The aim of de novo protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (http://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
21 Related JoVE Articles!
Development of Cell-type specific anti-HIV gp120 aptamers for siRNA delivery
Institutions: Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope, Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope, Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope.
The global epidemic of infection by HIV has created an urgent need for new classes of antiretroviral agents. The potent ability of small interfering (si)RNAs to inhibit the expression of complementary RNA transcripts is being exploited as a new class of therapeutics for a variety of diseases including HIV. Many previous reports have shown that novel RNAi-based anti-HIV/AIDS therapeutic strategies have considerable promise; however, a key obstacle to the successful therapeutic application and clinical translation of siRNAs is efficient delivery. Particularly, considering the safety and efficacy of RNAi-based therapeutics, it is highly desirable to develop a targeted intracellular siRNA delivery approach to specific cell populations or tissues. The HIV-1 gp120 protein, a glycoprotein envelope on the surface of HIV-1, plays an important role in viral entry into CD4 cells. The interaction of gp120 and CD4 that triggers HIV-1 entry and initiates cell fusion has been validated as a clinically relevant anti-viral strategy for drug discovery.
Herein, we firstly discuss the selection and identification of 2'-F modified anti-HIV gp120 RNA aptamers. Using a conventional nitrocellulose filter SELEX method, several new aptamers with nanomolar affinity were isolated from a 50 random nt RNA library. In order to successfully obtain bound species with higher affinity, the selection stringency is carefully controlled by adjusting the conditions. The selected aptamers can specifically bind and be rapidly internalized into cells expressing the HIV-1 envelope protein. Additionally, the aptamers alone can neutralize HIV-1 infectivity. Based upon the best aptamer A-1, we also create a novel dual inhibitory function anti-gp120 aptamer-siRNA chimera in which both the aptamer and the siRNA portions have potent anti-HIV activities. Further, we utilize the gp120 aptamer-siRNA chimeras for cell-type specific delivery of the siRNA into HIV-1 infected cells. This dual function chimera shows considerable potential for combining various nucleic acid therapeutic agents (aptamer and siRNA) in suppressing HIV-1 infection, making the aptamer-siRNA chimeras attractive therapeutic candidates for patients failing highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART).
Immunology, Issue 52, SELEX (Systematic Evolution of Ligands by EXponential enrichment), RNA aptamer, HIV-1 gp120, RNAi (RNA interference), siRNA (small interfering RNA), cell-type specific delivery
An In vitro Co-infection Model to Study Plasmodium falciparum-HIV-1 Interactions in Human Primary Monocyte-derived Immune Cells
Institutions: CHUL (CHUQ), Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.
, the causative agent of the deadliest form of malaria, and human immunodeficiency virus type-1 (HIV-1) are among the most important health problems worldwide, being responsible for a total of 4 million deaths annually1
. Due to their extensive overlap in developing regions, especially Sub-Saharan Africa, co-infections with malaria and HIV-1 are common, but the interplay between the two diseases is poorly understood. Epidemiological reports have suggested that malarial infection transiently enhances HIV-1 replication and increases HIV-1 viral load in co-infected individuals2,3
. Because this viremia stays high for several weeks after treatment with antimalarials, this phenomenon could have an impact on disease progression and transmission.
The cellular immunological mechanisms behind these observations have been studied only scarcely. The few in vitro
studies investigating the impact of malaria on HIV-1 have demonstrated that exposure to soluble malarial antigens can increase HIV-1 infection and reactivation in immune cells. However, these studies used whole cell extracts of P. falciparum
schizont stage parasites and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC), making it hard to decipher which malarial component(s) was responsible for the observed effects and what the target host cells were4,5
. Recent work has demonstrated that exposure of immature monocyte-derived dendritic cells to the malarial pigment hemozoin increased their ability to transfer HIV-1 to CD4+ T cells6,7
, but that it decreased HIV-1 infection of macrophages8
. To shed light on this complex process, a systematic analysis of the interactions between the malaria parasite and HIV-1 in different relevant human primary cell populations is critically needed.
Several techniques for investigating the impact of HIV-1 on the phagocytosis of micro-organisms and the effect of such pathogens on HIV-1 replication have been described. We here present a method to investigate the effects of P. falciparum
-infected erythrocytes on the replication of HIV-1 in human primary monocyte-derived macrophages. The impact of parasite exposure on HIV-1 transcriptional/translational events is monitored by using single cycle pseudotyped viruses in which a luciferase reporter gene has replaced the Env
gene while the effect on the quantity of virus released by the infected macrophages is determined by measuring the HIV-1 capsid protein p24 by ELISA in cell supernatants.
Immunology, Issue 66, Infection, Medicine, Malaria, HIV-1, Monocyte-Derived Macrophages, PBMC, Red blood cells, Dendritic Cells, Co-infections, Parasites, Plasmodium falciparum, AIDS
Prediction of HIV-1 Coreceptor Usage (Tropism) by Sequence Analysis using a Genotypic Approach
Institutions: University of Cologne, Max Planck Institute for Informatics, Institute for Immune genetics, University of Duesseldorf, University of Essen, University of Cologne, Augustinerinnen Hospital.
Maraviroc (MVC) is the first licensed antiretroviral drug from the class of coreceptor antagonists. It binds to the host coreceptor CCR5, which is used by the majority of HIV strains in order to infect the human immune cells (Fig. 1). Other HIV isolates use a different coreceptor, the CXCR4. Which receptor is used, is determined in the virus by the Env protein (Fig. 2). Depending on the coreceptor used, the viruses are classified as R5 or X4, respectively. MVC binds to the CCR5 receptor inhibiting the entry of R5 viruses into the target cell. During the course of disease, X4 viruses may emerge and outgrow the R5 viruses. Determination of coreceptor usage (also called tropism) is therefore mandatory prior to administration of MVC, as demanded by EMA and FDA.
The studies for MVC efficiency MOTIVATE, MERIT and 1029 have been performed with the Trofile assay from Monogram, San Francisco, U.S.A. This is a high quality assay based on sophisticated recombinant tests. The acceptance for this test for daily routine is rather low outside of the U.S.A., since the European physicians rather tend to work with decentralized expert laboratories, which also provide concomitant resistance testing. These laboratories have undergone several quality assurance evaluations, the last one being presented in 20111
For several years now, we have performed tropism determinations based on sequence analysis from the HIV env-V3 gene region (V3)2
. This region carries enough information to perform a reliable prediction.
The genotypic determination of coreceptor usage presents advantages such as: shorter turnover time (equivalent to resistance testing), lower costs, possibility to adapt the results to the patients' needs and possibility of analysing clinical samples with very low or even undetectable viral load (VL), particularly since the number of samples analysed with VL<1000 copies/μl roughly increased in the last years (Fig. 3).
The main steps for tropism testing (Fig. 4) demonstrated in this video:
1. Collection of a blood sample
2. Isolation of the HIV RNA from the plasma and/or HIV proviral DNA from blood mononuclear cells
3. Amplification of the env
4. Amplification of the V3 region
5. Sequence reaction of the V3 amplicon
6. Purification of the sequencing samples
7. Sequencing the purified samples
8. Sequence editing
9. Sequencing data interpretation and tropism prediction
Immunology, Issue 58, HIV-1, coreceptor, coreceptor antagonist, prediction of coreceptor usage, tropism, R5, X4, maraviroc, MVC
In Vitro Assay to Evaluate the Impact of Immunoregulatory Pathways on HIV-specific CD4 T Cell Effector Function
Institutions: The Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard, Centre de Recherche du Centre Hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal (CRCHUM).
T cell exhaustion is a major factor in failed pathogen clearance during chronic viral infections. Immunoregulatory pathways, such as PD-1 and IL-10, are upregulated upon this ongoing antigen exposure and contribute to loss of proliferation, reduced cytolytic function, and impaired cytokine production by CD4 and CD8 T cells. In the murine model of LCMV infection, administration of blocking antibodies against these two pathways augmented T cell responses. However, there is currently no in vitro
assay to measure the impact of such blockade on cytokine secretion in cells from human samples. Our protocol and experimental approach enable us to accurately and efficiently quantify the restoration of cytokine production by HIV-specific CD4 T cells from HIV infected subjects.
Here, we depict an in vitro
experimental design that enables measurements of cytokine secretion by HIV-specific CD4 T cells and their impact on other cell subsets. CD8 T cells were depleted from whole blood and remaining PBMCs were isolated via Ficoll separation method. CD8-depleted PBMCs were then incubated with blocking antibodies against PD-L1 and/or IL-10Rα and, after stimulation with an HIV-1 Gag peptide pool, cells were incubated at 37 °C, 5% CO2
. After 48 hr, supernatant was collected for cytokine analysis by beads arrays and cell pellets were collected for either phenotypic analysis using flow cytometry or transcriptional analysis using qRT-PCR. For more detailed analysis, different cell populations were obtained by selective subset depletion from PBMCs or by sorting using flow cytometry before being assessed in the same assays. These methods provide a highly sensitive and specific approach to determine the modulation of cytokine production by antigen-specific T-helper cells and to determine functional interactions between different populations of immune cells.
Immunology, Issue 80, Virus Diseases, Immune System Diseases, HIV, CD4 T cell, CD8 T cell, antigen-presenting cell, Cytokines, immunoregulatory networks, PD-1: IL-10, exhaustion, monocytes
Affinity Purification of Influenza Virus Ribonucleoprotein Complexes from the Chromatin of Infected Cells
Institutions: Universitätsklinikum Freiburg.
Like all negative-strand RNA viruses, the genome of influenza viruses is packaged in the form of viral ribonucleoprotein complexes (vRNP), in which the single-stranded genome is encapsidated by the nucleoprotein (NP), and associated with the trimeric polymerase complex consisting of the PA, PB1, and PB2 subunits. However, in contrast to most RNA viruses, influenza viruses perform viral RNA synthesis in the nuclei of infected cells. Interestingly, viral mRNA synthesis uses cellular pre-mRNAs as primers, and it has been proposed that this process takes place on chromatin1
. Interactions between the viral polymerase and the host RNA polymerase II, as well as between NP and host nucleosomes have also been characterized1,2
Recently, the generation of recombinant influenza viruses encoding a One-Strep-Tag genetically fused to the C-terminus of the PB2 subunit of the viral polymerase (rWSN-PB2-Strep3
) has been described. These recombinant viruses allow the purification of PB2-containing complexes, including vRNPs, from infected cells. To obtain purified vRNPs, cell cultures are infected, and vRNPs are affinity purified from lysates derived from these cells. However, the lysis procedures used to date have been based on one-step detergent lysis, which, despite the presence of a general nuclease, often extract chromatin-bound material only inefficiently.
Our preliminary work suggested that a large portion of nuclear vRNPs were not extracted during traditional cell lysis, and therefore could not be affinity purified. To increase this extraction efficiency, and to separate chromatin-bound from non-chromatin-bound nuclear vRNPs, we adapted a step-wise subcellular extraction protocol to influenza virus-infected cells. Briefly, this procedure first separates the nuclei from the cell and then extracts soluble nuclear proteins (here termed the "nucleoplasmic" fraction). The remaining insoluble nuclear material is then digested with Benzonase, an unspecific DNA/RNA nuclease, followed by two salt extraction steps: first using 150 mM NaCl (termed "ch150"), then 500 mM NaCl ("ch500") (Fig. 1
). These salt extraction steps were chosen based on our observation that 500 mM NaCl was sufficient to solubilize over 85% of nuclear vRNPs yet still allow binding of tagged vRNPs to the affinity matrix.
After subcellular fractionation of infected cells, it is possible to affinity purify PB2-tagged vRNPs from each individual fraction and analyze their protein and RNA components using Western Blot and primer extension, respectively. Recently, we utilized this method to discover that vRNP export complexes form during late points after infection on the chromatin fraction extracted with 500 mM NaCl (ch500)3
Virology, Issue 64, Immunology, Molecular Biology, Influenza A virus, affinity purification, subcellular fractionation, chromatin, vRNP complexes, polymerase
Detection of Protein Interactions in Plant using a Gateway Compatible Bimolecular Fluorescence Complementation (BiFC) System
Institutions: University of Western Ontario, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
We have developed a BiFC technique to test the interaction between two proteins in vivo
. This is accomplished by splitting a yellow fluorescent protein (YFP) into two non-overlapping fragments. Each fragment is cloned in-frame to a gene of interest. These constructs can then be co-transformed into Nicotiana benthamiana
mediated transformation, allowing the transit expression of fusion proteins. The reconstitution of YFP signal only occurs when the inquest proteins interact 1-7
. To test and validate the protein-protein interactions, BiFC can be used together with yeast two hybrid (Y2H) assay. This may detect indirect interactions which can be overlooked in the Y2H. Gateway technology is a universal platform that enables researchers to shuttle the gene of interest (GOI) into as many expression and functional analysis systems as possible8,9
. Both the orientation and reading frame can be maintained without using restriction enzymes or ligation to make expression-ready clones. As a result, one can eliminate all the re-sequencing steps to ensure consistent results throughout the experiments. We have created a series of Gateway compatible BiFC and Y2H vectors which provide researchers with easy-to-use tools to perform both BiFC and Y2H assays10
. Here, we demonstrate the ease of using our BiFC system to test protein-protein interactions in N. benthamiana
Plant Biology, Issue 55, protein interaction, Gateway, Bimolecular fluorescence complementation, Confocal microscope, Agrobacterium, Nicotiana benthamiana, Arabidopsis
Specific Marking of HIV-1 Positive Cells using a Rev-dependent Lentiviral Vector Expressing the Green Fluorescent Protein
Institutions: George Mason University.
Most of HIV-responsive expression vectors are based on the HIV promoter, the long terminal repeat (LTR). While responsive to an early HIV protein, Tat, the LTR is also responsive to cellular activation states and to the local chromatin activity where the integration has occurred. This can result in high HIV-independent activity, and has restricted the usefulness of LTR-based reporter to mark HIV positive cells 1,2,3
. Here, we constructed an expression lentiviral vector that possesses, in addition to the Tat-responsive LTR, numerous HIV DNA sequences that include the Rev-response element and HIV splicing sites 4,5,6
. The vector was incorporated into a lentiviral reporter virus, permitting highly specific detection of replicating HIV in living cell populations. The activity of the vector was measured by expression of the green fluorescence protein (GFP). The application of this vector as reported here offers a novel alternative approach to existing methods, such as in situ
PCR or HIV antigen staining, to identify HIV-positive cells. The vector can also express therapeutic genes for basic or clinical experimentation to target HIV-positive cells.
Infectious Disease, Issue 43, HIV-1, Rev, GFP, lentiviral vector, RRE
In vitro Uncoating of HIV-1 Cores
Institutions: Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
The genome of the retroviruses is encased in a capsid surrounded by a lipid envelope. For lentiviruses, such as HIV-1, the conical capsid shell is composed of CA protein arranged as a lattice of hexagon. The capsid is closed by 7 pentamers at the broad end and 5 at the narrow end of the cone1, 2
. Encased in this capsid shell is the viral ribonucleoprotein complex, and together they comprise the core.
Following fusion of the viral membrane with the target cell membrane, the HIV-1 is released into the cytoplasm. The capsid then disassembles releasing free CA in the soluble form3
in a process referred to as uncoating. The intracellular location and timing of HIV-1 uncoating are poorly understood. Single amino-acid substitutions in CA that alter the stability of the capsid also impair the ability of HIV-1 to infect cells4
. This indicates that the stability of the capsid is critical for HIV-1 infection.
HIV-1 uncoating has been difficult to study due to lack of availability of sensitive and reliable assays for this process. Here we describe a quantitative method for studying uncoating in vitro
using cores isolated from infectious HIV-1 particles. The approach involves isolation of cores by sedimentation of concentrated virions through a layer of detergent and into a linear sucrose gradient, in the cold. To quantify uncoating, the isolated cores are incubated at 37°C for various timed intervals and subsequently pelleted by ultracentrifugation. The extent of uncoating is analyzed by quantifying the fraction of CA in the supernatant. This approach has been employed to analyze effects of viral mutations on HIV-1 capsid stability4, 5, 6
. It should also be useful for studying the role of cellular factors in HIV-1 uncoating.
Immunology, Issue 57, Lentivirus, HIV, virus, infection, capsid, virons, 293T Cells, T Cells
Determination of Protein-ligand Interactions Using Differential Scanning Fluorimetry
Institutions: University of Exeter.
A wide range of methods are currently available for determining the dissociation constant between a protein and interacting small molecules. However, most of these require access to specialist equipment, and often require a degree of expertise to effectively establish reliable experiments and analyze data. Differential scanning fluorimetry (DSF) is being increasingly used as a robust method for initial screening of proteins for interacting small molecules, either for identifying physiological partners or for hit discovery. This technique has the advantage that it requires only a PCR machine suitable for quantitative PCR, and so suitable instrumentation is available in most institutions; an excellent range of protocols are already available; and there are strong precedents in the literature for multiple uses of the method. Past work has proposed several means of calculating dissociation constants from DSF data, but these are mathematically demanding. Here, we demonstrate a method for estimating dissociation constants from a moderate amount of DSF experimental data. These data can typically be collected and analyzed within a single day. We demonstrate how different models can be used to fit data collected from simple binding events, and where cooperative binding or independent binding sites are present. Finally, we present an example of data analysis in a case where standard models do not apply. These methods are illustrated with data collected on commercially available control proteins, and two proteins from our research program. Overall, our method provides a straightforward way for researchers to rapidly gain further insight into protein-ligand interactions using DSF.
Biophysics, Issue 91, differential scanning fluorimetry, dissociation constant, protein-ligand interactions, StepOne, cooperativity, WcbI.
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
Investigating Protein-protein Interactions in Live Cells Using Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour.
Assays based on Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer (BRET) provide a sensitive and reliable means to monitor protein-protein interactions in live cells. BRET is the non-radiative transfer of energy from a 'donor' luciferase enzyme to an 'acceptor' fluorescent protein. In the most common configuration of this assay, the donor is Renilla reniformis
luciferase and the acceptor is Yellow Fluorescent Protein (YFP). Because the efficiency of energy transfer is strongly distance-dependent, observation of the BRET phenomenon requires that the donor and acceptor be in close proximity. To test for an interaction between two proteins of interest in cultured mammalian cells, one protein is expressed as a fusion with luciferase and the second as a fusion with YFP. An interaction between the two proteins of interest may bring the donor and acceptor sufficiently close for energy transfer to occur. Compared to other techniques for investigating protein-protein interactions, the BRET assay is sensitive, requires little hands-on time and few reagents, and is able to detect interactions which are weak, transient, or dependent on the biochemical environment found within a live cell. It is therefore an ideal approach for confirming putative interactions suggested by yeast two-hybrid or mass spectrometry proteomics studies, and in addition it is well-suited for mapping interacting regions, assessing the effect of post-translational modifications on protein-protein interactions, and evaluating the impact of mutations identified in patient DNA.
Cellular Biology, Issue 87, Protein-protein interactions, Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer, Live cell, Transfection, Luciferase, Yellow Fluorescent Protein, Mutations
A Comparative Approach to Characterize the Landscape of Host-Pathogen Protein-Protein Interactions
Institutions: Institut Pasteur , Université Sorbonne Paris Cité, Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
Significant efforts were gathered to generate large-scale comprehensive protein-protein interaction network maps. This is instrumental to understand the pathogen-host relationships and was essentially performed by genetic screenings in yeast two-hybrid systems. The recent improvement of protein-protein interaction detection by a Gaussia
luciferase-based fragment complementation assay now offers the opportunity to develop integrative comparative interactomic approaches necessary to rigorously compare interaction profiles of proteins from different pathogen strain variants against a common set of cellular factors.
This paper specifically focuses on the utility of combining two orthogonal methods to generate protein-protein interaction datasets: yeast two-hybrid (Y2H) and a new assay, high-throughput Gaussia princeps
protein complementation assay (HT-GPCA) performed in mammalian cells.
A large-scale identification of cellular partners of a pathogen protein is performed by mating-based yeast two-hybrid screenings of cDNA libraries using multiple pathogen strain variants. A subset of interacting partners selected on a high-confidence statistical scoring is further validated in mammalian cells for pair-wise interactions with the whole set of pathogen variants proteins using HT-GPCA. This combination of two complementary methods improves the robustness of the interaction dataset, and allows the performance of a stringent comparative interaction analysis. Such comparative interactomics constitute a reliable and powerful strategy to decipher any pathogen-host interplays.
Immunology, Issue 77, Genetics, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Infection, Cancer Biology, Virology, Medicine, Host-Pathogen Interactions, Host-Pathogen Interactions, Protein-protein interaction, High-throughput screening, Luminescence, Yeast two-hybrid, HT-GPCA, Network, protein, yeast, cell, culture
A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli
and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9
addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments.
A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli
to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2
) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia
were transformed into E. coli
. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA
gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans
was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH
and ALDH (
originating from G. thermodenitrificans
) were introduced10,11
. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed.
To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli
K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources.
The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii
OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g.
under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n
-hexane in the culture medium were observed.
Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli
to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
Peptide-based Identification of Functional Motifs and their Binding Partners
Institutions: Morehouse School of Medicine, Institute for Systems Biology, Universiti Sains Malaysia.
Specific short peptides derived from motifs found in full-length proteins, in our case HIV-1 Nef, not only retain their biological function, but can also competitively inhibit the function of the full-length protein. A set of 20 Nef scanning peptides, 20 amino acids in length with each overlapping 10 amino acids of its neighbor, were used to identify motifs in Nef responsible for its induction of apoptosis. Peptides containing these apoptotic motifs induced apoptosis at levels comparable to the full-length Nef protein. A second peptide, derived from the Secretion Modification Region (SMR) of Nef, retained the ability to interact with cellular proteins involved in Nef's secretion in exosomes (exNef). This SMRwt peptide was used as the "bait" protein in co-immunoprecipitation experiments to isolate cellular proteins that bind specifically to Nef's SMR motif. Protein transfection and antibody inhibition was used to physically disrupt the interaction between Nef and mortalin, one of the isolated SMR-binding proteins, and the effect was measured with a fluorescent-based exNef secretion assay. The SMRwt peptide's ability to outcompete full-length Nef for cellular proteins that bind the SMR motif, make it the first inhibitor of exNef secretion. Thus, by employing the techniques described here, which utilize the unique properties of specific short peptides derived from motifs found in full-length proteins, one may accelerate the identification of functional motifs in proteins and the development of peptide-based inhibitors of pathogenic functions.
Virology, Issue 76, Biochemistry, Immunology, Infection, Infectious Diseases, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Genetics, Microbiology, Genomics, Proteins, Exosomes, HIV, Peptides, Exocytosis, protein trafficking, secretion, HIV-1, Nef, Secretion Modification Region, SMR, peptide, AIDS, assay
A Restriction Enzyme Based Cloning Method to Assess the In vitro Replication Capacity of HIV-1 Subtype C Gag-MJ4 Chimeric Viruses
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University.
The protective effect of many HLA class I alleles on HIV-1 pathogenesis and disease progression is, in part, attributed to their ability to target conserved portions of the HIV-1 genome that escape with difficulty. Sequence changes attributed to cellular immune pressure arise across the genome during infection, and if found within conserved regions of the genome such as Gag, can affect the ability of the virus to replicate in vitro
. Transmission of HLA-linked polymorphisms in Gag to HLA-mismatched recipients has been associated with reduced set point viral loads. We hypothesized this may be due to a reduced replication capacity of the virus. Here we present a novel method for assessing the in vitro
replication of HIV-1 as influenced by the gag
gene isolated from acute time points from subtype C infected Zambians. This method uses restriction enzyme based cloning to insert the gag
gene into a common subtype C HIV-1 proviral backbone, MJ4. This makes it more appropriate to the study of subtype C sequences than previous recombination based methods that have assessed the in vitro
replication of chronically derived gag-pro
sequences. Nevertheless, the protocol could be readily modified for studies of viruses from other subtypes. Moreover, this protocol details a robust and reproducible method for assessing the replication capacity of the Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses on a CEM-based T cell line. This method was utilized for the study of Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses derived from 149 subtype C acutely infected Zambians, and has allowed for the identification of residues in Gag that affect replication. More importantly, the implementation of this technique has facilitated a deeper understanding of how viral replication defines parameters of early HIV-1 pathogenesis such as set point viral load and longitudinal CD4+ T cell decline.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, HIV-1, Gag, viral replication, replication capacity, viral fitness, MJ4, CEM, GXR25
An Affordable HIV-1 Drug Resistance Monitoring Method for Resource Limited Settings
Institutions: University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa, Jembi Health Systems, University of Amsterdam, Stanford Medical School.
HIV-1 drug resistance has the potential to seriously compromise the effectiveness and impact of antiretroviral therapy (ART). As ART programs in sub-Saharan Africa continue to expand, individuals on ART should be closely monitored for the emergence of drug resistance. Surveillance of transmitted drug resistance to track transmission of viral strains already resistant to ART is also critical. Unfortunately, drug resistance testing is still not readily accessible in resource limited settings, because genotyping is expensive and requires sophisticated laboratory and data management infrastructure. An open access genotypic drug resistance monitoring method to manage individuals and assess transmitted drug resistance is described. The method uses free open source software for the interpretation of drug resistance patterns and the generation of individual patient reports. The genotyping protocol has an amplification rate of greater than 95% for plasma samples with a viral load >1,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml. The sensitivity decreases significantly for viral loads <1,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml. The method described here was validated against a method of HIV-1 drug resistance testing approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Viroseq genotyping method. Limitations of the method described here include the fact that it is not automated and that it also failed to amplify the circulating recombinant form CRF02_AG from a validation panel of samples, although it amplified subtypes A and B from the same panel.
Medicine, Issue 85, Biomedical Technology, HIV-1, HIV Infections, Viremia, Nucleic Acids, genetics, antiretroviral therapy, drug resistance, genotyping, affordable
Interview: HIV-1 Proviral DNA Excision Using an Evolved Recombinase
Institutions: Heinrich-Pette-Institute for Experimental Virology and Immunology, University of Hamburg.
HIV-1 integrates into the host chromosome of infected cells and persists as a provirus flanked by long terminal repeats. Current treatment strategies primarily target virus enzymes or virus-cell fusion, suppressing the viral life cycle without eradicating the infection. Since the integrated provirus is not targeted by these approaches, new resistant strains of HIV-1 may emerge. Here, we report that the engineered recombinase Tre (see Molecular evolution of the Tre recombinase , Buchholz, F., Max Planck Institute for Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden) efficiently excises integrated HIV-1 proviral DNA from the genome of infected cells. We produced loxLTR containing viral pseudotypes and infected HeLa cells to examine whether Tre recombinase can excise the provirus from the genome of HIV-1 infected human cells. A virus particle-releasing cell line was cloned and transfected with a plasmid expressing Tre or with a parental control vector. Recombinase activity and virus production were monitored. All assays demonstrated the efficient deletion of the provirus from infected cells without visible cytotoxic effects. These results serve as proof of principle that it is possible to evolve a recombinase to specifically target an HIV-1 LTR and that this recombinase is capable of excising the HIV-1 provirus from the genome of HIV-1-infected human cells.
Before an engineered recombinase could enter the therapeutic arena, however, significant obstacles need to be overcome. Among the most critical issues, that we face, are an efficient and safe delivery to targeted cells and the absence of side effects.
Medicine, Issue 16, HIV, Cell Biology, Recombinase, provirus, HeLa Cells
Interview: Protein Folding and Studies of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In this interview, Dr. Lindquist describes relationships between protein folding, prion diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. The problem of the protein folding is at the core of the modern biology. In addition to their traditional biochemical functions, proteins can mediate transfer of biological information and therefore can be considered a genetic material. This recently discovered function of proteins has important implications for studies of human disorders. Dr. Lindquist also describes current experimental approaches to investigate the mechanism of neurodegenerative diseases based on genetic studies in model organisms.
Neuroscience, issue 17, protein folding, brain, neuron, prion, neurodegenerative disease, yeast, screen, Translational Research
Investigating the Microbial Community in the Termite Hindgut - Interview
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter explains why the termite-gut microbial community is an excellent system for studying the complex interactions between microbes. The symbiotic relationship existing between the host insect and lignocellulose-degrading gut microbes is explained, as well as the industrial uses of these microbes for degrading plant biomass and generating biofuels.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, diversity
Molecular Evolution of the Tre Recombinase
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Here we report the generation of Tre recombinase through directed, molecular evolution. Tre recombinase recognizes a pre-defined target sequence within the LTR sequences of the HIV-1 provirus, resulting in the excision and eradication of the provirus from infected human cells.
We started with Cre, a 38-kDa recombinase, that recognizes a 34-bp double-stranded DNA sequence known as loxP. Because Cre can effectively eliminate genomic sequences, we set out to tailor a recombinase that could remove the sequence between the 5'-LTR and 3'-LTR of an integrated HIV-1 provirus. As a first step we identified sequences within the LTR sites that were similar to loxP and tested for recombination activity. Initially Cre and mutagenized Cre libraries failed to recombine the chosen loxLTR sites of the HIV-1 provirus. As the start of any directed molecular evolution process requires at least residual activity, the original asymmetric loxLTR sequences were split into subsets and tested again for recombination activity. Acting as intermediates, recombination activity was shown with the subsets. Next, recombinase libraries were enriched through reiterative evolution cycles. Subsequently, enriched libraries were shuffled and recombined. The combination of different mutations proved synergistic and recombinases were created that were able to recombine loxLTR1 and loxLTR2. This was evidence that an evolutionary strategy through intermediates can be successful. After a total of 126 evolution cycles individual recombinases were functionally and structurally analyzed. The most active recombinase -- Tre -- had 19 amino acid changes as compared to Cre. Tre recombinase was able to excise the HIV-1 provirus from the genome HIV-1 infected HeLa cells (see "HIV-1 Proviral DNA Excision Using an Evolved Recombinase", Hauber J., Heinrich-Pette-Institute for Experimental Virology and Immunology, Hamburg, Germany). While still in its infancy, directed molecular evolution will allow the creation of custom enzymes that will serve as tools of "molecular surgery" and molecular medicine.
Cell Biology, Issue 15, HIV-1, Tre recombinase, Site-specific recombination, molecular evolution