Freeze-fracture/freeze-etch describes a process whereby specimens, typically biological or nanomaterial in nature, are frozen, fractured, and replicated to generate a carbon/platinum “cast” intended for examination by transmission electron microscopy. Specimens are subjected to ultrarapid freezing rates, often in the presence of cryoprotective agents to limit ice crystal formation, with subsequent fracturing of the specimen at liquid nitrogen cooled temperatures under high vacuum. The resultant fractured surface is replicated and stabilized by evaporation of carbon and platinum from an angle that confers surface three-dimensional detail to the cast. This technique has proved particularly enlightening for the investigation of cell membranes and their specializations and has contributed considerably to the understanding of cellular form to related cell function. In this report, we survey the instrument requirements and technical protocol for performing freeze-fracture, the associated nomenclature and characteristics of fracture planes, variations on the conventional procedure, and criteria for interpretation of freeze-fracture images. This technique has been widely used for ultrastructural investigation in many areas of cell biology and holds promise as an emerging imaging technique for molecular, nanotechnology, and materials science studies.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
Correlative Microscopy for 3D Structural Analysis of Dynamic Interactions
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Cryo-electron tomography (cryoET) allows 3D visualization of cellular structures at molecular resolution in a close-to-physiological state1
. However, direct visualization of individual viral complexes in their host cellular environment with cryoET is challenging2
, due to the infrequent and dynamic nature of viral entry, particularly in the case of HIV-1. While time-lapse live-cell imaging has yielded a great deal of information about many aspects of the life cycle of HIV-13-7
, the resolution afforded by live-cell microscopy is limited (~ 200 nm). Our work was aimed at developing a correlation method that permits direct visualization of early events of HIV-1 infection by combining live-cell fluorescent light microscopy, cryo-fluorescent microscopy, and cryoET. In this manner, live-cell and cryo-fluorescent signals can be used to accurately guide the sampling in cryoET. Furthermore, structural information obtained from cryoET can be complemented with the dynamic functional data gained through live-cell imaging of fluorescent labeled target.
In this video article, we provide detailed methods and protocols for structural investigation of HIV-1 and host-cell interactions using 3D correlative high-speed live-cell imaging and high-resolution cryoET structural analysis. HeLa cells infected with HIV-1 particles were characterized first by confocal live-cell microscopy, and the region containing the same viral particle was then analyzed by cryo-electron tomography for 3D structural details. The correlation between two sets of imaging data, optical imaging and electron imaging, was achieved using a home-built cryo-fluorescence light microscopy stage. The approach detailed here will be valuable, not only for study of virus-host cell interactions, but also for broader applications in cell biology, such as cell signaling, membrane receptor trafficking, and many other dynamic cellular processes.
Bioengineering, Issue 76, Molecular Biology, Structural Biology, Virology, Biophysics, Cellular Biology, Physiology, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Infection, Microbiology, Technology, Industry, Agriculture, Life Sciences (General), Correlative microscopy, CryoET, Cryo-electron tomography, Confocal live-cell imaging, Cryo-fluorescence light microscopy, HIV-1, capsid, HeLa cell, cell, virus, microscopy, imaging
Tandem High-pressure Freezing and Quick Freeze Substitution of Plant Tissues for Transmission Electron Microscopy
Institutions: University of Tennessee, Knoxville, University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Since the 1940s transmission electron microscopy (TEM) has been providing biologists with ultra-high resolution images of biological materials. Yet, because of laborious and time-consuming protocols that also demand experience in preparation of artifact-free samples, TEM is not considered a user-friendly technique. Traditional sample preparation for TEM used chemical fixatives to preserve cellular structures. High-pressure freezing is the cryofixation of biological samples under high pressures to produce very fast cooling rates, thereby restricting ice formation, which is detrimental to the integrity of cellular ultrastructure. High-pressure freezing and freeze substitution are currently the methods of choice for producing the highest quality morphology in resin sections for TEM. These methods minimize the artifacts normally associated with conventional processing for TEM of thin sections. After cryofixation the frozen water in the sample is replaced with liquid organic solvent at low temperatures, a process called freeze substitution. Freeze substitution is typically carried out over several days in dedicated, costly equipment. A recent innovation allows the process to be completed in three hours, instead of the usual two days. This is typically followed by several more days of sample preparation that includes infiltration and embedding in epoxy resins before sectioning. Here we present a protocol combining high-pressure freezing and quick freeze substitution that enables plant sample fixation to be accomplished within hours. The protocol can readily be adapted for working with other tissues or organisms. Plant tissues are of special concern because of the presence of aerated spaces and water-filled vacuoles that impede ice-free freezing of water. In addition, the process of chemical fixation is especially long in plants due to cell walls impeding the penetration of the chemicals to deep within the tissues. Plant tissues are therefore particularly challenging, but this protocol is reliable and produces samples of the highest quality.
Plant Biology, Issue 92, High-pressure freezing, freeze substitution, transmission electron microscopy, ultrastructure, Nicotiana benthamiana, Arabidopsis thaliana, imaging, cryofixation, dehydration
An Orthotopic Bladder Tumor Model and the Evaluation of Intravesical saRNA Treatment
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco , Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Inc..
We present a novel method for treating bladder cancer with intravesically delivered small activating RNA (saRNA) in an orthotopic xenograft mouse bladder tumor model. The mouse model is established by urethral catheterization under inhaled general anesthetic. Chemical burn is then introduced to the bladder mucosa using intravesical silver nitrate solution to disrupt the bladder glycosaminoglycan layer and allows cells to attach. Following several washes with sterile water, human bladder cancer KU-7-luc2-GFP cells are instilled through the catheter into the bladder to dwell for 2 hours. Subsequent growth of bladder tumors is confirmed and monitored by in vivo
bladder ultrasound and bioluminescent imaging. The tumors are then treated intravesically with saRNA formulated in lipid nanoparticles (LNPs). Tumor growth is monitored with ultrasound and bioluminescence. All steps of this procedure are demonstrated in the accompanying video.
Cancer Biology, Issue 65, Medicine, Physiology, bladder tumor, orthotopic, bioluminescent, ultrasound, small RNA
Detection of Neuritic Plaques in Alzheimer's Disease Mouse Model
Institutions: The University of British Columbia.
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common neurodegenerative disorder leading to dementia. Neuritic plaque formation is one of the pathological hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease. The central component of neuritic plaques is a small filamentous protein called amyloid β protein (Aβ)1
, which is derived from sequential proteolytic cleavage of the beta-amyloid precursor protein (APP) by β-secretase and γ-secretase. The amyloid hypothesis entails that Aγ-containing plaques as the underlying toxic mechanism in AD pathology2
. The postmortem analysis of the presence of neuritic plaque confirms the diagnosis of AD. To further our understanding of Aγ neurobiology in AD pathogenesis, various mouse strains expressing AD-related mutations in the human APP genes were generated. Depending on the severity of the disease, these mice will develop neuritic plaques at different ages. These mice serve as invaluable tools for studying the pathogenesis and drug development that could affect the APP processing pathway and neuritic plaque formation. In this protocol, we employ an immunohistochemical method for specific detection of neuritic plaques in AD model mice. We will specifically discuss the preparation from extracting the half brain, paraformaldehyde fixation, cryosectioning, and two methods to detect neurotic plaques in AD transgenic mice: immunohistochemical detection using the ABC and DAB method and fluorescent detection using thiofalvin S staining method.
Neuroscience, Issue 53, Alzheimer’s disease, neuritic plaques, Amyloid β protein, APP, transgenic mouse
Averaging of Viral Envelope Glycoprotein Spikes from Electron Cryotomography Reconstructions using Jsubtomo
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
Reconstitution of a Kv Channel into Lipid Membranes for Structural and Functional Studies
Institutions: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.
To study the lipid-protein interaction in a reductionistic fashion, it is necessary to incorporate the membrane proteins into membranes of well-defined lipid composition. We are studying the lipid-dependent gating effects in a prototype voltage-gated potassium (Kv) channel, and have worked out detailed procedures to reconstitute the channels into different membrane systems. Our reconstitution procedures take consideration of both detergent-induced fusion of vesicles and the fusion of protein/detergent micelles with the lipid/detergent mixed micelles as well as the importance of reaching an equilibrium distribution of lipids among the protein/detergent/lipid and the detergent/lipid mixed micelles. Our data suggested that the insertion of the channels in the lipid vesicles is relatively random in orientations, and the reconstitution efficiency is so high that no detectable protein aggregates were seen in fractionation experiments. We have utilized the reconstituted channels to determine the conformational states of the channels in different lipids, record electrical activities of a small number of channels incorporated in planar lipid bilayers, screen for conformation-specific ligands from a phage-displayed peptide library, and support the growth of 2D crystals of the channels in membranes. The reconstitution procedures described here may be adapted for studying other membrane proteins in lipid bilayers, especially for the investigation of the lipid effects on the eukaryotic voltage-gated ion channels.
Molecular Biology, Issue 77, Biochemistry, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Structural Biology, Biophysics, Membrane Lipids, Phospholipids, Carrier Proteins, Membrane Proteins, Micelles, Molecular Motor Proteins, life sciences, biochemistry, Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, lipid-protein interaction, channel reconstitution, lipid-dependent gating, voltage-gated ion channel, conformation-specific ligands, lipids
Helical Organization of Blood Coagulation Factor VIII on Lipid Nanotubes
Institutions: University of Texas Medical Branch, University of Texas Medical Branch, University of Texas Medical Branch.
Cryo-electron microscopy (Cryo-EM)1
is a powerful approach to investigate the functional structure of proteins and complexes in a hydrated state and membrane environment2
Coagulation Factor VIII (FVIII)3
is a multi-domain blood plasma glycoprotein. Defect or deficiency of FVIII is the cause for Hemophilia type A - a severe bleeding disorder. Upon proteolytic activation, FVIII binds to the serine protease Factor IXa on the negatively charged platelet membrane, which is critical for normal blood clotting4
. Despite the pivotal role FVIII plays in coagulation, structural information for its membrane-bound state is incomplete5
. Recombinant FVIII concentrate is the most effective drug against Hemophilia type A and commercially available FVIII can be expressed as human or porcine, both forming functional complexes with human Factor IXa6,7
In this study we present a combination of Cryo-electron microscopy (Cryo-EM), lipid nanotechnology and structure analysis applied to resolve the membrane-bound structure of two highly homologous FVIII forms: human and porcine. The methodology developed in our laboratory to helically organize the two functional recombinant FVIII forms on negatively charged lipid nanotubes (LNT) is described. The representative results demonstrate that our approach is sufficiently sensitive to define the differences in the helical organization between the two highly homologous in sequence (86% sequence identity) proteins. Detailed protocols for the helical organization, Cryo-EM and electron tomography (ET) data acquisition are given. The two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) structure analysis applied to obtain the 3D reconstructions of human and porcine FVIII-LNT is discussed. The presented human and porcine FVIII-LNT structures show the potential of the proposed methodology to calculate the functional, membrane-bound organization of blood coagulation Factor VIII at high resolution.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, Cryo-electron microscopy, Lipid nanotubes, Helical assembly, Membrane-bound organization, Coagulation factor VIII
Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1
. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2
, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3
In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis.
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials
Examination of Synaptic Vesicle Recycling Using FM Dyes During Evoked, Spontaneous, and Miniature Synaptic Activities
Institutions: University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, University of Bath.
Synaptic vesicles in functional nerve terminals undergo exocytosis and endocytosis. This synaptic vesicle recycling can be effectively analyzed using styryl FM dyes, which reveal membrane turnover. Conventional protocols for the use of FM dyes were designed for analyzing neurons following stimulated (evoked) synaptic activity. Recently, protocols have become available for analyzing the FM signals that accompany weaker synaptic activities, such as spontaneous or miniature synaptic events. Analysis of these small changes in FM signals requires that the imaging system is sufficiently sensitive to detect small changes in intensity, yet that artifactual changes of large amplitude are suppressed. Here we describe a protocol that can be applied to evoked, spontaneous, and miniature synaptic activities, and use cultured hippocampal neurons as an example. This protocol also incorporates a means of assessing the rate of photobleaching of FM dyes, as this is a significant source of artifacts when imaging small changes in intensity.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, Presynaptic Terminals, Synaptic Vesicles, Microscopy, Biological Assay, Nervous System, Endocytosis, exocytosis, fluorescence imaging, FM dye, neuron, photobleaching
Visualization of Endoplasmic Reticulum Subdomains in Cultured Cells
Institutions: Fondazione Filarete, University of Milan, National Research Council (CNR), "Magna Graecia" University of Catanzaro.
The lipids and proteins in eukaryotic cells are continuously exchanged between cell compartments, although these retain their distinctive composition and functions despite the intense interorganelle molecular traffic. The techniques described in this paper are powerful means of studying protein and lipid mobility and trafficking in vivo
and in their physiological environment. Fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP) and fluorescence loss in photobleaching (FLIP) are widely used live-cell imaging techniques for studying intracellular trafficking through the exo-endocytic pathway, the continuity between organelles or subcompartments, the formation of protein complexes, and protein localization in lipid microdomains, all of which can be observed under physiological and pathological conditions. The limitations of these approaches are mainly due to the use of fluorescent fusion proteins, and their potential drawbacks include artifactual over-expression in cells and the possibility of differences in the folding and localization of tagged and native proteins. Finally, as the limit of resolution of optical microscopy (about 200 nm) does not allow investigation of the fine structure of the ER or the specific subcompartments that can originate in cells under stress (i.e.
hypoxia, drug administration, the over-expression of transmembrane ER resident proteins) or under pathological conditions, we combine live-cell imaging of cultured transfected cells with ultrastructural analyses based on transmission electron microscopy.
Microbiology, Issue 84, Endoplasmic reticulum (ER), fluorescent proteins (FPs), confocal microscopy, fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP), fluorescence loss in photobleaching (FLIP), ultrastructure, transmission electron microscopy (TEM)
Probe-based Confocal Laser Endomicroscopy of the Urinary Tract: The Technique
Institutions: Stanford University School of Medicine , Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System.
Probe-based confocal laser endomicroscopy (CLE) is an emerging optical imaging technology that enables real-time in vivo
microscopy of mucosal surfaces during standard endoscopy. With applications currently in the respiratory1
and gastrointestinal tracts,2-6
CLE has also been explored in the urinary tract for bladder cancer diagnosis.7-10
Cellular morphology and tissue microarchitecture can be resolved with micron scale resolution in real time, in addition to dynamic imaging of the normal and pathological vasculature.7
The probe-based CLE system (Cellvizio, Mauna Kea Technologies, France) consists of a reusable fiberoptic imaging probe coupled to a 488 nm laser scanning unit. The imaging probe is inserted in the working channels of standard flexible and rigid endoscopes. An endoscope-based CLE system (Optiscan, Australia), in which the confocal endomicroscopy functionality is integrated onto the endoscope, is also used in the gastrointestinal tract. Given the larger scope diameter, however, application in the urinary tract is currently limited to ex vivo
Confocal image acquisition is done through direct contact of the imaging probe with the target tissue and recorded as video sequences. As in the gastrointestinal tract, endomicroscopy of the urinary tract requires an exogenenous contrast agent—most commonly fluorescein, which can be administered intravenously or intravesically. Intravesical administration is a well-established method to introduce pharmacological agents locally with minimal systemic toxicity that is unique to the urinary tract. Fluorescein rapidly stains the extracellular matrix and has an established safety profile.12
Imaging probes of various diameters enable compatibility with different caliber endoscopes. To date, 1.4 and 2.6 mm probes have been evaluated with flexible and rigid cystoscopy.10
Recent availability of a < 1 mm imaging probe13
opens up the possibility of CLE in the upper urinary tract during ureteroscopy. Fluorescence cystoscopy (i.e.
photodynamic diagnosis) and narrow band imaging are additional endoscope-based optical imaging modalities14
that can be combined with CLE to achieve multimodal imaging of the urinary tract. In the future, CLE may be coupled with molecular contrast agents such as fluorescently labeled peptides15
and antibodies for endoscopic imaging of disease processes with molecular specificity.
Medicine, Issue 71, Anatomy, Physiology, Cancer Biology, Surgery, Basic Protocols, Confocal laser endomicroscopy, microscopy, endoscopy, cystoscopy, human bladder, bladder cancer, urology, minimally invasive, cellular imaging
Analysis of Tubular Membrane Networks in Cardiac Myocytes from Atria and Ventricles
Institutions: Heart Research Center Goettingen, University Medical Center Goettingen, German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) partner site Goettingen, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
In cardiac myocytes a complex network of membrane tubules - the transverse-axial tubule system (TATS) - controls deep intracellular signaling functions. While the outer surface membrane and associated TATS membrane components appear to be continuous, there are substantial differences in lipid and protein content. In ventricular myocytes (VMs), certain TATS components are highly abundant contributing to rectilinear tubule networks and regular branching 3D architectures. It is thought that peripheral TATS components propagate action potentials from the cell surface to thousands of remote intracellular sarcoendoplasmic reticulum (SER) membrane contact domains, thereby activating intracellular Ca2+
release units (CRUs). In contrast to VMs, the organization and functional role of TATS membranes in atrial myocytes (AMs) is significantly different and much less understood. Taken together, quantitative structural characterization of TATS membrane networks in healthy and diseased myocytes is an essential prerequisite towards better understanding of functional plasticity and pathophysiological reorganization. Here, we present a strategic combination of protocols for direct quantitative analysis of TATS membrane networks in living VMs and AMs. For this, we accompany primary cell isolations of mouse VMs and/or AMs with critical quality control steps and direct membrane staining protocols for fluorescence imaging of TATS membranes. Using an optimized workflow for confocal or superresolution TATS image processing, binarized and skeletonized data are generated for quantitative analysis of the TATS network and its components. Unlike previously published indirect regional aggregate image analysis strategies, our protocols enable direct characterization of specific components and derive complex physiological properties of TATS membrane networks in living myocytes with high throughput and open access software tools. In summary, the combined protocol strategy can be readily applied for quantitative TATS network studies during physiological myocyte adaptation or disease changes, comparison of different cardiac or skeletal muscle cell types, phenotyping of transgenic models, and pharmacological or therapeutic interventions.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cardiac myocyte, atria, ventricle, heart, primary cell isolation, fluorescence microscopy, membrane tubule, transverse-axial tubule system, image analysis, image processing, T-tubule, collagenase
Preparation of Primary Neurons for Visualizing Neurites in a Frozen-hydrated State Using Cryo-Electron Tomography
Institutions: Baylor College of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, University of California at San Diego, Baylor College of Medicine.
Neurites, both dendrites and axons, are neuronal cellular processes that enable the conduction of electrical impulses between neurons. Defining the structure of neurites is critical to understanding how these processes move materials and signals that support synaptic communication. Electron microscopy (EM) has been traditionally used to assess the ultrastructural features within neurites; however, the exposure to organic solvent during dehydration and resin embedding can distort structures. An important unmet goal is the formulation of procedures that allow for structural evaluations not impacted by such artifacts.
Here, we have established a detailed and reproducible protocol for growing and flash-freezing whole neurites of different primary neurons on electron microscopy grids followed by their examination with cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET). This technique allows for 3-D visualization of frozen, hydrated neurites at nanometer resolution, facilitating assessment of their morphological differences. Our protocol yields an unprecedented view of dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurites, and a visualization of hippocampal neurites in their near-native state. As such, these methods create a foundation for future studies on neurites of both normal neurons and those impacted by neurological disorders.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, Neurons, Cryo-electron Microscopy, Electron Microscope Tomography, Brain, rat, primary neuron culture, morphological assay
Bladder Smooth Muscle Strip Contractility as a Method to Evaluate Lower Urinary Tract Pharmacology
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
We describe an in vitro
method to measure bladder smooth muscle contractility, and its use for investigating physiological and pharmacological properties of the smooth muscle as well as changes induced by pathology. This method provides critical information for understanding bladder function while overcoming major methodological difficulties encountered in in vivo
experiments, such as surgical and pharmacological manipulations that affect stability and survival of the preparations, the use of human tissue, and/or the use of expensive chemicals. It also provides a way to investigate the properties of each bladder component (i.e.
smooth muscle, mucosa, nerves) in healthy and pathological conditions.
The urinary bladder is removed from an anesthetized animal, placed in Krebs solution and cut into strips. Strips are placed into a chamber filled with warm Krebs solution. One end is attached to an isometric tension transducer to measure contraction force, the other end is attached to a fixed rod. Tissue is stimulated by directly adding compounds to the bath or by electric field stimulation electrodes that activate nerves, similar to triggering bladder contractions in vivo
. We demonstrate the use of this method to evaluate spontaneous smooth muscle contractility during development and after an experimental spinal cord injury, the nature of neurotransmission (transmitters and receptors involved), factors involved in modulation of smooth muscle activity, the role of individual bladder components, and species and organ differences in response to pharmacological agents. Additionally, it could be used for investigating intracellular pathways involved in contraction and/or relaxation of the smooth muscle, drug structure-activity relationships and evaluation of transmitter release.
The in vitro
smooth muscle contractility method has been used extensively for over 50 years, and has provided data that significantly contributed to our understanding of bladder function as well as to pharmaceutical development of compounds currently used clinically for bladder management.
Medicine, Issue 90, Krebs, species differences, in vitro, smooth muscle contractility, neural stimulation
Visualization of ATP Synthase Dimers in Mitochondria by Electron Cryo-tomography
Institutions: Max Planck Institute of Biophysics.
Electron cryo-tomography is a powerful tool in structural biology, capable of visualizing the three-dimensional structure of biological samples, such as cells, organelles, membrane vesicles, or viruses at molecular detail. To achieve this, the aqueous sample is rapidly vitrified in liquid ethane, which preserves it in a close-to-native, frozen-hydrated state. In the electron microscope, tilt series are recorded at liquid nitrogen temperature, from which 3D tomograms are reconstructed. The signal-to-noise ratio of the tomographic volume is inherently low. Recognizable, recurring features are enhanced by subtomogram averaging, by which individual subvolumes are cut out, aligned and averaged to reduce noise. In this way, 3D maps with a resolution of 2 nm or better can be obtained. A fit of available high-resolution structures to the 3D volume then produces atomic models of protein complexes in their native environment. Here we show how we use electron cryo-tomography to study the in situ
organization of large membrane protein complexes in mitochondria. We find that ATP synthases are organized in rows of dimers along highly curved apices of the inner membrane cristae, whereas complex I is randomly distributed in the membrane regions on either side of the rows. By subtomogram averaging we obtained a structure of the mitochondrial ATP synthase dimer within the cristae membrane.
Structural Biology, Issue 91, electron microscopy, electron cryo-tomography, mitochondria, ultrastructure, membrane structure, membrane protein complexes, ATP synthase, energy conversion, bioenergetics
Aseptic Laboratory Techniques: Plating Methods
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Microorganisms are present on all inanimate surfaces creating ubiquitous sources of possible contamination in the laboratory. Experimental success relies on the ability of a scientist to sterilize work surfaces and equipment as well as prevent contact of sterile instruments and solutions with non-sterile surfaces. Here we present the steps for several plating methods routinely used in the laboratory to isolate, propagate, or enumerate microorganisms such as bacteria and phage. All five methods incorporate aseptic technique, or procedures that maintain the sterility of experimental materials. Procedures described include (1) streak-plating bacterial cultures to isolate single colonies, (2) pour-plating and (3) spread-plating to enumerate viable bacterial colonies, (4) soft agar overlays to isolate phage and enumerate plaques, and (5) replica-plating to transfer cells from one plate to another in an identical spatial pattern. These procedures can be performed at the laboratory bench, provided they involve non-pathogenic strains of microorganisms (Biosafety Level 1, BSL-1). If working with BSL-2 organisms, then these manipulations must take place in a biosafety cabinet. Consult the most current edition of the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories
(BMBL) as well as Material Safety Data Sheets
(MSDS) for Infectious Substances to determine the biohazard classification as well as the safety precautions and containment facilities required for the microorganism in question. Bacterial strains and phage stocks can be obtained from research investigators, companies, and collections maintained by particular organizations such as the American Type Culture Collection
(ATCC). It is recommended that non-pathogenic strains be used when learning the various plating methods. By following the procedures described in this protocol, students should be able to:
● Perform plating procedures without contaminating media.
● Isolate single bacterial colonies by the streak-plating method.
● Use pour-plating and spread-plating methods to determine the concentration of bacteria.
● Perform soft agar overlays when working with phage.
● Transfer bacterial cells from one plate to another using the replica-plating procedure.
● Given an experimental task, select the appropriate plating method.
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, Streak plates, pour plates, soft agar overlays, spread plates, replica plates, bacteria, colonies, phage, plaques, dilutions
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
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
Optimized Negative Staining: a High-throughput Protocol for Examining Small and Asymmetric Protein Structure by Electron Microscopy
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
An Orthotopic Model of Murine Bladder Cancer
Institutions: Tulane University, Tulane University.
In this straightforward procedure, bladder tumors are established in female C57 mice through the use of catheterization, local cauterization, and subsequent cell adhesion. After their bladders are transurethrally catheterized and drained, animals are again catheterized to permit insertion of a platinum wire into bladders without damaging the urethra or bladder. The catheters are made of Teflon to serve as an insulator for the wire, which will conduct electrical current into the bladder to create a burn injury. An electrocautery unit is used to deliver 2.5W to the exposed end of the wire, burning away extracellular layers and providing attachment sites for carcinoma cells that are delivered in suspension to the bladder through a subsequent catheterization. Cells remain in the bladder for 90 minutes, after which the catheters are removed and the bladders allowed to drain naturally. The development of tumor is monitored via ultrasound. Specific attention is paid to the catheterization technique in the accompanying video.
Medicine, Issue 48, Bladder tumor, orthotopic, mouse, ultrasound
Focussed Ion Beam Milling and Scanning Electron Microscopy of Brain Tissue
Institutions: École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.
This protocol describes how biological samples, like brain tissue, can be imaged in three dimensions using the focussed ion beam/scanning electron microscope (FIB/SEM). The samples are fixed with aldehydes, heavy metal stained using osmium tetroxide and uranyl acetate. They are then dehydrated with alcohol and infiltrated with resin, which is then hardened. Using a light microscope and ultramicrotome with glass knives, a small block containing the region interest close to the surface is made. The block is then placed inside the FIB/SEM, and the ion beam used to roughly mill a vertical face along one side of the block, close to this region. Using backscattered electrons to image the underlying structures, a smaller face is then milled with a finer ion beam and the surface scrutinised more closely to determine the exact area of the face to be imaged and milled. The parameters of the microscope are then set so that the face is repeatedly milled and imaged so that serial images are collected through a volume of the block. The image stack will typically contain isotropic voxels with dimenions as small a 4 nm in each direction. This image quality in any imaging plane enables the user to analyse cell ultrastructure at any viewing angle within the image stack.
Neuroscience, Issue 53, Focussed ion beam, scanning electron microscopy, FIB
Correlative Light and Electron Microscopy (CLEM) as a Tool to Visualize Microinjected Molecules and their Eukaryotic Sub-cellular Targets
Institutions: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center .
The eukaryotic cell relies on complex, highly regulated, and functionally distinct membrane bound compartments that preserve a biochemical polarity necessary for proper cellular function. Understanding how the enzymes, proteins, and cytoskeletal components govern and maintain this biochemical segregation is therefore of paramount importance. The use of fluorescently tagged molecules to localize to and/or perturb subcellular compartments has yielded a wealth of knowledge and advanced our understanding of cellular regulation. Imaging techniques such as fluorescent and confocal microscopy make ascertaining the position of a fluorescently tagged small molecule relatively straightforward, however the resolution of very small structures is limited 1
On the other hand, electron microscopy has revealed details of subcellular morphology at very high resolution, but its static nature makes it difficult to measure highly dynamic processes with precision 2,3
. Thus, the combination of light microscopy with electron microscopy of the same sample, termed Correlative Light and Electron Microscopy (CLEM) 4,5
, affords the dual advantages of ultrafast fluorescent imaging with the high-resolution of electron microscopy 6
. This powerful technique has been implemented to study many aspects of cell biology 5,7
. Since its inception, this procedure has increased our ability to distinguish subcellular architectures and morphologies at high resolution.
Here, we present a streamlined method for performing rapid microinjection followed by CLEM (Fig. 1
). The microinjection CLEM procedure can be used to introduce specific quantities of small molecules and/or proteins directly into the eukaryotic cell cytoplasm and study the effects from millimeter to multi-nanometer resolution (Fig. 2
). The technique is based on microinjecting cells grown on laser etched glass gridded coverslips affixed to the bottom of live cell dishes and imaging with both confocal fluorescent and electron microscopy. Localization of the cell(s) of interest is facilitated by the grid pattern, which is easily transferred, along with the cells of interest, to the Epon resin used for immobilization of samples and sectioning prior to electron microscopy analysis (Fig. 3
). Overlay of fluorescent and EM images allows the user to determine the subcellular localization as well as any morphological and/or ultrastructural changes induced by the microinjected molecule of interest (Fig. 4
). This technique is amenable to time points ranging from ≤5 s up to several hours, depending on the nature of the microinjected sample.
Cellular Biology, Issue 63, Correlative light and electron microscopy, microinjection, subcellular localization, fluorescent microscopy, microscopy, CLEM
Non-invasive 3D-Visualization with Sub-micron Resolution Using Synchrotron-X-ray-tomography
Institutions: University of Tubingen, European Synchrotron Radiation Facility.
Little is known about the internal organization of many micro-arthropods with body sizes below 1 mm. The reasons for that are the small size and the hard cuticle which makes it difficult to use protocols of classical histology. In addition, histological sectioning destroys the sample and can therefore not be used for unique material. Hence, a non-destructive method is desirable which allows to view inside small samples without the need of sectioning.
We used synchrotron X-ray tomography at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble (France) to non-invasively produce 3D tomographic datasets with a pixel-resolution of 0.7µm. Using volume rendering software, this allows us to reconstruct the internal organization in its natural state without the artefacts produced by histological sectioning. These date can be used for quantitative morphology, landmarks, or for the visualization of animated movies to understand the structure of hidden body parts and to follow complete organ systems or tissues through the samples.
Developmental Biology, Issue 15, Synchrotron X-ray tomography, Acari, Oribatida, micro-arthropods, non-invasive investigation