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Numerical integration of the master equation in some models of stochastic epidemiology.
The processes by which disease spreads in a population of individuals are inherently stochastic. The master equation has proven to be a useful tool for modeling such processes. Unfortunately, solving the master equation analytically is possible only in limited cases (e.g., when the model is linear), and thus numerical procedures or approximation methods must be employed. Available approximation methods, such as the system size expansion method of van Kampen, may fail to provide reliable solutions, whereas current numerical approaches can induce appreciable computational cost. In this paper, we propose a new numerical technique for solving the master equation. Our method is based on a more informative stochastic process than the population process commonly used in the literature. By exploiting the structure of the master equation governing this process, we develop a novel technique for calculating the exact solution of the master equation--up to a desired precision--in certain models of stochastic epidemiology. We demonstrate the potential of our method by solving the master equation associated with the stochastic SIR epidemic model. MATLAB software that implements the methods discussed in this paper is freely available as Supporting Information S1.
Authors: James Smadbeck, Meghan B. Peterson, George A. Khoury, Martin S. Taylor, Christodoulos A. Floudas.
Published: 07-25-2013
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.
25 Related JoVE Articles!
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Monitoring the Wall Mechanics During Stent Deployment in a Vessel
Authors: Brian D. Steinert, Shijia Zhao, Linxia Gu.
Institutions: University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Clinical trials have reported different restenosis rates for various stent designs1. It is speculated that stent-induced strain concentrations on the arterial wall lead to tissue injury, which initiates restenosis2-7. This hypothesis needs further investigations including better quantifications of non-uniform strain distribution on the artery following stent implantation. A non-contact surface strain measurement method for the stented artery is presented in this work. ARAMIS stereo optical surface strain measurement system uses two optical high speed cameras to capture the motion of each reference point, and resolve three dimensional strains over the deforming surface8,9. As a mesh stent is deployed into a latex vessel with a random contrasting pattern sprayed or drawn on its outer surface, the surface strain is recorded at every instant of the deformation. The calculated strain distributions can then be used to understand the local lesion response, validate the computational models, and formulate hypotheses for further in vivo study.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 63, Stent, vessel, interaction, strain distribution, stereo optical surface strain measurement system, bioengineering
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Single Cell Transcriptional Profiling of Adult Mouse Cardiomyocytes
Authors: James M. Flynn, Luis F. Santana, Simon Melov.
Institutions: Buck Institute for Research on Aging, University of Washington.
While numerous studies have examined gene expression changes from homogenates of heart tissue, this prevents studying the inherent stochastic variation between cells within a tissue. Isolation of pure cardiomyocyte populations through a collagenase perfusion of mouse hearts facilitates the generation of single cell microarrays for whole transcriptome gene expression, or qPCR of specific targets using nanofluidic arrays. We describe here a procedure to examine single cell gene expression profiles of cardiomyocytes isolated from the heart. This paradigm allows for the evaluation of metrics of interest which are not reliant on the mean (for example variance between cells within a tissue) which is not possible when using conventional whole tissue workflows for the evaluation of gene expression (Figure 1). We have achieved robust amplification of the single cell transcriptome yielding micrograms of double stranded cDNA that facilitates the use of microarrays on individual cells. In the procedure we describe the use of NimbleGen arrays which were selected for their ease of use and ability to customize their design. Alternatively, a reverse transcriptase - specific target amplification (RT-STA) reaction, allows for qPCR of hundreds of targets by nanofluidic PCR. Using either of these approaches, it is possible to examine the variability of expression between cells, as well as examining expression profiles of rare cell types from within a tissue. Overall, the single cell gene expression approach allows for the generation of data that can potentially identify idiosyncratic expression profiles that are typically averaged out when examining expression of millions of cells from typical homogenates generated from whole tissues.
Molecular Biology, Issue 58, Single cell analysis, Microarray, Gene expression, Cardiomyocyte, Mouse heart perfusion, mice, qPCR
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High Speed Droplet-based Delivery System for Passive Pumping in Microfluidic Devices
Authors: Pedro J. Resto, Brian Mogen, Fan Wu, Erwin Berthier, David Beebe, Justin Williams.
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
A novel microfluidic system has been developed that uses the phenomenon of passive pumping along with a user controlled droplet based fluid delivery system. Passive pumping is the phenomenon by which surface tension induced pressure differences drive fluid movement in closed channels. The automated fluid delivery system consists of a set of voltage controlled valves with micro-nozzles connected to a fluid reservoir and a control system. These voltage controlled valves offer a volumetrically precise way to deliver fluid droplets to the inlet of a microfluidic device in a high frequency manner. Based on the dimensions demonstrated in the current study example, the system is capable of flowing 4 milliliters per minute (through a 2.2mm by 260um cross-sectional channel). Based on these same channel dimensions, fluid exchange of a point inside the channel can be achieved in as little as eight milliseconds. It is observed that there is interplay between momentum of the system (imparted by a combination of the droplets created by the valves and the fluid velocity in the channel), and the surface tension of the liquid. Where momentum provides velocity to the fluid flow (or vice-versa), equilibration of surface tension at the inlet provides a sudden stop to any flow. This sudden stop allows the user to control the flow characteristics of the channel and opens the door for a variety of biological applications, ranging anywhere from reagent delivery to drug-cell studies. It is also observed that when nozzles are aimed at the inlet at shallow angles, the droplet momentum can cause additional interesting fluid phenomena, such as mixing of multiple droplets in the inlet.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 31, automated, passive pumping, microfluidic device, high speed, high flow rate
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Modeling Astrocytoma Pathogenesis In Vitro and In Vivo Using Cortical Astrocytes or Neural Stem Cells from Conditional, Genetically Engineered Mice
Authors: Robert S. McNeill, Ralf S. Schmid, Ryan E. Bash, Mark Vitucci, Kristen K. White, Andrea M. Werneke, Brian H. Constance, Byron Huff, C. Ryan Miller.
Institutions: University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
Current astrocytoma models are limited in their ability to define the roles of oncogenic mutations in specific brain cell types during disease pathogenesis and their utility for preclinical drug development. In order to design a better model system for these applications, phenotypically wild-type cortical astrocytes and neural stem cells (NSC) from conditional, genetically engineered mice (GEM) that harbor various combinations of floxed oncogenic alleles were harvested and grown in culture. Genetic recombination was induced in vitro using adenoviral Cre-mediated recombination, resulting in expression of mutated oncogenes and deletion of tumor suppressor genes. The phenotypic consequences of these mutations were defined by measuring proliferation, transformation, and drug response in vitro. Orthotopic allograft models, whereby transformed cells are stereotactically injected into the brains of immune-competent, syngeneic littermates, were developed to define the role of oncogenic mutations and cell type on tumorigenesis in vivo. Unlike most established human glioblastoma cell line xenografts, injection of transformed GEM-derived cortical astrocytes into the brains of immune-competent littermates produced astrocytomas, including the most aggressive subtype, glioblastoma, that recapitulated the histopathological hallmarks of human astrocytomas, including diffuse invasion of normal brain parenchyma. Bioluminescence imaging of orthotopic allografts from transformed astrocytes engineered to express luciferase was utilized to monitor in vivo tumor growth over time. Thus, astrocytoma models using astrocytes and NSC harvested from GEM with conditional oncogenic alleles provide an integrated system to study the genetics and cell biology of astrocytoma pathogenesis in vitro and in vivo and may be useful in preclinical drug development for these devastating diseases.
Neuroscience, Issue 90, astrocytoma, cortical astrocytes, genetically engineered mice, glioblastoma, neural stem cells, orthotopic allograft
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Linear Amplification Mediated PCR – Localization of Genetic Elements and Characterization of Unknown Flanking DNA
Authors: Richard Gabriel, Ina Kutschera, Cynthia C Bartholomae, Christof von Kalle, Manfred Schmidt.
Institutions: National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) and German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ).
Linear-amplification mediated PCR (LAM-PCR) has been developed to study hematopoiesis in gene corrected cells of patients treated by gene therapy with integrating vector systems. Due to the stable integration of retroviral vectors, integration sites can be used to study the clonal fate of individual cells and their progeny. LAM- PCR for the first time provided evidence that leukemia in gene therapy treated patients originated from provirus induced overexpression of a neighboring proto-oncogene. The high sensitivity and specificity of LAM-PCR compared to existing methods like inverse PCR and ligation mediated (LM)-PCR is achieved by an initial preamplification step (linear PCR of 100 cycles) using biotinylated vector specific primers which allow subsequent reaction steps to be carried out on solid phase (magnetic beads). LAM-PCR is currently the most sensitive method available to identify unknown DNA which is located in the proximity of known DNA. Recently, a variant of LAM-PCR has been developed that circumvents restriction digest thus abrogating retrieval bias of integration sites and enables a comprehensive analysis of provirus locations in host genomes. The following protocol explains step-by-step the amplification of both 3’- and 5’- sequences adjacent to the integrated lentiviral vector.
Genetics, Issue 88, gene therapy, integrome, integration site analysis, LAM-PCR, retroviral vectors, lentiviral vectors, AAV, deep sequencing, clonal inventory, mutagenesis screen
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Fluorescence Imaging with One-nanometer Accuracy (FIONA)
Authors: Yong Wang, En Cai, Janet Sheung, Sang Hak Lee, Kai Wen Teng, Paul R. Selvin.
Institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Fluorescence imaging with one-nanometer accuracy (FIONA) is a simple but useful technique for localizing single fluorophores with nanometer precision in the x-y plane. Here a summary of the FIONA technique is reported and examples of research that have been performed using FIONA are briefly described. First, how to set up the required equipment for FIONA experiments, i.e., a total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy (TIRFM), with details on aligning the optics, is described. Then how to carry out a simple FIONA experiment on localizing immobilized Cy3-DNA single molecules using appropriate protocols, followed by the use of FIONA to measure the 36 nm step size of a single truncated myosin Va motor labeled with a quantum dot, is illustrated. Lastly, recent effort to extend the application of FIONA to thick samples is reported. It is shown that, using a water immersion objective and quantum dots soaked deep in sol-gels and rabbit eye corneas (>200 µm), localization precision of 2-3 nm can be achieved.
Molecular Biology, Issue 91, FIONA, fluorescence imaging, nanometer precision, myosin walking, thick tissue
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An Affordable HIV-1 Drug Resistance Monitoring Method for Resource Limited Settings
Authors: Justen Manasa, Siva Danaviah, Sureshnee Pillay, Prevashinee Padayachee, Hloniphile Mthiyane, Charity Mkhize, Richard John Lessells, Christopher Seebregts, Tobias F. Rinke de Wit, Johannes Viljoen, David Katzenstein, Tulio De Oliveira.
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
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Longitudinal Measurement of Extracellular Matrix Rigidity in 3D Tumor Models Using Particle-tracking Microrheology
Authors: Dustin P. Jones, William Hanna, Hamid El-Hamidi, Jonathan P. Celli.
Institutions: University of Massachusetts Boston.
The mechanical microenvironment has been shown to act as a crucial regulator of tumor growth behavior and signaling, which is itself remodeled and modified as part of a set of complex, two-way mechanosensitive interactions. While the development of biologically-relevant 3D tumor models have facilitated mechanistic studies on the impact of matrix rheology on tumor growth, the inverse problem of mapping changes in the mechanical environment induced by tumors remains challenging. Here, we describe the implementation of particle-tracking microrheology (PTM) in conjunction with 3D models of pancreatic cancer as part of a robust and viable approach for longitudinally monitoring physical changes in the tumor microenvironment, in situ. The methodology described here integrates a system of preparing in vitro 3D models embedded in a model extracellular matrix (ECM) scaffold of Type I collagen with fluorescently labeled probes uniformly distributed for position- and time-dependent microrheology measurements throughout the specimen. In vitro tumors are plated and probed in parallel conditions using multiwell imaging plates. Drawing on established methods, videos of tracer probe movements are transformed via the Generalized Stokes Einstein Relation (GSER) to report the complex frequency-dependent viscoelastic shear modulus, G*(ω). Because this approach is imaging-based, mechanical characterization is also mapped onto large transmitted-light spatial fields to simultaneously report qualitative changes in 3D tumor size and phenotype. Representative results showing contrasting mechanical response in sub-regions associated with localized invasion-induced matrix degradation as well as system calibration, validation data are presented. Undesirable outcomes from common experimental errors and troubleshooting of these issues are also presented. The 96-well 3D culture plating format implemented in this protocol is conducive to correlation of microrheology measurements with therapeutic screening assays or molecular imaging to gain new insights into impact of treatments or biochemical stimuli on the mechanical microenvironment.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, viscoelasticity, mechanobiology, extracellular matrix (ECM), matrix remodeling, 3D tumor models, tumor microenvironment, stroma, matrix metalloprotease (MMP), epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT)
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Characterization of Thermal Transport in One-dimensional Solid Materials
Authors: Guoqing Liu, Huan Lin, Xiaoduan Tang, Kevin Bergler, Xinwei Wang.
Institutions: Iowa State University.
The TET (transient electro-thermal) technique is an effective approach developed to measure the thermal diffusivity of solid materials, including conductive, semi-conductive or nonconductive one-dimensional structures. This technique broadens the measurement scope of materials (conductive and nonconductive) and improves the accuracy and stability. If the sample (especially biomaterials, such as human head hair, spider silk, and silkworm silk) is not conductive, it will be coated with a gold layer to make it electronically conductive. The effect of parasitic conduction and radiative losses on the thermal diffusivity can be subtracted during data processing. Then the real thermal conductivity can be calculated with the given value of volume-based specific heat (ρcp), which can be obtained from calibration, noncontact photo-thermal technique or measuring the density and specific heat separately. In this work, human head hair samples are used to show how to set up the experiment, process the experimental data, and subtract the effect of parasitic conduction and radiative losses.
Physics, Issue 83, thermal transport, thermal diffusivity, thermal conductivity, transient electro-thermal technique, volume-based specific heat, human head hair
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Detection of Architectural Distortion in Prior Mammograms via Analysis of Oriented Patterns
Authors: Rangaraj M. Rangayyan, Shantanu Banik, J.E. Leo Desautels.
Institutions: University of Calgary , University of Calgary .
We demonstrate methods for the detection of architectural distortion in prior mammograms of interval-cancer cases based on analysis of the orientation of breast tissue patterns in mammograms. We hypothesize that architectural distortion modifies the normal orientation of breast tissue patterns in mammographic images before the formation of masses or tumors. In the initial steps of our methods, the oriented structures in a given mammogram are analyzed using Gabor filters and phase portraits to detect node-like sites of radiating or intersecting tissue patterns. Each detected site is then characterized using the node value, fractal dimension, and a measure of angular dispersion specifically designed to represent spiculating patterns associated with architectural distortion. Our methods were tested with a database of 106 prior mammograms of 56 interval-cancer cases and 52 mammograms of 13 normal cases using the features developed for the characterization of architectural distortion, pattern classification via quadratic discriminant analysis, and validation with the leave-one-patient out procedure. According to the results of free-response receiver operating characteristic analysis, our methods have demonstrated the capability to detect architectural distortion in prior mammograms, taken 15 months (on the average) before clinical diagnosis of breast cancer, with a sensitivity of 80% at about five false positives per patient.
Medicine, Issue 78, Anatomy, Physiology, Cancer Biology, angular spread, architectural distortion, breast cancer, Computer-Assisted Diagnosis, computer-aided diagnosis (CAD), entropy, fractional Brownian motion, fractal dimension, Gabor filters, Image Processing, Medical Informatics, node map, oriented texture, Pattern Recognition, phase portraits, prior mammograms, spectral analysis
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Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Authors: Nikki M. Curthoys, Michael J. Mlodzianoski, Dahan Kim, Samuel T. Hess.
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
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Diffusion Tensor Magnetic Resonance Imaging in the Analysis of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Authors: Hans-Peter Müller, Jan Kassubek.
Institutions: University of Ulm.
Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) techniques provide information on the microstructural processes of the cerebral white matter (WM) in vivo. The present applications are designed to investigate differences of WM involvement patterns in different brain diseases, especially neurodegenerative disorders, by use of different DTI analyses in comparison with matched controls. DTI data analysis is performed in a variate fashion, i.e. voxelwise comparison of regional diffusion direction-based metrics such as fractional anisotropy (FA), together with fiber tracking (FT) accompanied by tractwise fractional anisotropy statistics (TFAS) at the group level in order to identify differences in FA along WM structures, aiming at the definition of regional patterns of WM alterations at the group level. Transformation into a stereotaxic standard space is a prerequisite for group studies and requires thorough data processing to preserve directional inter-dependencies. The present applications show optimized technical approaches for this preservation of quantitative and directional information during spatial normalization in data analyses at the group level. On this basis, FT techniques can be applied to group averaged data in order to quantify metrics information as defined by FT. Additionally, application of DTI methods, i.e. differences in FA-maps after stereotaxic alignment, in a longitudinal analysis at an individual subject basis reveal information about the progression of neurological disorders. Further quality improvement of DTI based results can be obtained during preprocessing by application of a controlled elimination of gradient directions with high noise levels. In summary, DTI is used to define a distinct WM pathoanatomy of different brain diseases by the combination of whole brain-based and tract-based DTI analysis.
Medicine, Issue 77, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Anatomy, Physiology, Neurodegenerative Diseases, nuclear magnetic resonance, NMR, MR, MRI, diffusion tensor imaging, fiber tracking, group level comparison, neurodegenerative diseases, brain, imaging, clinical techniques
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Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Authors: Johannes Felix Buyel, Rainer Fischer.
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
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Polymerase Chain Reaction: Basic Protocol Plus Troubleshooting and Optimization Strategies
Authors: Todd C. Lorenz.
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
In the biological sciences there have been technological advances that catapult the discipline into golden ages of discovery. For example, the field of microbiology was transformed with the advent of Anton van Leeuwenhoek's microscope, which allowed scientists to visualize prokaryotes for the first time. The development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is one of those innovations that changed the course of molecular science with its impact spanning countless subdisciplines in biology. The theoretical process was outlined by Keppe and coworkers in 1971; however, it was another 14 years until the complete PCR procedure was described and experimentally applied by Kary Mullis while at Cetus Corporation in 1985. Automation and refinement of this technique progressed with the introduction of a thermal stable DNA polymerase from the bacterium Thermus aquaticus, consequently the name Taq DNA polymerase. PCR is a powerful amplification technique that can generate an ample supply of a specific segment of DNA (i.e., an amplicon) from only a small amount of starting material (i.e., DNA template or target sequence). While straightforward and generally trouble-free, there are pitfalls that complicate the reaction producing spurious results. When PCR fails it can lead to many non-specific DNA products of varying sizes that appear as a ladder or smear of bands on agarose gels. Sometimes no products form at all. Another potential problem occurs when mutations are unintentionally introduced in the amplicons, resulting in a heterogeneous population of PCR products. PCR failures can become frustrating unless patience and careful troubleshooting are employed to sort out and solve the problem(s). This protocol outlines the basic principles of PCR, provides a methodology that will result in amplification of most target sequences, and presents strategies for optimizing a reaction. By following this PCR guide, students should be able to: ● Set up reactions and thermal cycling conditions for a conventional PCR experiment ● Understand the function of various reaction components and their overall effect on a PCR experiment ● Design and optimize a PCR experiment for any DNA template ● Troubleshoot failed PCR experiments
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, PCR, optimization, primer design, melting temperature, Tm, troubleshooting, additives, enhancers, template DNA quantification, thermal cycler, molecular biology, genetics
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Determination of Protein-ligand Interactions Using Differential Scanning Fluorimetry
Authors: Mirella Vivoli, Halina R. Novak, Jennifer A. Littlechild, Nicholas J. Harmer.
Institutions: University of Exeter.
A wide range of methods are currently available for determining the dissociation constant between a protein and interacting small molecules. However, most of these require access to specialist equipment, and often require a degree of expertise to effectively establish reliable experiments and analyze data. Differential scanning fluorimetry (DSF) is being increasingly used as a robust method for initial screening of proteins for interacting small molecules, either for identifying physiological partners or for hit discovery. This technique has the advantage that it requires only a PCR machine suitable for quantitative PCR, and so suitable instrumentation is available in most institutions; an excellent range of protocols are already available; and there are strong precedents in the literature for multiple uses of the method. Past work has proposed several means of calculating dissociation constants from DSF data, but these are mathematically demanding. Here, we demonstrate a method for estimating dissociation constants from a moderate amount of DSF experimental data. These data can typically be collected and analyzed within a single day. We demonstrate how different models can be used to fit data collected from simple binding events, and where cooperative binding or independent binding sites are present. Finally, we present an example of data analysis in a case where standard models do not apply. These methods are illustrated with data collected on commercially available control proteins, and two proteins from our research program. Overall, our method provides a straightforward way for researchers to rapidly gain further insight into protein-ligand interactions using DSF.
Biophysics, Issue 91, differential scanning fluorimetry, dissociation constant, protein-ligand interactions, StepOne, cooperativity, WcbI.
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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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From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Authors: Wen-Ting Tsai, Ahmed Hassan, Purbasha Sarkar, Joaquin Correa, Zoltan Metlagel, Danielle M. Jorgens, Manfred Auer.
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g., signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation. The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
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A Restriction Enzyme Based Cloning Method to Assess the In vitro Replication Capacity of HIV-1 Subtype C Gag-MJ4 Chimeric Viruses
Authors: Daniel T. Claiborne, Jessica L. Prince, Eric Hunter.
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
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Predicting the Effectiveness of Population Replacement Strategy Using Mathematical Modeling
Authors: John Marshall, Koji Morikawa, Nicholas Manoukis, Charles Taylor.
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles.
Charles Taylor and John Marshall explain the utility of mathematical modeling for evaluating the effectiveness of population replacement strategy. Insight is given into how computational models can provide information on the population dynamics of mosquitoes and the spread of transposable elements through A. gambiae subspecies. The ethical considerations of releasing genetically modified mosquitoes into the wild are discussed.
Cellular Biology, Issue 5, mosquito, malaria, popuulation, replacement, modeling, infectious disease
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Fabrication of a Microfluidic Device for the Compartmentalization of Neuron Soma and Axons
Authors: Joseph Harris, Hyuna Lee, Behrad Vahidi, Christina Tu, David Cribbs, Noo Li Jeon, Carl Cotman.
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI), University of California, Irvine (UCI), University of California, Irvine (UCI).
In this video, we demonstrate the technique of soft lithography with polydimethyl siloxane (PDMS) which we use to fabricate a microfluidic device for culturing neurons. Previously, a silicon wafer was patterned with the design for the neuron microfluidic device using SU-8 and photolithography to create a master mold, or what we simply refer to as a "master". Next, we pour the silicon polymer PDMS on top of the master which is then cured by heating the PDMS to 80°C for 1 hour. The PDMS forms a negative mold of the device. The PDMS is then carefully cut and lifted away from the master. Holes are punched where the reservoirs will be and the excess PDMS trimmed away from the device. Nitrogen is used to blow away any excess debris from the device. At this point the devices are now ready for use and can either bonded to corning No. 1 cover glass with a plasma sterilizer/cleaner or can be reversibly bound to the cover glass by simply placing the device on top of the cover glass. The reversible bonding of the device to glass is covered in a separate video and requires first that the device be sterilized either with 70% ethanol or by autoclaving. Plasma treating sterilizes the devices so no further treatment is necessary. It is, however, important, when plasma-treating the devices, to add liquid to the devices within 10 minutes of the plasma treatment while the surfaces are still hydrophilic. Waiting longer than 10 minutes to add liquid to the device makes it difficult for the liquid to enter the device. The neuron devices are typically plasma-bound to cover glass and 0.5 mg/ml poly-L-lysine (PLL) in pH 8.5 borate buffer is immediately added to the device. After a minimum of 3 hours incubating with PLL, the devices are washed with dH2O water a minimum of 3 times with at least 15 minutes between each wash. Next, the water is removed and fresh media is added to the device. At this point the device is ready for use. It is important to remember at this point to never remove all the media from the device. Always leave media in the main channel.
Issue 7, Cell Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Neuroscience, Cell Culture, Axonal Regeneration
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Quantitative Real-Time PCR using the Thermo Scientific Solaris qPCR Assay
Authors: Christy Ogrean, Ben Jackson, James Covino.
Institutions: Thermo Scientific Solaris qPCR Products.
The Solaris qPCR Gene Expression Assay is a novel type of primer/probe set, designed to simplify the qPCR process while maintaining the sensitivity and accuracy of the assay. These primer/probe sets are pre-designed to >98% of the human and mouse genomes and feature significant improvements from previously available technologies. These improvements were made possible by virtue of a novel design algorithm, developed by Thermo Scientific bioinformatics experts. Several convenient features have been incorporated into the Solaris qPCR Assay to streamline the process of performing quantitative real-time PCR. First, the protocol is similar to commonly employed alternatives, so the methods used during qPCR are likely to be familiar. Second, the master mix is blue, which makes setting the qPCR reactions easier to track. Third, the thermal cycling conditions are the same for all assays (genes), making it possible to run many samples at a time and reducing the potential for error. Finally, the probe and primer sequence information are provided, simplifying the publication process. Here, we demonstrate how to obtain the appropriate Solaris reagents using the GENEius product search feature found on the ordering web site ( and how to use the Solaris reagents for performing qPCR using the standard curve method.
Cellular Biology, Issue 40, qPCR, probe, real-time PCR, molecular biology, Solaris, primer, gene expression assays
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Linearization of the Bradford Protein Assay
Authors: Orna Ernst, Tsaffrir Zor.
Institutions: Tel Aviv University.
Determination of microgram quantities of protein in the Bradford Coomassie brilliant blue assay is accomplished by measurement of absorbance at 590 nm. This most common assay enables rapid and simple protein quantification in cell lysates, cellular fractions, or recombinant protein samples, for the purpose of normalization of biochemical measurements. However, an intrinsic nonlinearity compromises the sensitivity and accuracy of this method. It is shown that under standard assay conditions, the ratio of the absorbance measurements at 590 nm and 450 nm is strictly linear with protein concentration. This simple procedure increases the accuracy and improves the sensitivity of the assay about 10-fold, permitting quantification down to 50 ng of bovine serum albumin. Furthermore, the interference commonly introduced by detergents that are used to create the cell lysates is greatly reduced by the new protocol. A linear equation developed on the basis of mass action and Beer's law perfectly fits the experimental data.
Cellular Biology, Issue 38, Bradford, protein assay, protein quantification, Coomassie brilliant blue
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Brain Slice Stimulation Using a Microfluidic Network and Standard Perfusion Chamber
Authors: Javeed Shaikh Mohammed, Hugo Caicedo, Christopher P. Fall, David T. Eddington.
Institutions: University of Illinois, Chicago, University of Illinois, Chicago.
We have demonstrated the fabrication of a two-level microfluidic device that can be easily integrated with existing electrophysiology setups. The two-level microfluidic device is fabricated using a two-step standard negative resist lithography process 1. The first level contains microchannels with inlet and outlet ports at each end. The second level contains microscale circular holes located midway of the channel length and centered along with channel width. Passive pumping method is used to pump fluids from the inlet port to the outlet port 2. The microfluidic device is integrated with off-the-shelf perfusion chambers and allows seamless integration with the electrophysiology setup. The fluids introduced at the inlet ports flow through the microchannels towards the outlet ports and also escape through the circular openings located on top of the microchannels into the bath of the perfusion. Thus the bottom surface of the brain slice placed in the perfusion chamber bath and above the microfluidic device can be exposed with different neurotransmitters. The microscale thickness of the microfluidic device and the transparent nature of the materials [glass coverslip and PDMS (polydimethylsiloxane)] used to make the microfluidic device allow microscopy of the brain slice. The microfluidic device allows modulation (both spatial and temporal) of the chemical stimuli introduced to the brain slice microenvironments.
Neuroscience, Issue 8, Biomedical Engineering, Microfluidics, Slice Recording, Soft Lithography, Electrophysiology, Neurotransmitter, Bioengineering
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Microcontact Printing of Proteins for Cell Biology
Authors: Keyue Shen, Jie Qi, Lance C. Kam.
Institutions: Columbia University.
The ability to pattern proteins and other biomolecules onto substrates is important for capturing the spatial complexity of the extracellular environment. Development of microcontact printing by the Whitesides group ( in the mid-1990s revolutionalized this field by making microelectronics/microfabrication techniques accessible to laboratories focused on the life sciences. Initial implementations of this method used polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) stamps to create patterns of functionalized chemicals on material surfaces1. Since then, a range of innovative approaches have been developed to pattern other molecules, including proteins2. This video demonstrates the basic process of creating PDMS stamps and uses them to pattern proteins, as these steps are difficult to accurately express in words. We focus on patterning the extracellular matrix protein fibronectin onto glass coverslips as a specific example of patterning. An important component of the microcontact printing process is a topological master, from which the stamps are cast; the raised and lowered regions of the master are mirrored into the stamp and define the final pattern. Typically, a master consists of a silicon wafer coated with photoresist and then patterned by photolithography, as is done here. Creation of masters containing a specific pattern requires specialized equipment, and is best approached in consultation with a fabrication center or facility. However, almost any substrate with topology can be used as a master, such as plastic diffraction gratings (see Reagents for one example), and such serendipitous masters provide readily available, simple patterns. This protocol begins at the point of having a master in hand.
Cellular Biology, Issue 22, micropatterning, proteins, cell biology, microcontact
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A Multi-compartment CNS Neuron-glia Co-culture Microfluidic Platform
Authors: Jaewon Park, Hisami Koito, Jianrong Li, Arum Han.
Institutions: Texas A&M University (TAMU), Texas A&M University (TAMU).
We present a novel multi-compartment neuron co-culture microsystem platform for in vitro CNS axon-glia interaction research, capable of conducting up to six independent experiments in parallel for higher-throughput. We developed a new fabrication method to create microfluidic devices having both micro and macro scale structures within the same device through a single soft-lithography process, enabling mass fabrication with good repeatability. The multi-compartment microfluidic co-culture platform is composed of one soma compartment for neurons and six axon/glia compartments for oligodendrocytes (OLs). The soma compartment and axon/glia compartments are connected by arrays of axon-guiding microchannels that function as physical barriers to confine neuronal soma in the soma compartment, while allowing axons to grow into axon/glia compartments. OLs loaded into axon/glia compartments can interact only with axons but not with neuronal soma or dendrites, enabling localized axon-glia interaction studies. The microchannels also enabled fluidic isolation between compartments, allowing six independent experiments to be conducted on a single device for higher throughput. Soft-lithography using poly(dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS) is a commonly used technique in biomedical microdevices. Reservoirs on these devices are commonly defined by manual punching. Although simple, poor alignment and time consuming nature of the process makes this process not suitable when large numbers of reservoirs have to be repeatedly created. The newly developed method did not require manual punching of reservoirs, overcoming such limitations. First, seven reservoirs (depth: 3.5 mm) were made on a poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) block using a micro-milling machine. Then, arrays of ridge microstructures, fabricated on a glass substrate, were hot-embossed against the PMMA block to define microchannels that connect the soma and axon/glia compartments. This process resulted in macro-scale reservoirs (3.5 mm) and micro-scale channels (2.5 μm) to coincide within a single PMMA master. A PDMS replica that served as a mold master was obtained using soft-lithography and the final PDMS device was replicated from this master. Primary neurons from E16-18 rats were loaded to the soma compartment and cultured for two weeks. After one week of cell culture, axons crossed microchannels and formed axonal only network layer inside axon/glia compartments. Axons grew uniformly throughout six axon/glia compartments and OLs from P1-2 rats were added to axon/glia compartments at 14 days in vitro for co-culture.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 31, Neuron culture, neuron-glia interaction, microfluidics, cell culture microsystem
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