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Engineering of three-finger fold toxins creates ligands with original pharmacological profiles for muscarinic and adrenergic receptors.
Protein engineering approaches are often a combination of rational design and directed evolution using display technologies. Here, we test "loop grafting," a rational design method, on three-finger fold proteins. These small reticulated proteins have exceptional affinity and specificity for their diverse molecular targets, display protease-resistance, and are highly stable and poorly immunogenic. The wealth of structural knowledge makes them good candidates for protein engineering of new functionality. Our goal is to enhance the efficacy of these mini-proteins by modifying their pharmacological properties in order to extend their use in imaging, diagnostics and therapeutic applications. Using the interaction of three-finger fold toxins with muscarinic and adrenergic receptors as a model, chimeric toxins have been engineered by substituting loops on toxin MT7 by those from toxin MT1. The pharmacological impact of these grafts was examined using binding experiments on muscarinic receptors M1 and M4 and on the ?(1A)-adrenoceptor. Some of the designed chimeric proteins have impressive gain of function on certain receptor subtypes achieving an original selectivity profile with high affinity for muscarinic receptor M1 and ?(1A)-adrenoceptor. Structure-function analysis supported by crystallographic data for MT1 and two chimeras permits a molecular based interpretation of these gains and details the merits of this protein engineering technique. The results obtained shed light on how loop permutation can be used to design new three-finger proteins with original pharmacological profiles.
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.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
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The Importance of Correct Protein Concentration for Kinetics and Affinity Determination in Structure-function Analysis
Authors: Ewa Pol.
Institutions: GE Healthcare Bio-Sciences AB.
In this study, we explore the interaction between the bovine cysteine protease inhibitor cystatin B and a catalytically inactive form of papain (Fig. 1), a plant cysteine protease, by real-time label-free analysis using Biacore X100. Several cystatin B variants with point mutations in areas of interaction with papain, are produced. For each cystatin B variant we determine its specific binding concentration using calibration-free concentration analysis (CFCA) and compare the values obtained with total protein concentration as determined by A280. After that, the kinetics of each cystatin B variant binding to papain is measured using single-cycle kinetics (SCK). We show that one of the four cystatin B variants we examine is only partially active for binding. This partial activity, revealed by CFCA, translates to a significant difference in the association rate constant (ka) and affinity (KD), compared to the values calculated using total protein concentration. Using CFCA in combination with kinetic analysis in a structure-function study contributes to obtaining reliable results, and helps to make the right interpretation of the interaction mechanism.
Cellular Biology, Issue 37, Protein interaction, Surface Plasmon Resonance, Biacore X100, CFCA, Cystatin B, Papain
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Electronic Tongue Generating Continuous Recognition Patterns for Protein Analysis
Authors: Yanxia Hou, Maria Genua, Laurie-Amandine Garçon, Arnaud Buhot, Roberto Calemczuk, David Bonnaffé, Hugues Lortat-Jacob, Thierry Livache.
Institutions: Institut Nanosciences et Cryogénie, CEA-Grenoble, Université Paris-Sud, Institut de Biologie Structurale.
In current protocol, a combinatorial approach has been developed to simplify the design and production of sensing materials for the construction of electronic tongues (eT) for protein analysis. By mixing a small number of simple and easily accessible molecules with different physicochemical properties, used as building blocks (BBs), in varying and controlled proportions and allowing the mixtures to self-assemble on the gold surface of a prism, an array of combinatorial surfaces featuring appropriate properties for protein sensing was created. In this way, a great number of cross-reactive receptors can be rapidly and efficiently obtained. By combining such an array of combinatorial cross-reactive receptors (CoCRRs) with an optical detection system such as surface plasmon resonance imaging (SPRi), the obtained eT can monitor the binding events in real-time and generate continuous recognition patterns including 2D continuous evolution profile (CEP) and 3D continuous evolution landscape (CEL) for samples in liquid. Such an eT system is efficient for discrimination of common purified proteins.
Bioengineering, Issue 91, electronic tongue, combinatorial cross-reactive receptor, surface plasmon resonance imaging, pattern recognition, continuous evolution profiles, continuous evolution landscapes, protein analysis
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Subcutaneous Administration of Muscarinic Antagonists and Triple-Immunostaining of the Levator Auris Longus Muscle in Mice
Authors: Megan Wright, Amy Kim, Young-Jin Son.
Institutions: Arcadia University, Temple University School of Medicine, Temple University School of Medicine.
Hind limb muscles of rodents, such as gastrocnemius and tibialis anterior, are frequently used for in vivo pharmacological studies of the signals essential for the formation and maintenance of mammalian NMJs. However, drug penetration into these muscles after subcutaneous or intramuscular administration is often incomplete or uneven and many NMJs can remain unaffected. Although systemic administration with devices such as mini-pumps can improve the spatiotemporal effects, the invasive nature of this approach can cause confounding inflammatory responses and/or direct muscle damage. Moreover, complete analysis of the NMJs in a hind limb muscle is challenging because it requires time-consuming serial sectioning and extensive immunostaining. The mouse LAL is a thin, flat sheet of muscle located superficially on the dorsum of the neck. It is a fast-twitch muscle that functions to move the pinna. It contains rostral and caudal portions that originate from the midline of the cranium and extend laterally to the cartilaginous portion of each pinna. The muscle is supplied by a branch of the facial nerve that projects caudally as it exits the stylomastoid foramen. We and others have found LAL to be a convenient preparation that offers advantages for the investigation of both short and long-term in vivo effects of drugs on NMJs and muscles. First, its superficial location facilitates multiple local applications of drugs under light anesthesia. Second, its thinness (2-3 layers of muscle fibers) permits visualization and analysis of almost all the NMJs within the muscle. Third, the ease of dissecting it with its nerve intact together with the pattern of its innervation permits supplementary electrophysiological analysis in vitro9,5. Last, and perhaps most importantly, a small applied volume (˜50μl) easily covers the entire muscle surface, provides a uniform and prolonged exposure of all its NMJs to the drug and eliminates the need for a systemic approach1,8.
Neuroscience, Issue 55, neuromuscular junction, immunohistochemistry, muscle, Schwann cells, acetylcholine receptors, confocal microscope
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Orthogonal Protein Purification Facilitated by a Small Bispecific Affinity Tag
Authors: Johan Nilvebrant, Tove Alm, Sophia Hober.
Institutions: Royal Institute of Technology.
Due to the high costs associated with purification of recombinant proteins the protocols need to be rationalized. For high-throughput efforts there is a demand for general methods that do not require target protein specific optimization1 . To achieve this, purification tags that genetically can be fused to the gene of interest are commonly used2 . The most widely used affinity handle is the hexa-histidine tag, which is suitable for purification under both native and denaturing conditions3 . The metabolic burden for producing the tag is low, but it does not provide as high specificity as competing affinity chromatography based strategies1,2. Here, a bispecific purification tag with two different binding sites on a 46 amino acid, small protein domain has been developed. The albumin-binding domain is derived from Streptococcal protein G and has a strong inherent affinity to human serum albumin (HSA). Eleven surface-exposed amino acids, not involved in albumin-binding4 , were genetically randomized to produce a combinatorial library. The protein library with the novel randomly arranged binding surface (Figure 1) was expressed on phage particles to facilitate selection of binders by phage display technology. Through several rounds of biopanning against a dimeric Z-domain derived from Staphylococcal protein A5, a small, bispecific molecule with affinity for both HSA and the novel target was identified6 . The novel protein domain, referred to as ABDz1, was evaluated as a purification tag for a selection of target proteins with different molecular weight, solubility and isoelectric point. Three target proteins were expressed in Escherishia coli with the novel tag fused to their N-termini and thereafter affinity purified. Initial purification on either a column with immobilized HSA or Z-domain resulted in relatively pure products. Two-step affinity purification with the bispecific tag resulted in substantial improvement of protein purity. Chromatographic media with the Z-domain immobilized, for example MabSelect SuRe, are readily available for purification of antibodies and HSA can easily be chemically coupled to media to provide the second matrix. This method is especially advantageous when there is a high demand on purity of the recovered target protein. The bifunctionality of the tag allows two different chromatographic steps to be used while the metabolic burden on the expression host is limited due to the small size of the tag. It provides a competitive alternative to so called combinatorial tagging where multiple tags are used in combination1,7.
Molecular Biology, Issue 59, Affinity chromatography, albumin-binding domain, human serum albumin, Z-domain
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Proteomic Profiling of Macrophages by 2D Electrophoresis
Authors: Marion Bouvet, Annie Turkieh, Adelina E. Acosta-Martin, Maggy Chwastyniak, Olivia Beseme, Philippe Amouyel, Florence Pinet.
Institutions: University Lille Nord de France.
The goal of the two-dimensional (2D) electrophoresis protocol described here is to show how to analyse the phenotype of human cultured macrophages. The key role of macrophages has been shown in various pathological disorders such as inflammatory, immunological, and infectious diseases. In this protocol, we use primary cultures of human monocyte-derived macrophages that can be differentiated into the M1 (pro-inflammatory) or the M2 (anti-inflammatory) phenotype. This in vitro model is reliable for studying the biological activities of M1 and M2 macrophages and also for a proteomic approach. Proteomic techniques are useful for comparing the phenotype and behaviour of M1 and M2 macrophages during host pathogenicity. 2D gel electrophoresis is a powerful proteomic technique for mapping large numbers of proteins or polypeptides simultaneously. We describe the protocol of 2D electrophoresis using fluorescent dyes, named 2D Differential Gel Electrophoresis (DIGE). The M1 and M2 macrophages proteins are labelled with cyanine dyes before separation by isoelectric focusing, according to their isoelectric point in the first dimension, and their molecular mass, in the second dimension. Separated protein or polypeptidic spots are then used to detect differences in protein or polypeptide expression levels. The proteomic approaches described here allows the investigation of the macrophage protein changes associated with various disorders like host pathogenicity or microbial toxins.
Immunology, Issue 93, Biology, Human, Buffy coat, Monocytes, Macrophages, Culture, Proteins, Proteome, 2D DIGE-electrophoresis, 2D software
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High-throughput Analysis of Mammalian Olfactory Receptors: Measurement of Receptor Activation via Luciferase Activity
Authors: Casey Trimmer, Lindsey L. Snyder, Joel D. Mainland.
Institutions: Monell Chemical Senses Center.
Odorants create unique and overlapping patterns of olfactory receptor activation, allowing a family of approximately 1,000 murine and 400 human receptors to recognize thousands of odorants. Odorant ligands have been published for fewer than 6% of human receptors1-11. This lack of data is due in part to difficulties functionally expressing these receptors in heterologous systems. Here, we describe a method for expressing the majority of the olfactory receptor family in Hana3A cells, followed by high-throughput assessment of olfactory receptor activation using a luciferase reporter assay. This assay can be used to (1) screen panels of odorants against panels of olfactory receptors; (2) confirm odorant/receptor interaction via dose response curves; and (3) compare receptor activation levels among receptor variants. In our sample data, 328 olfactory receptors were screened against 26 odorants. Odorant/receptor pairs with varying response scores were selected and tested in dose response. These data indicate that a screen is an effective method to enrich for odorant/receptor pairs that will pass a dose response experiment, i.e. receptors that have a bona fide response to an odorant. Therefore, this high-throughput luciferase assay is an effective method to characterize olfactory receptors—an essential step toward a model of odor coding in the mammalian olfactory system.
Neuroscience, Issue 88, Firefly luciferase, Renilla Luciferase, Dual-Glo Luciferase Assay, olfaction, Olfactory receptor, Odorant, GPCR, High-throughput
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High-resolution Spatiotemporal Analysis of Receptor Dynamics by Single-molecule Fluorescence Microscopy
Authors: Titiwat Sungkaworn, Finn Rieken, Martin J. Lohse, Davide Calebiro.
Institutions: University of Würzburg, Germany.
Single-molecule microscopy is emerging as a powerful approach to analyze the behavior of signaling molecules, in particular concerning those aspect (e.g., kinetics, coexistence of different states and populations, transient interactions), which are typically hidden in ensemble measurements, such as those obtained with standard biochemical or microscopy methods. Thus, dynamic events, such as receptor-receptor interactions, can be followed in real time in a living cell with high spatiotemporal resolution. This protocol describes a method based on labeling with small and bright organic fluorophores and total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) microscopy to directly visualize single receptors on the surface of living cells. This approach allows one to precisely localize receptors, measure the size of receptor complexes, and capture dynamic events such as transient receptor-receptor interactions. The protocol provides a detailed description of how to perform a single-molecule experiment, including sample preparation, image acquisition and image analysis. As an example, the application of this method to analyze two G-protein-coupled receptors, i.e., β2-adrenergic and γ-aminobutyric acid type B (GABAB) receptor, is reported. The protocol can be adapted to other membrane proteins and different cell models, transfection methods and labeling strategies.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, pharmacology, microscopy, receptor, live-cell imaging, single-molecule, total internal reflection fluorescence, tracking, dimerization, protein-protein interactions
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Genetically-encoded Molecular Probes to Study G Protein-coupled Receptors
Authors: Saranga Naganathan, Amy Grunbeck, He Tian, Thomas Huber, Thomas P. Sakmar.
Institutions: The Rockefeller University.
To facilitate structural and dynamic studies of G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) signaling complexes, new approaches are required to introduce informative probes or labels into expressed receptors that do not perturb receptor function. We used amber codon suppression technology to genetically-encode the unnatural amino acid, p-azido-L-phenylalanine (azF) at various targeted positions in GPCRs heterologously expressed in mammalian cells. The versatility of the azido group is illustrated here in different applications to study GPCRs in their native cellular environment or under detergent solubilized conditions. First, we demonstrate a cell-based targeted photocrosslinking technology to identify the residues in the ligand-binding pocket of GPCR where a tritium-labeled small-molecule ligand is crosslinked to a genetically-encoded azido amino acid. We then demonstrate site-specific modification of GPCRs by the bioorthogonal Staudinger-Bertozzi ligation reaction that targets the azido group using phosphine derivatives. We discuss a general strategy for targeted peptide-epitope tagging of expressed membrane proteins in-culture and its detection using a whole-cell-based ELISA approach. Finally, we show that azF-GPCRs can be selectively tagged with fluorescent probes. The methodologies discussed are general, in that they can in principle be applied to any amino acid position in any expressed GPCR to interrogate active signaling complexes.
Genetics, Issue 79, Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled, Protein Engineering, Signal Transduction, Biochemistry, Unnatural amino acid, site-directed mutagenesis, G protein-coupled receptor, targeted photocrosslinking, bioorthogonal labeling, targeted epitope tagging
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Drug-induced Sensitization of Adenylyl Cyclase: Assay Streamlining and Miniaturization for Small Molecule and siRNA Screening Applications
Authors: Jason M. Conley, Tarsis F. Brust, Ruqiang Xu, Kevin D. Burris, Val J. Watts.
Institutions: Purdue University, Eli Lilly and Company.
Sensitization of adenylyl cyclase (AC) signaling has been implicated in a variety of neuropsychiatric and neurologic disorders including substance abuse and Parkinson's disease. Acute activation of Gαi/o-linked receptors inhibits AC activity, whereas persistent activation of these receptors results in heterologous sensitization of AC and increased levels of intracellular cAMP. Previous studies have demonstrated that this enhancement of AC responsiveness is observed both in vitro and in vivo following the chronic activation of several types of Gαi/o-linked receptors including D2 dopamine and μ opioid receptors. Although heterologous sensitization of AC was first reported four decades ago, the mechanism(s) that underlie this phenomenon remain largely unknown. The lack of mechanistic data presumably reflects the complexity involved with this adaptive response, suggesting that nonbiased approaches could aid in identifying the molecular pathways involved in heterologous sensitization of AC. Previous studies have implicated kinase and Gbγ signaling as overlapping components that regulate the heterologous sensitization of AC. To identify unique and additional overlapping targets associated with sensitization of AC, the development and validation of a scalable cAMP sensitization assay is required for greater throughput. Previous approaches to study sensitization are generally cumbersome involving continuous cell culture maintenance as well as a complex methodology for measuring cAMP accumulation that involves multiple wash steps. Thus, the development of a robust cell-based assay that can be used for high throughput screening (HTS) in a 384 well format would facilitate future studies. Using two D2 dopamine receptor cellular models (i.e. CHO-D2L and HEK-AC6/D2L), we have converted our 48-well sensitization assay (>20 steps 4-5 days) to a five-step, single day assay in 384-well format. This new format is amenable to small molecule screening, and we demonstrate that this assay design can also be readily used for reverse transfection of siRNA in anticipation of targeted siRNA library screening.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, adenylyl cyclase, cAMP, heterologous sensitization, superactivation, D2 dopamine, μ opioid, siRNA
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Isolating and Using Sections of Bovine Mesenteric Artery and Vein as a Bioassay to Test for Vasoactivity in the Small Intestine
Authors: James L. Klotz, Adam J. Barnes.
Institutions: USDA-Agricultural Research Service.
Mammalian gastrointestinal systems are constantly exposed to compounds (desirable and undesirable) that can have an effect on blood flow to and from that system. Changes in blood flow to the small intestine can result in effects on the absorptive functions of the organ. Particular interest in toxins liberated from feedstuffs through fermentative and digestive processes has developed in ruminants as an area where productive efficiencies could be improved. The video associated with this article describes an in vitro bioassay developed to screen compounds for vasoactivity in isolated cross-sections of bovine mesenteric artery and vein using a multimyograph. Once the blood vessels are mounted and equilibrated in the myograph, the bioassay itself can be used: as a screening tool to evaluate the contractile response or vasoactivity of compounds of interest; determine the presence of receptor types by pharmacologically targeting receptors with specific agonists; determine the role of a receptor with the presence of one or more antagonists; or determine potential interactions of compounds of interest with antagonists. Through all of this, data are collected real-time, tissue collected from a single animal can be exposed to a large number of different experimental treatments (an in vitro advantage), and represents vasculature on either side of the capillary bed to provide an accurate picture of what could be happening in the afferent and efferent blood supply supporting the small intestine.
Medicine, Issue 92, Blood flow, bovine, mesenteric artery, mesenteric vein, small intestine, vasoactivity, vasoconstriction
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Harvesting and Cryo-cooling Crystals of Membrane Proteins Grown in Lipidic Mesophases for Structure Determination by Macromolecular Crystallography
Authors: Dianfan Li, Coilín Boland, David Aragao, Kilian Walsh, Martin Caffrey.
Institutions: Trinity College Dublin .
An important route to understanding how proteins function at a mechanistic level is to have the structure of the target protein available, ideally at atomic resolution. Presently, there is only one way to capture such information as applied to integral membrane proteins (Figure 1), and the complexes they form, and that method is macromolecular X-ray crystallography (MX). To do MX diffraction quality crystals are needed which, in the case of membrane proteins, do not form readily. A method for crystallizing membrane proteins that involves the use of lipidic mesophases, specifically the cubic and sponge phases1-5, has gained considerable attention of late due to the successes it has had in the G protein-coupled receptor field6-21 ( However, the method, henceforth referred to as the in meso or lipidic cubic phase method, comes with its own technical challenges. These arise, in part, due to the generally viscous and sticky nature of the lipidic mesophase in which the crystals, which are often micro-crystals, grow. Manipulating crystals becomes difficult as a result and particularly so during harvesting22,23. Problems arise too at the step that precedes harvesting which requires that the glass sandwich plates in which the crystals grow (Figure 2)24,25 are opened to expose the mesophase bolus, and the crystals therein, for harvesting, cryo-cooling and eventual X-ray diffraction data collection. The cubic and sponge mesophase variants (Figure 3) from which crystals must be harvested have profoundly different rheologies4,26. The cubic phase is viscous and sticky akin to a thick toothpaste. By contrast, the sponge phase is more fluid with a distinct tendency to flow. Accordingly, different approaches for opening crystallization wells containing crystals growing in the cubic and the sponge phase are called for as indeed different methods are required for harvesting crystals from the two mesophase types. Protocols for doing just that have been refined and implemented in the Membrane Structural and Functional Biology (MS&FB) Group, and are described in detail in this JoVE article (Figure 4). Examples are given of situations where crystals are successfully harvested and cryo-cooled. We also provide examples of cases where problems arise that lead to the irretrievable loss of crystals and describe how these problems can be avoided. In this article the Viewer is provided with step-by-step instructions for opening glass sandwich crystallization wells, for harvesting and for cryo-cooling crystals of membrane proteins growing in cubic and in sponge phases.
Materials Science, Issue 67, crystallization, glass sandwich plates, GPCR, harvesting, in meso, LCP, lipidic mesophases, macromolecular X-ray crystallography, membrane protein
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Assessment of Immunologically Relevant Dynamic Tertiary Structural Features of the HIV-1 V3 Loop Crown R2 Sequence by ab initio Folding
Authors: David Almond, Timothy Cardozo.
Institutions: School of Medicine, New York University.
The antigenic diversity of HIV-1 has long been an obstacle to vaccine design, and this variability is especially pronounced in the V3 loop of the virus' surface envelope glycoprotein. We previously proposed that the crown of the V3 loop, although dynamic and sequence variable, is constrained throughout the population of HIV-1 viruses to an immunologically relevant β-hairpin tertiary structure. Importantly, there are thousands of different V3 loop crown sequences in circulating HIV-1 viruses, making 3D structural characterization of trends across the diversity of viruses difficult or impossible by crystallography or NMR. Our previous successful studies with folding of the V3 crown1, 2 used the ab initio algorithm 3 accessible in the ICM-Pro molecular modeling software package (Molsoft LLC, La Jolla, CA) and suggested that the crown of the V3 loop, specifically from positions 10 to 22, benefits sufficiently from the flexibility and length of its flanking stems to behave to a large degree as if it were an unconstrained peptide freely folding in solution. As such, rapid ab initio folding of just this portion of the V3 loop of any individual strain of the 60,000+ circulating HIV-1 strains can be informative. Here, we folded the V3 loop of the R2 strain to gain insight into the structural basis of its unique properties. R2 bears a rare V3 loop sequence thought to be responsible for the exquisite sensitivity of this strain to neutralization by patient sera and monoclonal antibodies4, 5. The strain mediates CD4-independent infection and appears to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies. We demonstrate how evaluation of the results of the folding can be informative for associating observed structures in the folding with the immunological activities observed for R2.
Infection, Issue 43, HIV-1, structure-activity relationships, ab initio simulations, antibody-mediated neutralization, vaccine design
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Bladder Smooth Muscle Strip Contractility as a Method to Evaluate Lower Urinary Tract Pharmacology
Authors: F. Aura Kullmann, Stephanie L. Daugherty, William C. de Groat, Lori A. Birder.
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
We describe an in vitro method to measure bladder smooth muscle contractility, and its use for investigating physiological and pharmacological properties of the smooth muscle as well as changes induced by pathology. This method provides critical information for understanding bladder function while overcoming major methodological difficulties encountered in in vivo experiments, such as surgical and pharmacological manipulations that affect stability and survival of the preparations, the use of human tissue, and/or the use of expensive chemicals. It also provides a way to investigate the properties of each bladder component (i.e. smooth muscle, mucosa, nerves) in healthy and pathological conditions. The urinary bladder is removed from an anesthetized animal, placed in Krebs solution and cut into strips. Strips are placed into a chamber filled with warm Krebs solution. One end is attached to an isometric tension transducer to measure contraction force, the other end is attached to a fixed rod. Tissue is stimulated by directly adding compounds to the bath or by electric field stimulation electrodes that activate nerves, similar to triggering bladder contractions in vivo. We demonstrate the use of this method to evaluate spontaneous smooth muscle contractility during development and after an experimental spinal cord injury, the nature of neurotransmission (transmitters and receptors involved), factors involved in modulation of smooth muscle activity, the role of individual bladder components, and species and organ differences in response to pharmacological agents. Additionally, it could be used for investigating intracellular pathways involved in contraction and/or relaxation of the smooth muscle, drug structure-activity relationships and evaluation of transmitter release. The in vitro smooth muscle contractility method has been used extensively for over 50 years, and has provided data that significantly contributed to our understanding of bladder function as well as to pharmaceutical development of compounds currently used clinically for bladder management.
Medicine, Issue 90, Krebs, species differences, in vitro, smooth muscle contractility, neural stimulation
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Inducing Plasticity of Astrocytic Receptors by Manipulation of Neuronal Firing Rates
Authors: Alison X. Xie, Kelli Lauderdale, Thomas Murphy, Timothy L. Myers, Todd A. Fiacco.
Institutions: University of California Riverside, University of California Riverside, University of California Riverside.
Close to two decades of research has established that astrocytes in situ and in vivo express numerous G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) that can be stimulated by neuronally-released transmitter. However, the ability of astrocytic receptors to exhibit plasticity in response to changes in neuronal activity has received little attention. Here we describe a model system that can be used to globally scale up or down astrocytic group I metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) in acute brain slices. Included are methods on how to prepare parasagittal hippocampal slices, construct chambers suitable for long-term slice incubation, bidirectionally manipulate neuronal action potential frequency, load astrocytes and astrocyte processes with fluorescent Ca2+ indicator, and measure changes in astrocytic Gq GPCR activity by recording spontaneous and evoked astrocyte Ca2+ events using confocal microscopy. In essence, a “calcium roadmap” is provided for how to measure plasticity of astrocytic Gq GPCRs. Applications of the technique for study of astrocytes are discussed. Having an understanding of how astrocytic receptor signaling is affected by changes in neuronal activity has important implications for both normal synaptic function as well as processes underlying neurological disorders and neurodegenerative disease.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, astrocyte, plasticity, mGluRs, neuronal Firing, electrophysiology, Gq GPCRs, Bolus-loading, calcium, microdomains, acute slices, Hippocampus, mouse
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Setting-up an In Vitro Model of Rat Blood-brain Barrier (BBB): A Focus on BBB Impermeability and Receptor-mediated Transport
Authors: Yves Molino, Françoise Jabès, Emmanuelle Lacassagne, Nicolas Gaudin, Michel Khrestchatisky.
Institutions: VECT-HORUS SAS, CNRS, NICN UMR 7259.
The blood brain barrier (BBB) specifically regulates molecular and cellular flux between the blood and the nervous tissue. Our aim was to develop and characterize a highly reproducible rat syngeneic in vitro model of the BBB using co-cultures of primary rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC) and astrocytes to study receptors involved in transcytosis across the endothelial cell monolayer. Astrocytes were isolated by mechanical dissection following trypsin digestion and were frozen for later co-culture. RBEC were isolated from 5-week-old rat cortices. The brains were cleaned of meninges and white matter, and mechanically dissociated following enzymatic digestion. Thereafter, the tissue homogenate was centrifuged in bovine serum albumin to separate vessel fragments from nervous tissue. The vessel fragments underwent a second enzymatic digestion to free endothelial cells from their extracellular matrix. The remaining contaminating cells such as pericytes were further eliminated by plating the microvessel fragments in puromycin-containing medium. They were then passaged onto filters for co-culture with astrocytes grown on the bottom of the wells. RBEC expressed high levels of tight junction (TJ) proteins such as occludin, claudin-5 and ZO-1 with a typical localization at the cell borders. The transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER) of brain endothelial monolayers, indicating the tightness of TJs reached 300 ohm·cm2 on average. The endothelial permeability coefficients (Pe) for lucifer yellow (LY) was highly reproducible with an average of 0.26 ± 0.11 x 10-3 cm/min. Brain endothelial cells organized in monolayers expressed the efflux transporter P-glycoprotein (P-gp), showed a polarized transport of rhodamine 123, a ligand for P-gp, and showed specific transport of transferrin-Cy3 and DiILDL across the endothelial cell monolayer. In conclusion, we provide a protocol for setting up an in vitro BBB model that is highly reproducible due to the quality assurance methods, and that is suitable for research on BBB transporters and receptors.
Medicine, Issue 88, rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC), mouse, spinal cord, tight junction (TJ), receptor-mediated transport (RMT), low density lipoprotein (LDL), LDLR, transferrin, TfR, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER),
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A 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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Inhibitory Synapse Formation in a Co-culture Model Incorporating GABAergic Medium Spiny Neurons and HEK293 Cells Stably Expressing GABAA Receptors
Authors: Laura E. Brown, Celine Fuchs, Martin W. Nicholson, F. Anne Stephenson, Alex M. Thomson, Jasmina N. Jovanovic.
Institutions: University College London.
Inhibitory neurons act in the central nervous system to regulate the dynamics and spatio-temporal co-ordination of neuronal networks. GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) is the predominant inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It is released from the presynaptic terminals of inhibitory neurons within highly specialized intercellular junctions known as synapses, where it binds to GABAA receptors (GABAARs) present at the plasma membrane of the synapse-receiving, postsynaptic neurons. Activation of these GABA-gated ion channels leads to influx of chloride resulting in postsynaptic potential changes that decrease the probability that these neurons will generate action potentials. During development, diverse types of inhibitory neurons with distinct morphological, electrophysiological and neurochemical characteristics have the ability to recognize their target neurons and form synapses which incorporate specific GABAARs subtypes. This principle of selective innervation of neuronal targets raises the question as to how the appropriate synaptic partners identify each other. To elucidate the underlying molecular mechanisms, a novel in vitro co-culture model system was established, in which medium spiny GABAergic neurons, a highly homogenous population of neurons isolated from the embryonic striatum, were cultured with stably transfected HEK293 cell lines that express different GABAAR subtypes. Synapses form rapidly, efficiently and selectively in this system, and are easily accessible for quantification. Our results indicate that various GABAAR subtypes differ in their ability to promote synapse formation, suggesting that this reduced in vitro model system can be used to reproduce, at least in part, the in vivo conditions required for the recognition of the appropriate synaptic partners and formation of specific synapses. Here the protocols for culturing the medium spiny neurons and generating HEK293 cells lines expressing GABAARs are first described, followed by detailed instructions on how to combine these two cell types in co-culture and analyze the formation of synaptic contacts.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, Developmental neuroscience, synaptogenesis, synaptic inhibition, co-culture, stable cell lines, GABAergic, medium spiny neurons, HEK 293 cell line
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Characterization of G Protein-coupled Receptors by a Fluorescence-based Calcium Mobilization Assay
Authors: Jelle Caers, Katleen Peymen, Nick Suetens, Liesbet Temmerman, Tom Janssen, Liliane Schoofs, Isabel Beets.
Institutions: KU Leuven.
For more than 20 years, reverse pharmacology has been the preeminent strategy to discover the activating ligands of orphan G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). The onset of a reverse pharmacology assay is the cloning and subsequent transfection of a GPCR of interest in a cellular expression system. The heterologous expressed receptor is then challenged with a compound library of candidate ligands to identify the receptor-activating ligand(s). Receptor activation can be assessed by measuring changes in concentration of second messenger reporter molecules, like calcium or cAMP. The fluorescence-based calcium mobilization assay described here is a frequently used medium-throughput reverse pharmacology assay. The orphan GPCR is transiently expressed in human embryonic kidney 293T (HEK293T) cells and a promiscuous Gα16 construct is co-transfected. Following ligand binding, activation of the Gα16 subunit induces the release of calcium from the endoplasmic reticulum. Prior to ligand screening, the receptor-expressing cells are loaded with a fluorescent calcium indicator, Fluo-4 acetoxymethyl. The fluorescent signal of Fluo-4 is negligible in cells under resting conditions, but can be amplified more than a 100-fold upon the interaction with calcium ions that are released after receptor activation. The described technique does not require the time-consuming establishment of stably transfected cell lines in which the transfected genetic material is integrated into the host cell genome. Instead, a transient transfection, generating temporary expression of the target gene, is sufficient to perform the screening assay. The setup allows medium-throughput screening of hundreds of compounds. Co-transfection of the promiscuous Gα16, which couples to most GPCRs, allows the intracellular signaling pathway to be redirected towards the release of calcium, regardless of the native signaling pathway in endogenous settings. The HEK293T cells are easy to handle and have proven their efficacy throughout the years in receptor deorphanization assays. However, optimization of the assay for specific receptors may remain necessary.
Cellular Biology, Issue 89, G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR), calcium mobilization assay, reverse pharmacology, deorphanization, cellular expression system, HEK293T, Fluo-4, FlexStation
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High Throughput Quantitative Expression Screening and Purification Applied to Recombinant Disulfide-rich Venom Proteins Produced in E. coli
Authors: Natalie J. Saez, Hervé Nozach, Marilyne Blemont, Renaud Vincentelli.
Institutions: Aix-Marseille Université, Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA) Saclay, France.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) is the most widely used expression system for the production of recombinant proteins for structural and functional studies. However, purifying proteins is sometimes challenging since many proteins are expressed in an insoluble form. When working with difficult or multiple targets it is therefore recommended to use high throughput (HTP) protein expression screening on a small scale (1-4 ml cultures) to quickly identify conditions for soluble expression. To cope with the various structural genomics programs of the lab, a quantitative (within a range of 0.1-100 mg/L culture of recombinant protein) and HTP protein expression screening protocol was implemented and validated on thousands of proteins. The protocols were automated with the use of a liquid handling robot but can also be performed manually without specialized equipment. Disulfide-rich venom proteins are gaining increasing recognition for their potential as therapeutic drug leads. They can be highly potent and selective, but their complex disulfide bond networks make them challenging to produce. As a member of the FP7 European Venomics project (, our challenge is to develop successful production strategies with the aim of producing thousands of novel venom proteins for functional characterization. Aided by the redox properties of disulfide bond isomerase DsbC, we adapted our HTP production pipeline for the expression of oxidized, functional venom peptides in the E. coli cytoplasm. The protocols are also applicable to the production of diverse disulfide-rich proteins. Here we demonstrate our pipeline applied to the production of animal venom proteins. With the protocols described herein it is likely that soluble disulfide-rich proteins will be obtained in as little as a week. Even from a small scale, there is the potential to use the purified proteins for validating the oxidation state by mass spectrometry, for characterization in pilot studies, or for sensitive micro-assays.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, E. coli, expression, recombinant, high throughput (HTP), purification, auto-induction, immobilized metal affinity chromatography (IMAC), tobacco etch virus protease (TEV) cleavage, disulfide bond isomerase C (DsbC) fusion, disulfide bonds, animal venom proteins/peptides
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Isolation and Quantification of Botulinum Neurotoxin From Complex Matrices Using the BoTest Matrix Assays
Authors: F. Mark Dunning, Timothy M. Piazza, Füsûn N. Zeytin, Ward C. Tucker.
Institutions: BioSentinel Inc., Madison, WI.
Accurate detection and quantification of botulinum neurotoxin (BoNT) in complex matrices is required for pharmaceutical, environmental, and food sample testing. Rapid BoNT testing of foodstuffs is needed during outbreak forensics, patient diagnosis, and food safety testing while accurate potency testing is required for BoNT-based drug product manufacturing and patient safety. The widely used mouse bioassay for BoNT testing is highly sensitive but lacks the precision and throughput needed for rapid and routine BoNT testing. Furthermore, the bioassay's use of animals has resulted in calls by drug product regulatory authorities and animal-rights proponents in the US and abroad to replace the mouse bioassay for BoNT testing. Several in vitro replacement assays have been developed that work well with purified BoNT in simple buffers, but most have not been shown to be applicable to testing in highly complex matrices. Here, a protocol for the detection of BoNT in complex matrices using the BoTest Matrix assays is presented. The assay consists of three parts: The first part involves preparation of the samples for testing, the second part is an immunoprecipitation step using anti-BoNT antibody-coated paramagnetic beads to purify BoNT from the matrix, and the third part quantifies the isolated BoNT's proteolytic activity using a fluorogenic reporter. The protocol is written for high throughput testing in 96-well plates using both liquid and solid matrices and requires about 2 hr of manual preparation with total assay times of 4-26 hr depending on the sample type, toxin load, and desired sensitivity. Data are presented for BoNT/A testing with phosphate-buffered saline, a drug product, culture supernatant, 2% milk, and fresh tomatoes and includes discussion of critical parameters for assay success.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, Botulinum, food testing, detection, quantification, complex matrices, BoTest Matrix, Clostridium, potency testing
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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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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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Quantifying Agonist Activity at G Protein-coupled Receptors
Authors: Frederick J. Ehlert, Hinako Suga, Michael T. Griffin.
Institutions: University of California, Irvine, University of California, Chapman University.
When an agonist activates a population of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), it elicits a signaling pathway that culminates in the response of the cell or tissue. This process can be analyzed at the level of a single receptor, a population of receptors, or a downstream response. Here we describe how to analyze the downstream response to obtain an estimate of the agonist affinity constant for the active state of single receptors. Receptors behave as quantal switches that alternate between active and inactive states (Figure 1). The active state interacts with specific G proteins or other signaling partners. In the absence of ligands, the inactive state predominates. The binding of agonist increases the probability that the receptor will switch into the active state because its affinity constant for the active state (Kb) is much greater than that for the inactive state (Ka). The summation of the random outputs of all of the receptors in the population yields a constant level of receptor activation in time. The reciprocal of the concentration of agonist eliciting half-maximal receptor activation is equivalent to the observed affinity constant (Kobs), and the fraction of agonist-receptor complexes in the active state is defined as efficacy (ε) (Figure 2). Methods for analyzing the downstream responses of GPCRs have been developed that enable the estimation of the Kobs and relative efficacy of an agonist 1,2. In this report, we show how to modify this analysis to estimate the agonist Kb value relative to that of another agonist. For assays that exhibit constitutive activity, we show how to estimate Kb in absolute units of M-1. Our method of analyzing agonist concentration-response curves 3,4 consists of global nonlinear regression using the operational model 5. We describe a procedure using the software application, Prism (GraphPad Software, Inc., San Diego, CA). The analysis yields an estimate of the product of Kobs and a parameter proportional to efficacy (τ). The estimate of τKobs of one agonist, divided by that of another, is a relative measure of Kb (RAi) 6. For any receptor exhibiting constitutive activity, it is possible to estimate a parameter proportional to the efficacy of the free receptor complex (τsys). In this case, the Kb value of an agonist is equivalent to τKobssys 3. Our method is useful for determining the selectivity of an agonist for receptor subtypes and for quantifying agonist-receptor signaling through different G proteins.
Molecular Biology, Issue 58, agonist activity, active state, ligand bias, constitutive activity, G protein-coupled receptor
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Interview: Protein Folding and Studies of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Authors: Susan Lindquist.
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
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