The protein kinase C (PKC) family of isozymes is involved in numerous physiological and pathological processes. Our recent data demonstrate that PKC regulates mitochondrial function and cellular energy status. Numerous reports demonstrated that the activation of PKC-a and PKC-ε improves mitochondrial function in the ischemic heart and mediates cardioprotection. In contrast, we have demonstrated that PKC-α and PKC-ε are involved in nephrotoxicant-induced mitochondrial dysfunction and cell death in kidney cells. Therefore, the goal of this study was to develop an in vitro model of renal cells maintaining active mitochondrial functions in which PKC isozymes could be selectively activated or inhibited to determine their role in regulation of oxidative phosphorylation and cell survival. Primary cultures of renal proximal tubular cells (RPTC) were cultured in improved conditions resulting in mitochondrial respiration and activity of mitochondrial enzymes similar to those in RPTC in vivo. Because traditional transfection techniques (Lipofectamine, electroporation) are inefficient in primary cultures and have adverse effects on mitochondrial function, PKC-ε mutant cDNAs were delivered to RPTC through adenoviral vectors. This approach results in transfection of over 90% cultured RPTC.
Here, we present methods for assessing the role of PKC-ε in: 1. regulation of mitochondrial morphology and functions associated with ATP synthesis, and 2. survival of RPTC in primary culture. PKC-ε is activated by overexpressing the constitutively active PKC-ε mutant. PKC-ε is inhibited by overexpressing the inactive mutant of PKC-ε. Mitochondrial function is assessed by examining respiration, integrity of the respiratory chain, activities of respiratory complexes and F0F1-ATPase, ATP production rate, and ATP content. Respiration is assessed in digitonin-permeabilized RPTC as state 3 (maximum respiration in the presence of excess substrates and ADP) and uncoupled respirations. Integrity of the respiratory chain is assessed by measuring activities of all four complexes of the respiratory chain in isolated mitochondria. Capacity of oxidative phosphorylation is evaluated by measuring the mitochondrial membrane potential, ATP production rate, and activity of F0F1-ATPase. Energy status of RPTC is assessed by determining the intracellular ATP content. Mitochondrial morphology in live cells is visualized using MitoTracker Red 580, a fluorescent dye that specifically accumulates in mitochondria, and live monolayers are examined under a fluorescent microscope. RPTC viability is assessed using annexin V/propidium iodide staining followed by flow cytometry to determine apoptosis and oncosis.
These methods allow for a selective activation/inhibition of individual PKC isozymes to assess their role in cellular functions in a variety of physiological and pathological conditions that can be reproduced in in vitro.
26 Related JoVE Articles!
Fluorescence-based Measurement of Store-operated Calcium Entry in Live Cells: from Cultured Cancer Cell to Skeletal Muscle Fiber
Institutions: Robert Wood Johnson Medical School , Robert Wood Johnson Medical School , University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Store operated Ca2+
entry (SOCE), earlier termed capacitative Ca2+
entry, is a tightly regulated mechanism for influx of extracellular Ca2+
into cells to replenish depleted endoplasmic reticulum (ER) or sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) Ca2+
. Since Ca2+
is a ubiquitous second messenger, it is not surprising to see that SOCE plays important roles in a variety of cellular processes, including proliferation, apoptosis, gene transcription and motility. Due to its wide occurrence in nearly all cell types, including epithelial cells and skeletal muscles, this pathway has received great interest3,4
. However, the heterogeneity of SOCE characteristics in different cell types and the physiological function are still not clear5-7
The functional channel properties of SOCE can be revealed by patch-clamp studies, whereas a large body of knowledge about this pathway has been gained by fluorescence-based intracellular Ca2+
measurements because of its convenience and feasibility for high-throughput screening. The objective of this report is to summarize a few fluorescence-based methods to measure the activation of SOCE in monolayer cells, suspended cells and muscle fibers5,8-10
. The most commonly used of these fluorescence methods is to directly monitor the dynamics of intracellular Ca2+
using the ratio of F340nm
(510 nm for emission wavelength) of the ratiometric Ca2+
indicator Fura-2. To isolate the activity of unidirectional SOCE from intracellular Ca2+
release and Ca2+
extrusion, a Mn2+
quenching assay is frequently used. Mn2+
is known to be able to permeate into cells via SOCE while it is impervious to the surface membrane extrusion processes or to ER uptake by Ca2+
pumps due to its very high affinity with Fura-2. As a result, the quenching of Fura-2 fluorescence induced by the entry of extracellular Mn2+
into the cells represents a measurement of activity of SOCE9
. Ratiometric measurement and the Mn+2
quenching assays can be performed on a cuvette-based spectrofluorometer in a cell population mode or in a microscope-based system to visualize single cells. The advantage of single cell measurements is that individual cells subjected to gene manipulations can be selected using GFP or RFP reporters, allowing studies in genetically modified or mutated cells. The spatiotemporal characteristics of SOCE in structurally specialized skeletal muscle can be achieved in skinned muscle fibers by simultaneously monitoring the fluorescence of two low affinity Ca2+
indicators targeted to specific compartments of the muscle fiber, such as Fluo-5N in the SR and Rhod-5N in the transverse tubules9,11,12
Cellular Biology, Issue 60, Mn quenching, 2-APB, Fura-2, Orai1, esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, skinned muscle fiber
Assessment of Cardiac Function and Energetics in Isolated Mouse Hearts Using 31P NMR Spectroscopy
Institutions: University of Washington School of Medicine.
Bioengineered mouse models have become powerful research tools in determining causal relationships between molecular alterations and models of cardiovascular disease. Although molecular biology is necessary in identifying key changes in the signaling pathway, it is not a surrogate for functional significance. While physiology can provide answers to the question of function, combining physiology with biochemical assessment of metabolites in the intact, beating heart allows for a complete picture of cardiac function and energetics. For years, our laboratory has utilized isolated heart perfusions combined with nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to accomplish this task. Left ventricular function is assessed by Langendorff-mode isolated heart perfusions while cardiac energetics is measured by performing 31
P magnetic resonance spectroscopy of the perfused hearts. With these techniques, indices of cardiac function in combination with levels of phosphocreatine and ATP can be measured simultaneously in beating hearts. Furthermore, these parameters can be monitored while physiologic or pathologic stressors are instituted. For example, ischemia/reperfusion or high workload challenge protocols can be adopted. The use of aortic banding or other models of cardiac pathology are apt as well. Regardless of the variants within the protocol, the functional and energetic significance of molecular modifications of transgenic mouse models can be adequately described, leading to new insights into the associated enzymatic and metabolic pathways. Therefore, 31
P NMR spectroscopy in the isolated perfused heart is a valuable research technique in animal models of cardiovascular disease.
Medicine, Issue 42, cardiac physiology, high energy phosphate, phosphocreatine, ATP
A Fluorescent Screening Assay for Identifying Modulators of GIRK Channels
Institutions: University of South Carolina, School of Medicine.
G protein-gated inward rectifier K+
(GIRK) channels function as cellular mediators of a wide range of hormones and neurotransmitters and are expressed in the brain, heart, skeletal muscle and endocrine tissue1,2
. GIRK channels become activated following the binding of ligands (neurotransmitters, hormones, drugs, etc.) to their plasma membrane-bound, G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). This binding causes the stimulation of G proteins (Gi
) which subsequently bind to and activate the GIRK channel. Once opened the GIRK channel allows the movement of K+
out of the cell causing the resting membrane potential to become more negative. As a consequence, GIRK channel activation in neurons decreases spontaneous action potential formation and inhibits the release of excitatory neurotransmitters. In the heart, activation of the GIRK channel inhibits pacemaker activity thereby slowing the heart rate.
GIRK channels represent novel targets for the development of new therapeutic agents for the treatment neuropathic pain, drug addiction, cardiac arrhythmias and other disorders3
. However, the pharmacology of these channels remains largely unexplored. Although a number of drugs including anti-arrhythmic agents, antipsychotic drugs and antidepressants block the GIRK channel, this inhibition is not selective and occurs at relatively high drug concentrations3
Here, we describe a real-time screening assay for identifying new modulators of GIRK channels. In this assay, neuronal AtT20 cells, expressing GIRK channels, are loaded with membrane potential-sensitive fluorescent dyes such as bis-(1,3-dibutylbarbituric acid) trimethine oxonol [DiBAC4
(3)] or HLB 021-152 (Figure 1
). The dye molecules become strongly fluorescent following uptake into the cells (Figure 1
). Treatment of the cells with GPCR ligands stimulates the GIRK channels to open. The resulting K+
efflux out of the cell causes the membrane potential to become more negative and the fluorescent signal to decrease (Figure 1
). Thus, drugs that modulate K+
efflux through the GIRK channel can be assayed using a fluorescent plate reader. Unlike other ion channel screening assays, such atomic absorption spectrometry4
or radiotracer analysis5
, the GIRK channel fluorescent assay provides a fast, real-time and inexpensive screening procedure.
Medicine, Issue 62, G protein-gated inward rectifier K+ (GIRK) channels, clonal cell lines, drug screening, fluorescent dyes, K+ channel modulators, Pharmacology
Multi-parameter Measurement of the Permeability Transition Pore Opening in Isolated Mouse Heart Mitochondria
Institutions: University of Washington, Seattle.
The mitochondrial permeability transition pore (mtPTP) is a non specific channel that forms in the inner mitochondrial membrane to transport solutes with a molecular mass smaller than 1.5 kDa. Although the definitive molecular identity of the pore is still under debate, proteins such as cyclophilin D, VDAC and ANT contribute to mtPTP formation. While the involvement of mtPTP opening in cell death is well established1
, accumulating evidence indicates that the mtPTP serves a physiologic role during mitochondrial Ca2+
, bioenergetics and redox signaling 3
mtPTP opening is triggered by matrix Ca2+
but its activity can be modulated by several other factors such as oxidative stress, adenine nucleotide depletion, high concentrations of Pi, mitochondrial membrane depolarization or uncoupling, and long chain fatty acids4
. In vitro
, mtPTP opening can be achieved by increasing Ca2+
concentration inside the mitochondrial matrix through exogenous additions of Ca2+
(calcium retention capacity). When Ca2+
levels inside mitochondria reach a certain threshold, the mtPTP opens and facilitates Ca2+
release, dissipation of the proton motive force, membrane potential collapse and an increase in mitochondrial matrix volume (swelling) that ultimately leads to the rupture of the outer mitochondrial membrane and irreversible loss of organelle function.
Here we describe a fluorometric assay that allows for a comprehensive characterization of mtPTP opening in isolated mouse heart mitochondria. The assay involves the simultaneous measurement of 3 mitochondrial parameters that are altered when mtPTP opening occurs: mitochondrial Ca2+
handling (uptake and release, as measured by Ca2+
concentration in the assay medium), mitochondrial membrane potential, and mitochondrial volume. The dyes employed for Ca2+
measurement in the assay medium and mitochondrial membrane potential are Fura FF, a membrane impermeant, ratiometric indicator which undergoes a shift in the excitation wavelength in the presence of Ca2+
, and JC-1, a cationic, ratiometric indicator which forms green monomers or red aggregates at low and high membrane potential, respectively. Changes in mitochondrial volume are measured by recording light scattering by the mitochondrial suspension. Since high-quality, functional mitochondria are required for the mtPTP opening assay, we also describe the steps necessary to obtain intact, highly coupled and functional isolated heart mitochondria.
Cellular Biology, Issue 67, Mitochondria, respiration, mitochondrial permeability transition pore (mPTP), membrane potential, swelling, calcium, spectrofluorometer
Preparation of Primary Myogenic Precursor Cell/Myoblast Cultures from Basal Vertebrate Lineages
Institutions: University of Alabama at Birmingham, INRA UR1067, INRA UR1037.
Due to the inherent difficulty and time involved with studying the myogenic program in vivo
, primary culture systems derived from the resident adult stem cells of skeletal muscle, the myogenic precursor cells (MPCs), have proven indispensible to our understanding of mammalian skeletal muscle development and growth. Particularly among the basal taxa of Vertebrata,
however, data are limited describing the molecular mechanisms controlling the self-renewal, proliferation, and differentiation of MPCs. Of particular interest are potential mechanisms that underlie the ability of basal vertebrates to undergo considerable postlarval skeletal myofiber hyperplasia (i.e.
teleost fish) and full regeneration following appendage loss (i.e.
urodele amphibians). Additionally, the use of cultured myoblasts could aid in the understanding of regeneration and the recapitulation of the myogenic program and the differences between them. To this end, we describe in detail a robust and efficient protocol (and variations therein) for isolating and maintaining MPCs and their progeny, myoblasts and immature myotubes, in cell culture as a platform for understanding the evolution of the myogenic program, beginning with the more basal vertebrates. Capitalizing on the model organism status of the zebrafish (Danio rerio
), we report on the application of this protocol to small fishes of the cyprinid clade Danioninae
. In tandem, this protocol can be utilized to realize a broader comparative approach by isolating MPCs from the Mexican axolotl (Ambystomamexicanum
) and even laboratory rodents. This protocol is now widely used in studying myogenesis in several fish species, including rainbow trout, salmon, and sea bream1-4
Basic Protocol, Issue 86, myogenesis, zebrafish, myoblast, cell culture, giant danio, moustached danio, myotubes, proliferation, differentiation, Danioninae, axolotl
A Rapid and Specific Microplate Assay for the Determination of Intra- and Extracellular Ascorbate in Cultured Cells
Institutions: University of Sydney, Monash University.
Vitamin C (ascorbate) plays numerous important roles in cellular metabolism, many of which have only come to light in recent years. For instance, within the brain, ascorbate acts in a neuroprotective and neuromodulatory manner that involves ascorbate cycling between neurons and vicinal astrocytes - a relationship that appears to be crucial for brain ascorbate homeostasis. Additionally, emerging evidence strongly suggests that ascorbate has a greatly expanded role in regulating cellular and systemic iron metabolism than is classically recognized. The increasing recognition of the integral role of ascorbate in normal and deregulated cellular and organismal physiology demands a range of medium-throughput and high-sensitivity analytic techniques that can be executed without the need for highly expensive specialist equipment. Here we provide explicit instructions for a medium-throughput, specific and relatively inexpensive microplate assay for the determination of both intra- and extracellular ascorbate in cell culture.
Biochemistry, Issue 86, Vitamin C, Ascorbate, Cell swelling, Glutamate, Microplate assay, Astrocytes
DNA-affinity-purified Chip (DAP-chip) Method to Determine Gene Targets for Bacterial Two component Regulatory Systems
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
methods such as ChIP-chip are well-established techniques used to determine global gene targets for transcription factors. However, they are of limited use in exploring bacterial two component regulatory systems with uncharacterized activation conditions. Such systems regulate transcription only when activated in the presence of unique signals. Since these signals are often unknown, the in vitro
microarray based method described in this video article can be used to determine gene targets and binding sites for response regulators. This DNA-affinity-purified-chip method may be used for any purified regulator in any organism with a sequenced genome. The protocol involves allowing the purified tagged protein to bind to sheared genomic DNA and then affinity purifying the protein-bound DNA, followed by fluorescent labeling of the DNA and hybridization to a custom tiling array. Preceding steps that may be used to optimize the assay for specific regulators are also described. The peaks generated by the array data analysis are used to predict binding site motifs, which are then experimentally validated. The motif predictions can be further used to determine gene targets of orthologous response regulators in closely related species. We demonstrate the applicability of this method by determining the gene targets and binding site motifs and thus predicting the function for a sigma54-dependent response regulator DVU3023 in the environmental bacterium Desulfovibrio vulgaris
Genetics, Issue 89, DNA-Affinity-Purified-chip, response regulator, transcription factor binding site, two component system, signal transduction, Desulfovibrio, lactate utilization regulator, ChIP-chip
Cerenkov Luminescence Imaging of Interscapular Brown Adipose Tissue
Institutions: Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, China Pharmaceutical University, Perkin Elmer.
Brown adipose tissue (BAT), widely known as a “good fat” plays pivotal roles for thermogenesis in mammals. This special tissue is closely related to metabolism and energy expenditure, and its dysfunction is one important contributor for obesity and diabetes. Contrary to previous belief, recent PET/CT imaging studies indicated the BAT depots are still present in human adults. PET imaging clearly shows that BAT has considerably high uptake of 18
F-FDG under certain conditions. In this video report, we demonstrate that Cerenkov luminescence imaging (CLI) with 18
F-FDG can be used to optically image BAT in small animals. BAT activation is observed after intraperitoneal injection of norepinephrine (NE) and cold treatment, and depression of BAT is induced by long anesthesia. Using multiple-filter Cerenkov luminescence imaging, spectral unmixing and 3D imaging reconstruction are demonstrated. Our results suggest that CLI with 18
F-FDG is a practical technique for imaging BAT in small animals, and this technique can be used as a cheap, fast, and alternative imaging tool for BAT research.
Medicine, Issue 92, Cerenkov luminescence imaging, brown adipose tissue, 18F-FDG, optical imaging, in vivo imaging, spectral unmixing
Covalent Binding of BMP-2 on Surfaces Using a Self-assembled Monolayer Approach
Institutions: University of Heidelberg, Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems at Stuttgart.
Bone morphogenetic protein 2 (BMP-2) is a growth factor embedded in the extracellular matrix of bone tissue. BMP-2 acts as trigger of mesenchymal cell differentiation into osteoblasts, thus stimulating healing and de novo
bone formation. The clinical use of recombinant human BMP-2 (rhBMP-2) in conjunction with scaffolds has raised recent controversies, based on the mode of presentation and the amount to be delivered. The protocol presented here provides a simple and efficient way to deliver BMP-2 for in vitro
studies on cells. We describe how to form a self-assembled monolayer consisting of a heterobifunctional linker, and show the subsequent binding step to obtain covalent immobilization of rhBMP-2. With this approach it is possible to achieve a sustained presentation of BMP-2 while maintaining the biological activity of the protein. In fact, the surface immobilization of BMP-2 allows targeted investigations by preventing unspecific adsorption, while reducing the amount of growth factor and, most notably, hindering uncontrolled release from the surface. Both short- and long-term signaling events triggered by BMP-2 are taking place when cells are exposed to surfaces presenting covalently immobilized rhBMP-2, making this approach suitable for in vitro
studies on cell responses to BMP-2 stimulation.
Chemistry, Issue 78, Biochemistry, Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering, Biomedical Engineering, Biophysics, Genetics, Chemical Biology, Physical Chemistry, Proteins, life sciences, Biological Factors, Chemistry and Materials (General), Bone morphogenetic protein 2 (BMP-2), self-assembled monolayer (SAM), covalent immobilization, NHS-linker, BMP-2 signaling, protein, assay
Identification of Post-translational Modifications of Plant Protein Complexes
Institutions: University of Warwick, Norwich Research Park, The Australian National University.
Plants adapt quickly to changing environments due to elaborate perception and signaling systems. During pathogen attack, plants rapidly respond to infection via
the recruitment and activation of immune complexes. Activation of immune complexes is associated with post-translational modifications (PTMs) of proteins, such as phosphorylation, glycosylation, or ubiquitination. Understanding how these PTMs are choreographed will lead to a better understanding of how resistance is achieved.
Here we describe a protein purification method for nucleotide-binding leucine-rich repeat (NB-LRR)-interacting proteins and the subsequent identification of their post-translational modifications (PTMs). With small modifications, the protocol can be applied for the purification of other plant protein complexes. The method is based on the expression of an epitope-tagged version of the protein of interest, which is subsequently partially purified by immunoprecipitation and subjected to mass spectrometry for identification of interacting proteins and PTMs.
This protocol demonstrates that: i). Dynamic changes in PTMs such as phosphorylation can be detected by mass spectrometry; ii). It is important to have sufficient quantities of the protein of interest, and this can compensate for the lack of purity of the immunoprecipitate; iii). In order to detect PTMs of a protein of interest, this protein has to be immunoprecipitated to get a sufficient quantity of protein.
Plant Biology, Issue 84, plant-microbe interactions, protein complex purification, mass spectrometry, protein phosphorylation, Prf, Pto, AvrPto, AvrPtoB
Deriving the Time Course of Glutamate Clearance with a Deconvolution Analysis of Astrocytic Transporter Currents
Institutions: National Institutes of Health.
The highest density of glutamate transporters in the brain is found in astrocytes. Glutamate transporters couple the movement of glutamate across the membrane with the co-transport of 3 Na+
and 1 H+
and the counter-transport of 1 K+
. The stoichiometric current generated by the transport process can be monitored with whole-cell patch-clamp recordings from astrocytes. The time course of the recorded current is shaped by the time course of the glutamate concentration profile to which astrocytes are exposed, the kinetics of glutamate transporters, and the passive electrotonic properties of astrocytic membranes. Here we describe the experimental and analytical methods that can be used to record glutamate transporter currents in astrocytes and isolate the time course of glutamate clearance from all other factors that shape the waveform of astrocytic transporter currents. The methods described here can be used to estimate the lifetime of flash-uncaged and synaptically-released glutamate at astrocytic membranes in any region of the central nervous system during health and disease.
Neurobiology, Issue 78, Neuroscience, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Biophysics, Astrocytes, Synapses, Glutamic Acid, Membrane Transport Proteins, Astrocytes, glutamate transporters, uptake, clearance, hippocampus, stratum radiatum, CA1, gene, brain, slice, animal model
Cholesterol Efflux Assay
Institutions: Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute.
Cholesterol content of cells must be maintained within the very tight limits, too much or too little cholesterol in a cell results in disruption of cellular membranes, apoptosis and necrosis 1
. Cells can source cholesterol from intracellular synthesis and from plasma lipoproteins, both sources are sufficient to fully satisfy cells' requirements for cholesterol. The processes of cholesterol synthesis and uptake are tightly regulated and deficiencies of cholesterol are rare 2
. Excessive cholesterol is more common problem 3
. With the exception of hepatocytes and to some degree adrenocortical cells, cells are unable to degrade cholesterol. Cells have two options to reduce their cholesterol content: to convert cholesterol into cholesteryl esters, an option with limited capacity as overloading cells with cholesteryl esters is also toxic, and cholesterol efflux, an option with potentially unlimited capacity. Cholesterol efflux is a specific process that is regulated by a number of intracellular transporters, such as ATP binding cassette transporter proteins A1 (ABCA1) and G1 (ABCG1) and scavenger receptor type B1. The natural acceptor of cholesterol in plasma is high density lipoprotein (HDL) and apolipoprotein A-I.
The cholesterol efflux assay is designed to quantitate the rate of cholesterol efflux from cultured cells. It measures the capacity of cells to maintain cholesterol efflux and/or the capacity of plasma acceptors to accept cholesterol released from cells. The assay consists of the following steps. Step 1: labelling cellular cholesterol by adding labelled cholesterol to serum-containing medium and incubating with cells for 24-48 h. This step may be combined with loading of cells with cholesterol. Step 2: incubation of cells in serum-free medium to equilibrate labelled cholesterol among all intracellular cholesterol pools. This stage may be combined with activation of cellular cholesterol transporters. Step 3: incubation of cells with extracellular acceptor and quantitation of movement of labelled cholesterol from cells to the acceptor. If cholesterol precursors were used to label newly synthesized cholesterol, a fourth step, purification of cholesterol, may be required.
The assay delivers the following information: (i) how a particular treatment (a mutation, a knock-down, an overexpression or a treatment) affects the capacity of cell to efflux cholesterol and (ii) how the capacity of plasma acceptors to accept cholesterol is affected by a disease or a treatment. This method is often used in context of cardiovascular research, metabolic and neurodegenerative disorders, infectious and reproductive diseases.
Medicine, Issue 61, Lipids, lipoproteins, atherosclerosis, trafficking, cholesterol
Isolation and Differentiation of Stromal Vascular Cells to Beige/Brite Cells
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco , University of Copenhagen, Denmark, National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research, Bergen, Norway.
Brown adipocytes have the ability to uncouple the respiratory chain in mitochondria and dissipate chemical energy as heat. Development of UCP1-positive brown adipocytes in white adipose tissues (so called beige or brite cells) is highly induced by a variety of environmental cues such as chronic cold exposure or by PPARγ agonists, therefore, this cell type has potential as a therapeutic target for obesity treatment. Although most immortalized adipocyte lines cannot recapitulate the process of "browning" of white fat in culture, primary adipocytes isolated from stromal vascular fraction in subcutaneous white adipose tissue (WAT) provide a reliable cellular system to study the molecular control of beige/brite cell development. Here we describe a protocol for effective isolation of primary preadipocytes and for inducing differentiation to beige/brite cells in culture. The browning effect can be assessed by the expression of brown fat-selective markers such as UCP1.
Cellular Biology, Issue 73, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Surgery, Adipose Tissue, Adipocytes, Transcription Factors, Cell Differentiation, Obesity, Diabetes, brown adipose tissue, beige/brite cells, primary adipocytes, stromal-vascular fraction, differentiation, uncoupling protein 1, rosiglitazone, differentiation, cells, isolation, fat, animal model
A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli
and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9
addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments.
A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli
to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2
) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia
were transformed into E. coli
. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA
gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans
was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH
and ALDH (
originating from G. thermodenitrificans
) were introduced10,11
. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed.
To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli
K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources.
The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii
OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g.
under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n
-hexane in the culture medium were observed.
Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli
to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
Measuring Cation Transport by Na,K- and H,K-ATPase in Xenopus Oocytes by Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometry: An Alternative to Radioisotope Assays
Institutions: Technical University of Berlin, Oregon Health & Science University.
Whereas cation transport by the electrogenic membrane transporter Na+
-ATPase can be measured by electrophysiology, the electroneutrally operating gastric H+
-ATPase is more difficult to investigate. Many transport assays utilize radioisotopes to achieve a sufficient signal-to-noise ratio, however, the necessary security measures impose severe restrictions regarding human exposure or assay design. Furthermore, ion transport across cell membranes is critically influenced by the membrane potential, which is not straightforwardly controlled in cell culture or in proteoliposome preparations. Here, we make use of the outstanding sensitivity of atomic absorption spectrophotometry (AAS) towards trace amounts of chemical elements to measure Rb+
transport by Na+
- or gastric H+
-ATPase in single cells. Using Xenopus
oocytes as expression system, we determine the amount of Rb+
) transported into the cells by measuring samples of single-oocyte homogenates in an AAS device equipped with a transversely heated graphite atomizer (THGA) furnace, which is loaded from an autosampler. Since the background of unspecific Rb+
uptake into control oocytes or during application of ATPase-specific inhibitors is very small, it is possible to implement complex kinetic assay schemes involving a large number of experimental conditions simultaneously, or to compare the transport capacity and kinetics of site-specifically mutated transporters with high precision. Furthermore, since cation uptake is determined on single cells, the flux experiments can be carried out in combination with two-electrode voltage-clamping (TEVC) to achieve accurate control of the membrane potential and current. This allowed e.g.
to quantitatively determine the 3Na+
transport stoichiometry of the Na+
-ATPase and enabled for the first time to investigate the voltage dependence of cation transport by the electroneutrally operating gastric H+
-ATPase. In principle, the assay is not limited to K+
-transporting membrane proteins, but it may work equally well to address the activity of heavy or transition metal transporters, or uptake of chemical elements by endocytotic processes.
Biochemistry, Issue 72, Chemistry, Biophysics, Bioengineering, Physiology, Molecular Biology, electrochemical processes, physical chemistry, spectrophotometry (application), spectroscopic chemical analysis (application), life sciences, temperature effects (biological, animal and plant), Life Sciences (General), Na+,K+-ATPase, H+,K+-ATPase, Cation Uptake, P-type ATPases, Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometry (AAS), Two-Electrode Voltage-Clamp, Xenopus Oocytes, Rb+ Flux, Transversely Heated Graphite Atomizer (THGA) Furnace, electrophysiology, animal model
Viability Assays for Cells in Culture
Institutions: Duquesne University.
Manual cell counts on a microscope are a sensitive means of assessing cellular viability but are time-consuming and therefore expensive. Computerized viability assays are expensive in terms of equipment but can be faster and more objective than manual cell counts. The present report describes the use of three such viability assays. Two of these assays are infrared and one is luminescent. Both infrared assays rely on a 16 bit Odyssey Imager. One infrared assay uses the DRAQ5 stain for nuclei combined with the Sapphire stain for cytosol and is visualized in the 700 nm channel. The other infrared assay, an In-Cell Western, uses antibodies against cytoskeletal proteins (α-tubulin or microtubule associated protein 2) and labels them in the 800 nm channel. The third viability assay is a commonly used luminescent assay for ATP, but we use a quarter of the recommended volume to save on cost. These measurements are all linear and correlate with the number of cells plated, but vary in sensitivity. All three assays circumvent time-consuming microscopy and sample the entire well, thereby reducing sampling error. Finally, all of the assays can easily be completed within one day of the end of the experiment, allowing greater numbers of experiments to be performed within short timeframes. However, they all rely on the assumption that cell numbers remain in proportion to signal strength after treatments, an assumption that is sometimes not met, especially for cellular ATP. Furthermore, if cells increase or decrease in size after treatment, this might affect signal strength without affecting cell number. We conclude that all viability assays, including manual counts, suffer from a number of caveats, but that computerized viability assays are well worth the initial investment. Using all three assays together yields a comprehensive view of cellular structure and function.
Cellular Biology, Issue 83, In-cell Western, DRAQ5, Sapphire, Cell Titer Glo, ATP, primary cortical neurons, toxicity, protection, N-acetyl cysteine, hormesis
Ratiometric Biosensors that Measure Mitochondrial Redox State and ATP in Living Yeast Cells
Institutions: Columbia University, Columbia University.
Mitochondria have roles in many cellular processes, from energy metabolism and calcium homeostasis to control of cellular lifespan and programmed cell death. These processes affect and are affected by the redox status of and ATP production by mitochondria. Here, we describe the use of two ratiometric, genetically encoded biosensors that can detect mitochondrial redox state and ATP levels at subcellular resolution in living yeast cells. Mitochondrial redox state is measured using redox-sensitive Green Fluorescent Protein (roGFP) that is targeted to the mitochondrial matrix. Mito-roGFP contains cysteines at positions 147 and 204 of GFP, which undergo reversible and environment-dependent oxidation and reduction, which in turn alter the excitation spectrum of the protein. MitGO-ATeam is a Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) probe in which the ε subunit of the Fo
-ATP synthase is sandwiched between FRET donor and acceptor fluorescent proteins. Binding of ATP to the ε subunit results in conformation changes in the protein that bring the FRET donor and acceptor in close proximity and allow for fluorescence resonance energy transfer from the donor to acceptor.
Bioengineering, Issue 77, Microbiology, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, life sciences, roGFP, redox-sensitive green fluorescent protein, GO-ATeam, ATP, FRET, ROS, mitochondria, biosensors, GFP, ImageJ, microscopy, confocal microscopy, cell, imaging
Drug-induced Sensitization of Adenylyl Cyclase: Assay Streamlining and Miniaturization for Small Molecule and siRNA Screening Applications
Institutions: Purdue University, Eli Lilly and Company.
Sensitization of adenylyl cyclase (AC) signaling has been implicated in a variety of neuropsychiatric and neurologic disorders including substance abuse and Parkinson's disease. Acute activation of Gαi/o-linked receptors inhibits AC activity, whereas persistent activation of these receptors results in heterologous sensitization of AC and increased levels of intracellular cAMP. Previous studies have demonstrated that this enhancement of AC responsiveness is observed both in vitro
and in vivo
following the chronic activation of several types of Gαi/o-linked receptors including D2
dopamine and μ opioid receptors. Although heterologous sensitization of AC was first reported four decades ago, the mechanism(s) that underlie this phenomenon remain largely unknown. The lack of mechanistic data presumably reflects the complexity involved with this adaptive response, suggesting that nonbiased approaches could aid in identifying the molecular pathways involved in heterologous sensitization of AC. Previous studies have implicated kinase and Gbγ signaling as overlapping components that regulate the heterologous sensitization of AC. To identify unique and additional overlapping targets associated with sensitization of AC, the development and validation of a scalable cAMP sensitization assay is required for greater throughput. Previous approaches to study sensitization are generally cumbersome involving continuous cell culture maintenance as well as a complex methodology for measuring cAMP accumulation that involves multiple wash steps. Thus, the development of a robust cell-based assay that can be used for high throughput screening (HTS) in a 384 well format would facilitate future studies. Using two D2
dopamine receptor cellular models (i.e
), we have converted our 48-well sensitization assay (>20 steps 4-5 days) to a five-step, single day assay in 384-well format. This new format is amenable to small molecule screening, and we demonstrate that this assay design can also be readily used for reverse transfection of siRNA in anticipation of targeted siRNA library screening.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, adenylyl cyclase, cAMP, heterologous sensitization, superactivation, D2 dopamine, μ opioid, siRNA
Monitoring Changes in Membrane Polarity, Membrane Integrity, and Intracellular Ion Concentrations in Streptococcus pneumoniae Using Fluorescent Dyes
Institutions: University at Buffalo, State University of New York, University at Buffalo, State University of New York, University at Buffalo, State University of New York.
Membrane depolarization and ion fluxes are events that have been studied extensively in biological systems due to their ability to profoundly impact cellular functions, including energetics and signal transductions. While both fluorescent and electrophysiological methods, including electrode usage and patch-clamping, have been well developed for measuring these events in eukaryotic cells, methodology for measuring similar events in microorganisms have proven more challenging to develop given their small size in combination with the more complex outer surface of bacteria shielding the membrane. During our studies of death-initiation in Streptococcus pneumoniae
(pneumococcus), we wanted to elucidate the role of membrane events, including changes in polarity, integrity, and intracellular ion concentrations. Searching the literature, we found that very few studies exist. Other investigators had monitored radioisotope uptake or equilibrium to measure ion fluxes and membrane potential and a limited number of studies, mostly in Gram-negative organisms, had seen some success using carbocyanine or oxonol fluorescent dyes to measure membrane potential, or loading bacteria with cell-permeant acetoxymethyl (AM) ester versions of ion-sensitive fluorescent indicator dyes. We therefore established and optimized protocols for measuring membrane potential, rupture, and ion-transport in the Gram-positive organism S. pneumoniae.
We developed protocols using the bis-oxonol dye DiBAC4
(3) and the cell-impermeant dye propidium iodide to measure membrane depolarization and rupture, respectively, as well as methods to optimally load the pneumococci with the AM esters of the ratiometric dyes Fura-2, PBFI, and BCECF to detect changes in intracellular concentrations of Ca2+
, and H+
, respectively, using a fluorescence-detection plate reader. These protocols are the first of their kind for the pneumococcus and the majority of these dyes have not been used in any other bacterial species. Though our protocols have been optimized for S. pneumoniae
, we believe these approaches should form an excellent starting-point for similar studies in other bacterial species.
Immunology, Issue 84, Streptococcus pneumoniae, pneumococcus, potential-sensitive dyes, DiBAC, Propidium Iodide, acetoxymethyl (AM) ester, membrane rupture, Ion transport, bacterial ion concentrations, ion-sensitive fluorescence
Mechanical Stimulation-induced Calcium Wave Propagation in Cell Monolayers: The Example of Bovine Corneal Endothelial Cells
Institutions: KU Leuven.
Intercellular communication is essential for the coordination of physiological processes between cells in a variety of organs and tissues, including the brain, liver, retina, cochlea and vasculature. In experimental settings, intercellular Ca2+
-waves can be elicited by applying a mechanical stimulus to a single cell. This leads to the release of the intracellular signaling molecules IP3
that initiate the propagation of the Ca2+
-wave concentrically from the mechanically stimulated cell to the neighboring cells. The main molecular pathways that control intercellular Ca2+
-wave propagation are provided by gap junction channels through the direct transfer of IP3
and by hemichannels through the release of ATP. Identification and characterization of the properties and regulation of different connexin and pannexin isoforms as gap junction channels and hemichannels are allowed by the quantification of the spread of the intercellular Ca2+
-wave, siRNA, and the use of inhibitors of gap junction channels and hemichannels. Here, we describe a method to measure intercellular Ca2+
-wave in monolayers of primary corneal endothelial cells loaded with Fluo4-AM in response to a controlled and localized mechanical stimulus provoked by an acute, short-lasting deformation of the cell as a result of touching the cell membrane with a micromanipulator-controlled glass micropipette with a tip diameter of less than 1 μm. We also describe the isolation of primary bovine corneal endothelial cells and its use as model system to assess Cx43-hemichannel activity as the driven force for intercellular Ca2+
-waves through the release of ATP. Finally, we discuss the use, advantages, limitations and alternatives of this method in the context of gap junction channel and hemichannel research.
Cellular Biology, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Biophysics, Immunology, Ophthalmology, Gap Junctions, Connexins, Connexin 43, Calcium Signaling, Ca2+, Cell Communication, Paracrine Communication, Intercellular communication, calcium wave propagation, gap junctions, hemichannels, endothelial cells, cell signaling, cell, isolation, cell culture
Analysis of Tubular Membrane Networks in Cardiac Myocytes from Atria and Ventricles
Institutions: Heart Research Center Goettingen, University Medical Center Goettingen, German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) partner site Goettingen, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
In cardiac myocytes a complex network of membrane tubules - the transverse-axial tubule system (TATS) - controls deep intracellular signaling functions. While the outer surface membrane and associated TATS membrane components appear to be continuous, there are substantial differences in lipid and protein content. In ventricular myocytes (VMs), certain TATS components are highly abundant contributing to rectilinear tubule networks and regular branching 3D architectures. It is thought that peripheral TATS components propagate action potentials from the cell surface to thousands of remote intracellular sarcoendoplasmic reticulum (SER) membrane contact domains, thereby activating intracellular Ca2+
release units (CRUs). In contrast to VMs, the organization and functional role of TATS membranes in atrial myocytes (AMs) is significantly different and much less understood. Taken together, quantitative structural characterization of TATS membrane networks in healthy and diseased myocytes is an essential prerequisite towards better understanding of functional plasticity and pathophysiological reorganization. Here, we present a strategic combination of protocols for direct quantitative analysis of TATS membrane networks in living VMs and AMs. For this, we accompany primary cell isolations of mouse VMs and/or AMs with critical quality control steps and direct membrane staining protocols for fluorescence imaging of TATS membranes. Using an optimized workflow for confocal or superresolution TATS image processing, binarized and skeletonized data are generated for quantitative analysis of the TATS network and its components. Unlike previously published indirect regional aggregate image analysis strategies, our protocols enable direct characterization of specific components and derive complex physiological properties of TATS membrane networks in living myocytes with high throughput and open access software tools. In summary, the combined protocol strategy can be readily applied for quantitative TATS network studies during physiological myocyte adaptation or disease changes, comparison of different cardiac or skeletal muscle cell types, phenotyping of transgenic models, and pharmacological or therapeutic interventions.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cardiac myocyte, atria, ventricle, heart, primary cell isolation, fluorescence microscopy, membrane tubule, transverse-axial tubule system, image analysis, image processing, T-tubule, collagenase
Inducing Plasticity of Astrocytic Receptors by Manipulation of Neuronal Firing Rates
Institutions: University of California Riverside, University of California Riverside, University of California Riverside.
Close to two decades of research has established that astrocytes in situ
and in vivo
express numerous G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) that can be stimulated by neuronally-released transmitter. However, the ability of astrocytic receptors to exhibit plasticity in response to changes in neuronal activity has received little attention. Here we describe a model system that can be used to globally scale up or down astrocytic group I metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) in acute brain slices. Included are methods on how to prepare parasagittal hippocampal slices, construct chambers suitable for long-term slice incubation, bidirectionally manipulate neuronal action potential frequency, load astrocytes and astrocyte processes with fluorescent Ca2+
indicator, and measure changes in astrocytic Gq GPCR activity by recording spontaneous and evoked astrocyte Ca2+
events using confocal microscopy. In essence, a “calcium roadmap” is provided for how to measure plasticity of astrocytic Gq GPCRs. Applications of the technique for study of astrocytes are discussed. Having an understanding of how astrocytic receptor signaling is affected by changes in neuronal activity has important implications for both normal synaptic function as well as processes underlying neurological disorders and neurodegenerative disease.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, astrocyte, plasticity, mGluRs, neuronal Firing, electrophysiology, Gq GPCRs, Bolus-loading, calcium, microdomains, acute slices, Hippocampus, mouse
Bioenergetic Profile Experiment using C2C12 Myoblast Cells
Institutions: Novato, CA, University of Alabama at Birmingham - UAB, North Billerica, MA.
The ability to measure cellular metabolism and understand mitochondrial dysfunction, has enabled scientists worldwide to advance their research in understanding the role of mitochondrial function in obesity, diabetes, aging, cancer, cardiovascular function and safety toxicity.
Cellular metabolism is the process of substrate uptake, such as oxygen, glucose, fatty acids, and glutamine, and subsequent energy conversion through a series of enzymatically controlled oxidation and reduction reactions. These intracellular biochemical reactions result in the production of ATP, the release of heat and chemical byproducts, such as lactate and CO2
into the extracellular environment.
Valuable insight into the physiological state of cells, and the alteration of the state of those cells, can be gained through measuring the rate of oxygen consumed by the cells, an indicator of mitochondrial respiration - the Oxygen Consumption Rate - or OCR. Cells also generate ATP through glycolysis, i.e.: the conversion of glucose to lactate, independent of oxygen. In cultured wells, lactate is the primary source of protons. Measuring the lactic acid produced indirectly via protons released into the extracellular medium surrounding the cells, which causes acidification of the medium provides the Extra-Cellular Acidification Rate - or ECAR.
In this experiment, C2C12 myoblast cells are seeded at a given density in Seahorse cell culture plates. The basal oxygen consumption (OCR) and extracellular acidification (ECAR) rates are measured to establish baseline rates. The cells are then metabolically perturbed by three additions of different compounds (in succession) that shift the bioenergetic profile of the cell.
This assay is derived from a classic experiment to assess mitochondria and serves as a framework with which to build more complex experiments aimed at understanding both physiologic and pathophysiologic function of mitochondria and to predict the ability of cells to respond to stress and/or insults.
Cellular Biology, Issue 46, Mitochondrial dysfunction, cellular, bioenergetics, metabolism, cancer, obesity, diabetes, aging, neurodegeneration
Metabolic Profile Analysis of Zebrafish Embryos
Institutions: School of Medicine, Deakin University.
A growing goal in the field of metabolism is to determine the impact of genetics on different aspects of mitochondrial function. Understanding these relationships will help to understand the underlying etiology for a range of diseases linked with mitochondrial dysfunction, such as diabetes and obesity. Recent advances in instrumentation, has enabled the monitoring of distinct parameters of mitochondrial function in cell lines or tissue explants. Here we present a method for a rapid and sensitive analysis of mitochondrial function parameters in vivo
during zebrafish embryonic development using the Seahorse bioscience XF 24 extracellular flux analyser. This protocol utilizes the Islet Capture microplates where a single embryo is placed in each well, allowing measurement of bioenergetics, including: (i) basal respiration; (ii) basal mitochondrial respiration (iii) mitochondrial respiration due to ATP turnover; (iv) mitochondrial uncoupled respiration or proton leak and (iv) maximum respiration. Using this approach embryonic zebrafish respiration parameters can be compared between wild type and genetically altered embryos (mutant, gene over-expression or gene knockdown) or those manipulated pharmacologically. It is anticipated that dissemination of this protocol will provide researchers with new tools to analyse the genetic basis of metabolic disorders in vivo
in this relevant vertebrate animal model.
Developmental Biology, Issue 71, Genetics, Biochemistry, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Physiology, Embryology, Metabolism, Metabolomics, metabolic profile, respiration, mitochondria, ATP, development, Oil Red O staining, zebrafish, Danio rerio, animal model
Setting-up an In Vitro Model of Rat Blood-brain Barrier (BBB): A Focus on BBB Impermeability and Receptor-mediated Transport
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),
Interview: Protein Folding and Studies of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In this interview, Dr. Lindquist describes relationships between protein folding, prion diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. The problem of the protein folding is at the core of the modern biology. In addition to their traditional biochemical functions, proteins can mediate transfer of biological information and therefore can be considered a genetic material. This recently discovered function of proteins has important implications for studies of human disorders. Dr. Lindquist also describes current experimental approaches to investigate the mechanism of neurodegenerative diseases based on genetic studies in model organisms.
Neuroscience, issue 17, protein folding, brain, neuron, prion, neurodegenerative disease, yeast, screen, Translational Research