The stress hormone cortisol (CORT) is slowly incorporated into the growing hair shaft of humans, nonhuman primates, and other mammals. We developed and validated a method for CORT extraction and analysis from rhesus monkey hair and subsequently adapted this method for use with human scalp hair. In contrast to CORT "point samples" obtained from plasma or saliva, hair CORT provides an integrated measure of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) system activity, and thus physiological stress, during the period of hormone incorporation. Because human scalp hair grows at an average rate of 1 cm/month, CORT levels obtained from hair segments several cm in length can potentially serve as a biomarker of stress experienced over a number of months.
In our method, each hair sample is first washed twice in isopropanol to remove any CORT from the outside of the hair shaft that has been deposited from sweat or sebum. After drying, the sample is ground to a fine powder to break up the hair's protein matrix and increase the surface area for extraction. CORT from the interior of the hair shaft is extracted into methanol, the methanol is evaporated, and the extract is reconstituted in assay buffer. Extracted CORT, along with standards and quality controls, is then analyzed by means of a sensitive and specific commercially available enzyme immunoassay (EIA) kit. Readout from the EIA is converted to pg CORT per mg powdered hair weight. This method has been used in our laboratory to analyze hair CORT in humans, several species of macaque monkeys, marmosets, dogs, and polar bears. Many studies both from our lab and from other research groups have demonstrated the broad applicability of hair CORT for assessing chronic stress exposure in natural as well as laboratory settings.
25 Related JoVE Articles!
High Throughput Microinjections of Sea Urchin Zygotes
Institutions: University of Delaware .
Microinjection into cells and embryos is a common technique that is used to study a wide range of biological processes. In this method a small amount of treatment solution is loaded into a microinjection needle that is used to physically inject individual immobilized cells or embryos. Despite the need for initial training to perform this procedure for high-throughput delivery, microinjection offers maximum efficiency and reproducible delivery of a wide variety of treatment solutions (including complex mixtures of samples) into cells, eggs or embryos. Applications to microinjections include delivery of DNA constructs, mRNAs, recombinant proteins, gain of function, and loss of function reagents. Fluorescent or colorimetric dye is added to the injected solution to enable instant visualization of efficient delivery as well as a tool for reliable normalization of the amount of the delivered solution. The described method enables microinjection of 100-400 sea urchin zygotes within 10-15 min.
Developmental Biology, Issue 83, Sea Urchins, microinjection, sea urchin embryos, treatment delivery, high throughput, mouth pipette, DNA constructs, mRNAs, morpholino antisense oligonucleotides
Measuring Peptide Translocation into Large Unilamellar Vesicles
Institutions: Wellesley College, .
There is an active interest in peptides that readily cross cell membranes without the assistance of cell membrane receptors1
. Many of these are referred to as cell-penetrating peptides, which are frequently noted for their potential as drug delivery vectors1-3
. Moreover, there is increasing interest in antimicrobial peptides that operate via non-membrane lytic mechanisms4,5
, particularly those that cross bacterial membranes without causing cell lysis and kill cells by interfering with intracellular processes6,7
. In fact, authors have increasingly pointed out the relationship between cell-penetrating and antimicrobial peptides1,8
. A firm understanding of the process of membrane translocation and the relationship between peptide structure and its ability to translocate requires effective, reproducible assays for translocation. Several groups have proposed methods to measure translocation into large unilamellar lipid vesicles (LUVs)9-13
. LUVs serve as useful models for bacterial and eukaryotic cell membranes and are frequently used in peptide fluorescent studies14,15
. Here, we describe our application of the method first developed by Matsuzaki and co-workers to consider antimicrobial peptides, such as magainin and buforin II16,17
. In addition to providing our protocol for this method, we also present a straightforward approach to data analysis that quantifies translocation ability using this assay. The advantages of this translocation assay compared to others are that it has the potential to provide information about the rate of membrane translocation and does not require the addition of a fluorescent label, which can alter peptide properties18
, to tryptophan-containing peptides. Briefly, translocation ability into lipid vesicles is measured as a function of the Foster Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET) between native tryptophan residues and dansyl phosphatidylethanolamine when proteins are associated with the external LUV membrane (Figure 1). Cell-penetrating peptides are cleaved as they encounter uninhibited trypsin encapsulated with the LUVs, leading to disassociation from the LUV membrane and a drop in FRET signal. The drop in FRET signal observed for a translocating peptide is significantly greater than that observed for the same peptide when the LUVs contain both trypsin and trypsin inhibitor, or when a peptide that does not spontaneously cross lipid membranes is exposed to trypsin-containing LUVs. This change in fluorescence provides a direct quantification of peptide translocation over time.
Molecular Biology, Issue 59, membrane translocation, vesicle, FRET, peptide, tryptophan
Establishment of Microbial Eukaryotic Enrichment Cultures from a Chemically Stratified Antarctic Lake and Assessment of Carbon Fixation Potential
Institutions: Miami University .
Lake Bonney is one of numerous permanently ice-covered lakes located in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. The perennial ice cover maintains a chemically stratified water column and unlike other inland bodies of water, largely prevents external input of carbon and nutrients from streams. Biota are exposed to numerous environmental stresses, including year-round severe nutrient deficiency, low temperatures, extreme shade, hypersalinity, and 24-hour darkness during the winter 1
. These extreme environmental conditions limit the biota in Lake Bonney almost exclusively to microorganisms 2
Single-celled microbial eukaryotes (called "protists") are important players in global biogeochemical cycling 3
and play important ecological roles in the cycling of carbon in the dry valley lakes, occupying both primary and tertiary roles in the aquatic food web. In the dry valley aquatic food web, protists that fix inorganic carbon (autotrophy) are the major producers of organic carbon for organotrophic organisms 4, 2
. Phagotrophic or heterotrophic protists capable of ingesting bacteria and smaller protists act as the top predators in the food web 5
. Last, an unknown proportion of the protist population is capable of combined mixotrophic metabolism 6, 7
. Mixotrophy in protists involves the ability to combine photosynthetic capability with phagotrophic ingestion of prey microorganisms. This form of mixotrophy differs from mixotrophic metabolism in bacterial species, which generally involves uptake dissolved carbon molecules. There are currently very few protist isolates from permanently ice-capped polar lakes, and studies of protist diversity and ecology in this extreme environment have been limited 8, 4, 9, 10, 5
. A better understanding of protist metabolic versatility in the simple dry valley lake food web will aid in the development of models for the role of protists in the global carbon cycle.
We employed an enrichment culture approach to isolate potentially phototrophic and mixotrophic protists from Lake Bonney. Sampling depths in the water column were chosen based on the location of primary production maxima and protist phylogenetic diversity 4, 11
, as well as variability in major abiotic factors affecting protist trophic modes: shallow sampling depths are limited for major nutrients, while deeper sampling depths are limited by light availability. In addition, lake water samples were supplemented with multiple types of growth media to promote the growth of a variety of phototrophic organisms.
RubisCO catalyzes the rate limiting step in the Calvin Benson Bassham (CBB) cycle, the major pathway by which autotrophic organisms fix inorganic carbon and provide organic carbon for higher trophic levels in aquatic and terrestrial food webs 12
. In this study, we applied a radioisotope assay modified for filtered samples 13
to monitor maximum carboxylase activity as a proxy for carbon fixation potential and metabolic versatility in the Lake Bonney enrichment cultures.
Microbiology, Issue 62, Antarctic lake, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Enrichment cultivation, Microbial eukaryotes, RubisCO
Microdissection of Black Widow Spider Silk-producing Glands
Institutions: University of the Pacific.
Modern spiders spin high-performance silk fibers with a broad range of biological functions, including locomotion, prey capture and protection of developing offspring 1,2
. Spiders accomplish these tasks by spinning several distinct fiber types that have diverse mechanical properties. Such specialization of fiber types has occurred through the evolution of different silk-producing glands, which function as small biofactories. These biofactories manufacture and store large quantities of silk proteins for fiber production. Through a complex series of biochemical events, these silk proteins are converted from a liquid into a solid material upon extrusion.
Mechanical studies have demonstrated that spider silks are stronger than high-tensile steel 3
. Analyses to understand the relationship between the structure and function of spider silk threads have revealed that spider silk consists largely of proteins, or fibroins, that have block repeats within their protein sequences 4
. Common molecular signatures that contribute to the incredible tensile strength and extensibility of spider silks are being unraveled through the analyses of translated silk cDNAs. Given the extraordinary material properties of spider silks, research labs across the globe are racing to understand and mimic the spinning process to produce synthetic silk fibers for commercial, military and industrial applications. One of the main challenges to spinning artificial spider silk in the research lab involves a complete understanding of the biochemical processes that occur during extrusion of the fibers from the silk-producing glands.
Here we present a method for the isolation of the seven different silk-producing glands from the cobweaving black widow spider, which includes the major and minor ampullate glands [manufactures dragline and scaffolding silk] 5,6
, tubuliform [synthesizes egg case silk] 7,8
, flagelliform [unknown function in cob-weavers], aggregate [makes glue silk], aciniform [synthesizes prey wrapping and egg case threads] 9
and pyriform [produces attachment disc silk] 10
. This approach is based upon anesthetizing the spider with carbon dioxide gas, subsequent separation of the cephalothorax from the abdomen, and microdissection of the abdomen to obtain the silk-producing glands. Following the separation of the different silk-producing glands, these tissues can be used to retrieve different macromolecules for distinct biochemical analyses, including quantitative real-time PCR, northern- and western blotting, mass spectrometry (MS or MS/MS) analyses to identify new silk protein sequences, search for proteins that participate in the silk assembly pathway, or use the intact tissue for cell culture or histological experiments.
Cellular Biology, Issue 47, Spider silk, silk-producing glands, fibroins, structural proteins, spidroins
Profiling the Triacylglyceride Contents in Bat Integumentary Lipids by Preparative Thin Layer Chromatography and MALDI-TOF Mass Spectrometry
Institutions: Arkansas State University, Arkansas State University, Arkansas State University.
The mammalian integument includes sebaceous glands that secrete an oily material onto the skin surface. Sebum production is part of the innate immune system that is protective against pathogenic microbes. Abnormal sebum production and chemical composition are also a clinical symptom of specific skin diseases. Sebum contains a complex mixture of lipids, including triacylglycerides, which is species-specific. The broad chemical properties exhibited by diverse lipid classes hinder the specific determination of sebum composition. Analytical techniques for lipids typically require chemical derivatizations that are labor-intensive and increase sample preparation costs. This paper describes how to extract lipids from mammalian integument, separate broad lipid classes by thin-layer chromatography, and profile the triacylglyceride contents using matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry. This robust method enables a direct determination of the triacylglyceride profiles among species and individuals, and it can be readily applied to any taxonomic group of mammals.
Chemistry, Issue 79, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Genetics, Anatomy, Physiology, Eukaryota, Bacterial Infections and Mycoses, Pathological Conditions, Signs and Symptoms, Diagnosis, Life Sciences (General), Triacylglyceride, Plagiopatagium, Integument, Sebaceous gland, White-Nose Syndrome, Matrix-Assisted Laser-desorption/Ionization Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry, Thin-Layer Chromatography, animal model
Sex Stratified Neuronal Cultures to Study Ischemic Cell Death Pathways
Institutions: University of Colorado School of Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University, University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Sex differences in neuronal susceptibility to ischemic injury and neurodegenerative disease have long been observed, but the signaling mechanisms responsible for those differences remain unclear. Primary disassociated embryonic neuronal culture provides a simplified experimental model with which to investigate the neuronal cell signaling involved in cell death as a result of ischemia or disease; however, most neuronal cultures used in research today are mixed sex. Researchers can and do test the effects of sex steroid treatment in mixed sex neuronal cultures in models of neuronal injury and disease, but accumulating evidence suggests that the female brain responds to androgens, estrogens, and progesterone differently than the male brain. Furthermore, neonate male and female rodents respond differently to ischemic injury, with males experiencing greater injury following cerebral ischemia than females. Thus, mixed sex neuronal cultures might obscure and confound the experimental results; important information might be missed. For this reason, the Herson Lab at the University of Colorado School of Medicine routinely prepares sex-stratified primary disassociated embryonic neuronal cultures from both hippocampus and cortex. Embryos are sexed before harvesting of brain tissue and male and female tissue are disassociated separately, plated separately, and maintained separately. Using this method, the Herson Lab has demonstrated a male-specific role for the ion channel TRPM2 in ischemic cell death. In this manuscript, we share and discuss our protocol for sexing embryonic mice and preparing sex-stratified hippocampal primary disassociated neuron cultures. This method can be adapted to prepare sex-stratified cortical cultures and the method for embryo sexing can be used in conjunction with other protocols for any study in which sex is thought to be an important determinant of outcome.
Neuroscience, Issue 82, male, female, sex, neuronal culture, ischemia, cell death, neuroprotection
Behavioral and Locomotor Measurements Using an Open Field Activity Monitoring System for Skeletal Muscle Diseases
Institutions: Children's National Medical Center, George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
The open field activity monitoring system comprehensively assesses locomotor and behavioral activity levels of mice. It is a useful tool for assessing locomotive impairment in animal models of neuromuscular disease and efficacy of therapeutic drugs that may improve locomotion and/or muscle function. The open field activity measurement provides a different measure than muscle strength, which is commonly assessed by grip strength measurements. It can also show how drugs may affect other body systems as well when used with additional outcome measures. In addition, measures such as total distance traveled mirror the 6 min walk test, a clinical trial outcome measure. However, open field activity monitoring is also associated with significant challenges: Open field activity measurements vary according to animal strain, age, sex, and circadian rhythm. In addition, room temperature, humidity, lighting, noise, and even odor can affect assessment outcomes. Overall, this manuscript provides a well-tested and standardized open field activity SOP for preclinical trials in animal models of neuromuscular diseases. We provide a discussion of important considerations, typical results, data analysis, and detail the strengths and weaknesses of open field testing. In addition, we provide recommendations for optimal study design when using open field activity in a preclinical trial.
Behavior, Issue 91, open field activity, functional testing, behavioral testing, skeletal muscle, congenital muscular dystrophy, muscular dystrophy
Measuring Caenorhabditis elegans Life Span on Solid Media
Institutions: University of Washington, University of Washington.
Aging is a degenerative process characterized by a progressive deterioration of cellular components and organelles resulting in mortality. The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans
has emerged as a principal model used to study the biology of aging. Because virtually every biological subsystem undergoes functional decline with increasing age, life span is the primary endpoint of interest when considering total rate of aging. In nematodes, life span is typically defined as the number of days an animal remains responsive to external stimuli. Nematodes can be propagated either in liquid media or on solid media in plates, and techniques have been developed for measuring life span under both conditions. Here we present a generalized protocol for measuring life span of nematodes maintained on solid nematode growth media and fed a diet of UV-killed bacteria. These procedures can easily be adapted to assay life span under various common conditions, including a diet consisting of live bacteria, dietary restriction, and RNA interference.
Developmental Biology, Issue 27, Caenorhabditis elegans, aging, longevity, life span assay, worms, nematode, dietary restriction, RNA interference
A Method for Microinjection of Patiria minata Zygotes
Institutions: Carnegie Mellon University.
Echinoderms have long been a favorite model system for studies of reproduction and development, and more recently for the study of gene regulation and evolution of developmental processes. The sea star, Patiria miniata
, is gaining prevalence as a model system for these types of studies which were previously performed almost exclusively in the sea urchins, Strongylocentrotus purpuratus
and Lytechinus variegatus
. An advantage of these model systems is the ease of producing modified embryos in which a particular gene is up or downregulated, labeling a group of cells, or introducing a reporter gene. A single microinjection method is capable of creating a wide variety of such modified embryos. Here, we present a method for obtaining gametes from P. miniata
, producing zygotes, and introducing perturbing reagents via microinjection. Healthy morphant embryos are subsequently isolated for quantitative and qualitative studies of gene function. The availability of genome and transcriptome data for this organism has increased the types of studies that are performed and the ease of executing them.
Developmental Biology, Issue 91, Embryology, Patiria miniata, sea star, echinoderm, development, gene regulatory networks, microinjection, gene expression perturbation, antisense oligonucleotide, reporter expression
Isolation of Microvascular Endothelial Tubes from Mouse Resistance Arteries
Institutions: University of Missouri, Dalton Cardiovascular Research Center.
The control of blood flow by the resistance vasculature regulates the supply of oxygen and nutrients concomitant with the removal of metabolic by-products, as exemplified by exercising skeletal muscle. Endothelial cells (ECs) line the intima of all resistance vessels and serve a key role in controlling diameter (e.g.
endothelium-dependent vasodilation) and, thereby, the magnitude and distribution of tissue blood flow. The regulation of vascular resistance by ECs is effected by intracellular Ca2+
signaling, which leads to production of diffusible autacoids (e.g.
nitric oxide and arachidonic acid metabolites)1-3
that elicit smooth muscle cell relaxation. Thus understanding the dynamics of endothelial Ca2+
signaling is a key step towards understanding mechanisms governing blood flow control. Isolating endothelial tubes eliminates confounding variables associated with blood in the vessel lumen and with surrounding smooth muscle cells and perivascular nerves, which otherwise influence EC structure and function. Here we present the isolation of endothelial tubes from the superior epigastric artery (SEA) using a protocol optimized for this vessel.
To isolate endothelial tubes from an anesthetized mouse, the SEA is ligated in situ
to maintain blood within the vessel lumen (to facilitate visualizing it during dissection), and the entire sheet of abdominal muscle is excised. The SEA is dissected free from surrounding skeletal muscle fibers and connective tissue, blood is flushed from the lumen, and mild enzymatic digestion is performed to enable removal of adventitia, nerves and smooth muscle cells using gentle trituration. These freshly-isolated preparations of intact endothelium retain their native morphology, with individual ECs remaining functionally coupled to one another, able to transfer chemical and electrical signals intercellularly through gap junctions6,7
. In addition to providing new insight into calcium signaling and membrane biophysics, these preparations enable molecular studies of gene expression and protein localization within native microvascular endothelium.
Basic Protocol, Issue 81, endothelial tubes, microcirculation, calcium signaling, resistance vasculature, Confocal microscopy
Arabidopsis thaliana Polar Glycerolipid Profiling by Thin Layer Chromatography (TLC) Coupled with Gas-Liquid Chromatography (GLC)
Institutions: Michigan State University.
Biological membranes separate cells from the environment. From a single cell to multicellular plants and animals, glycerolipids, such as phosphatidylcholine or phosphatidylethanolamine, form bilayer membranes which act as both boundaries and interfaces for chemical exchange between cells and their surroundings. Unlike animals, plant cells have a special organelle for photosynthesis, the chloroplast. The intricate membrane system of the chloroplast contains unique glycerolipids, namely glycolipids lacking phosphorus: monogalactosyldiacylglycerol (MGDG), digalactosyldiacylglycerol (DGDG), sulfoquinovosyldiacylglycerol (SQDG)4
. The roles of these lipids are beyond simply structural. These glycolipids and other glycerolipids were found in the crystal structures of photosystem I and II indicating the involvement of glycerolipids in photosynthesis8,11
. During phosphate starvation, DGDG is transferred to extraplastidic membranes to compensate the loss of phospholipids9,12
Much of our knowledge of the biosynthesis and function of these lipids has been derived from a combination of genetic and biochemical studies with Arabidopsis thaliana14
. During these studies, a simple procedure for the analysis of polar lipids has been essential for the screening and analysis of lipid mutants and will be outlined in detail. A leaf lipid extract is first separated by thin layer chromatography (TLC) and glycerolipids are stained reversibly with iodine vapor. The individual lipids are scraped from the TLC plate and converted to fatty acyl methylesters (FAMEs), which are analyzed by gas-liquid chromatography coupled with flame ionization detection (FID-GLC) (Figure 1). This method has been proven to be a reliable tool for mutant screening. For example, the tgd1,2,3,4
endoplasmic reticulum-to-plastid lipid trafficking mutants were discovered based on the accumulation of an abnormal galactoglycerolipid: trigalactosyldiacylglycerol (TGDG) and a decrease in the relative amount of 18:3 (carbons : double bonds) fatty acyl groups in membrane lipids 3,13,18,20
. This method is also applicable for determining enzymatic activities of proteins using lipids as substrate6
Plant Biology, Issue 49, Lipid Analysis, Galactolipids, Thin-layer Chromatogrpahy, Chlorplast Lipids, Arabidopsis
Long-term, High-resolution Confocal Time Lapse Imaging of Arabidopsis Cotyledon Epidermis during Germination
Institutions: University of Washington, University of Washington, Japan Science and Technology Agency.
Imaging in vivo
dynamics of cellular behavior throughout a developmental sequence can be a powerful technique for understanding the mechanics of tissue patterning. During animal development, key cell proliferation and patterning events occur very quickly. For instance, in Caenorhabditis elegans
all cell divisions required for the larval body plan are completed within six hours after fertilization, with seven mitotic cycles1
; the sixteen or more mitoses of Drosophila
embryogenesis occur in less than 24 hr2
. In contrast, cell divisions during plant development are slow, typically on the order of a day 3,4,5
. This imposes a unique challenge and a need for long-term live imaging for documenting dynamic behaviors of cell division and differentiation events during plant organogenesis. Arabidopsis
epidermis is an excellent model system for investigating signaling, cell fate, and development in plants. In the cotyledon, this tissue consists of air- and water-resistant pavement cells interspersed with evenly distributed stomata, valves that open and close to control gas exchange and water loss. Proper spacing of these stomata is critical to their function, and their development follows a sequence of asymmetric division and cell differentiation steps to produce the organized epidermis (Fig. 1
This protocol allows observation of cells and proteins in the epidermis over several days of development. This time frame enables precise documentation of stem-cell divisions and differentiation of epidermal cells, including stomata and epidermal pavement cells. Fluorescent proteins can be fused to proteins of interest to assess their dynamics during cell division and differentiation processes. This technique allows us to understand the localization of a novel protein, POLAR6
, during the proliferation stage of stomatal-lineage cells in the Arabidopsis
cotyledon epidermis, where it is expressed in cells preceding asymmetric division events and moves to a characteristic area of the cell cortex shortly before division occurs. Images can be registered and streamlined video easily produced using public domain software to visualize dynamic protein localization and cell types as they change over time.
Plant Biology, Issue 70, Molecular Biology, Developmental Biology, Cellular Biology, Botany, plant, live imaging, epidermis, stomata, confocal, time lapse, Arabidopsis, cotyledon
Reconstitution of a Kv Channel into Lipid Membranes for Structural and Functional Studies
Institutions: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.
To study the lipid-protein interaction in a reductionistic fashion, it is necessary to incorporate the membrane proteins into membranes of well-defined lipid composition. We are studying the lipid-dependent gating effects in a prototype voltage-gated potassium (Kv) channel, and have worked out detailed procedures to reconstitute the channels into different membrane systems. Our reconstitution procedures take consideration of both detergent-induced fusion of vesicles and the fusion of protein/detergent micelles with the lipid/detergent mixed micelles as well as the importance of reaching an equilibrium distribution of lipids among the protein/detergent/lipid and the detergent/lipid mixed micelles. Our data suggested that the insertion of the channels in the lipid vesicles is relatively random in orientations, and the reconstitution efficiency is so high that no detectable protein aggregates were seen in fractionation experiments. We have utilized the reconstituted channels to determine the conformational states of the channels in different lipids, record electrical activities of a small number of channels incorporated in planar lipid bilayers, screen for conformation-specific ligands from a phage-displayed peptide library, and support the growth of 2D crystals of the channels in membranes. The reconstitution procedures described here may be adapted for studying other membrane proteins in lipid bilayers, especially for the investigation of the lipid effects on the eukaryotic voltage-gated ion channels.
Molecular Biology, Issue 77, Biochemistry, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Structural Biology, Biophysics, Membrane Lipids, Phospholipids, Carrier Proteins, Membrane Proteins, Micelles, Molecular Motor Proteins, life sciences, biochemistry, Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, lipid-protein interaction, channel reconstitution, lipid-dependent gating, voltage-gated ion channel, conformation-specific ligands, lipids
Unraveling the Unseen Players in the Ocean - A Field Guide to Water Chemistry and Marine Microbiology
Institutions: San Diego State University, University of California San Diego.
Here we introduce a series of thoroughly tested and well standardized research protocols adapted for use in remote marine environments. The sampling protocols include the assessment of resources available to the microbial community (dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, inorganic nutrients), and a comprehensive description of the viral and bacterial communities (via direct viral and microbial counts, enumeration of autofluorescent microbes, and construction of viral and microbial metagenomes). We use a combination of methods, which represent a dispersed field of scientific disciplines comprising already established protocols and some of the most recent techniques developed. Especially metagenomic sequencing techniques used for viral and bacterial community characterization, have been established only in recent years, and are thus still subjected to constant improvement. This has led to a variety of sampling and sample processing procedures currently in use. The set of methods presented here provides an up to date approach to collect and process environmental samples. Parameters addressed with these protocols yield the minimum on information essential to characterize and understand the underlying mechanisms of viral and microbial community dynamics. It gives easy to follow guidelines to conduct comprehensive surveys and discusses critical steps and potential caveats pertinent to each technique.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, nutrients, DAPI, SYBR, microbial metagenomics, viral metagenomics, marine environment
Analysis of Fatty Acid Content and Composition in Microalgae
Institutions: Wageningen University and Research Center, Wageningen University and Research Center, Wageningen University and Research Center.
A method to determine the content and composition of total fatty acids present in microalgae is described. Fatty acids are a major constituent of microalgal biomass. These fatty acids can be present in different acyl-lipid classes. Especially the fatty acids present in triacylglycerol (TAG) are of commercial interest, because they can be used for production of transportation fuels, bulk chemicals, nutraceuticals (ω-3 fatty acids), and food commodities. To develop commercial applications, reliable analytical methods for quantification of fatty acid content and composition are needed. Microalgae are single cells surrounded by a rigid cell wall. A fatty acid analysis method should provide sufficient cell disruption to liberate all acyl lipids and the extraction procedure used should be able to extract all acyl lipid classes.
With the method presented here all fatty acids present in microalgae can be accurately and reproducibly identified and quantified using small amounts of sample (5 mg) independent of their chain length, degree of unsaturation, or the lipid class they are part of.
This method does not provide information about the relative abundance of different lipid classes, but can be extended to separate lipid classes from each other.
The method is based on a sequence of mechanical cell disruption, solvent based lipid extraction, transesterification of fatty acids to fatty acid methyl esters (FAMEs), and quantification and identification of FAMEs using gas chromatography (GC-FID). A TAG internal standard (tripentadecanoin) is added prior to the analytical procedure to correct for losses during extraction and incomplete transesterification.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, chemical analysis techniques, Microalgae, fatty acid, triacylglycerol, lipid, gas chromatography, cell disruption
Biochemical and High Throughput Microscopic Assessment of Fat Mass in Caenorhabditis Elegans
Institutions: Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The nematode C. elegans
has emerged as an important model for the study of conserved genetic pathways regulating fat metabolism as it relates to human obesity and its associated pathologies. Several previous methodologies developed for the visualization of C. elegans
triglyceride-rich fat stores have proven to be erroneous, highlighting cellular compartments other than lipid droplets. Other methods require specialized equipment, are time-consuming, or yield inconsistent results. We introduce a rapid, reproducible, fixative-based Nile red staining method for the accurate and rapid detection of neutral lipid droplets in C. elegans
. A short fixation step in 40% isopropanol makes animals completely permeable to Nile red, which is then used to stain animals. Spectral properties of this lipophilic dye allow it to strongly and selectively fluoresce in the yellow-green spectrum only when in a lipid-rich environment, but not in more polar environments. Thus, lipid droplets can be visualized on a fluorescent microscope equipped with simple GFP imaging capability after only a brief Nile red staining step in isopropanol. The speed, affordability, and reproducibility of this protocol make it ideally suited for high throughput screens. We also demonstrate a paired method for the biochemical determination of triglycerides and phospholipids using gas chromatography mass-spectrometry. This more rigorous protocol should be used as confirmation of results obtained from the Nile red microscopic lipid determination. We anticipate that these techniques will become new standards in the field of C. elegans
Genetics, Issue 73, Biochemistry, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Developmental Biology, Physiology, Anatomy, Caenorhabditis elegans, Obesity, Energy Metabolism, Lipid Metabolism, C. elegans, fluorescent lipid staining, lipids, Nile red, fat, high throughput screening, obesity, gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, GC/MS, animal model
A Strategy for Sensitive, Large Scale Quantitative Metabolomics
Institutions: Cornell University, Cornell University.
Metabolite profiling has been a valuable asset in the study of metabolism in health and disease. However, current platforms have different limiting factors, such as labor intensive sample preparations, low detection limits, slow scan speeds, intensive method optimization for each metabolite, and the inability to measure both positively and negatively charged ions in single experiments. Therefore, a novel metabolomics protocol could advance metabolomics studies. Amide-based hydrophilic chromatography enables polar metabolite analysis without any chemical derivatization. High resolution MS using the Q-Exactive (QE-MS) has improved ion optics, increased scan speeds (256 msec at resolution 70,000), and has the capability of carrying out positive/negative switching. Using a cold methanol extraction strategy, and coupling an amide column with QE-MS enables robust detection of 168 targeted polar metabolites and thousands of additional features simultaneously. Data processing is carried out with commercially available software in a highly efficient way, and unknown features extracted from the mass spectra can be queried in databases.
Chemistry, Issue 87, high-resolution mass spectrometry, metabolomics, positive/negative switching, low mass calibration, Orbitrap
Purification of Transcripts and Metabolites from Drosophila Heads
Institutions: University of Florida , University of Florida , University of Florida , University of Florida .
For the last decade, we have tried to understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms of neuronal degeneration using Drosophila
as a model organism. Although fruit flies provide obvious experimental advantages, research on neurodegenerative diseases has mostly relied on traditional techniques, including genetic interaction, histology, immunofluorescence, and protein biochemistry. These techniques are effective for mechanistic, hypothesis-driven studies, which lead to a detailed understanding of the role of single genes in well-defined biological problems. However, neurodegenerative diseases are highly complex and affect multiple cellular organelles and processes over time. The advent of new technologies and the omics age provides a unique opportunity to understand the global cellular perturbations underlying complex diseases. Flexible model organisms such as Drosophila
are ideal for adapting these new technologies because of their strong annotation and high tractability. One challenge with these small animals, though, is the purification of enough informational molecules (DNA, mRNA, protein, metabolites) from highly relevant tissues such as fly brains. Other challenges consist of collecting large numbers of flies for experimental replicates (critical for statistical robustness) and developing consistent procedures for the purification of high-quality biological material. Here, we describe the procedures for collecting thousands of fly heads and the extraction of transcripts and metabolites to understand how global changes in gene expression and metabolism contribute to neurodegenerative diseases. These procedures are easily scalable and can be applied to the study of proteomic and epigenomic contributions to disease.
Genetics, Issue 73, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Bioengineering, Cellular Biology, Anatomy, Neurodegenerative Diseases, Biological Assay, Drosophila, fruit fly, head separation, purification, mRNA, RNA, cDNA, DNA, transcripts, metabolites, replicates, SCA3, neurodegeneration, NMR, gene expression, animal model
Multi-step Preparation Technique to Recover Multiple Metabolite Compound Classes for In-depth and Informative Metabolomic Analysis
Institutions: National Jewish Health, University of Colorado Denver.
Metabolomics is an emerging field which enables profiling of samples from living organisms in order to obtain insight into biological processes. A vital aspect of metabolomics is sample preparation whereby inconsistent techniques generate unreliable results. This technique encompasses protein precipitation, liquid-liquid extraction, and solid-phase extraction as a means of fractionating metabolites into four distinct classes. Improved enrichment of low abundance molecules with a resulting increase in sensitivity is obtained, and ultimately results in more confident identification of molecules. This technique has been applied to plasma, bronchoalveolar lavage fluid, and cerebrospinal fluid samples with volumes as low as 50 µl. Samples can be used for multiple downstream applications; for example, the pellet resulting from protein precipitation can be stored for later analysis. The supernatant from that step undergoes liquid-liquid extraction using water and strong organic solvent to separate the hydrophilic and hydrophobic compounds. Once fractionated, the hydrophilic layer can be processed for later analysis or discarded if not needed. The hydrophobic fraction is further treated with a series of solvents during three solid-phase extraction steps to separate it into fatty acids, neutral lipids, and phospholipids. This allows the technician the flexibility to choose which class of compounds is preferred for analysis. It also aids in more reliable metabolite identification since some knowledge of chemical class exists.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, plasma, chemistry techniques, analytical, solid phase extraction, mass spectrometry, metabolomics, fluids and secretions, profiling, small molecules, lipids, liquid chromatography, liquid-liquid extraction, cerebrospinal fluid, bronchoalveolar lavage fluid
Magnetic Tweezers for the Measurement of Twist and Torque
Institutions: Delft University of Technology.
Single-molecule techniques make it possible to investigate the behavior of individual biological molecules in solution in real time. These techniques include so-called force spectroscopy approaches such as atomic force microscopy, optical tweezers, flow stretching, and magnetic tweezers. Amongst these approaches, magnetic tweezers have distinguished themselves by their ability to apply torque while maintaining a constant stretching force. Here, it is illustrated how such a “conventional” magnetic tweezers experimental configuration can, through a straightforward modification of its field configuration to minimize the magnitude of the transverse field, be adapted to measure the degree of twist in a biological molecule. The resulting configuration is termed the freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers. Additionally, it is shown how further modification of the field configuration can yield a transverse field with a magnitude intermediate between that of the “conventional” magnetic tweezers and the freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers, which makes it possible to directly measure the torque stored in a biological molecule. This configuration is termed the magnetic torque tweezers. The accompanying video explains in detail how the conversion of conventional magnetic tweezers into freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers and magnetic torque tweezers can be accomplished, and demonstrates the use of these techniques. These adaptations maintain all the strengths of conventional magnetic tweezers while greatly expanding the versatility of this powerful instrument.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, magnetic tweezers, magnetic torque tweezers, freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers, twist, torque, DNA, single-molecule techniques
Acute Dissociation of Lamprey Reticulospinal Axons to Enable Recording from the Release Face Membrane of Individual Functional Presynaptic Terminals
Institutions: University of Illinois at Chicago.
Synaptic transmission is an extremely rapid process. Action potential driven influx of Ca2+
into the presynaptic terminal, through voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs) located in the release face membrane, is the trigger for vesicle fusion and neurotransmitter release. Crucial to the rapidity of synaptic transmission is the spatial and temporal synchrony between the arrival of the action potential, VGCCs and the neurotransmitter release machinery. The ability to directly record Ca2+
currents from the release face membrane of individual presynaptic terminals is imperative for a precise understanding of the relationship between presynaptic Ca2+
and neurotransmitter release. Access to the presynaptic release face membrane for electrophysiological recording is not available in most preparations and presynaptic Ca2+
entry has been characterized using imaging techniques and macroscopic current measurements – techniques that do not have sufficient temporal resolution to visualize Ca2+
entry. The characterization of VGCCs directly at single presynaptic terminals has not been possible in central synapses and has thus far been successfully achieved only in the calyx-type synapse of the chick ciliary ganglion and in rat calyces. We have successfully addressed this problem in the giant reticulospinal synapse of the lamprey spinal cord by developing an acutely dissociated preparation of the spinal cord that yields isolated reticulospinal axons with functional presynaptic terminals devoid of postsynaptic structures. We can fluorescently label and identify individual presynaptic terminals and target them for recording. Using this preparation, we have characterized VGCCs directly at the release face of individual presynaptic terminals using immunohistochemistry and electrophysiology approaches. Ca2+
currents have been recorded directly at the release face membrane of individual presynaptic terminals, the first such recording to be carried out at central synapses.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, reticulospinal synapse, reticulospinal axons, presynaptic terminal, presynaptic calcium, voltage-gated calcium channels, vesicle fusion, synaptic transmission, neurotransmitter release, spinal cord, lamprey, synaptic vesicles, acute dissociation
Linking Predation Risk, Herbivore Physiological Stress and Microbial Decomposition of Plant Litter
Institutions: Yale University, Virginia Tech, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The quantity and quality of detritus entering the soil determines the rate of decomposition by microbial communities as well as recycle rates of nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) sequestration1,2
. Plant litter comprises the majority of detritus3
, and so it is assumed that decomposition is only marginally influenced by biomass inputs from animals such as herbivores and carnivores4,5
. However, carnivores may influence microbial decomposition of plant litter via a chain of interactions in which predation risk alters the physiology of their herbivore prey that in turn alters soil microbial functioning when the herbivore carcasses are decomposed6
. A physiological stress response by herbivores to the risk of predation can change the C:N elemental composition of herbivore biomass7,8,9
because stress from predation risk increases herbivore basal energy demands that in nutrient-limited systems forces herbivores to shift their consumption from N-rich resources to support growth and reproduction to C-rich carbohydrate resources to support heightened metabolism6
. Herbivores have limited ability to store excess nutrients, so stressed herbivores excrete N as they increase carbohydrate-C consumption7
. Ultimately, prey stressed by predation risk increase their body C:N ratio7,10
, making them poorer quality resources for the soil microbial pool likely due to lower availability of labile N for microbial enzyme production6
. Thus, decomposition of carcasses of stressed herbivores has a priming effect on the functioning of microbial communities that decreases subsequent ability to of microbes to decompose plant litter6,10,11
We present the methodology to evaluate linkages between predation risk and litter decomposition by soil microbes. We describe how to: induce stress in herbivores from predation risk; measure those stress responses, and measure the consequences on microbial decomposition. We use insights from a model grassland ecosystem comprising the hunting spider predator (Pisuarina mira
), a dominant grasshopper herbivore (Melanoplus femurrubrum
),and a variety of grass and forb plants9
Environmental Sciences, Issue 73, Microbiology, Plant Biology, Entomology, Organisms, Investigative Techniques, Biological Phenomena, Chemical Phenomena, Metabolic Phenomena, Microbiological Phenomena, Earth Resources and Remote Sensing, Life Sciences (General), Litter Decomposition, Ecological Stoichiometry, Physiological Stress and Ecosystem Function, Predation Risk, Soil Respiration, Carbon Sequestration, Soil Science, respiration, spider, grasshoper, model system
High-resolution Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Methods for Human Midbrain
Institutions: The University of Texas at Austin.
Functional MRI (fMRI) is a widely used tool for non-invasively measuring correlates of human brain activity. However, its use has mostly been focused upon measuring activity on the surface of cerebral cortex rather than in subcortical regions such as midbrain and brainstem. Subcortical fMRI must overcome two challenges: spatial resolution and physiological noise. Here we describe an optimized set of techniques developed to perform high-resolution fMRI in human SC, a structure on the dorsal surface of the midbrain; the methods can also be used to image other brainstem and subcortical structures.
High-resolution (1.2 mm voxels) fMRI of the SC requires a non-conventional approach. The desired spatial sampling is obtained using a multi-shot (interleaved) spiral acquisition1
. Since, T2
* of SC tissue is longer than in cortex, a correspondingly longer echo time (TE
~ 40 msec) is used to maximize functional contrast. To cover the full extent of the SC, 8-10 slices are obtained. For each session a structural anatomy with the same slice prescription as the fMRI is also obtained, which is used to align the functional data to a high-resolution reference volume.
In a separate session, for each subject, we create a high-resolution (0.7 mm sampling) reference volume using a T1
-weighted sequence that gives good tissue contrast. In the reference volume, the midbrain region is segmented using the ITK-SNAP software application2
. This segmentation is used to create a 3D surface representation of the midbrain that is both smooth and accurate3
. The surface vertices and normals are used to create a map of depth from the midbrain surface within the tissue4
Functional data is transformed into the coordinate system of the segmented reference volume. Depth associations of the voxels enable the averaging of fMRI time series data within specified depth ranges to improve signal quality. Data is rendered on the 3D surface for visualization.
In our lab we use this technique for measuring topographic maps of visual stimulation and covert and overt visual attention within the SC1
. As an example, we demonstrate the topographic representation of polar angle to visual stimulation in SC.
Neuroscience, Issue 63, fMRI, midbrain, brainstem, colliculus, BOLD, brain, Magentic Resonance Imaging, MRI
Dual Somatic Recordings from Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone (GnRH) Neurons Identified by Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) in Hypothalamic Slices
Institutions: University of Texas San Antonio - UTSA.
Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone (GnRH) is a small neuropeptide that regulates pituitary release of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). These gonadotropins are essential for the regulation of reproductive function. The GnRH-containing neurons are distributed diffusely throughout the hypothalamus and project to the median eminence where they release GnRH from their axon terminals into the hypophysiotropic portal system (1). In the portal capillaries, GnRH travels to the anterior pituitary gland to stimulate release of gonadotropins into systemic circulation. GnRH release is not continuous but rather occurs in episodic pulses. It is well established that the intermittent manner of GnRH release is essential for reproduction (2, 3).
Coordination of activity of multiple GnRH neurons probably underlies GnRH pulses. Total peptide content in GnRH neurons is approximately 1.0 pg/cell (4), of which 30% likely comprises the releasable pool. Levels of GnRH during a pulse (5, 6), suggest multiple GnRH neurons are probably involved in neurosecretion. Likewise, single unit activity extracted from hypothalamic multi-unit recordings during LH release indicates changes in activity of multiple neurons (7). The electrodes with recorded activity during LH pulses are associated with either GnRH somata or fibers (8). Therefore, at least some of this activity arises from GnRH neurons.
The mechanisms that result in synchronized firing in hypothalamic GnRH neurons are unknown. Elucidating the mechanisms that coordinate firing in GnRH neurons is a complex problem. First, the GnRH neurons are relatively few in number. In rodents, there are 800-2500 GnRH neurons. It is not clear that all GnRH neurons are involved in episodic GnRH release. Moreover, GnRH neurons are diffusely distributed (1). This has complicated our understanding of coordination of firing and has made many technical approaches intractable. We have optimized loose cell-attached recordings in current-clamp mode for the direct detection of action potentials and developed a recording approach that allows for simultaneous recordings from pairs of GnRH neurons.
Jove Neuroscience, Issue 36, electrophysiology, simultaneous recording, cell-attached recording, current clamp, brain slice
Patch Clamp Recording of Ion Channels Expressed in Xenopus Oocytes
Institutions: Stanford University , Stanford University School of Medicine.
Since its development by Sakmann and Neher 1, 2
, the patch clamp has become established as an extremely useful technique for electrophysiological measurement of single or multiple ion channels in cells. This technique can be applied to ion channels in both their native environment and expressed in heterologous cells, such as oocytes harvested from the African clawed frog, Xenopus laevis. Here, we describe the well-established technique of patch clamp recording from Xenopus oocytes. This technique is used to measure the properties of expressed ion channels either in populations (macropatch) or individually (single-channel recording). We focus on techniques to maximize the quality of oocyte preparation and seal generation. With all factors optimized, this technique gives a probability of successful seal generation over 90 percent. The process may be optimized differently by every researcher based on the factors he or she finds most important, and we present the approach that have lead to the greatest success in our hands.
Cellular Biology, Issue 20, Electrophysiology, Patch Clamp, Voltage Clamp, Oocytes, Biophysics, Gigaseal, Ion Channels