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Solving the problem of building models of crosslinked polymers: an example focussing on validation of the properties of crosslinked epoxy resins.
The construction of molecular models of crosslinked polymers is an area of some difficulty and considerable interest. We report here a new method of constructing these models and validate the method by modelling three epoxy systems based on the epoxy monomers bisphenol F diglycidyl ether (BFDGE) and triglycidyl-p-amino phenol (TGAP) with the curing agent diamino diphenyl sulphone (DDS). The main emphasis of the work concerns the improvement of the techniques for the molecular simulation of these epoxies and specific attention is paid towards model construction techniques, including automated model building and prediction of glass transition temperatures (T(g)). Typical models comprise some 4200-4600 atoms (ca. 120-130 monomers). In a parallel empirical study, these systems have been cast, cured and analysed by dynamic mechanical thermal analysis (DMTA) to measure T(g). Results for the three epoxy systems yield good agreement with experimental T(g) ranges of 200-220°C, 270-285°C and 285-290°C with corresponding simulated ranges of 210-230°C, 250-300°C, and 250-300°C respectively.
Authors: Rouhollah Dermanaki-Farahani, Louis Laberge Lebel, Daniel Therriault.
Published: 03-12-2014
Microstructured composite beams reinforced with complex three-dimensionally (3D) patterned nanocomposite microfilaments are fabricated via nanocomposite infiltration of 3D interconnected microfluidic networks. The manufacturing of the reinforced beams begins with the fabrication of microfluidic networks, which involves layer-by-layer deposition of fugitive ink filaments using a dispensing robot, filling the empty space between filaments using a low viscosity resin, curing the resin and finally removing the ink. Self-supported 3D structures with other geometries and many layers (e.g. a few hundreds layers) could be built using this method. The resulting tubular microfluidic networks are then infiltrated with thermosetting nanocomposite suspensions containing nanofillers (e.g. single-walled carbon nanotubes), and subsequently cured. The infiltration is done by applying a pressure gradient between two ends of the empty network (either by applying a vacuum or vacuum-assisted microinjection). Prior to the infiltration, the nanocomposite suspensions are prepared by dispersing nanofillers into polymer matrices using ultrasonication and three-roll mixing methods. The nanocomposites (i.e. materials infiltrated) are then solidified under UV exposure/heat cure, resulting in a 3D-reinforced composite structure. The technique presented here enables the design of functional nanocomposite macroscopic products for microengineering applications such as actuators and sensors.
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Design and Assembly of an Ultra-light Motorized Microdrive for Chronic Neural Recordings in Small Animals
Authors: Timothy M. Otchy, Bence P. Ӧlveczky.
Institutions: Harvard University , Harvard University , Harvard University .
The ability to chronically record from populations of neurons in freely behaving animals has proven an invaluable tool for dissecting the function of neural circuits underlying a variety of natural behaviors, including navigation1 , decision making 2,3, and the generation of complex motor sequences4,5,6. Advances in precision machining has allowed for the fabrication of light-weight devices suitable for chronic recordings in small animals, such as mice and songbirds. The ability to adjust the electrode position with small remotely controlled motors has further increased the recording yield in various behavioral contexts by reducing animal handling.6,7 Here we describe a protocol to build an ultra-light motorized microdrive for long-term chronic recordings in small animals. Our design evolved from an earlier published version7, and has been adapted for ease-of use and cost-effectiveness to be more practical and accessible to a wide array of researchers. This proven design 8,9,10,11 allows for fine, remote positioning of electrodes over a range of ~ 5 mm and weighs less than 750 mg when fully assembled. We present the complete protocol for how to build and assemble these drives, including 3D CAD drawings for all custom microdrive components.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, Physiology, Medicine, Anatomy, Mechanical Engineering, microdrive, in-vivo chronic recording, electrophysiology, songbirds
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Shape Memory Polymers for Active Cell Culture
Authors: Kevin A. Davis, Xiaofan Luo, Patrick T. Mather, James H. Henderson.
Institutions: Syracuse Biomaterials Institute.
Shape memory polymers (SMPs) are a class of "smart" materials that have the ability to change from a fixed, temporary shape to a pre-determined permanent shape upon the application of a stimulus such as heat1-5. In a typical shape memory cycle, the SMP is first deformed at an elevated temperature that is higher than its transition temperature, Ttrans [either the melting temperature (Tm) or the glass transition temperature (Tg)]. The deformation is elastic in nature and mainly leads to a reduction in conformational entropy of the constituent network chains (following the rubber elasticity theory). The deformed SMP is then cooled to a temperature below its Ttrans while maintaining the external strain or stress constant. During cooling, the material transitions to a more rigid state (semi-crystalline or glassy), which kinetically traps or "freezes" the material in this low-entropy state leading to macroscopic shape fixing. Shape recovery is triggered by continuously heating the material through Ttrans under a stress-free (unconstrained) condition. By allowing the network chains (with regained mobility) to relax to their thermodynamically favored, maximal-entropy state, the material changes from the temporary shape to the permanent shape. Cells are capable of surveying the mechanical properties of their surrounding environment6. The mechanisms through which mechanical interactions between cells and their physical environment control cell behavior are areas of active research. Substrates of defined topography have emerged as powerful tools in the investigation of these mechanisms. Mesoscale, microscale, and nanoscale patterns of substrate topography have been shown to direct cell alignment, cell adhesion, and cell traction forces7-14. These findings have underscored the potential for substrate topography to control and assay the mechanical interactions between cells and their physical environment during cell culture, but the substrates used to date have generally been passive and could not be programmed to change significantly during culture. This physical stasis has limited the potential of topographic substrates to control cells in culture. Here, active cell culture (ACC) SMP substrates are introduced that employ surface shape memory to provide programmed control of substrate topography and deformation. These substrates demonstrate the ability to transition from a temporary grooved topography to a second, nearly flat memorized topography. This change in topography can be used to control cell behavior under standard cell culture conditions.
Bioengineering, Issue 53, Shape Memory Polymer, Mechanobiology, Tissue Engineering, Cell Culture, Cell Biomechanics
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Process of Making Three-dimensional Microstructures using Vaporization of a Sacrificial Component
Authors: Du T. Nguyen, Y. T. Leho, Aaron P. Esser-Kahn.
Institutions: University of California, Irvine, University of California, Irvine.
Vascular structures in natural systems are able to provide high mass transport through high surface areas and optimized structure. Few synthetic material fabrication techniques are able to mimic the complexity of these structures while maintaining scalability. The Vaporization of a Sacrificial Component (VaSC) process is able to do so. This process uses sacrificial fibers as a template to form hollow, cylindrical microchannels embedded within a matrix. Tin (II) oxalate (SnOx) is embedded within poly(lactic) acid (PLA) fibers which facilitates the use of this process. The SnOx catalyzes the depolymerization of the PLA fibers at lower temperatures. The lactic acid monomers are gaseous at these temperatures and can be removed from the embedded matrix at temperatures that do not damage the matrix. Here we show a method for aligning these fibers using micromachined plates and a tensioning device to create complex patterns of three-dimensionally arrayed microchannels. The process allows the exploration of virtually any arrangement of fiber topologies and structures.
Physics, Issue 81, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Silicone Elastomers, Micro-Electrical-Mechanical Systems, Biomimetic Materials, chemical processing (general), materials (general), heat exchangers (aerospace applications), mass transfer, Massive microfabrication, high surface area structures, 3-dimensional micro exchange devices, biomimetics
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Fiber-optic Implantation for Chronic Optogenetic Stimulation of Brain Tissue
Authors: Kevin Ung, Benjamin R. Arenkiel.
Institutions: Baylor College of Medicine (BCM), Baylor College of Medicine (BCM), Texas Children's Hospital.
Elucidating patterns of neuronal connectivity has been a challenge for both clinical and basic neuroscience. Electrophysiology has been the gold standard for analyzing patterns of synaptic connectivity, but paired electrophysiological recordings can be both cumbersome and experimentally limiting. The development of optogenetics has introduced an elegant method to stimulate neurons and circuits, both in vitro1 and in vivo2,3. By exploiting cell-type specific promoter activity to drive opsin expression in discrete neuronal populations, one can precisely stimulate genetically defined neuronal subtypes in distinct circuits4-6. Well described methods to stimulate neurons, including electrical stimulation and/or pharmacological manipulations, are often cell-type indiscriminate, invasive, and can damage surrounding tissues. These limitations could alter normal synaptic function and/or circuit behavior. In addition, due to the nature of the manipulation, the current methods are often acute and terminal. Optogenetics affords the ability to stimulate neurons in a relatively innocuous manner, and in genetically targeted neurons. The majority of studies involving in vivo optogenetics currently use a optical fiber guided through an implanted cannula6,7; however, limitations of this method include damaged brain tissue with repeated insertion of an optical fiber, and potential breakage of the fiber inside the cannula. Given the burgeoning field of optogenetics, a more reliable method of chronic stimulation is necessary to facilitate long-term studies with minimal collateral tissue damage. Here we provide our modified protocol as a video article to complement the method effectively and elegantly described in Sparta et al.8 for the fabrication of a fiber optic implant and its permanent fixation onto the cranium of anesthetized mice, as well as the assembly of the fiber optic coupler connecting the implant to a light source. The implant, connected with optical fibers to a solid-state laser, allows for an efficient method to chronically photostimulate functional neuronal circuitry with less tissue damage9 using small, detachable, tethers. Permanent fixation of the fiber optic implants provides consistent, long-term in vivo optogenetic studies of neuronal circuits in awake, behaving mice10 with minimal tissue damage.
Neuroscience, Issue 68, optogenetics, fiber optics, implantation, neuronal circuitry, chronic stimulation
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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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Synthesis of an Intein-mediated Artificial Protein Hydrogel
Authors: Miguel A. Ramirez, Zhilei Chen.
Institutions: Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas A&M University, College Station.
We present the synthesis of a highly stable protein hydrogel mediated by a split-intein-catalyzed protein trans-splicing reaction. The building blocks of this hydrogel are two protein block-copolymers each containing a subunit of a trimeric protein that serves as a crosslinker and one half of a split intein. A highly hydrophilic random coil is inserted into one of the block-copolymers for water retention. Mixing of the two protein block copolymers triggers an intein trans-splicing reaction, yielding a polypeptide unit with crosslinkers at either end that rapidly self-assembles into a hydrogel. This hydrogel is very stable under both acidic and basic conditions, at temperatures up to 50 °C, and in organic solvents. The hydrogel rapidly reforms after shear-induced rupture. Incorporation of a "docking station peptide" into the hydrogel building block enables convenient incorporation of "docking protein"-tagged target proteins. The hydrogel is compatible with tissue culture growth media, supports the diffusion of 20 kDa molecules, and enables the immobilization of bioactive globular proteins. The application of the intein-mediated protein hydrogel as an organic-solvent-compatible biocatalyst was demonstrated by encapsulating the horseradish peroxidase enzyme and corroborating its activity.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, split-intein, self-assembly, shear-thinning, enzyme, immobilization, organic synthesis
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Characteristics of Precipitation-formed Polyethylene Glycol Microgels Are Controlled by Molecular Weight of Reactants
Authors: Susan Thompson, Jessica Stukel, Abrar AlNiemi, Rebecca Kuntz Willits.
Institutions: The University of Akron, Saint Vincent Saint Mary's High School.
This work describes the formation of poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) microgels via a photopolymerized precipitation reaction. Precipitation reactions offer several advantages over traditional microsphere fabrication techniques. Contrary to emulsion, suspension, and dispersion techniques, microgels formed by precipitation are of uniform shape and size, i.e. low polydispersity index, without the use of organic solvents or stabilizers. The mild conditions of the precipitation reaction, customizable properties of the microgels, and low viscosity for injections make them applicable for in vivo purposes. Unlike other fabrication techniques, microgel characteristics can be modified by changing the starting polymer molecular weight. Increasing the starting PEG molecular weight increased microgel diameter and swelling ratio. Further modifications are suggested such as encapsulating molecules during microgel crosslinking. Simple adaptations to the PEG microgel building blocks are explored for future applications of microgels as drug delivery vehicles and tissue engineering scaffolds.
Bioengineering, Issue 82, hydrogels, microgels, polyethylene glycol, molecuar weight, photopolymerized precipitation reaction, polymers, polydispersity index
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An in vivo Crosslinking Approach to Isolate Protein Complexes From Drosophila Embryos
Authors: Ming Gao, Patrick McCluskey, Sudan N. Loganathan, Alexey L. Arkov.
Institutions: Murray State University.
Many cellular processes are controlled by multisubunit protein complexes. Frequently these complexes form transiently and require native environment to assemble. Therefore, to identify these functional protein complexes, it is important to stabilize them in vivo before cell lysis and subsequent purification. Here we describe a method used to isolate large bona fide protein complexes from Drosophila embryos. This method is based on embryo permeabilization and stabilization of the complexes inside the embryos by in vivo crosslinking using a low concentration of formaldehyde, which can easily cross the cell membrane. Subsequently, the protein complex of interest is immunopurified followed by gel purification and analyzed by mass spectrometry. We illustrate this method using purification of a Tudor protein complex, which is essential for germline development. Tudor is a large protein, which contains multiple Tudor domains - small modules that interact with methylated arginines or lysines of target proteins. This method can be adapted for isolation of native protein complexes from different organisms and tissues.
Developmental Biology, Issue 86, Drosophila, Germ cells, embryonic development, RNA-protein complexes, in vivo crosslinking, Tudor domain
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Production of Disulfide-stabilized Transmembrane Peptide Complexes for Structural Studies
Authors: Pooja Sharma, Mariam Kaywan-Lutfi, Logesvaran Krshnan, Eamon F. X. Byrne, Melissa Joy Call, Matthew Edwin Call.
Institutions: The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, The University of Melbourne.
Physical interactions among the lipid-embedded alpha-helical domains of membrane proteins play a crucial role in folding and assembly of membrane protein complexes and in dynamic processes such as transmembrane (TM) signaling and regulation of cell-surface protein levels. Understanding the structural features driving the association of particular sequences requires sophisticated biophysical and biochemical analyses of TM peptide complexes. However, the extreme hydrophobicity of TM domains makes them very difficult to manipulate using standard peptide chemistry techniques, and production of suitable study material often proves prohibitively challenging. Identifying conditions under which peptides can adopt stable helical conformations and form complexes spontaneously adds a further level of difficulty. Here we present a procedure for the production of homo- or hetero-dimeric TM peptide complexes from materials that are expressed in E. coli, thus allowing incorporation of stable isotope labels for nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) or non-natural amino acids for other applications relatively inexpensively. The key innovation in this method is that TM complexes are produced and purified as covalently associated (disulfide-crosslinked) assemblies that can form stable, stoichiometric and homogeneous structures when reconstituted into detergent, lipid or other membrane-mimetic materials. We also present carefully optimized procedures for expression and purification that are equally applicable whether producing single TM domains or crosslinked complexes and provide advice for adapting these methods to new TM sequences.
Biochemistry, Issue 73, Structural Biology, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Biophysics, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Membrane Proteins, Proteins, Molecular Structure, transmembrane domain, peptide chemistry, membrane protein structure, immune receptors, reversed-phase HPLC, HPLC, peptides, lipids, protein, cloning, TFA Elution, CNBr Digestion, NMR, expression, cell culture
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Chromatin Interaction Analysis with Paired-End Tag Sequencing (ChIA-PET) for Mapping Chromatin Interactions and Understanding Transcription Regulation
Authors: Yufen Goh, Melissa J. Fullwood, Huay Mei Poh, Su Qin Peh, Chin Thing Ong, Jingyao Zhang, Xiaoan Ruan, Yijun Ruan.
Institutions: Agency for Science, Technology and Research, Singapore, A*STAR-Duke-NUS Neuroscience Research Partnership, Singapore, National University of Singapore, Singapore.
Genomes are organized into three-dimensional structures, adopting higher-order conformations inside the micron-sized nuclear spaces 7, 2, 12. Such architectures are not random and involve interactions between gene promoters and regulatory elements 13. The binding of transcription factors to specific regulatory sequences brings about a network of transcription regulation and coordination 1, 14. Chromatin Interaction Analysis by Paired-End Tag Sequencing (ChIA-PET) was developed to identify these higher-order chromatin structures 5,6. Cells are fixed and interacting loci are captured by covalent DNA-protein cross-links. To minimize non-specific noise and reduce complexity, as well as to increase the specificity of the chromatin interaction analysis, chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) is used against specific protein factors to enrich chromatin fragments of interest before proximity ligation. Ligation involving half-linkers subsequently forms covalent links between pairs of DNA fragments tethered together within individual chromatin complexes. The flanking MmeI restriction enzyme sites in the half-linkers allow extraction of paired end tag-linker-tag constructs (PETs) upon MmeI digestion. As the half-linkers are biotinylated, these PET constructs are purified using streptavidin-magnetic beads. The purified PETs are ligated with next-generation sequencing adaptors and a catalog of interacting fragments is generated via next-generation sequencers such as the Illumina Genome Analyzer. Mapping and bioinformatics analysis is then performed to identify ChIP-enriched binding sites and ChIP-enriched chromatin interactions 8. We have produced a video to demonstrate critical aspects of the ChIA-PET protocol, especially the preparation of ChIP as the quality of ChIP plays a major role in the outcome of a ChIA-PET library. As the protocols are very long, only the critical steps are shown in the video.
Genetics, Issue 62, ChIP, ChIA-PET, Chromatin Interactions, Genomics, Next-Generation Sequencing
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Polymer Microarrays for High Throughput Discovery of Biomaterials
Authors: Andrew L. Hook, Chien-Yi Chang, Jing Yang, David J. Scurr, Robert Langer, Daniel G. Anderson, Steve Atkinson, Paul Williams, Martyn C. Davies, Morgan R. Alexander.
Institutions: University of Nottingham , University of Nottingham , Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The discovery of novel biomaterials that are optimized for a specific biological application is readily achieved using polymer microarrays, which allows a combinatorial library of materials to be screened in a parallel, high throughput format1. Herein is described the formation and characterization of a polymer microarray using an on-chip photopolymerization technique 2. This involves mixing monomers at varied ratios to produce a library of monomer solutions, transferring the solution to a glass slide format using a robotic printing device and curing with UV irradiation. This format is readily amenable to many biological assays, including stem cell attachment and proliferation, cell sorting and low bacterial adhesion, allowing the ready identification of 'hit' materials that fulfill a specific biological criterion3-5. Furthermore, the use of high throughput surface characterization (HTSC) allows the biological performance to be correlated with physio-chemical properties, hence elucidating the biological-material interaction6. HTSC makes use of water contact angle (WCA) measurements, atomic force microscopy (AFM), X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) and time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS). In particular, ToF-SIMS provides a chemically rich analysis of the sample that can be used to correlate the cell response with a molecular moiety. In some cases, the biological performance can be predicted from the ToF-SIMS spectra, demonstrating the chemical dependence of a biological-material interaction, and informing the development of hit materials5,3.
Bioengineering, Issue 59, Materials discovery, Surface characterization, Polymer library, High throughput, Cell attachment
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Generation and Recovery of β-cell Spheroids From Step-growth PEG-peptide Hydrogels
Authors: Asad Raza, Chien-Chi Lin.
Institutions: Indiana University - Purdue University at Indianapolis.
Hydrogels are hydrophilic crosslinked polymers that provide a three-dimensional microenvironment with tissue-like elasticity and high permeability for culturing therapeutically relevant cells or tissues. Hydrogels prepared from poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) derivatives are increasingly used for a variety of tissue engineering applications, in part due to their tunable and cytocompatible properties. In this protocol, we utilized thiol-ene step-growth photopolymerizations to fabricate PEG-peptide hydrogels for encapsulating pancreatic MIN6 b-cells. The gels were formed by 4-arm PEG-norbornene (PEG4NB) macromer and a chymotrypsin-sensitive peptide crosslinker (CGGYC). The hydrophilic and non-fouling nature of PEG offers a cytocompatible microenvironment for cell survival and proliferation in 3D, while the use of chymotrypsin-sensitive peptide sequence (CGGY↓C, arrow indicates enzyme cleavage site, while terminal cysteine residues were added for thiol-ene crosslinking) permits rapid recovery of cell constructs forming within the hydrogel. The following protocol elaborates techniques for: (1) Encapsulation of MIN6 β-cells in thiol-ene hydrogels; (2) Qualitative and quantitative cell viability assays to determine cell survival and proliferation; (3) Recovery of cell spheroids using chymotrypsin-mediated gel erosion; and (4) Structural and functional analysis of the recovered spheroids.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 70, Bioengineering, Tissue Engineering, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Biomaterials, beta cells, β-cell, PEG, PEG-peptide hydrogels, hydrogel, MIN6, poylmers, peptides, spheroids, pancreas
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Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Authors: James Smadbeck, Meghan B. Peterson, George A. Khoury, Martin S. Taylor, Christodoulos A. Floudas.
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity. To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (, a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
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Designing Silk-silk Protein Alloy Materials for Biomedical Applications
Authors: Xiao Hu, Solomon Duki, Joseph Forys, Jeffrey Hettinger, Justin Buchicchio, Tabbetha Dobbins, Catherine Yang.
Institutions: Rowan University, Rowan University, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, Rowan University.
Fibrous proteins display different sequences and structures that have been used for various applications in biomedical fields such as biosensors, nanomedicine, tissue regeneration, and drug delivery. Designing materials based on the molecular-scale interactions between these proteins will help generate new multifunctional protein alloy biomaterials with tunable properties. Such alloy material systems also provide advantages in comparison to traditional synthetic polymers due to the materials biodegradability, biocompatibility, and tenability in the body. This article used the protein blends of wild tussah silk (Antheraea pernyi) and domestic mulberry silk (Bombyx mori) as an example to provide useful protocols regarding these topics, including how to predict protein-protein interactions by computational methods, how to produce protein alloy solutions, how to verify alloy systems by thermal analysis, and how to fabricate variable alloy materials including optical materials with diffraction gratings, electric materials with circuits coatings, and pharmaceutical materials for drug release and delivery. These methods can provide important information for designing the next generation multifunctional biomaterials based on different protein alloys.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, protein alloys, biomaterials, biomedical, silk blends, computational simulation, implantable electronic devices
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Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Authors: Johannes Felix Buyel, Rainer Fischer.
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
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A Microplate Assay to Assess Chemical Effects on RBL-2H3 Mast Cell Degranulation: Effects of Triclosan without Use of an Organic Solvent
Authors: Lisa M. Weatherly, Rachel H. Kennedy, Juyoung Shim, Julie A. Gosse.
Institutions: University of Maine, Orono, University of Maine, Orono.
Mast cells play important roles in allergic disease and immune defense against parasites. Once activated (e.g. by an allergen), they degranulate, a process that results in the exocytosis of allergic mediators. Modulation of mast cell degranulation by drugs and toxicants may have positive or adverse effects on human health. Mast cell function has been dissected in detail with the use of rat basophilic leukemia mast cells (RBL-2H3), a widely accepted model of human mucosal mast cells3-5. Mast cell granule component and the allergic mediator β-hexosaminidase, which is released linearly in tandem with histamine from mast cells6, can easily and reliably be measured through reaction with a fluorogenic substrate, yielding measurable fluorescence intensity in a microplate assay that is amenable to high-throughput studies1. Originally published by Naal et al.1, we have adapted this degranulation assay for the screening of drugs and toxicants and demonstrate its use here. Triclosan is a broad-spectrum antibacterial agent that is present in many consumer products and has been found to be a therapeutic aid in human allergic skin disease7-11, although the mechanism for this effect is unknown. Here we demonstrate an assay for the effect of triclosan on mast cell degranulation. We recently showed that triclosan strongly affects mast cell function2. In an effort to avoid use of an organic solvent, triclosan is dissolved directly into aqueous buffer with heat and stirring, and resultant concentration is confirmed using UV-Vis spectrophotometry (using ε280 = 4,200 L/M/cm)12. This protocol has the potential to be used with a variety of chemicals to determine their effects on mast cell degranulation, and more broadly, their allergic potential.
Immunology, Issue 81, mast cell, basophil, degranulation, RBL-2H3, triclosan, irgasan, antibacterial, β-hexosaminidase, allergy, Asthma, toxicants, ionophore, antigen, fluorescence, microplate, UV-Vis
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Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Authors: Nikki M. Curthoys, Michael J. Mlodzianoski, Dahan Kim, Samuel T. Hess.
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
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Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Authors: Joe Bathelt, Helen O'Reilly, Michelle de Haan.
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3.  In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis. 
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials 
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Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Authors: Marcus Cheetham, Lutz Jancke.
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2 proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness (DHL) (Figure 1). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
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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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Preparation of Segmented Microtubules to Study Motions Driven by the Disassembling Microtubule Ends
Authors: Vladimir A. Volkov, Anatoly V. Zaytsev, Ekaterina L. Grishchuk.
Institutions: Russian Academy of Sciences, Federal Research Center of Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Immunology, Moscow, Russia, University of Pennsylvania.
Microtubule depolymerization can provide force to transport different protein complexes and protein-coated beads in vitro. The underlying mechanisms are thought to play a vital role in the microtubule-dependent chromosome motions during cell division, but the relevant proteins and their exact roles are ill-defined. Thus, there is a growing need to develop assays with which to study such motility in vitro using purified components and defined biochemical milieu. Microtubules, however, are inherently unstable polymers; their switching between growth and shortening is stochastic and difficult to control. The protocols we describe here take advantage of the segmented microtubules that are made with the photoablatable stabilizing caps. Depolymerization of such segmented microtubules can be triggered with high temporal and spatial resolution, thereby assisting studies of motility at the disassembling microtubule ends. This technique can be used to carry out a quantitative analysis of the number of molecules in the fluorescently-labeled protein complexes, which move processively with dynamic microtubule ends. To optimize a signal-to-noise ratio in this and other quantitative fluorescent assays, coverslips should be treated to reduce nonspecific absorption of soluble fluorescently-labeled proteins. Detailed protocols are provided to take into account the unevenness of fluorescent illumination, and determine the intensity of a single fluorophore using equidistant Gaussian fit. Finally, we describe the use of segmented microtubules to study microtubule-dependent motions of the protein-coated microbeads, providing insights into the ability of different motor and nonmotor proteins to couple microtubule depolymerization to processive cargo motion.
Basic Protocol, Issue 85, microscopy flow chamber, single-molecule fluorescence, laser trap, microtubule-binding protein, microtubule-dependent motor, microtubule tip-tracking
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High Throughput Microfluidic Rapid and Low Cost Prototyping Packaging Methods
Authors: Amine Miled, Mohamad Sawan.
Institutions: Polytechnique Montreal.
In this work, 3 different packaging and assembly techniques are presented. They can be classified into two categories: one-time use and reusable packaging techniques. The one-time use packaging technique employs UV-based and temperature curing epoxies to connect microtubes to access holes, wire-bonding for integrated circuit connections, and silver epoxy for electrical connections. This method is based on a robust assembly technique that can support relatively high pressure close to 1 psi and does not need any support to strengthen the microfluidic architecture. Reusable packaging techniques consist of PDMS-based microtube interconnectors and anisotropic adhesive films for electrical connections. These devices are more sensitive and fragile. Consequently, Plexiglas support is added to the microfluidic structure to improve the electrical contact when anisotropic adhesive films are used, and also to strengthen the microfluidic architecture. In addition, a micromanipulator is needed to maintain tubes while using a thin PDMS layer to connect them to the access holes. Different PDMS layer thicknesses, ranging from 0.45-3 mm, are tested to compare the best adherence versus injection rates. Applied injection rates are varied from 50-300 μl/hr for 0.45-3 mm PDMS layers, respectively. These techniques are mainly applicable for low-pressure applications. However, they can be extended for high-pressure ones through plasma-oxygen process to permanently seal the PDMS to glass substrates. The main advantage of this technique, besides the fact that it is reusable, consists of keeping the device observable when the microchannel length is very short (in the range of 3 mm or lower).
Bioengineering, Issue 82, Microfluidics, PDMS, Lab-on-chip, Rapid-Prototyping, Microfabrication
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Plasma Lithography Surface Patterning for Creation of Cell Networks
Authors: Michael Junkin, Siu Ling Leung, Yongliang Yang, Yi Lu, Justin Volmering, Pak Kin Wong.
Institutions: University of Arizona , University of Arizona .
Systematic manipulation of a cell microenvironment with micro- and nanoscale resolution is often required for deciphering various cellular and molecular phenomena. To address this requirement, we have developed a plasma lithography technique to manipulate the cellular microenvironment by creating a patterned surface with feature sizes ranging from 100 nm to millimeters. The goal of this technique is to be able to study, in a controlled way, the behaviors of individual cells as well as groups of cells and their interactions. This plasma lithography method is based on selective modification of the surface chemistry on a substrate by means of shielding the contact of low-temperature plasma with a physical mold. This selective shielding leaves a chemical pattern which can guide cell attachment and movement. This pattern, or surface template, can then be used to create networks of cells whose structure can mimic that found in nature and produces a controllable environment for experimental investigations. The technique is well suited to studying biological phenomenon as it produces stable surface patterns on transparent polymeric substrates in a biocompatible manner. The surface patterns last for weeks to months and can thus guide interaction with cells for long time periods which facilitates the study of long-term cellular processes, such as differentiation and adaption. The modification to the surface is primarily chemical in nature and thus does not introduce topographical or physical interference for interpretation of results. It also does not involve any harsh or toxic substances to achieve patterning and is compatible for tissue culture. Furthermore, it can be applied to modify various types of polymeric substrates, which due to the ability to tune their properties are ideal for and are widely used in biological applications. The resolution achievable is also beneficial, as isolation of specific processes such as migration, adhesion, or binding allows for discrete, clear observations at the single to multicell level. This method has been employed to form diverse networks of different cell types for investigations involving migration, signaling, tissue formation, and the behavior and interactions of neurons arraigned in a network.
Bioengineering, Issue 52, Cell Network, Surface Patterning, Self-Organization, Developmental Biology, Tissue Engineering, Nanopattern, Micropattern, Self-Assembly, Cell Guidance, Neuron
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Pouring and Running a Protein Gel by reusing Commercial Cassettes
Authors: Alexander C. Hwang, Paris H. Grey, Katrina Cuddy, David G. Oppenheimer.
Institutions: University of Florida , University of Florida , University of Florida .
The evaluation of proteins using sodium dodecyl sulfate polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE) analysis is a common technique used by biochemistry and molecular biology researchers1-4. For laboratories that perform daily analyses of proteins, the cost of commercially available polyacrylamide gels (˜$10/gel) can be considerable over time. To mitigate this cost, some researchers prepare their own polyacrylamide gels. Traditional methods of pouring these gels typically utilize specialized equipment and glass gel plates that can be expensive and preclude pouring many gels and storing them for future use. Furthermore, handling of glass plates during cleaning or gel pouring can result in accidental breakage creating a safety hazard, which may preclude their use in undergraduate laboratory classes. Our protocol demonstrates how to pour multiple protein gels simultaneously by recycling Invitrogen Nupage Novex minigel cassettes, and inexpensive materials purchased at a home improvement store. This economical and streamlined method includes a way to store the gels at 4°C for a few weeks. By re-using the plastic gel cassettes from commercially available gels, labs that run frequent protein gels can save significant costs and help the environment. In addition, plastic gel cassettes are extremely resistant to breakage, which makes them ideal for undergraduate laboratory classrooms.
Basic Protocols, Issue 60, Molecular Biology, minigel, cassettes, protein, gel, electrophoresis
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Fabrication of Amperometric Electrodes
Authors: Carolyn M. Pike, Chad P. Grabner, Amy B. Harkins.
Institutions: Saint Louis University School of Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine.
Carbon fiber electrodes are crucial for the detection of catecholamine release from vesicles in single cells for amperometry measurements. Here, we describe the techniques needed to generate low noise (<0.5 pA) electrodes. The techniques have been modified from published descriptions by previous researchers (1,2). Electrodes are made by preparing carbon fibers and threading them individually into each capillary tube by using a vacuum with a filter to aspirate the fiber. Next, the capillary tube with fiber is pulled by an electrode puller, creating two halves, each with a fine-pointed tip. The electrodes are dipped in hot, liquid epoxy mixed with hardener to create an epoxy-glass seal. Lastly, the electrodes are placed in an oven to cure the epoxy. Careful handling of the electrodes is critical to ensure that they are made consistently and without damage. This protocol shows how to fabricate and cut amperometric electrodes for recording from single cells.
Cellular Biology, Issue 27, catecholamine measurements, recording, carbon-fiber, amperometry, electrodes, electrophysiology
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