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Effect of substrate stiffness on early mouse embryo development.
It is becoming increasingly clear that cells are remarkably sensitive to the biophysical cues of their microenvironment and that these cues play a significant role in influencing their behaviors. In this study, we investigated whether the early pre-implantation embryo is sensitive to mechanical cues, i.e. the elasticity of the culture environment. To test this, we have developed a new embryo culture system where the mechanical properties of the embryonic environment can be precisely defined. The contemporary standard environment for embryo culture is the polystyrene petri dish (PD), which has a stiffness (1 GPa) that is six orders of magnitude greater than the uterine epithelium (1 kPa). To approximate more closely the mechanical aspects of the in vivo uterine environment we used polydimethyl-siloxane (PDMS) or fabricated 3D type I collagen gels (1 kPa stiffness, Col-1k group). Mouse embryo development on alternate substrates was compared to that seen on the petri dish; percent development, hatching frequency, and cell number were observed. Our results indicated that embryos are sensitive to the mechanical environment on which they are cultured. Embryos cultured on Col-1k showed a significantly greater frequency of development to 2-cell (68 ± 15% vs. 59 ± 18%), blastocyst (64 ± 9.1% vs. 50 ± 18%) and hatching blastocyst stages (54 ± 25% vs. 21 ± 16%) and an increase in the number of trophectodermal cell (TE,65 ± 13 vs. 49 ± 12 cells) compared to control embryos cultured in PD (mean ± S.D.; p<.01). Embryos cultured on Col-1k and PD were transferred to recipient females and observed on embryonic day 12.5. Both groups had the same number of fetuses, however the placentas of the Col-1k fetuses were larger than controls, suggesting a continued effect of the preimplantation environment. In summary, characteristics of the preimplantation microenvironment affect pre- and post-implantation growth.
PA gels have long been used as a platform to study cell traction forces due to ease of fabrication and the ability to tune their elastic properties. When the substrate is coated with an extracellular matrix protein, cells adhere to the gel and apply forces, causing the gel to deform. The deformation depends on the cell traction and the elastic properties of the gel. If the deformation field of the surface is known, surface traction can be calculated using elasticity theory. Gel deformation is commonly measured by embedding fluorescent marker beads uniformly into the gel. The probes displace as the gel deforms. The probes near the surface of the gel are tracked. The displacements reported by these probes are considered as surface displacements. Their depths from the surface are ignored. This assumption introduces error in traction force evaluations. For precise measurement of cell forces, it is critical for the location of the beads to be known. We have developed a technique that utilizes simple chemistry to confine fluorescent marker beads, 0.1 and 1 µm in diameter, in PA gels, within 1.6 μm of the surface. We coat a coverslip with poly-D-lysine (PDL) and fluorescent beads. PA gel solution is then sandwiched between the coverslip and an adherent surface. The fluorescent beads transfer to the gel solution during curing. After polymerization, the PA gel contains fluorescent beads on a plane close to the gel surface.
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A Novel Ex vivo Culture Method for the Embryonic Mouse Heart
Authors: Laura A. Dyer, Cam Patterson.
Institutions: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill .
Developmental studies in the mouse are hampered by the inaccessibility of the embryo during gestation. Thus, protocols to isolate and culture individual organs of interest are essential to provide a method of both visualizing changes in development and allowing novel treatment strategies. To promote the long-term culture of the embryonic heart at late stages of gestation, we developed a protocol in which the excised heart is cultured in a semi-solid, dilute Matrigel. This substrate provides enough support to maintain the three-dimensional structure but is flexible enough to allow continued contraction. In brief, hearts are excised from the embryo and placed in a mixture of cold Matrigel diluted 1:1 with growth medium. After the diluted Matrigel solidifies, growth medium is added to the culture dish. Hearts excised as late as embryonic day 16.5 were viable for four days post-dissection. Analysis of the coronary plexus shows that this method does not disrupt coronary vascular development. Thus, we present a novel method for long-term culture of embryonic hearts.
Developmental Biology, Issue 75, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Bioengineering, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Cardiology, Embryology, Embryonic Structures, Cardiovascular System, Cardiovascular Diseases, Surgical Procedures, Operative, heart, mouse, embryonic, organ culture, coronary plexus, ex vivo, cell culture, transgenic mice, animal model
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Cryopreservation of Mouse Embryos by Ethylene Glycol-Based Vitrification
Authors: Keiji Mochida, Ayumi Hasegawa, Kyuichi Taguma, Atsushi Yoshiki, Atsuo Ogura.
Institutions: RIKEN BioResource Center.
Cryopreservation of mouse embryos is a technological basis that supports biomedical sciences, because many strains of mice have been produced by genetic modifications and the number is consistently increasing year by year. Its technical development started with slow freezing methods in the 1970s1, then followed by vitrification methods developed in the late 1980s2. Generally, the latter technique is advantageous in its quickness, simplicity, and high survivability of recovered embryos. However, the cryoprotectants contained are highly toxic and may affect subsequent embryo development. Therefore, the technique was not applicable to certain strains of mice, even when the solutions are cooled to 4°C to mitigate the toxic effect during embryo handling. At the RIKEN BioResource Center, more than 5000 mouse strains with different genetic backgrounds and phenotypes are maintained3, and therefore we have optimized a vitrification technique with which we can cryopreserve embryos from many different strains of mice, with the benefits of high embryo survival after vitrifying and thawing (or liquefying, more precisely) at the ambient temperature4. Here, we present a vitrification method for mouse embryos that has been successfully used at our center. The cryopreservation solution contains ethylene glycol instead of DMSO to minimize the toxicity to embryos5. It also contains Ficoll and sucrose for prevention of devitrification and osmotic adjustment, respectively. Embryos can be handled at room temperature and transferred into liquid nitrogen within 5 min. Because the original method was optimized for plastic straws as containers, we have slightly modified the protocol for cryotubes, which are more easily accessible in laboratories and more resistant to physical damages. We also describe the procedure of thawing vitrified embryos in detail because it is a critical step for efficient recovery of live mice. These methodologies would be helpful to researchers and technicians who need preservation of mouse strains for later use in a safe and cost-effective manner.
Developmental Biology, Issue 57, mouse, embryo, cryopreservation, ethylene glycol, vitrification
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Isolation and Culture of Avian Embryonic Valvular Progenitor Cells
Authors: Gretchen Mahler, Russell Gould, Johnathan Butcher.
Institutions: Cornell University.
Proper formation and function of embryonic heart valves is critical for developmental progression. The early embryonic heart is a U-shaped tube of endocardium surrounded by myocardium. The myocardium secretes cardiac jelly, a hyaluronan-rich gelatinous matrix, into the atrioventricular (AV) junction and outflow tract (OFT) lumen. At stage HH14 valvulogenesis begins when a subset of endocardial cells receive signals from the myocardium, undergo endocardial to mesenchymal transformation (EMT), and invade the cardiac jelly. At stage HH25 the valvular cushions are fully mesenchymalized, and it is this mesenchyme that eventually forms the valvular and septal apparatus of the heart. Understanding the mechanisms that initiate and modulate the process of EMT and cell differentiation are important because of their connection to serious congenital heart defects. In this study we present methods to isolate pre-EMT endocardial and post-EMT mesenchymal cells, which are the two different cell phenotypes of the prevalvular cushion. Pre-EMT endocardial cells can be cultured with or without the myocardium. Post-EMT AV cushion mesenchymal cells can be cultured inside mechanically constrained or stress-free collagen gels. These 3D in vitro models mimic key valvular morphogenic events and are useful for deconstructing the mechanisms of early and late stage valvulogenesis.
Developmental Biology, Issue 44, quail, chicken, HH14-, HH25, endocardial, explant, mesenchymal, cushion, valve progenitor
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Neural Tube Closure in Mouse Whole Embryo Culture
Authors: Jason Gray, M. Elizabeth Ross.
Institutions: Weill Cornell Medical College.
Genetic mouse models are an important tool in the study of mammalian neural tube closure (Gray & Ross, 2009; Ross, 2010). However, the study of mouse embryos in utero is limited by our inability to directly pharmacologically manipulate the embryos in isolation from the effects of maternal metabolism on the reagent of interest. Whether using a small molecule, recombinant protein, or siRNA, delivery of these substances to the mother, through the diet or by injection will subject these unstable compounds to a variety of bodily defenses that could prevent them from reaching the embryo. Investigations in cultures of whole embryos can be used to separate maternal from intrinsic fetal effects on development. Here, we present a method for culturing mouse embryos using highly enriched media in a roller incubator apparatus that allows for normal neural tube closure after dissection (Crockett, 1990). Once in culture, embryos can be manipulated using conventional in vitro techniques that would not otherwise be possible if the embryos were still in utero. Embryo siblings can be collected at various time points to study different aspects of neurulation, occurring from E7-7.5 (neural plate formation, just prior to the initiation of neurulation) to E9.5-10 (at the conclusion of cranial fold and caudal neuropore closure, Kaufman, 1992). In this protocol, we demonstrate our method for dissecting embryos at timepoints that are optimal for the study of cranial neurulation. Embryos will be dissected at E8.5 (approx. 10-12 somities), after the initiation of neural tube closure but prior to embryo turning and cranial neural fold closure, and maintained in culture till E10 (26-28 somities), when cranial neurulation should be complete.
Neuroscience, Issue 56, development, mouse embryo, neurulation, roller culture
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Micropipette Aspiration of Substrate-attached Cells to Estimate Cell Stiffness
Authors: Myung-Jin Oh, Frank Kuhr, Fitzroy Byfield, Irena Levitan.
Institutions: University of Illinois, University of Pennsylvania .
Growing number of studies show that biomechanical properties of individual cells play major roles in multiple cellular functions, including cell proliferation, differentiation, migration and cell-cell interactions. The two key parameters of cellular biomechanics are cellular deformability or stiffness and the ability of the cells to contract and generate force. Here we describe a quick and simple method to estimate cell stiffness by measuring the degree of membrane deformation in response to negative pressure applied by a glass micropipette to the cell surface, a technique that is called Micropipette Aspiration or Microaspiration. Microaspiration is performed by pulling a glass capillary to create a micropipette with a very small tip (2-50 μm diameter depending on the size of a cell or a tissue sample), which is then connected to a pneumatic pressure transducer and brought to a close vicinity of a cell under a microscope. When the tip of the pipette touches a cell, a step of negative pressure is applied to the pipette by the pneumatic pressure transducer generating well-defined pressure on the cell membrane. In response to pressure, the membrane is aspirated into the pipette and progressive membrane deformation or "membrane projection" into the pipette is measured as a function of time. The basic principle of this experimental approach is that the degree of membrane deformation in response to a defined mechanical force is a function of membrane stiffness. The stiffer the membrane is, the slower the rate of membrane deformation and the shorter the steady-state aspiration length.The technique can be performed on isolated cells, both in suspension and substrate-attached, large organelles, and liposomes. Analysis is performed by comparing maximal membrane deformations achieved under a given pressure for different cell populations or experimental conditions. A "stiffness coefficient" is estimated by plotting the aspirated length of membrane deformation as a function of the applied pressure. Furthermore, the data can be further analyzed to estimate the Young's modulus of the cells (E), the most common parameter to characterize stiffness of materials. It is important to note that plasma membranes of eukaryotic cells can be viewed as a bi-component system where membrane lipid bilayer is underlied by the sub-membrane cytoskeleton and that it is the cytoskeleton that constitutes the mechanical scaffold of the membrane and dominates the deformability of the cellular envelope. This approach, therefore, allows probing the biomechanical properties of the sub-membrane cytoskeleton.
Bioengineering, Issue 67, Biophysics, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Cellular Biology, Cell stiffness, biomechanics, microaspiration, cell membrane, cytoskeleton
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Flat Mount Preparation for Observation and Analysis of Zebrafish Embryo Specimens Stained by Whole Mount In situ Hybridization
Authors: Christina N. Cheng, Yue Li, Amanda N. Marra, Valerie Verdun, Rebecca A. Wingert.
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish embryo is now commonly used for basic and biomedical research to investigate the genetic control of developmental processes and to model congenital abnormalities. During the first day of life, the zebrafish embryo progresses through many developmental stages including fertilization, cleavage, gastrulation, segmentation, and the organogenesis of structures such as the kidney, heart, and central nervous system. The anatomy of a young zebrafish embryo presents several challenges for the visualization and analysis of the tissues involved in many of these events because the embryo develops in association with a round yolk mass. Thus, for accurate analysis and imaging of experimental phenotypes in fixed embryonic specimens between the tailbud and 20 somite stage (10 and 19 hours post fertilization (hpf), respectively), such as those stained using whole mount in situ hybridization (WISH), it is often desirable to remove the embryo from the yolk ball and to position it flat on a glass slide. However, performing a flat mount procedure can be tedious. Therefore, successful and efficient flat mount preparation is greatly facilitated through the visual demonstration of the dissection technique, and also helped by using reagents that assist in optimal tissue handling. Here, we provide our WISH protocol for one or two-color detection of gene expression in the zebrafish embryo, and demonstrate how the flat mounting procedure can be performed on this example of a stained fixed specimen. This flat mounting protocol is broadly applicable to the study of many embryonic structures that emerge during early zebrafish development, and can be implemented in conjunction with other staining methods performed on fixed embryo samples.
Developmental Biology, Issue 89, animals, vertebrates, fishes, zebrafish, growth and development, morphogenesis, embryonic and fetal development, organogenesis, natural science disciplines, embryo, whole mount in situ hybridization, flat mount, deyolking, imaging
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Measuring Ascending Aortic Stiffness In Vivo in Mice Using Ultrasound
Authors: Maggie M. Kuo, Viachaslau Barodka, Theodore P. Abraham, Jochen Steppan, Artin A. Shoukas, Mark Butlin, Alberto Avolio, Dan E. Berkowitz, Lakshmi Santhanam.
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University, Johns Hopkins University, Johns Hopkins University, Macquarie University.
We present a protocol for measuring in vivo aortic stiffness in mice using high-resolution ultrasound imaging. Aortic diameter is measured by ultrasound and aortic blood pressure is measured invasively with a solid-state pressure catheter. Blood pressure is raised then lowered incrementally by intravenous infusion of vasoactive drugs phenylephrine and sodium nitroprusside. Aortic diameter is measured for each pressure step to characterize the pressure-diameter relationship of the ascending aorta. Stiffness indices derived from the pressure-diameter relationship can be calculated from the data collected. Calculation of arterial compliance is described in this protocol. This technique can be used to investigate mechanisms underlying increased aortic stiffness associated with cardiovascular disease and aging. The technique produces a physiologically relevant measure of stiffness compared to ex vivo approaches because physiological influences on aortic stiffness are incorporated in the measurement. The primary limitation of this technique is the measurement error introduced from the movement of the aorta during the cardiac cycle. This motion can be compensated by adjusting the location of the probe with the aortic movement as well as making multiple measurements of the aortic pressure-diameter relationship and expanding the experimental group size.
Medicine, Issue 94, Aortic stiffness, ultrasound, in vivo, aortic compliance, elastic modulus, mouse model, cardiovascular disease
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Adjustable Stiffness, External Fixator for the Rat Femur Osteotomy and Segmental Bone Defect Models
Authors: Vaida Glatt, Romano Matthys.
Institutions: Queensland University of Technology, RISystem AG.
The mechanical environment around the healing of broken bone is very important as it determines the way the fracture will heal. Over the past decade there has been great clinical interest in improving bone healing by altering the mechanical environment through the fixation stability around the lesion. One constraint of preclinical animal research in this area is the lack of experimental control over the local mechanical environment within a large segmental defect as well as osteotomies as they heal. In this paper we report on the design and use of an external fixator to study the healing of large segmental bone defects or osteotomies. This device not only allows for controlled axial stiffness on the bone lesion as it heals, but it also enables the change of stiffness during the healing process in vivo. The conducted experiments have shown that the fixators were able to maintain a 5 mm femoral defect gap in rats in vivo during unrestricted cage activity for at least 8 weeks. Likewise, we observed no distortion or infections, including pin infections during the entire healing period. These results demonstrate that our newly developed external fixator was able to achieve reproducible and standardized stabilization, and the alteration of the mechanical environment of in vivo rat large bone defects and various size osteotomies. This confirms that the external fixation device is well suited for preclinical research investigations using a rat model in the field of bone regeneration and repair.
Medicine, Issue 92, external fixator, bone healing, small animal model, large bone defect and osteotomy model, rat model, mechanical environment, mechanobiology.
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Measuring the Mechanical Properties of Living Cells Using Atomic Force Microscopy
Authors: Gawain Thomas, Nancy A. Burnham, Terri Anne Camesano, Qi Wen.
Institutions: Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Mechanical properties of cells and extracellular matrix (ECM) play important roles in many biological processes including stem cell differentiation, tumor formation, and wound healing. Changes in stiffness of cells and ECM are often signs of changes in cell physiology or diseases in tissues. Hence, cell stiffness is an index to evaluate the status of cell cultures. Among the multitude of methods applied to measure the stiffness of cells and tissues, micro-indentation using an Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) provides a way to reliably measure the stiffness of living cells. This method has been widely applied to characterize the micro-scale stiffness for a variety of materials ranging from metal surfaces to soft biological tissues and cells. The basic principle of this method is to indent a cell with an AFM tip of selected geometry and measure the applied force from the bending of the AFM cantilever. Fitting the force-indentation curve to the Hertz model for the corresponding tip geometry can give quantitative measurements of material stiffness. This paper demonstrates the procedure to characterize the stiffness of living cells using AFM. Key steps including the process of AFM calibration, force-curve acquisition, and data analysis using a MATLAB routine are demonstrated. Limitations of this method are also discussed.
Biophysics, Issue 76, Bioengineering, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Physics, Chemical Engineering, Biomechanics, bioengineering (general), AFM, cell stiffness, microindentation, force spectroscopy, atomic force microscopy, microscopy
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Biophysical Assays to Probe the Mechanical Properties of the Interphase Cell Nucleus: Substrate Strain Application and Microneedle Manipulation
Authors: Maria L. Lombardi, Monika Zwerger, Jan Lammerding.
Institutions: Department of Medicine, Cardiovascular Division, Cornell University.
In most eukaryotic cells, the nucleus is the largest organelle and is typically 2 to 10 times stiffer than the surrounding cytoskeleton; consequently, the physical properties of the nucleus contribute significantly to the overall biomechanical behavior of cells under physiological and pathological conditions. For example, in migrating neutrophils and invading cancer cells, nuclear stiffness can pose a major obstacle during extravasation or passage through narrow spaces within tissues.1 On the other hand, the nucleus of cells in mechanically active tissue such as muscle requires sufficient structural support to withstand repetitive mechanical stress. Importantly, the nucleus is tightly integrated into the cellular architecture; it is physically connected to the surrounding cytoskeleton, which is a critical requirement for the intracellular movement and positioning of the nucleus, for example, in polarized cells, synaptic nuclei at neuromuscular junctions, or in migrating cells.2 Not surprisingly, mutations in nuclear envelope proteins such as lamins and nesprins, which play a critical role in determining nuclear stiffness and nucleo-cytoskeletal coupling, have been shown recently to result in a number of human diseases, including Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy, limb-girdle muscular dystrophy, and dilated cardiomyopathy.3 To investigate the biophysical function of diverse nuclear envelope proteins and the effect of specific mutations, we have developed experimental methods to study the physical properties of the nucleus in single, living cells subjected to global or localized mechanical perturbation. Measuring induced nuclear deformations in response to precisely applied substrate strain application yields important information on the deformability of the nucleus and allows quantitative comparison between different mutations or cell lines deficient for specific nuclear envelope proteins. Localized cytoskeletal strain application with a microneedle is used to complement this assay and can yield additional information on intracellular force transmission between the nucleus and the cytoskeleton. Studying nuclear mechanics in intact living cells preserves the normal intracellular architecture and avoids potential artifacts that can arise when working with isolated nuclei. Furthermore, substrate strain application presents a good model for the physiological stress experienced by cells in muscle or other tissues (e.g., vascular smooth muscle cells exposed to vessel strain). Lastly, while these tools have been developed primarily to study nuclear mechanics, they can also be applied to investigate the function of cytoskeletal proteins and mechanotransduction signaling.
Biophysics, Issue 55, nuclear envelope, nuclear stiffness, nucleo-cytoskeletal coupling, lamin, nesprin, cytoskeleton, biomechanics, nuclear deformation, force transmission
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Cryopreservation of Preimplantation Embryos of Cattle, Sheep, and Goats
Authors: Curtis R. Youngs.
Institutions: Iowa State University.
Preimplantation embryos from cattle, sheep, and goats may be cryopreserved for short- or long-term storage. Preimplantation embryos consist predominantly of water, and the avoidance of intracellular ice crystal formation during the cryopreservation process is of paramount importance to maintain embryo viability. Embryos are placed into a hypertonic solution (1.4 – 1.5 M) of a cryoprotective agent (CPA) such as ethylene glycol (EG) or glycerol (GLYC) to create an osmotic gradient that facilitates cellular dehydration. After embryos reach osmotic equilibrium in the CPA solution, they are individually loaded in the hypertonic CPA solution into 0.25 ml plastic straws for freezing. Embryos are placed into a controlled rate freezer at a temperature of -6°C. Ice crystal formation is induced in the CPA solution surrounding the embryo, and crystallization causes an increase in the concentration of CPA outside of the embryo, causing further cellular dehydration. Embryos are cooled at a rate of 0.5°C/min, enabling further dehydration, to a temperature of -34°C before being plunged into liquid nitrogen (-196°C). Cryopreserved embryos must be thawed prior to transfer to a recipient (surrogate) female. Straws containing the embryos are removed from the liquid nitrogen dewar, held in room temperature air for 3 to 5 sec, and placed into a 37°C water bath for 25 to 30 sec. Embryos cryopreserved in GLYC are placed into a 1 M solution of sucrose for 10 min for removal of the CPA before transfer to a recipient (surrogate) female. Embryos cryopreserved in EG, however, may be directly transferred to the uterus of a recipient.
Developmental Biology, Issue 54, embryo, cryopreservation, cattle, sheep, goats
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Preparation of Hydroxy-PAAm Hydrogels for Decoupling the Effects of Mechanotransduction Cues
Authors: Thomas Grevesse, Marie Versaevel, Sylvain Gabriele.
Institutions: Université de Mons.
It is now well established that many cellular functions are regulated by interactions of cells with physicochemical and mechanical cues of their extracellular matrix (ECM) environment. Eukaryotic cells constantly sense their local microenvironment through surface mechanosensors to transduce physical changes of ECM into biochemical signals, and integrate these signals to achieve specific changes in gene expression. Interestingly, physicochemical and mechanical parameters of the ECM can couple with each other to regulate cell fate. Therefore, a key to understanding mechanotransduction is to decouple the relative contribution of ECM cues on cellular functions. Here we present a detailed experimental protocol to rapidly and easily generate biologically relevant hydrogels for the independent tuning of mechanotransduction cues in vitro. We chemically modified polyacrylamide hydrogels (PAAm) to surmount their intrinsically non-adhesive properties by incorporating hydroxyl-functionalized acrylamide monomers during the polymerization. We obtained a novel PAAm hydrogel, called hydroxy-PAAm, which permits immobilization of any desired nature of ECM proteins. The combination of hydroxy-PAAm hydrogels with microcontact printing allows to independently control the morphology of single-cells, the matrix stiffness, the nature and the density of ECM proteins. We provide a simple and rapid method that can be set up in every biology lab to study in vitro cell mechanotransduction processes. We validate this novel two-dimensional platform by conducting experiments on endothelial cells that demonstrate a mechanical coupling between ECM stiffness and the nucleus.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, hydrogels, mechanotransduction, polyacrylamide, microcontact printing, cell shape, stiffness, durotaxis, cell-ligand density
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A Novel Stretching Platform for Applications in Cell and Tissue Mechanobiology
Authors: Dominique Tremblay, Charles M. Cuerrier, Lukasz Andrzejewski, Edward R. O'Brien, Andrew E. Pelling.
Institutions: University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa, University of Calgary, University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa.
Tools that allow the application of mechanical forces to cells and tissues or that can quantify the mechanical properties of biological tissues have contributed dramatically to the understanding of basic mechanobiology. These techniques have been extensively used to demonstrate how the onset and progression of various diseases are heavily influenced by mechanical cues. This article presents a multi-functional biaxial stretching (BAXS) platform that can either mechanically stimulate single cells or quantify the mechanical stiffness of tissues. The BAXS platform consists of four voice coil motors that can be controlled independently. Single cells can be cultured on a flexible substrate that can be attached to the motors allowing one to expose the cells to complex, dynamic, and spatially varying strain fields. Conversely, by incorporating a force load cell, one can also quantify the mechanical properties of primary tissues as they are exposed to deformation cycles. In both cases, a proper set of clamps must be designed and mounted to the BAXS platform motors in order to firmly hold the flexible substrate or the tissue of interest. The BAXS platform can be mounted on an inverted microscope to perform simultaneous transmitted light and/or fluorescence imaging to examine the structural or biochemical response of the sample during stretching experiments. This article provides experimental details of the design and usage of the BAXS platform and presents results for single cell and whole tissue studies. The BAXS platform was used to measure the deformation of nuclei in single mouse myoblast cells in response to substrate strain and to measure the stiffness of isolated mouse aortas. The BAXS platform is a versatile tool that can be combined with various optical microscopies in order to provide novel mechanobiological insights at the sub-cellular, cellular and whole tissue levels.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, cell stretching, tissue mechanics, nuclear mechanics, uniaxial, biaxial, anisotropic, mechanobiology
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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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Cell Labeling and Injection in Developing Embryonic Mouse Hearts
Authors: Emilye Hiriart, Patrick van Vliet, Ralf J. Dirschinger, Sylvia M. Evans, Michel Puceat.
Institutions: Aix-Marseille University, University of California, San Diego.
Testing the fate of embryonic or pluripotent stem cell-derivatives in in vitro protocols has led to controversial outcomes that do not necessarily reflect their in vivo potential. Preferably, these cells should be placed in a proper embryonic environment in order to acquire their definite phenotype. Furthermore, cell lineage tracing studies in the mouse after labeling cells with dyes or retroviral vectors has remained mostly limited to early stage mouse embryos with still poorly developed organs. To overcome these limitations, we designed standard and ultrasound-mediated microinjection protocols to inject various agents in targeted regions of the heart in mouse embryos at E9.5 and later stages of development.  Embryonic explant or embryos are then cultured or left to further develop in utero. These agents include fluorescent dyes, virus, shRNAs, or stem cell-derived progenitor cells. Our approaches allow for preservation of the function of the organ while monitoring migration and fate of labeled and/or injected cells. These technologies can be extended to other organs and will be very helpful to address key biological questions in biology of development.
Developmental Biology, Issue 86, Cell, DNA, dye injection, mouse embryo, embryo culture, ultrasound, mouse heart, stem cells
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Preparation of DNA-crosslinked Polyacrylamide Hydrogels
Authors: Michelle L. Previtera, Noshir A. Langrana.
Institutions: JFK Medical Center, Rutgers University, Rutgers University.
Mechanobiology is an emerging scientific area that addresses the critical role of physical cues in directing cell morphology and function. For example, the effect of tissue elasticity on cell function is a major area of mechanobiology research because tissue stiffness modulates with disease, development, and injury. Static tissue-mimicking materials, or materials that cannot alter stiffness once cells are plated, are predominately used to investigate the effects of tissue stiffness on cell functions. While information gathered from static studies is valuable, these studies are not indicative of the dynamic nature of the cellular microenvironment in vivo. To better address the effects of dynamic stiffness on cell function, we developed a DNA-crosslinked polyacrylamide hydrogel system (DNA gels). Unlike other dynamic substrates, DNA gels have the ability to decrease or increase in stiffness after fabrication without stimuli. DNA gels consist of DNA crosslinks that are polymerized into a polyacrylamide backbone. Adding and removing crosslinks via delivery of single-stranded DNA allows temporal, spatial, and reversible control of gel elasticity. We have shown in previous reports that dynamic modulation of DNA gel elasticity influences fibroblast and neuron behavior. In this report and video, we provide a schematic that describes the DNA gel crosslinking mechanisms and step-by-step instructions on the preparation DNA gels.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, bioengineering (general), Elastic, viscoelastic, bis-acrylamide, substrate, stiffness, dynamic, static, neuron, fibroblast, compliance, ECM, mechanobiology, tunable
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Visualizing Neuroblast Cytokinesis During C. elegans Embryogenesis
Authors: Denise Wernike, Chloe van Oostende, Alisa Piekny.
Institutions: Concordia University.
This protocol describes the use of fluorescence microscopy to image dividing cells within developing Caenorhabditis elegans embryos. In particular, this protocol focuses on how to image dividing neuroblasts, which are found underneath the epidermal cells and may be important for epidermal morphogenesis. Tissue formation is crucial for metazoan development and relies on external cues from neighboring tissues. C. elegans is an excellent model organism to study tissue morphogenesis in vivo due to its transparency and simple organization, making its tissues easy to study via microscopy. Ventral enclosure is the process where the ventral surface of the embryo is covered by a single layer of epithelial cells. This event is thought to be facilitated by the underlying neuroblasts, which provide chemical guidance cues to mediate migration of the overlying epithelial cells. However, the neuroblasts are highly proliferative and also may act as a mechanical substrate for the ventral epidermal cells. Studies using this experimental protocol could uncover the importance of intercellular communication during tissue formation, and could be used to reveal the roles of genes involved in cell division within developing tissues.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, C. elegans, morphogenesis, cytokinesis, neuroblasts, anillin, microscopy, cell division
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Microwave-assisted Functionalization of Poly(ethylene glycol) and On-resin Peptides for Use in Chain Polymerizations and Hydrogel Formation
Authors: Amy H. Van Hove, Brandon D. Wilson, Danielle S. W. Benoit.
Institutions: University of Rochester, University of Rochester, University of Rochester Medical Center.
One of the main benefits to using poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) macromers in hydrogel formation is synthetic versatility. The ability to draw from a large variety of PEG molecular weights and configurations (arm number, arm length, and branching pattern) affords researchers tight control over resulting hydrogel structures and properties, including Young’s modulus and mesh size. This video will illustrate a rapid, efficient, solvent-free, microwave-assisted method to methacrylate PEG precursors into poly(ethylene glycol) dimethacrylate (PEGDM). This synthetic method provides much-needed starting materials for applications in drug delivery and regenerative medicine. The demonstrated method is superior to traditional methacrylation methods as it is significantly faster and simpler, as well as more economical and environmentally friendly, using smaller amounts of reagents and solvents. We will also demonstrate an adaptation of this technique for on-resin methacrylamide functionalization of peptides. This on-resin method allows the N-terminus of peptides to be functionalized with methacrylamide groups prior to deprotection and cleavage from resin. This allows for selective addition of methacrylamide groups to the N-termini of the peptides while amino acids with reactive side groups (e.g. primary amine of lysine, primary alcohol of serine, secondary alcohols of threonine, and phenol of tyrosine) remain protected, preventing functionalization at multiple sites. This article will detail common analytical methods (proton Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy (;H-NMR) and Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization Time of Flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-ToF)) to assess the efficiency of the functionalizations. Common pitfalls and suggested troubleshooting methods will be addressed, as will modifications of the technique which can be used to further tune macromer functionality and resulting hydrogel physical and chemical properties. Use of synthesized products for the formation of hydrogels for drug delivery and cell-material interaction studies will be demonstrated, with particular attention paid to modifying hydrogel composition to affect mesh size, controlling hydrogel stiffness and drug release.
Chemistry, Issue 80, Poly(ethylene glycol), peptides, polymerization, polymers, methacrylation, peptide functionalization, 1H-NMR, MALDI-ToF, hydrogels, macromer synthesis
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Mouse Embryonic Development in a Serum-free Whole Embryo Culture System
Authors: Vijay K. Kalaskar, James D. Lauderdale.
Institutions: University of Georgia, University of Georgia.
Mid-gestation stage mouse embryos were cultured utilizing a serum-free culture medium prepared from commercially available stem cell media supplements in an oxygenated rolling bottle culture system. Mouse embryos at E10.5 were carefully isolated from the uterus with intact yolk sac and in a process involving precise surgical maneuver the embryos were gently exteriorized from the yolk sac while maintaining the vascular continuity of the embryo with the yolk sac. Compared to embryos prepared with intact yolk sac or with the yolk sac removed, these embryos exhibited superior survival rate and developmental progression when cultured under similar conditions. We show that these mouse embryos, when cultured in a defined medium in an atmosphere of 95% O2 / 5% CO2 in a rolling bottle culture apparatus at 37 °​C for 16-40 hr, exhibit morphological growth and development comparable to the embryos developing in utero. We believe this method will be useful for investigators needing to utilize whole embryo culture to study signaling interactions important in embryonic organogenesis.
Developmental Biology, Issue 85, mouse embryo, mid-gestation, serum-free, defined media, roller culture, organogenesis, development
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Utero-tubal Embryo Transfer and Vasectomy in the Mouse Model
Authors: Pablo Bermejo-Alvarez, Ki-Eun Park, Bhanu P. Telugu.
Institutions: United States Department of Agriculture, University of Maryland.
The transfer of preimplantation embryos to a surrogate female is a required step for the production of genetically modified mice or to study the effects of epigenetic alterations originated during preimplantation development on subsequent fetal development and adult health. The use of an effective and consistent embryo transfer technique is crucial to enhance the generation of genetically modified animals and to determine the effect of different treatments on implantation rates and survival to term. Embryos at the blastocyst stage are usually transferred by uterine transfer, performing a puncture in the uterine wall to introduce the embryo manipulation pipette. The orifice performed in the uterus does not close after the pipette has been withdrawn, and the embryos can outflow to the abdominal cavity due to the positive pressure of the uterus. The puncture can also produce a hemorrhage that impairs implantation, blocks the transfer pipette and may affect embryo development, especially when embryos without zona are transferred. Consequently, this technique often results in very variable and overall low embryo survival rates. Avoiding these negative effects, utero-tubal embryo transfer take advantage of the utero-tubal junction as a natural barrier that impedes embryo outflow and avoid the puncture of the uterine wall. Vasectomized males are required for obtaining pseudopregnant recipients. A technique to perform vasectomy is described as a complement to the utero-tubal embryo transfer.
Basic Protocols, Issue 84, blastocyst, chimera, lentivirus, uterine transfer, oviductal transfer, utero-tubal transfer
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Mouse Embryonic Lung Culture, A System to Evaluate the Molecular Mechanisms of Branching
Authors: Gianni Carraro, Pierre-Marie del Moral, David Warburton.
Institutions: Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.
Lung primordial specification as well as branching morphogenesis, and the formation of various pulmonary cell lineages requires a specific interaction of the lung endoderm with its surrounding mesenchyme and mesothelium. Lung mesenchyme has been shown to be the source of inductive signals for lung branching morphogenesis. Epithelial-mesenchymal-mesothelial interactions are also critical to embryonic lung morphogenesis. Early embryonic lung organ culture is a very useful system to study epithelial-mesenchymal interactions. Both epithelial and mesenchymal morphogenesis proceeds under specific conditions that can be readily manipulated in this system (in the absence of maternal influence and blood flow). More importantly this technique can be readily done in a serumless, chemically defined culture media. Gain and loss of function can be achieved using expressed proteins, recombinant viral vectors and/or analysis of transgenic mouse strains, antisense RNA, as well as RNA interference gene knockdown.
Developmental Biology, Issue 40, lung, mice, culture
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In Utero Intraventricular Injection and Electroporation of E16 Rat Embryos
Authors: William Walantus, Laura Elias, Arnold Kriegstein.
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco - UCSF.
In-utero in-vivo injection and electroporation of the embryonic rat neocortex provides a powerful tool for the manipulation of individual progenitors lining the walls of the lateral ventricle. This technique is now widely used to study the processes involved in corticogenesis by over-expressing or knocking down genes and observing the effects on cellular proliferation, migration, and differentiation. In comparison to traditional knockout strategies, in-utero electroporation provides a rapid means to manipulate a population of cells during a specific temporal window. In this video protocol, we outline the experimental methodology for preparing rats for surgery, exposing the uterine horns through laporatomy, injecting DNA into the lateral ventricles of the developing embryo, electroporating DNA into the progenitors lining the lateral wall, and caring for animals post-surgery. Our laboratory uses this protocol for surgeries on E15-E21 rats, however it is most commonly performed at E16 as shown in this video.
Neuroscience, Issue 6, Protocol, Stem Cells, Cerebral Cortex, Brain Development, Electroporation, Intra Uterine Injections, transfection
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Preparation of embryos for Electron Microscopy of the Drosophila embryonic heart tube
Authors: Nadine H. Soplop, Rajesh Patel, Sunita G. Kramer.
Institutions: UMDNJ-Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Rutgers: The State University of New Jersey, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
The morphogenesis of the Drosophila embryonic heart tube has emerged as a valuable model system for studying cell migration, cell-cell adhesion and cell shape changes during embryonic development. One of the challenges faced in studying this structure is that the lumen of the heart tube, as well as the membrane features that are crucial to heart tube formation, are difficult to visualize in whole mount embryos, due to the small size of the heart tube and intra-lumenal space relative to the embryo. The use of transmission electron microscopy allows for higher magnification of these structures and gives the advantage of examining the embryos in cross section, which easily reveals the size and shape of the lumen. In this video, we detail the process for reliable fixation, embedding, and sectioning of late stage Drosophila embryos in order to visualize the heart tube lumen as well as important cellular structures including cell-cell junctions and the basement membrane.
Developmental Biology, Issue 34, Drosophila, transmission electron microscopy, fixation, sectioning, embryonic heart tube, lumen
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Dissection of 6.5 dpc Mouse Embryos
Authors: Kelly Shea, Niels Geijsen.
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
Analysis of gene expression patterns during early stages of mammalian embryonic development can provide important clues about gene function, cell-cell interaction and signaling mechanisms that guide embryonic patterning. However, dissection of the mouse embryo from the decidua shortly after implantation can be a challenging procedure, and detailed step-by-step documentation of this process is lacking. Here we demonstrate how post-implantation (6.5 dpc) embryos are isolated by first dissecting the uterus of a pregnant mouse (detection of the vaginal plug was designated day 0.5 poist coitum) and subsequently dissecting the embryo from maternal decidua. The dissection of Reichert's membrane is described as well as the removal of the ectoplacental cone.
Developmental Biology, Issue 2, mouse, embryo, implantation, dissection
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Derivation of Human Embryonic Stem Cells by Immunosurgery
Authors: Alice E. Chen, Douglas A. Melton.
Institutions: Harvard.
The ability of human embryonic stem cells to self-renew and differentiate into all cell types of the body suggests that they hold great promise for both medical applications and as a research tool for addressing fundamental questions in development and disease. Here, we provide a concise, step-by-step protocol for the derivation of human embryonic stem cells from embryos by immunosurgical isolation of the inner cell mass.
Developmental Biology, Issue 10, embryo, ES cells, human
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