides a straightforward way for researchers to rapidly gain further insight into protein-ligand interactions using DSF.
Biophysics, Issue 91, differential scanning fluorimetry, dissociation constant, protein-ligand interactions, StepOne, cooperativity, WcbI.
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A Strategy to Identify de Novo Mutations in Common Disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia
Authors: Gauthier Julie, Fadi F. Hamdan, Guy A. Rouleau.
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
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Analyzing and Building Nucleic Acid Structures with 3DNA
Authors: Andrew V. Colasanti, Xiang-Jun Lu, Wilma K. Olson.
Institutions: Rutgers - The State University of New Jersey, Columbia University .
The 3DNA software package is a popular and versatile bioinformatics tool with capabilities to analyze, construct, and visualize three-dimensional nucleic acid structures. This article presents detailed protocols for a subset of new and popular features available in 3DNA, applicable to both individual structures and ensembles of related structures. Protocol 1 lists the set of instructions needed to download and install the software. This is followed, in Protocol 2, by the analysis of a nucleic acid structure, including the assignment of base pairs and the determination of rigid-body parameters that describe the structure and, in Protocol 3, by a description of the reconstruction of an atomic model of a structure from its rigid-body parameters. The most recent version of 3DNA, version 2.1, has new features for the analysis and manipulation of ensembles of structures, such as those deduced from nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) measurements and molecular dynamic (MD) simulations; these features are presented in Protocols 4 and 5. In addition to the 3DNA stand-alone software package, the w3DNA web server, located at, provides a user-friendly interface to selected features of the software. Protocol 6 demonstrates a novel feature of the site for building models of long DNA molecules decorated with bound proteins at user-specified locations.
Genetics, Issue 74, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Bioengineering, Biophysics, Genomics, Chemical Biology, Quantitative Biology, conformational analysis, DNA, high-resolution structures, model building, molecular dynamics, nucleic acid structure, RNA, visualization, bioinformatics, three-dimensional, 3DNA, software
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The Structure of Skilled Forelimb Reaching in the Rat: A Movement Rating Scale
Authors: Ian Q Whishaw, Paul Whishaw, Bogdan Gorny.
Institutions: University of Lethbridge.
Skilled reaching for food is an evolutionary ancient act and is displayed by many animal species, including those in the sister clades of rodents and primates. The video describes a test situation that allows filming of repeated acts of reaching for food by the rat that has been mildly food deprived. A rat is trained to reach through a slot in a holding box for food pellet that it grasps and then places in its mouth for eating. Reaching is accomplished in the main by proximally driven movements of the limb but distal limb movements are used for pronating the paw, grasping the food, and releasing the food into the mouth. Each reach is divided into at least 10 movements of the forelimb and the reaching act is facilitated by postural adjustments. Each of the movements is described and examples of the movements are given from a number of viewing perspectives. By rating each movement element on a 3-point scale, the reach can be quantified. A number of studies have demonstrated that the movement elements are altered by motor system damage, including damage to the motor cortex, basal ganglia, brainstem, and spinal cord. The movements are also altered in neurological conditions that can be modeled in the rat, including Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease. Thus, the rating scale is useful for quantifying motor impairments and the effectiveness of neural restoration and rehabilitation. Because the reaching act for the rat is very similar to that displayed by humans and nonhuman primates, the scale can be used for comparative purposes. from a number of viewing perspectives. By rating each movement element on a 3-point scale, the reach can be quantified. A number of studies have demonstrated that the movement elements are altered by motor system damage, including damage to the motor cortex, basal ganglia, brainstem, and spinal cord. The movements are also altered in neurological conditions that can be modeled in the rat, including Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease. Thus, the rating scale is useful for quantifying motor impairments and the effectiveness of neural restoration and rehabilitation. Experiments on animals were performed in accordance with the guidelines and regulations set forth by the University of Lethbridge Animal Care Committee in accordance with the regulations of the Canadian Council on Animal Care.
Neuroscience, Issue 18, rat skilled reaching, rat reaching scale, rat, rat movement element rating scale, reaching elements
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