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Discovery of defense- and neuropeptides in social ants by genome-mining.
Natural peptides of great number and diversity occur in all organisms, but analyzing their peptidome is often difficult. With natural product drug discovery in mind, we devised a genome-mining approach to identify defense- and neuropeptides in the genomes of social ants from Atta cephalotes (leaf-cutter ant), Camponotus floridanus (carpenter ant) and Harpegnathos saltator (basal genus). Numerous peptide-encoding genes of defense peptides, in particular defensins, and neuropeptides or regulatory peptide hormones, such as allatostatins and tachykinins, were identified and analyzed. Most interestingly we annotated genes that encode oxytocin/vasopressin-related peptides (inotocins) and their putative receptors. This is the first piece of evidence for the existence of this nonapeptide hormone system in ants (Formicidae) and supports recent findings in Tribolium castaneum (red flour beetle) and Nasonia vitripennis (parasitoid wasp), and therefore its confinement to some basal holometabolous insects. By contrast, the absence of the inotocin hormone system in Apis mellifera (honeybee), another closely-related member of the eusocial Hymenoptera clade, establishes the basis for future studies on the molecular evolution and physiological function of oxytocin/vasopressin-related peptides (vasotocin nonapeptide family) and their receptors in social insects. Particularly the identification of ant inotocin and defensin peptide sequences will provide a basis for future pharmacological characterization in the quest for potent and selective lead compounds of therapeutic value.
This video demonstrates novel techniques of RNA interference (RNAi) which downregulate two genes simultaneously in honey bees using double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) injections. It also presents a protocol of proboscis extension response (PER) assay for measuring gustatory perception. RNAi-mediated gene knockdown is an effective technique downregulating target gene expression. This technique is usually used for single gene manipulation, but it has limitations to detect interactions and joint effects between genes. In the first part of this video, we present two strategies to simultaneously knock down two genes (called double gene knockdown). We show both strategies are able to effectively suppress two genes, vitellogenin (vg) and ultraspiracle (usp), which are in a regulatory feedback loop. This double gene knockdown approach can be used to dissect interrelationships between genes and can be readily applied in different insect species. The second part of this video is a demonstration of proboscis extension response (PER) assay in honey bees after the treatment of double gene knockdown. The PER assay is a standard test for measuring gustatory perception in honey bees, which is a key predictor for how fast a honey bee's behavioral maturation is. Greater gustatory perception of nest bees indicates increased behavioral development which is often associated with an earlier age at onset of foraging and foraging specialization in pollen. In addition, PER assay can be applied to identify metabolic states of satiation or hunger in honey bees. Finally, PER assay combined with pairing different odor stimuli for conditioning the bees is also widely used for learning and memory studies in honey bees.
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Physiological Experimentation with the Crayfish Hindgut: A Student Laboratory Exercise
Authors: Ann S. Cooper, Bonnie Leksrisawat, Allison B. Gilberts, A. Joffre Mercier, Robin L. Cooper.
Institutions: University of Kentucky, Brock University.
The purpose of the report is to describe dissection techniques for preparing the crayfish hindgut and to demonstrate how to make physiological recordings with a force transducer to monitor the strength of contraction. In addition, we demonstrate how to visually monitor peristaltic activity, which can be used as a bioassay for various peptides, biogenic amines and neurotransmitters. This preparation is amenable to student laboratories in physiology and for demonstrating pharmacological concepts to students. This preparation has been in use for over 100 years, and it still offers much as a model for investigating the generation and regulation of peristaltic rhythms and for describing the mechanisms underlying their modulation. The pharmacological assays and receptor sub-typing that were started over 50 years ago on the hindgut still contribute to research today. This robust preparation is well suited to training students in physiology and pharmacology.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, invertebrate, crayfish, student laboratory, physiology
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Using a Comparative Species Approach to Investigate the Neurobiology of Paternal Responses
Authors: Catherine L. Franssen, Massimo Bardi, Kelly G. Lambert.
Institutions: Randolph-Macon College, Marshall University.
A goal of behavioral neuroscience is to identify underlying neurobiological factors that regulate specific behaviors. Using animal models to accomplish this goal, many methodological strategies require invasive techniques to manipulate the intensity of the behavior of interest (e.g., lesion methods, pharmacological manipulations, microdialysis techniques, genetically-engineered animal models). The utilization of a comparative species approach allows researchers to take advantage of naturally occurring differences in response strategies existing in closely related species. In our lab, we use two species of the Peromyscus genus that differ in paternal responses. The male California deer mouse (Peromyscus californicus) exhibits the same parental responses as the female whereas its cousin, the common deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) exhibits virtually no nurturing/parental responses in the presence of pups. Of specific interest in this article is an exploration of the neurobiological factors associated with the affiliative social responses exhibited by the paternal California deer mouse. Because the behavioral neuroscience approach is multifaceted, the following key components of the study will be briefly addressed: the identification of appropriate species for this type of research; data collection for behavioral analysis; preparation and sectioning of the brains; basic steps involved in immunocytochemistry for the quantification of vasopressin-immunoreactivity; the use of neuroimaging software to quantify the brain tissue; the use of a microsequencing video analysis to score behavior and, finally, the appropriate statistical analyses to provide the most informed interpretations of the research findings.
Neuroscience, Issue 55, Peromyscus, mouse, paternal behavior, vasopressin, immunocytochemistry, microsequencing behavioral analysis
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Solid Phase Synthesis of a Functionalized Bis-Peptide Using "Safety Catch" Methodology
Authors: Conrad T. Pfeiffer, Christian E. Schafmeister.
Institutions: Temple University .
In 1962, R.B. Merrifield published the first procedure using solid-phase peptide synthesis as a novel route to efficiently synthesize peptides. This technique quickly proved advantageous over its solution-phase predecessor in both time and labor. Improvements concerning the nature of solid support, the protecting groups employed and the coupling methods employed over the last five decades have only increased the usefulness of Merrifield's original system. Today, use of a Boc-based protection and base/nucleophile cleavable resin strategy or Fmoc-based protection and acidic cleavable resin strategy, pioneered by R.C. Sheppard, are most commonly used for the synthesis of peptides1. Inspired by Merrifield's solid supported strategy, we have developed a Boc/tert-butyl solid-phase synthesis strategy for the assembly of functionalized bis-peptides2, which is described herein. The use of solid-phase synthesis compared to solution-phase methodology is not only advantageous in both time and labor as described by Merrifield1, but also allows greater ease in the synthesis of bis-peptide libraries. The synthesis that we demonstrate here incorporates a final cleavage stage that uses a two-step "safety catch" mechanism to release the functionalized bis-peptide from the resin by diketopiperazine formation. Bis-peptides are rigid, spiro-ladder oligomers of bis-amino acids that are able to position functionality in a predictable and designable way, controlled by the type and stereochemistry of the monomeric units and the connectivity between each monomer. Each bis-amino acid is a stereochemically pure, cyclic scaffold that contains two amino acids (a carboxylic acid with an α-amine)3,4. Our laboratory is currently investigating the potential of functional bis-peptides across a wide variety of fields including catalysis, protein-protein interactions and nanomaterials.
Chemistry, Issue 63, bis-peptides, solid phase peptide synthesis, bis-amino acids, safety catch, HMBA, DTRA
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Peering into the Dynamics of Social Interactions: Measuring Play Fighting in Rats
Authors: Brett T. Himmler, Vivien C. Pellis, Sergio M. Pellis.
Institutions: University of Lethbridge.
Play fighting in the rat involves attack and defense of the nape of the neck, which if contacted, is gently nuzzled with the snout. Because the movements of one animal are countered by the actions of its partner, play fighting is a complex, dynamic interaction. This dynamic complexity raises methodological problems about what to score for experimental studies. We present a scoring schema that is sensitive to the correlated nature of the actions performed. The frequency of play fighting can be measured by counting the number of playful nape attacks occurring per unit time. However, playful defense, as it can only occur in response to attack, is necessarily a contingent measure that is best measured as a percentage (#attacks defended/total # attacks X 100%). How a particular attack is defended against can involve one of several tactics, and these are contingent on defense having taken place; consequently, the type of defense is also best expressed contingently as a percentage. Two experiments illustrate how these measurements can be used to detect the effect of brain damage on play fighting even when there is no effect on overall playfulness. That is, the schema presented here is designed to detect and evaluate changes in the content of play following an experimental treatment.
Neuroscience, Issue 71, Neurobiology, Behavior, Psychology, Anatomy, Physiology, Medicine, Play behavior, play, fighting, wrestling, grooming, allogrooming, social interaction, rat, behavioral analysis, animal model
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Gramicidin-based Fluorescence Assay; for Determining Small Molecules Potential for Modifying Lipid Bilayer Properties
Authors: Helgi I. Ingólfsson, R. Lea Sanford, Ruchi Kapoor, Olaf S. Andersen.
Institutions: Weill Cornell Medical College.
Many drugs and other small molecules used to modulate biological function are amphiphiles that adsorb at the bilayer/solution interface and thereby alter lipid bilayer properties. This is important because membrane proteins are energetically coupled to their host bilayer by hydrophobic interactions. Changes in bilayer properties thus alter membrane protein function, which provides an indirect way for amphiphiles to modulate protein function and a possible mechanism for "off-target" drug effects. We have previously developed an electrophysiological assay for detecting changes in lipid bilayer properties using linear gramicidin channels as probes 3,12. Gramicidin channels are mini-proteins formed by the transbilayer dimerization of two non-conducting subunits. They are sensitive to changes in their membrane environment, which makes them powerful probes for monitoring changes in lipid bilayer properties as sensed by bilayer spanning proteins. We now demonstrate a fluorescence assay for detecting changes in bilayer properties using the same channels as probes. The assay is based on measuring the time-course of fluorescence quenching from fluorophore-loaded large unilamellar vesicles due to the entry of a quencher through the gramicidin channels. We use the fluorescence indicator/quencher pair 8-aminonaphthalene-1,3,6-trisulfonate (ANTS)/Tl+ that has been successfully used in other fluorescence quenching assays 5,13. Tl+ permeates the lipid bilayer slowly 8 but passes readily through conducting gramicidin channels 1,14. The method is scalable and suitable for both mechanistic studies and high-throughput screening of small molecules for bilayer-perturbing, and potential "off-target", effects. We find that results using this method are in good agreement with previous electrophysiological results 12.
Microbiology, Issue 44, membrane properties, bilayer properties, gramicidin, fluorescence quenching, high throughput drug screening
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Agroinfiltration and PVX Agroinfection in Potato and Nicotiana benthamiana
Authors: Juan Du, Hendrik Rietman, Vivianne G. A. A. Vleeshouwers.
Institutions: Wageningen University, Huazhong Agricultural University.
Agroinfiltration and PVX agroinfection are two efficient transient expression assays for functional analysis of candidate genes in plants. The most commonly used agent for agroinfiltration is Agrobacterium tumefaciens, a pathogen of many dicot plant species. This implies that agroinfiltration can be applied to many plant species. Here, we present our protocols and expected results when applying these methods to the potato (Solanum tuberosum), its related wild tuber-bearing Solanum species (Solanum section Petota) and the model plant Nicotiana benthamiana. In addition to functional analysis of single genes, such as resistance (R) or avirulence (Avr) genes, the agroinfiltration assay is very suitable for recapitulating the R-AVR interactions associated with specific host pathogen interactions by simply delivering R and Avr transgenes into the same cell. However, some plant genotypes can raise nonspecific defense responses to Agrobacterium, as we observed for example for several potato genotypes. Compared to agroinfiltration, detection of AVR activity with PVX agroinfection is more sensitive, more high-throughput in functional screens and less sensitive to nonspecific defense responses to Agrobacterium. However, nonspecific defense to PVX can occur and there is a risk to miss responses due to virus-induced extreme resistance. Despite such limitations, in our experience, agroinfiltration and PVX agroinfection are both suitable and complementary assays that can be used simultaneously to confirm each other's results.
Plant Biology, Issue 83, Genetics, Bioengineering, Plants, Genetically Modified, DNA, Plant Immunity, Plant Diseases, Genes, Genome, Plant Pathology, Effectoromics, Agroinfiltration, PVX agroinfection, potato, Nicotiana benthamiana, high-throughput, functional genomics
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Measuring Neural and Behavioral Activity During Ongoing Computerized Social Interactions: An Examination of Event-Related Brain Potentials
Authors: Jason R. Themanson.
Institutions: Illinois Wesleyan University.
Social exclusion is a complex social phenomenon with powerful negative consequences. Given the impact of social exclusion on mental and emotional health, an understanding of how perceptions of social exclusion develop over the course of a social interaction is important for advancing treatments aimed at lessening the harmful costs of being excluded. To date, most scientific examinations of social exclusion have looked at exclusion after a social interaction has been completed. While this has been very helpful in developing an understanding of what happens to a person following exclusion, it has not helped to clarify the moment-to-moment dynamics of the process of social exclusion. Accordingly, the current protocol was developed to obtain an improved understanding of social exclusion by examining the patterns of event-related brain activation that are present during social interactions. This protocol allows greater precision and sensitivity in detailing the social processes that lead people to feel as though they have been excluded from a social interaction. Importantly, the current protocol can be adapted to include research projects that vary the nature of exclusionary social interactions by altering how frequently participants are included, how long the periods of exclusion will last in each interaction, and when exclusion will take place during the social interactions. Further, the current protocol can be used to examine variables and constructs beyond those related to social exclusion. This capability to address a variety of applications across psychology by obtaining both neural and behavioral data during ongoing social interactions suggests the present protocol could be at the core of a developing area of scientific inquiry related to social interactions.
Behavior, Issue 93, Event-related brain potentials (ERPs), Social Exclusion, Neuroscience, N2, P3, Cognitive Control
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Using an Automated 3D-tracking System to Record Individual and Shoals of Adult Zebrafish
Authors: Hans Maaswinkel, Liqun Zhu, Wei Weng.
Institutions: xyZfish.
Like many aquatic animals, zebrafish (Danio rerio) moves in a 3D space. It is thus preferable to use a 3D recording system to study its behavior. The presented automatic video tracking system accomplishes this by using a mirror system and a calibration procedure that corrects for the considerable error introduced by the transition of light from water to air. With this system it is possible to record both single and groups of adult zebrafish. Before use, the system has to be calibrated. The system consists of three modules: Recording, Path Reconstruction, and Data Processing. The step-by-step protocols for calibration and using the three modules are presented. Depending on the experimental setup, the system can be used for testing neophobia, white aversion, social cohesion, motor impairments, novel object exploration etc. It is especially promising as a first-step tool to study the effects of drugs or mutations on basic behavioral patterns. The system provides information about vertical and horizontal distribution of the zebrafish, about the xyz-components of kinematic parameters (such as locomotion, velocity, acceleration, and turning angle) and it provides the data necessary to calculate parameters for social cohesions when testing shoals.
Behavior, Issue 82, neuroscience, Zebrafish, Danio rerio, anxiety, Shoaling, Pharmacology, 3D-tracking, MK801
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Examining BCL-2 Family Function with Large Unilamellar Vesicles
Authors: James J. Asciolla, Thibaud T. Renault, Jerry E. Chipuk.
Institutions: Mount Sinai School of Medicine .
The BCL-2 (B cell CLL/Lymphoma) family is comprised of approximately twenty proteins that collaborate to either maintain cell survival or initiate apoptosis1. Following cellular stress (e.g., DNA damage), the pro-apoptotic BCL-2 family effectors BAK (BCL-2 antagonistic killer 1) and/or BAX (BCL-2 associated X protein) become activated and compromise the integrity of the outer mitochondrial membrane (OMM), though the process referred to as mitochondrial outer membrane permeabilization (MOMP)1. After MOMP occurs, pro-apoptotic proteins (e.g., cytochrome c) gain access to the cytoplasm, promote caspase activation, and apoptosis rapidly ensues2. In order for BAK/BAX to induce MOMP, they require transient interactions with members of another pro-apoptotic subset of the BCL-2 family, the BCL-2 homology domain 3 (BH3)-only proteins, such as BID (BH3-interacting domain agonist)3-6. Anti-apoptotic BCL-2 family proteins (e.g., BCL-2 related gene, long isoform, BCL-xL; myeloid cell leukemia 1, MCL-1) regulate cellular survival by tightly controlling the interactions between BAK/BAX and the BH3-only proteins capable of directly inducing BAK/BAX activation7,8. In addition, anti-apoptotic BCL-2 protein availability is also dictated by sensitizer/de-repressor BH3-only proteins, such as BAD (BCL-2 antagonist of cell death) or PUMA (p53 upregulated modulator of apoptosis), which bind and inhibit anti-apoptotic members7,9. As most of the anti-apoptotic BCL-2 repertoire is localized to the OMM, the cellular decision to maintain survival or induce MOMP is dictated by multiple BCL-2 family interactions at this membrane. Large unilamellar vesicles (LUVs) are a biochemical model to explore relationships between BCL-2 family interactions and membrane permeabilization10. LUVs are comprised of defined lipids that are assembled in ratios identified in lipid composition studies from solvent extracted Xenopus mitochondria (46.5% phosphatidylcholine, 28.5% phosphatidylethanoloamine, 9% phosphatidylinositol, 9% phosphatidylserine, and 7% cardiolipin)10. This is a convenient model system to directly explore BCL-2 family function because the protein and lipid components are completely defined and tractable, which is not always the case with primary mitochondria. While cardiolipin is not usually this high throughout the OMM, this model does faithfully mimic the OMM to promote BCL-2 family function. Furthermore, a more recent modification of the above protocol allows for kinetic analyses of protein interactions and real-time measurements of membrane permeabilization, which is based on LUVs containing a polyanionic dye (ANTS: 8-aminonaphthalene-1,3,6-trisulfonic acid) and cationic quencher (DPX: p-xylene-bis-pyridinium bromide)11. As the LUVs permeabilize, ANTS and DPX diffuse apart, and a gain in fluorescence is detected. Here, commonly used recombinant BCL-2 family protein combinations and controls using the LUVs containing ANTS/DPX are described.
Cancer Biology, Issue 68, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Apoptosis, BAX, BCL-2 family, large unilamellar vesicles, MOMP, outer mitochondrial membrane
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Microarray-based Identification of Individual HERV Loci Expression: Application to Biomarker Discovery in Prostate Cancer
Authors: Philippe Pérot, Valérie Cheynet, Myriam Decaussin-Petrucci, Guy Oriol, Nathalie Mugnier, Claire Rodriguez-Lafrasse, Alain Ruffion, François Mallet.
Institutions: Joint Unit Hospices de Lyon-bioMérieux, BioMérieux, Hospices Civils de Lyon, Lyon 1 University, BioMérieux, Hospices Civils de Lyon, Hospices Civils de Lyon.
The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is the main diagnostic biomarker for prostate cancer in clinical use, but it lacks specificity and sensitivity, particularly in low dosage values1​​. ‘How to use PSA' remains a current issue, either for diagnosis as a gray zone corresponding to a concentration in serum of 2.5-10 ng/ml which does not allow a clear differentiation to be made between cancer and noncancer2 or for patient follow-up as analysis of post-operative PSA kinetic parameters can pose considerable challenges for their practical application3,4. Alternatively, noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs) are emerging as key molecules in human cancer, with the potential to serve as novel markers of disease, e.g. PCA3 in prostate cancer5,6 and to reveal uncharacterized aspects of tumor biology. Moreover, data from the ENCODE project published in 2012 showed that different RNA types cover about 62% of the genome. It also appears that the amount of transcriptional regulatory motifs is at least 4.5x higher than the one corresponding to protein-coding exons. Thus, long terminal repeats (LTRs) of human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) constitute a wide range of putative/candidate transcriptional regulatory sequences, as it is their primary function in infectious retroviruses. HERVs, which are spread throughout the human genome, originate from ancestral and independent infections within the germ line, followed by copy-paste propagation processes and leading to multicopy families occupying 8% of the human genome (note that exons span 2% of our genome). Some HERV loci still express proteins that have been associated with several pathologies including cancer7-10. We have designed a high-density microarray, in Affymetrix format, aiming to optimally characterize individual HERV loci expression, in order to better understand whether they can be active, if they drive ncRNA transcription or modulate coding gene expression. This tool has been applied in the prostate cancer field (Figure 1).
Medicine, Issue 81, Cancer Biology, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Prostate, Retroviridae, Biomarkers, Pharmacological, Tumor Markers, Biological, Prostatectomy, Microarray Analysis, Gene Expression, Diagnosis, Human Endogenous Retroviruses, HERV, microarray, Transcriptome, prostate cancer, Affymetrix
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A Calcium Bioluminescence Assay for Functional Analysis of Mosquito (Aedes aegypti) and Tick (Rhipicephalus microplus) G Protein-coupled Receptors
Authors: Hsiao-Ling Lu, Cymon N. Kersch, Suparna Taneja-Bageshwar, Patricia V. Pietrantonio.
Institutions: Texas A&M University (TAMU), Texas A&M University (TAMU).
Arthropod hormone receptors are potential targets for novel pesticides as they regulate many essential physiological and behavioral processes. The majority of them belong to the superfamily of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). We have focused on characterizing arthropod kinin receptors from the tick and mosquito. Arthropod kinins are multifunctional neuropeptides with myotropic, diuretic, and neurotransmitter function. Here, a method for systematic analyses of structure-activity relationships of insect kinins on two heterologous kinin receptor-expressing systems is described. We provide important information relevant to the development of biostable kinin analogs with the potential to disrupt the diuretic, myotropic, and/or digestive processes in ticks and mosquitoes. The kinin receptors from the southern cattle tick, Boophilus microplus (Canestrini), and the mosquito Aedes aegypti (Linnaeus), were stably expressed in the mammalian cell line CHO-K1. Functional analyses of these receptors were completed using a calcium bioluminescence plate assay that measures intracellular bioluminescence to determine cytoplasmic calcium levels upon peptide application to these recombinant cells. This method takes advantage of the aequorin protein, a photoprotein isolated from luminescent jellyfish. We transiently transfected the aequorin plasmid (mtAEQ/pcDNA1) in cell lines that stably expressed the kinin receptors. These cells were then treated with the cofactor coelenterazine, which complexes with intracellular aequorin. This bond breaks in the presence of calcium, emitting luminescence levels indicative of the calcium concentration. As the kinin receptor signals through the release of intracellular calcium, the intensity of the signal is related to the potency of the peptide. This protocol is a synthesis of several previously described protocols with modifications; it presents step-by-step instructions for the stable expression of GPCRs in a mammalian cell line through functional plate assays (Staubly et al., 2002 and Stables et al., 1997). Using this methodology, we were able to establish stable cell lines expressing the mosquito and the tick kinin receptors, compare the potency of three mosquito kinins, identify critical amino acid positions for the ligand-receptor interaction, and perform semi-throughput screening of a peptide library. Because insect kinins are susceptible to fast enzymatic degradation by endogenous peptidases, they are severely limited in use as tools for pest control or endocrinological studies. Therefore, we also tested kinin analogs containing amino isobutyric acid (Aib) to enhance their potency and biostability. This peptidase-resistant analog represents an important lead in the development of biostable insect kinin analogs and may aid in the development of neuropeptide-based arthropod control strategies.
Immunology, Issue 50, Aequorin calcium reporter, coelenterazine, G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR), CHO-K1 cells, mammalian cell culture, neuropeptide SAR studies (SAR= structure-activity relationships), receptor-neuropeptide interaction, bioluminescence, drug discovery, semi-throughput screening in plates
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Testing Protozoacidal Activity of Ligand-lytic Peptides Against Termite Gut Protozoa in vitro (Protozoa Culture) and in vivo (Microinjection into Termite Hindgut)
Authors: Claudia Husseneder, Amit Sethi, Lane Foil, Jennifer Delatte.
Institutions: Louisiana State University Agricultural Center.
We are developing a novel approach to subterranean termite control that would lead to reduced reliance on the use of chemical pesticides. Subterranean termites are dependent on protozoa in the hindguts of workers to efficiently digest wood. Lytic peptides have been shown to kill a variety of protozoan parasites (Mutwiri et al. 2000) and also protozoa in the gut of the Formosan subterranean termite, Coptotermes formosanus (Husseneder and Collier 2009). Lytic peptides are part of the nonspecific immune system of eukaryotes, and destroy the membranes of microorganisms (Leuschner and Hansel 2004). Most lytic peptides are not likely to harm higher eukaryotes, because they do not affect the electrically neutral cholesterol-containing cell membranes of higher eukaryotes (Javadpour et al. 1996). Lytic peptide action can be targeted to specific cell types by the addition of a ligand. For example, Hansel et al. (2007) reported that lytic peptides conjugated with cancer cell membrane receptor ligands could be used to destroy breast cancer cells, while lytic peptides alone or conjugated with non-specific peptides were not effective. Lytic peptides also have been conjugated to human hormones that bind to receptors on tumor cells for targeted destruction of prostate and testicular cancer cells (Leuschner and Hansel 2004). In this article we present techniques used to demonstrate the protozoacidal activity of a lytic peptide (Hecate) coupled to a heptapeptide ligand that binds to the surface membrane of protozoa from the gut of the Formosan subterranean termite. These techniques include extirpation of the gut from termite workers, anaerobic culture of gut protozoa (Pseudotrichonympha grassii, Holomastigotoides hartmanni,Spirotrichonympha leidyi), microscopic confirmation that the ligand marked with a fluorescent dye binds to the termite gut protozoa and other free-living protozoa but not to bacteria or gut tissue. We also demonstrate that the same ligand coupled to a lytic peptide efficiently kills termite gut protozoa in vitro (protozoa culture) and in vivo (microinjection into hindgut of workers), but is less bacteriacidal than the lytic peptide alone. The loss of protozoa leads to the death of the termites in less than two weeks. In the future, we will genetically engineer microorganisms that can survive in the termite hindgut and spread through a termite colony as "Trojan Horses" to express ligand-lytic peptides that would kill the protozoa in the termite gut and subsequently kill the termites in the colony. Ligand-lytic peptides also could be useful for drug development against protozoan parasites.
Microbiology, Issue 46, Isoptera, Coptotermes formosanus, Formosan subterranean termite, termite control, paratransgenesis, symbionts, anaerobic, fluorescence
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Identifying Protein-protein Interaction Sites Using Peptide Arrays
Authors: Hadar Amartely, Anat Iosub-Amir, Assaf Friedler.
Institutions: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Protein-protein interactions mediate most of the processes in the living cell and control homeostasis of the organism. Impaired protein interactions may result in disease, making protein interactions important drug targets. It is thus highly important to understand these interactions at the molecular level. Protein interactions are studied using a variety of techniques ranging from cellular and biochemical assays to quantitative biophysical assays, and these may be performed either with full-length proteins, with protein domains or with peptides. Peptides serve as excellent tools to study protein interactions since peptides can be easily synthesized and allow the focusing on specific interaction sites. Peptide arrays enable the identification of the interaction sites between two proteins as well as screening for peptides that bind the target protein for therapeutic purposes. They also allow high throughput SAR studies. For identification of binding sites, a typical peptide array usually contains partly overlapping 10-20 residues peptides derived from the full sequences of one or more partner proteins of the desired target protein. Screening the array for binding the target protein reveals the binding peptides, corresponding to the binding sites in the partner proteins, in an easy and fast method using only small amount of protein. In this article we describe a protocol for screening peptide arrays for mapping the interaction sites between a target protein and its partners. The peptide array is designed based on the sequences of the partner proteins taking into account their secondary structures. The arrays used in this protocol were Celluspots arrays prepared by INTAVIS Bioanalytical Instruments. The array is blocked to prevent unspecific binding and then incubated with the studied protein. Detection using an antibody reveals the binding peptides corresponding to the specific interaction sites between the proteins.
Molecular Biology, Issue 93, peptides, peptide arrays, protein-protein interactions, binding sites, peptide synthesis, micro-arrays
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Larval RNA Interference in the Red Flour Beetle, Tribolium castaneum
Authors: David M. Linz, Courtney M. Clark-Hachtel, Ferran Borràs-Castells, Yoshinori Tomoyasu.
Institutions: Miami University.
The red flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum, offers a repertoire of experimental tools for genetic and developmental studies, including a fully annotated genome sequence, transposon-based transgenesis, and effective RNA interference (RNAi). Among these advantages, RNAi-based gene knockdown techniques are at the core of Tribolium research. T. castaneum show a robust systemic RNAi response, making it possible to perform RNAi at any life stage by simply injecting double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) into the beetle’s body cavity. In this report, we provide an overview of our larval RNAi technique in T. castaneum. The protocol includes (i) isolation of the proper stage of T. castaneum larvae for injection, (ii) preparation for the injection setting, and (iii) dsRNA injection. Larval RNAi is a simple, but powerful technique that provides us with quick access to loss-of-function phenotypes, including multiple gene knockdown phenotypes as well as a series of hypomorphic phenotypes. Since virtually all T. castaneum tissues are susceptible to extracellular dsRNA, the larval RNAi technique allows researchers to study a wide variety of tissues in diverse contexts, including the genetic basis of organismal responses to the outside environment. In addition, the simplicity of this technique stimulates more student involvement in research, making T. castaneum an ideal genetic system for use in a classroom setting.
Molecular Biology, Issue 92, RNA interference, RNAi, gene knockdown, red flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum, injection, double-stranded RNA, functional analysis, teaching laboratories
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Using Chronic Social Stress to Model Postpartum Depression in Lactating Rodents
Authors: Lindsay M. Carini, Christopher A. Murgatroyd, Benjamin C. Nephew.
Institutions: Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Manchester Metropolitan University.
Exposure to chronic stress is a reliable predictor of depressive disorders, and social stress is a common ethologically relevant stressor in both animals and humans. However, many animal models of depression were developed in males and are not applicable or effective in studies of postpartum females. Recent studies have reported significant effects of chronic social stress during lactation, an ethologically relevant and effective stressor, on maternal behavior, growth, and behavioral neuroendocrinology. This manuscript will describe this chronic social stress paradigm using repeated exposure of a lactating dam to a novel male intruder, and the assessment of the behavioral, physiological, and neuroendocrine effects of this model. Chronic social stress (CSS) is a valuable model for studying the effects of stress on the behavior and physiology of the dam as well as her offspring and future generations. The exposure of pups to CSS can also be used as an early life stress that has long term effects on behavior, physiology, and neuroendocrinology.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Physiology, Anatomy, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Neurobehavioral Manifestations, Mental Health, Mood Disorders, Depressive Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, behavioral sciences, Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms, Mental Disorders, Stress, Depression, Anxiety, Postpartum, Maternal Behavior, Nursing, Growth, Transgenerational, animal model
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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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Characterization of G Protein-coupled Receptors by a Fluorescence-based Calcium Mobilization Assay
Authors: Jelle Caers, Katleen Peymen, Nick Suetens, Liesbet Temmerman, Tom Janssen, Liliane Schoofs, Isabel Beets.
Institutions: KU Leuven.
For more than 20 years, reverse pharmacology has been the preeminent strategy to discover the activating ligands of orphan G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). The onset of a reverse pharmacology assay is the cloning and subsequent transfection of a GPCR of interest in a cellular expression system. The heterologous expressed receptor is then challenged with a compound library of candidate ligands to identify the receptor-activating ligand(s). Receptor activation can be assessed by measuring changes in concentration of second messenger reporter molecules, like calcium or cAMP. The fluorescence-based calcium mobilization assay described here is a frequently used medium-throughput reverse pharmacology assay. The orphan GPCR is transiently expressed in human embryonic kidney 293T (HEK293T) cells and a promiscuous Gα16 construct is co-transfected. Following ligand binding, activation of the Gα16 subunit induces the release of calcium from the endoplasmic reticulum. Prior to ligand screening, the receptor-expressing cells are loaded with a fluorescent calcium indicator, Fluo-4 acetoxymethyl. The fluorescent signal of Fluo-4 is negligible in cells under resting conditions, but can be amplified more than a 100-fold upon the interaction with calcium ions that are released after receptor activation. The described technique does not require the time-consuming establishment of stably transfected cell lines in which the transfected genetic material is integrated into the host cell genome. Instead, a transient transfection, generating temporary expression of the target gene, is sufficient to perform the screening assay. The setup allows medium-throughput screening of hundreds of compounds. Co-transfection of the promiscuous Gα16, which couples to most GPCRs, allows the intracellular signaling pathway to be redirected towards the release of calcium, regardless of the native signaling pathway in endogenous settings. The HEK293T cells are easy to handle and have proven their efficacy throughout the years in receptor deorphanization assays. However, optimization of the assay for specific receptors may remain necessary.
Cellular Biology, Issue 89, G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR), calcium mobilization assay, reverse pharmacology, deorphanization, cellular expression system, HEK293T, Fluo-4, FlexStation
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Setting-up an In Vitro Model of Rat Blood-brain Barrier (BBB): A Focus on BBB Impermeability and Receptor-mediated Transport
Authors: Yves Molino, Françoise Jabès, Emmanuelle Lacassagne, Nicolas Gaudin, Michel Khrestchatisky.
Institutions: VECT-HORUS SAS, CNRS, NICN UMR 7259.
The blood brain barrier (BBB) specifically regulates molecular and cellular flux between the blood and the nervous tissue. Our aim was to develop and characterize a highly reproducible rat syngeneic in vitro model of the BBB using co-cultures of primary rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC) and astrocytes to study receptors involved in transcytosis across the endothelial cell monolayer. Astrocytes were isolated by mechanical dissection following trypsin digestion and were frozen for later co-culture. RBEC were isolated from 5-week-old rat cortices. The brains were cleaned of meninges and white matter, and mechanically dissociated following enzymatic digestion. Thereafter, the tissue homogenate was centrifuged in bovine serum albumin to separate vessel fragments from nervous tissue. The vessel fragments underwent a second enzymatic digestion to free endothelial cells from their extracellular matrix. The remaining contaminating cells such as pericytes were further eliminated by plating the microvessel fragments in puromycin-containing medium. They were then passaged onto filters for co-culture with astrocytes grown on the bottom of the wells. RBEC expressed high levels of tight junction (TJ) proteins such as occludin, claudin-5 and ZO-1 with a typical localization at the cell borders. The transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER) of brain endothelial monolayers, indicating the tightness of TJs reached 300 ohm·cm2 on average. The endothelial permeability coefficients (Pe) for lucifer yellow (LY) was highly reproducible with an average of 0.26 ± 0.11 x 10-3 cm/min. Brain endothelial cells organized in monolayers expressed the efflux transporter P-glycoprotein (P-gp), showed a polarized transport of rhodamine 123, a ligand for P-gp, and showed specific transport of transferrin-Cy3 and DiILDL across the endothelial cell monolayer. In conclusion, we provide a protocol for setting up an in vitro BBB model that is highly reproducible due to the quality assurance methods, and that is suitable for research on BBB transporters and receptors.
Medicine, Issue 88, rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC), mouse, spinal cord, tight junction (TJ), receptor-mediated transport (RMT), low density lipoprotein (LDL), LDLR, transferrin, TfR, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER),
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A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Authors: Brian H. Smith, Christina M. Burden.
Institutions: Arizona State University.
Insects modify their responses to stimuli through experience of associating those stimuli with events important for survival (e.g., food, mates, threats). There are several behavioral mechanisms through which an insect learns salient associations and relates them to these events. It is important to understand this behavioral plasticity for programs aimed toward assisting insects that are beneficial for agriculture. This understanding can also be used for discovering solutions to biomedical and agricultural problems created by insects that act as disease vectors and pests. The Proboscis Extension Response (PER) conditioning protocol was developed for honey bees (Apis mellifera) over 50 years ago to study how they perceive and learn about floral odors, which signal the nectar and pollen resources a colony needs for survival. The PER procedure provides a robust and easy-to-employ framework for studying several different ecologically relevant mechanisms of behavioral plasticity. It is easily adaptable for use with several other insect species and other behavioral reflexes. These protocols can be readily employed in conjunction with various means for monitoring neural activity in the CNS via electrophysiology or bioimaging, or for manipulating targeted neuromodulatory pathways. It is a robust assay for rapidly detecting sub-lethal effects on behavior caused by environmental stressors, toxins or pesticides. We show how the PER protocol is straightforward to implement using two procedures. One is suitable as a laboratory exercise for students or for quick assays of the effect of an experimental treatment. The other provides more thorough control of variables, which is important for studies of behavioral conditioning. We show how several measures for the behavioral response ranging from binary yes/no to more continuous variable like latency and duration of proboscis extension can be used to test hypotheses. And, we discuss some pitfalls that researchers commonly encounter when they use the procedure for the first time.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, PER, conditioning, honey bee, olfaction, olfactory processing, learning, memory, toxin assay
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Simultaneous Long-term Recordings at Two Neuronal Processing Stages in Behaving Honeybees
Authors: Martin Fritz Brill, Maren Reuter, Wolfgang Rössler, Martin Fritz Strube-Bloss.
Institutions: University of Würzburg.
In both mammals and insects neuronal information is processed in different higher and lower order brain centers. These centers are coupled via convergent and divergent anatomical connections including feed forward and feedback wiring. Furthermore, information of the same origin is partially sent via parallel pathways to different and sometimes into the same brain areas. To understand the evolutionary benefits as well as the computational advantages of these wiring strategies and especially their temporal dependencies on each other, it is necessary to have simultaneous access to single neurons of different tracts or neuropiles in the same preparation at high temporal resolution. Here we concentrate on honeybees by demonstrating a unique extracellular long term access to record multi unit activity at two subsequent neuropiles1, the antennal lobe (AL), the first olfactory processing stage and the mushroom body (MB), a higher order integration center involved in learning and memory formation, or two parallel neuronal tracts2 connecting the AL with the MB. The latter was chosen as an example and will be described in full. In the supporting video the construction and permanent insertion of flexible multi channel wire electrodes is demonstrated. Pairwise differential amplification of the micro wire electrode channels drastically reduces the noise and verifies that the source of the signal is closely related to the position of the electrode tip. The mechanical flexibility of the used wire electrodes allows stable invasive long term recordings over many hours up to days, which is a clear advantage compared to conventional extra and intracellular in vivo recording techniques.
Neuroscience, Issue 89, honeybee brain, olfaction, extracellular long term recordings, double recordings, differential wire electrodes, single unit, multi-unit recordings
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Microwave-assisted Functionalization of Poly(ethylene glycol) and On-resin Peptides for Use in Chain Polymerizations and Hydrogel Formation
Authors: Amy H. Van Hove, Brandon D. Wilson, Danielle S. W. Benoit.
Institutions: University of Rochester, University of Rochester, University of Rochester Medical Center.
One of the main benefits to using poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) macromers in hydrogel formation is synthetic versatility. The ability to draw from a large variety of PEG molecular weights and configurations (arm number, arm length, and branching pattern) affords researchers tight control over resulting hydrogel structures and properties, including Young’s modulus and mesh size. This video will illustrate a rapid, efficient, solvent-free, microwave-assisted method to methacrylate PEG precursors into poly(ethylene glycol) dimethacrylate (PEGDM). This synthetic method provides much-needed starting materials for applications in drug delivery and regenerative medicine. The demonstrated method is superior to traditional methacrylation methods as it is significantly faster and simpler, as well as more economical and environmentally friendly, using smaller amounts of reagents and solvents. We will also demonstrate an adaptation of this technique for on-resin methacrylamide functionalization of peptides. This on-resin method allows the N-terminus of peptides to be functionalized with methacrylamide groups prior to deprotection and cleavage from resin. This allows for selective addition of methacrylamide groups to the N-termini of the peptides while amino acids with reactive side groups (e.g. primary amine of lysine, primary alcohol of serine, secondary alcohols of threonine, and phenol of tyrosine) remain protected, preventing functionalization at multiple sites. This article will detail common analytical methods (proton Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy (;H-NMR) and Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization Time of Flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-ToF)) to assess the efficiency of the functionalizations. Common pitfalls and suggested troubleshooting methods will be addressed, as will modifications of the technique which can be used to further tune macromer functionality and resulting hydrogel physical and chemical properties. Use of synthesized products for the formation of hydrogels for drug delivery and cell-material interaction studies will be demonstrated, with particular attention paid to modifying hydrogel composition to affect mesh size, controlling hydrogel stiffness and drug release.
Chemistry, Issue 80, Poly(ethylene glycol), peptides, polymerization, polymers, methacrylation, peptide functionalization, 1H-NMR, MALDI-ToF, hydrogels, macromer synthesis
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Hydrogel Nanoparticle Harvesting of Plasma or Urine for Detecting Low Abundance Proteins
Authors: Ruben Magni, Benjamin H. Espina, Lance A. Liotta, Alessandra Luchini, Virginia Espina.
Institutions: George Mason University, Ceres Nanosciences.
Novel biomarker discovery plays a crucial role in providing more sensitive and specific disease detection. Unfortunately many low-abundance biomarkers that exist in biological fluids cannot be easily detected with mass spectrometry or immunoassays because they are present in very low concentration, are labile, and are often masked by high-abundance proteins such as albumin or immunoglobulin. Bait containing poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (NIPAm) based nanoparticles are able to overcome these physiological barriers. In one step they are able to capture, concentrate and preserve biomarkers from body fluids. Low-molecular weight analytes enter the core of the nanoparticle and are captured by different organic chemical dyes, which act as high affinity protein baits. The nanoparticles are able to concentrate the proteins of interest by several orders of magnitude. This concentration factor is sufficient to increase the protein level such that the proteins are within the detection limit of current mass spectrometers, western blotting, and immunoassays. Nanoparticles can be incubated with a plethora of biological fluids and they are able to greatly enrich the concentration of low-molecular weight proteins and peptides while excluding albumin and other high-molecular weight proteins. Our data show that a 10,000 fold amplification in the concentration of a particular analyte can be achieved, enabling mass spectrometry and immunoassays to detect previously undetectable biomarkers.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, biomarker, hydrogel, low abundance, mass spectrometry, nanoparticle, plasma, protein, urine
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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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Obtaining Specimens with Slowed, Accelerated and Reversed Aging in the Honey Bee Model
Authors: Daniel Münch, Nicholas Baker, Erik M.K. Rasmussen, Ashish K. Shah, Claus D. Kreibich, Lars E. Heidem, Gro V. Amdam.
Institutions: Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Arizona State University.
Societies of highly social animals feature vast lifespan differences between closely related individuals. Among social insects, the honey bee is the best established model to study how plasticity in lifespan and aging is explained by social factors. The worker caste of honey bees includes nurse bees, which tend the brood, and forager bees, which collect nectar and pollen. Previous work has shown that brain functions and flight performance senesce more rapidly in foragers than in nurses. However, brain functions can recover, when foragers revert back to nursing tasks. Such patterns of accelerated and reversed functional senescence are linked to changed metabolic resource levels, to alterations in protein abundance and to immune function. Vitellogenin, a yolk protein with adapted functions in hormonal control and cellular defense, may serve as a major regulatory element in a network that controls the different aging dynamics in workers. Here we describe how the emergence of nurses and foragers can be monitored, and manipulated, including the reversal from typically short-lived foragers into longer-lived nurses. Our representative results show how individuals with similar chronological age differentiate into foragers and nurse bees under experimental conditions. We exemplify how behavioral reversal from foragers back to nurses can be validated. Last, we show how different cellular senescence can be assessed by measuring the accumulation of lipofuscin, a universal biomarker of senescence. For studying mechanisms that may link social influences and aging plasticity, this protocol provides a standardized tool set to acquire relevant sample material, and to improve data comparability among future studies.
Developmental Biology, Issue 78, Insects, Microscopy, Confocal, Aging, Gerontology, Neurobiology, Insect, Invertebrate, Brain, Lipofuscin, Confocal Microscopy
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Studying Aggression in Drosophila (fruit flies)
Authors: Sibu Mundiyanapurath, Sarah Certel, Edward A. Kravitz.
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
Aggression is an innate behavior that evolved in the framework of defending or obtaining resources. This complex social behavior is influenced by genetic, hormonal and environmental factors. In many organisms, aggression is critical to survival but controlling and suppressing aggression in distinct contexts also has become increasingly important. In recent years, invertebrates have become increasingly useful as model systems for investigating the genetic and systems biological basis of complex social behavior. This is in part due to the diverse repertoire of behaviors exhibited by these organisms. In the accompanying video, we outline a method for analyzing aggression in Drosophila whose design encompasses important eco-ethological constraints. Details include steps for: making a fighting chamber; isolating and painting flies; adding flies to the fight chamber; and video taping fights. This approach is currently being used to identify candidate genes important in aggression and in elaborating the neuronal circuitry that underlies the output of aggression and other social behaviors.
Neuroscience, Issue 2, Drosophila, behavior
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