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The unique cysteine knot regulates the pleotropic hormone leptin.
Leptin plays a key role in regulating energy intake/expenditure, metabolism and hypertension. It folds into a four-helix bundle that binds to the extracellular receptor to initiate signaling. Our work on leptin revealed a hidden complexity in the formation of a previously un-described, cysteine-knotted topology in leptin. We hypothesized that this unique topology could offer new mechanisms in regulating the protein activity. A combination of in silico simulation and in vitro experiments was used to probe the role of the knotted topology introduced by the disulphide-bridge on leptin folding and function. Our results surprisingly show that the free energy landscape is conserved between knotted and unknotted protein, however the additional complexity added by the knot formation is structurally important. Native state analyses led to the discovery that the disulphide-bond plays an important role in receptor binding and thus mediate biological activity by local motions on distal receptor-binding sites, far removed from the disulphide-bridge. Thus, the disulphide-bridge appears to function as a point of tension that allows dissipation of stress at a distance in leptin.
Authors: James Smadbeck, Meghan B. Peterson, George A. Khoury, Martin S. Taylor, Christodoulos A. Floudas.
Published: 07-25-2013
The aim of de novo protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity. To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (, a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
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Inhibitory Synapse Formation in a Co-culture Model Incorporating GABAergic Medium Spiny Neurons and HEK293 Cells Stably Expressing GABAA Receptors
Authors: Laura E. Brown, Celine Fuchs, Martin W. Nicholson, F. Anne Stephenson, Alex M. Thomson, Jasmina N. Jovanovic.
Institutions: University College London.
Inhibitory neurons act in the central nervous system to regulate the dynamics and spatio-temporal co-ordination of neuronal networks. GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) is the predominant inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It is released from the presynaptic terminals of inhibitory neurons within highly specialized intercellular junctions known as synapses, where it binds to GABAA receptors (GABAARs) present at the plasma membrane of the synapse-receiving, postsynaptic neurons. Activation of these GABA-gated ion channels leads to influx of chloride resulting in postsynaptic potential changes that decrease the probability that these neurons will generate action potentials. During development, diverse types of inhibitory neurons with distinct morphological, electrophysiological and neurochemical characteristics have the ability to recognize their target neurons and form synapses which incorporate specific GABAARs subtypes. This principle of selective innervation of neuronal targets raises the question as to how the appropriate synaptic partners identify each other. To elucidate the underlying molecular mechanisms, a novel in vitro co-culture model system was established, in which medium spiny GABAergic neurons, a highly homogenous population of neurons isolated from the embryonic striatum, were cultured with stably transfected HEK293 cell lines that express different GABAAR subtypes. Synapses form rapidly, efficiently and selectively in this system, and are easily accessible for quantification. Our results indicate that various GABAAR subtypes differ in their ability to promote synapse formation, suggesting that this reduced in vitro model system can be used to reproduce, at least in part, the in vivo conditions required for the recognition of the appropriate synaptic partners and formation of specific synapses. Here the protocols for culturing the medium spiny neurons and generating HEK293 cells lines expressing GABAARs are first described, followed by detailed instructions on how to combine these two cell types in co-culture and analyze the formation of synaptic contacts.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, Developmental neuroscience, synaptogenesis, synaptic inhibition, co-culture, stable cell lines, GABAergic, medium spiny neurons, HEK 293 cell line
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Renal Capsule Xenografting and Subcutaneous Pellet Implantation for the Evaluation of Prostate Carcinogenesis and Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia
Authors: Tristan M. Nicholson, Kristen S. Uchtmann, Conrad D. Valdez, Ashleigh B. Theberge, Tihomir Miralem, William A. Ricke.
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
New therapies for two common prostate diseases, prostate cancer (PrCa) and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), depend critically on experiments evaluating their hormonal regulation. Sex steroid hormones (notably androgens and estrogens) are important in PrCa and BPH; we probe their respective roles in inducing prostate growth and carcinogenesis in mice with experiments using compressed hormone pellets. Hormone and/or drug pellets are easily manufactured with a pellet press, and surgically implanted into the subcutaneous tissue of the male mouse host. We also describe a protocol for the evaluation of hormonal carcinogenesis by combining subcutaneous hormone pellet implantation with xenografting of prostate cell recombinants under the renal capsule of immunocompromised mice. Moreover, subcutaneous hormone pellet implantation, in combination with renal capsule xenografting of BPH tissue, is useful to better understand hormonal regulation of benign prostate growth, and to test new therapies targeting sex steroid hormone pathways.
Medicine, Issue 78, Cancer Biology, Prostatic Hyperplasia, Prostatic Neoplasms, Neoplastic Processes, Estradiol, Testosterone, Transplantation, Heterologous, Growth, Xenotransplantation, Heterologous Transplantation, Hormones, Prostate, Testosterone, 17beta-Estradiol, Benign prostatic hyperplasia, Prostate Cancer, animal model
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Viability Assays for Cells in Culture
Authors: Jessica M. Posimo, Ajay S. Unnithan, Amanda M. Gleixner, Hailey J. Choi, Yiran Jiang, Sree H. Pulugulla, Rehana K. Leak.
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
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Covalent Binding of BMP-2 on Surfaces Using a Self-assembled Monolayer Approach
Authors: Theresa L. M. Pohl, Elisabeth H. Schwab, Elisabetta A. Cavalcanti-Adam.
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
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Setting-up an In Vitro Model of Rat Blood-brain Barrier (BBB): A Focus on BBB Impermeability and Receptor-mediated Transport
Authors: Yves Molino, Françoise Jabès, Emmanuelle Lacassagne, Nicolas Gaudin, Michel Khrestchatisky.
Institutions: VECT-HORUS SAS, CNRS, NICN UMR 7259.
The blood brain barrier (BBB) specifically regulates molecular and cellular flux between the blood and the nervous tissue. Our aim was to develop and characterize a highly reproducible rat syngeneic in vitro model of the BBB using co-cultures of primary rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC) and astrocytes to study receptors involved in transcytosis across the endothelial cell monolayer. Astrocytes were isolated by mechanical dissection following trypsin digestion and were frozen for later co-culture. RBEC were isolated from 5-week-old rat cortices. The brains were cleaned of meninges and white matter, and mechanically dissociated following enzymatic digestion. Thereafter, the tissue homogenate was centrifuged in bovine serum albumin to separate vessel fragments from nervous tissue. The vessel fragments underwent a second enzymatic digestion to free endothelial cells from their extracellular matrix. The remaining contaminating cells such as pericytes were further eliminated by plating the microvessel fragments in puromycin-containing medium. They were then passaged onto filters for co-culture with astrocytes grown on the bottom of the wells. RBEC expressed high levels of tight junction (TJ) proteins such as occludin, claudin-5 and ZO-1 with a typical localization at the cell borders. The transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER) of brain endothelial monolayers, indicating the tightness of TJs reached 300 ohm·cm2 on average. The endothelial permeability coefficients (Pe) for lucifer yellow (LY) was highly reproducible with an average of 0.26 ± 0.11 x 10-3 cm/min. Brain endothelial cells organized in monolayers expressed the efflux transporter P-glycoprotein (P-gp), showed a polarized transport of rhodamine 123, a ligand for P-gp, and showed specific transport of transferrin-Cy3 and DiILDL across the endothelial cell monolayer. In conclusion, we provide a protocol for setting up an in vitro BBB model that is highly reproducible due to the quality assurance methods, and that is suitable for research on BBB transporters and receptors.
Medicine, Issue 88, rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC), mouse, spinal cord, tight junction (TJ), receptor-mediated transport (RMT), low density lipoprotein (LDL), LDLR, transferrin, TfR, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER),
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Profiling of Estrogen-regulated MicroRNAs in Breast Cancer Cells
Authors: Anne Katchy, Cecilia Williams.
Institutions: University of Houston.
Estrogen plays vital roles in mammary gland development and breast cancer progression. It mediates its function by binding to and activating the estrogen receptors (ERs), ERα, and ERβ. ERα is frequently upregulated in breast cancer and drives the proliferation of breast cancer cells. The ERs function as transcription factors and regulate gene expression. Whereas ERα's regulation of protein-coding genes is well established, its regulation of noncoding microRNA (miRNA) is less explored. miRNAs play a major role in the post-transcriptional regulation of genes, inhibiting their translation or degrading their mRNA. miRNAs can function as oncogenes or tumor suppressors and are also promising biomarkers. Among the miRNA assays available, microarray and quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) have been extensively used to detect and quantify miRNA levels. To identify miRNAs regulated by estrogen signaling in breast cancer, their expression in ERα-positive breast cancer cell lines were compared before and after estrogen-activation using both the µParaflo-microfluidic microarrays and Dual Labeled Probes-low density arrays. Results were validated using specific qPCR assays, applying both Cyanine dye-based and Dual Labeled Probes-based chemistry. Furthermore, a time-point assay was used to identify regulations over time. Advantages of the miRNA assay approach used in this study is that it enables a fast screening of mature miRNA regulations in numerous samples, even with limited sample amounts. The layout, including the specific conditions for cell culture and estrogen treatment, biological and technical replicates, and large-scale screening followed by in-depth confirmations using separate techniques, ensures a robust detection of miRNA regulations, and eliminates false positives and other artifacts. However, mutated or unknown miRNAs, or regulations at the primary and precursor transcript level, will not be detected. The method presented here represents a thorough investigation of estrogen-mediated miRNA regulation.
Medicine, Issue 84, breast cancer, microRNA, estrogen, estrogen receptor, microarray, qPCR
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Reconstitution Of β-catenin Degradation In Xenopus Egg Extract
Authors: Tony W. Chen, Matthew R. Broadus, Stacey S. Huppert, Ethan Lee.
Institutions: Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
Xenopus laevis egg extract is a well-characterized, robust system for studying the biochemistry of diverse cellular processes. Xenopus egg extract has been used to study protein turnover in many cellular contexts, including the cell cycle and signal transduction pathways1-3. Herein, a method is described for isolating Xenopus egg extract that has been optimized to promote the degradation of the critical Wnt pathway component, β-catenin. Two different methods are described to assess β-catenin protein degradation in Xenopus egg extract. One method is visually informative ([35S]-radiolabeled proteins), while the other is more readily scaled for high-throughput assays (firefly luciferase-tagged fusion proteins). The techniques described can be used to, but are not limited to, assess β-catenin protein turnover and identify molecular components contributing to its turnover. Additionally, the ability to purify large volumes of homogenous Xenopus egg extract combined with the quantitative and facile readout of luciferase-tagged proteins allows this system to be easily adapted for high-throughput screening for modulators of β-catenin degradation.
Molecular Biology, Issue 88, Xenopus laevis, Xenopus egg extracts, protein degradation, radiolabel, luciferase, autoradiography, high-throughput screening
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Nanomanipulation of Single RNA Molecules by Optical Tweezers
Authors: William Stephenson, Gorby Wan, Scott A. Tenenbaum, Pan T. X. Li.
Institutions: University at Albany, State University of New York, University at Albany, State University of New York, University at Albany, State University of New York, University at Albany, State University of New York, University at Albany, State University of New York.
A large portion of the human genome is transcribed but not translated. In this post genomic era, regulatory functions of RNA have been shown to be increasingly important. As RNA function often depends on its ability to adopt alternative structures, it is difficult to predict RNA three-dimensional structures directly from sequence. Single-molecule approaches show potentials to solve the problem of RNA structural polymorphism by monitoring molecular structures one molecule at a time. This work presents a method to precisely manipulate the folding and structure of single RNA molecules using optical tweezers. First, methods to synthesize molecules suitable for single-molecule mechanical work are described. Next, various calibration procedures to ensure the proper operations of the optical tweezers are discussed. Next, various experiments are explained. To demonstrate the utility of the technique, results of mechanically unfolding RNA hairpins and a single RNA kissing complex are used as evidence. In these examples, the nanomanipulation technique was used to study folding of each structural domain, including secondary and tertiary, independently. Lastly, the limitations and future applications of the method are discussed.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, RNA folding, single-molecule, optical tweezers, nanomanipulation, RNA secondary structure, RNA tertiary structure
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The Preparation of Electrohydrodynamic Bridges from Polar Dielectric Liquids
Authors: Adam D. Wexler, Mónica López Sáenz, Oliver Schreer, Jakob Woisetschläger, Elmar C. Fuchs.
Institutions: Wetsus - Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Water Technology, IRCAM GmbH, Graz University of Technology.
Horizontal and vertical liquid bridges are simple and powerful tools for exploring the interaction of high intensity electric fields (8-20 kV/cm) and polar dielectric liquids. These bridges are unique from capillary bridges in that they exhibit extensibility beyond a few millimeters, have complex bi-directional mass transfer patterns, and emit non-Planck infrared radiation. A number of common solvents can form such bridges as well as low conductivity solutions and colloidal suspensions. The macroscopic behavior is governed by electrohydrodynamics and provides a means of studying fluid flow phenomena without the presence of rigid walls. Prior to the onset of a liquid bridge several important phenomena can be observed including advancing meniscus height (electrowetting), bulk fluid circulation (the Sumoto effect), and the ejection of charged droplets (electrospray). The interaction between surface, polarization, and displacement forces can be directly examined by varying applied voltage and bridge length. The electric field, assisted by gravity, stabilizes the liquid bridge against Rayleigh-Plateau instabilities. Construction of basic apparatus for both vertical and horizontal orientation along with operational examples, including thermographic images, for three liquids (e.g., water, DMSO, and glycerol) is presented.
Physics, Issue 91, floating water bridge, polar dielectric liquids, liquid bridge, electrohydrodynamics, thermography, dielectrophoresis, electrowetting, Sumoto effect, Armstrong effect
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In Vitro Reconstitution of Light-harvesting Complexes of Plants and Green Algae
Authors: Alberto Natali, Laura M. Roy, Roberta Croce.
Institutions: VU University Amsterdam.
In plants and green algae, light is captured by the light-harvesting complexes (LHCs), a family of integral membrane proteins that coordinate chlorophylls and carotenoids. In vivo, these proteins are folded with pigments to form complexes which are inserted in the thylakoid membrane of the chloroplast. The high similarity in the chemical and physical properties of the members of the family, together with the fact that they can easily lose pigments during isolation, makes their purification in a native state challenging. An alternative approach to obtain homogeneous preparations of LHCs was developed by Plumley and Schmidt in 19871, who showed that it was possible to reconstitute these complexes in vitro starting from purified pigments and unfolded apoproteins, resulting in complexes with properties very similar to that of native complexes. This opened the way to the use of bacterial expressed recombinant proteins for in vitro reconstitution. The reconstitution method is powerful for various reasons: (1) pure preparations of individual complexes can be obtained, (2) pigment composition can be controlled to assess their contribution to structure and function, (3) recombinant proteins can be mutated to study the functional role of the individual residues (e.g., pigment binding sites) or protein domain (e.g., protein-protein interaction, folding). This method has been optimized in several laboratories and applied to most of the light-harvesting complexes. The protocol described here details the method of reconstituting light-harvesting complexes in vitro currently used in our laboratory, and examples describing applications of the method are provided.
Biochemistry, Issue 92, Reconstitution, Photosynthesis, Chlorophyll, Carotenoids, Light Harvesting Protein, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, Arabidopsis thaliana
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Determination of the Transport Rate of Xenobiotics and Nanomaterials Across the Placenta using the ex vivo Human Placental Perfusion Model
Authors: Stefanie Grafmüller, Pius Manser, Harald F. Krug, Peter Wick, Ursula von Mandach.
Institutions: University Hospital Zurich, EMPA Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research, University of Bern.
Decades ago the human placenta was thought to be an impenetrable barrier between mother and unborn child. However, the discovery of thalidomide-induced birth defects and many later studies afterwards proved the opposite. Today several harmful xenobiotics like nicotine, heroin, methadone or drugs as well as environmental pollutants were described to overcome this barrier. With the growing use of nanotechnology, the placenta is likely to come into contact with novel nanoparticles either accidentally through exposure or intentionally in the case of potential nanomedical applications. Data from animal experiments cannot be extrapolated to humans because the placenta is the most species-specific mammalian organ 1. Therefore, the ex vivo dual recirculating human placental perfusion, developed by Panigel et al. in 1967 2 and continuously modified by Schneider et al. in 1972 3, can serve as an excellent model to study the transfer of xenobiotics or particles. Here, we focus on the ex vivo dual recirculating human placental perfusion protocol and its further development to acquire reproducible results. The placentae were obtained after informed consent of the mothers from uncomplicated term pregnancies undergoing caesarean delivery. The fetal and maternal vessels of an intact cotyledon were cannulated and perfused at least for five hours. As a model particle fluorescently labelled polystyrene particles with sizes of 80 and 500 nm in diameter were added to the maternal circuit. The 80 nm particles were able to cross the placental barrier and provide a perfect example for a substance which is transferred across the placenta to the fetus while the 500 nm particles were retained in the placental tissue or maternal circuit. The ex vivo human placental perfusion model is one of few models providing reliable information about the transport behavior of xenobiotics at an important tissue barrier which delivers predictive and clinical relevant data.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 76, Medicine, Bioengineering, Anatomy, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Biophysics, Pharmacology, Obstetrics, Nanotechnology, Placenta, Pharmacokinetics, Nanomedicine, humans, ex vivo perfusion, perfusion, biological barrier, xenobiotics, nanomaterials, clinical model
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Designing a Bio-responsive Robot from DNA Origami
Authors: Eldad Ben-Ishay, Almogit Abu-Horowitz, Ido Bachelet.
Institutions: Bar-Ilan University.
Nucleic acids are astonishingly versatile. In addition to their natural role as storage medium for biological information1, they can be utilized in parallel computing2,3 , recognize and bind molecular or cellular targets4,5 , catalyze chemical reactions6,7 , and generate calculated responses in a biological system8,9. Importantly, nucleic acids can be programmed to self-assemble into 2D and 3D structures10-12, enabling the integration of all these remarkable features in a single robot linking the sensing of biological cues to a preset response in order to exert a desired effect. Creating shapes from nucleic acids was first proposed by Seeman13, and several variations on this theme have since been realized using various techniques11,12,14,15 . However, the most significant is perhaps the one proposed by Rothemund, termed scaffolded DNA origami16. In this technique, the folding of a long (>7,000 bases) single-stranded DNA 'scaffold' is directed to a desired shape by hundreds of short complementary strands termed 'staples'. Folding is carried out by temperature annealing ramp. This technique was successfully demonstrated in the creation of a diverse array of 2D shapes with remarkable precision and robustness. DNA origami was later extended to 3D as well17,18 . The current paper will focus on the caDNAno 2.0 software19 developed by Douglas and colleagues. caDNAno is a robust, user-friendly CAD tool enabling the design of 2D and 3D DNA origami shapes with versatile features. The design process relies on a systematic and accurate abstraction scheme for DNA structures, making it relatively straightforward and efficient. In this paper we demonstrate the design of a DNA origami nanorobot that has been recently described20. This robot is 'robotic' in the sense that it links sensing to actuation, in order to perform a task. We explain how various sensing schemes can be integrated into the structure, and how this can be relayed to a desired effect. Finally we use Cando21 to simulate the mechanical properties of the designed shape. The concept we discuss can be adapted to multiple tasks and settings.
Bioengineering, Issue 77, Genetics, Biomedical Engineering, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Genomics, Nanotechnology, Nanomedicine, DNA origami, nanorobot, caDNAno, DNA, DNA Origami, nucleic acids, DNA structures, CAD, sequencing
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Proteomics to Identify Proteins Interacting with P2X2 Ligand-Gated Cation Channels
Authors: Harpreet Singh, Sarah Warburton, Thomas M. Vondriska, Baljit S. Khakh.
Institutions: David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles.
Ligand-gated ion channels underlie synaptic communication in the nervous system1. In mammals there are three families of ligand-gated channels: the cys loop, the glutamate-gated and the P2X receptor channels2. In each case binding of transmitter leads to the opening of a pore through which ions flow down their electrochemical gradients. Many ligand-gated channels are also permeable to calcium ions3, 4, which have downstream signaling roles5 (e.g. gene regulation) that may exceed the duration of channel opening. Thus ligand-gated channels can signal over broad time scales ranging from a few milliseconds to days. Given these important roles it is necessary to understand how ligand-gated ion channels themselves are regulated by proteins, and how these proteins may tune signaling. Recent studies suggest that many, if not all, channels may be part of protein signaling complexes6. In this article we explain how to identify the proteins that bind to the C-terminal aspects of the P2X2 receptor cytosolic domain. P2X receptors are ATP-gated cation channels and consist of seven subunits (P2X1-P2X7). P2X receptors are widely expressed in the brain, where they mediate excitatory synaptic transmission and presynaptic facilitation of neurotransmitter release7. P2X receptors are found in excitable and non-excitable cells and mediate key roles in neuronal signaling, inflammation and cardiovascular function8. P2X2 receptors are abundant in the nervous system9 and are the focus of this study. Each P2X subunit is thought to possess two membrane spanning segments (TM1 & TM2) separated by an extracellular region7 and intracellular N and C termini (Fig 1a)7. P2X subunits10 (P2X1-P2X7) show 30-50% sequence homology at the amino acid level11. P2X receptors contain only three subunits, which is the simplest stoichiometry among ionotropic receptors. The P2X2 C-terminus consists of 120 amino acids (Fig 1b) and contains several protein docking consensus sites, supporting the hypothesis that P2X2 receptor may be part of signaling complexes. However, although several functions have been attributed to the C-terminus of P2X2 receptors9 no study has described the molecular partners that couple to the intracellular side of this protein via the full length C-terminus. In this methods paper we describe a proteomic approach to identify the proteins which interact with the full length C-terminus of P2X2 receptors.
Neuroscience, Issue 27, Pull down, recombinant protein, GST, brain, rat, mass spectrometry, protein interactions, P2X2, macromolecular complex, channel, receptor, purinergic
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Assessment of Immunologically Relevant Dynamic Tertiary Structural Features of the HIV-1 V3 Loop Crown R2 Sequence by ab initio Folding
Authors: David Almond, Timothy Cardozo.
Institutions: School of Medicine, New York University.
The antigenic diversity of HIV-1 has long been an obstacle to vaccine design, and this variability is especially pronounced in the V3 loop of the virus' surface envelope glycoprotein. We previously proposed that the crown of the V3 loop, although dynamic and sequence variable, is constrained throughout the population of HIV-1 viruses to an immunologically relevant β-hairpin tertiary structure. Importantly, there are thousands of different V3 loop crown sequences in circulating HIV-1 viruses, making 3D structural characterization of trends across the diversity of viruses difficult or impossible by crystallography or NMR. Our previous successful studies with folding of the V3 crown1, 2 used the ab initio algorithm 3 accessible in the ICM-Pro molecular modeling software package (Molsoft LLC, La Jolla, CA) and suggested that the crown of the V3 loop, specifically from positions 10 to 22, benefits sufficiently from the flexibility and length of its flanking stems to behave to a large degree as if it were an unconstrained peptide freely folding in solution. As such, rapid ab initio folding of just this portion of the V3 loop of any individual strain of the 60,000+ circulating HIV-1 strains can be informative. Here, we folded the V3 loop of the R2 strain to gain insight into the structural basis of its unique properties. R2 bears a rare V3 loop sequence thought to be responsible for the exquisite sensitivity of this strain to neutralization by patient sera and monoclonal antibodies4, 5. The strain mediates CD4-independent infection and appears to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies. We demonstrate how evaluation of the results of the folding can be informative for associating observed structures in the folding with the immunological activities observed for R2.
Infection, Issue 43, HIV-1, structure-activity relationships, ab initio simulations, antibody-mediated neutralization, vaccine design
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Examining the Conformational Dynamics of Membrane Proteins in situ with Site-directed Fluorescence Labeling
Authors: Ryan Richards, Robert E. Dempski.
Institutions: Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Two electrode voltage clamp electrophysiology (TEVC) is a powerful tool to investigate the mechanism of ion transport1 for a wide variety of membrane proteins including ion channels2, ion pumps3, and transporters4. Recent developments have combined site-specific fluorophore labeling alongside TEVC to concurrently examine the conformational dynamics at specific residues and function of these proteins on the surface of single cells. We will describe a method to study the conformational dynamics of membrane proteins by simultaneously monitoring fluorescence and current changes using voltage-clamp fluorometry. This approach can be used to examine the molecular motion of membrane proteins site-specifically following cysteine replacement and site-directed fluorophore labeling5,6. Furthermore, this method provides an approach to determine distance constraints between specific residues7,8. This is achieved by selectively attaching donor and acceptor fluorophores to two mutated cysteine residues of interest. In brief, these experiments are performed following functional expression of the desired protein on the surface of Xenopus leavis oocytes. The large surface area of these oocytes enables facile functional measurements and a robust fluorescence signal5. It is also possible to readily change the extracellular conditions such as pH, ligand or cations/anions, which can provide further information on the mechanism of membrane proteins4. Finally, recent developments have also enabled the manipulation of select internal ions following co-expression with a second protein9. Our protocol is described in multiple parts. First, cysteine scanning mutagenesis proceeded by fluorophore labeling is completed at residues located at the interface of the transmembrane and extracellular domains. Subsequent experiments are designed to identify residues which demonstrate large changes in fluorescence intensity (<5%)3 upon a conformational change of the protein. Second, these changes in fluorescence intensity are compared to the kinetic parameters of the membrane protein in order to correlate the conformational dynamics to the function of the protein10. This enables a rigorous biophysical analysis of the molecular motion of the target protein. Lastly, two residues of the holoenzyme can be labeled with a donor and acceptor fluorophore in order to determine distance constraints using donor photodestruction methods. It is also possible to monitor the relative movement of protein subunits following labeling with a donor and acceptor fluorophore.
Cellular Biology, Issue 51, membrane protein, two electrode voltage-clamp, biophysics, site-specific fluorophore labeling, microscopy, conformational dynamics
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A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Authors: Ambrish Roy, Dong Xu, Jonathan Poisson, Yang Zhang.
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
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Analytical Techniques for Assaying Nitric Oxide Bioactivity
Authors: Hong Jiang, Deepa Parthasarathy, Ashley C. Torregrossa, Asad Mian, Nathan S. Bryan.
Institutions: University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston , Baylor College of Medicine .
Nitric oxide (NO) is a diatomic free radical that is extremely short lived in biological systems (less than 1 second in circulating blood)1. NO may be considered one of the most important signaling molecules produced in our body, regulating essential functions including but not limited to regulation of blood pressure, immune response and neural communication. Therefore its accurate detection and quantification in biological matrices is critical to understanding the role of NO in health and disease. With such a short physiological half life of NO, alternative strategies for the detection of reaction products of NO biochemistry have been developed. The quantification of relevant NO metabolites in multiple biological compartments provides valuable information with regards to in vivo NO production, bioavailability and metabolism. Simply sampling a single compartment such as blood or plasma may not always provide an accurate assessment of whole body NO status, particularly in tissues. The ability to compare blood with select tissues in experimental animals will help bridge the gap between basic science and clinical medicine as far as diagnostic and prognostic utility of NO biomarkers in health and disease. Therefore, extrapolation of plasma or blood NO status to specific tissues of interest is no longer a valid approach. As a result, methods continue to be developed and validated which allow the detection and quantification of NO and NO-related products/metabolites in multiple compartments of experimental animals in vivo. The established paradigm of NO biochemistry from production by NO synthases to activation of soluble guanylyl cyclase (sGC) to eventual oxidation to nitrite (NO2-) and nitrate (NO3-) may only represent part of NO's effects in vivo. The interaction of NO and NO-derived metabolites with protein thiols, secondary amines, and metals to form S-nitrosothiols (RSNOs), N-nitrosamines (RNNOs), and nitrosyl-heme respectively represent cGMP-independent effects of NO and are likely just as important physiologically as activation of sGC by NO. A true understanding of NO in physiology is derived from in vivo experiments sampling multiple compartments simultaneously. Nitric oxide (NO) methodology is a complex and often confusing science and the focus of many debates and discussion concerning NO biochemistry. The elucidation of new mechanisms and signaling pathways involving NO hinges on our ability to specifically, selectively and sensitively detect and quantify NO and all relevant NO products and metabolites in complex biological matrices. Here, we present a method for the rapid and sensitive analysis of nitrite and nitrate by HPLC as well as detection of free NO in biological samples using in vitro ozone based chemiluminescence with chemical derivitazation to determine molecular source of NO as well as ex vivo with organ bath myography.
Medicine, Issue 64, Molecular Biology, Nitric oxide, nitrite, nitrate, endothelium derived relaxing factor, HPLC, chemiluminscence
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Progressive-ratio Responding for Palatable High-fat and High-sugar Food in Mice
Authors: Sandeep Sharma, Cecile Hryhorczuk, Stephanie Fulton.
Institutions: University of Montreal.
Foods that are rich in fat and sugar significantly contribute to over-eating and escalating rates of obesity. The consumption of palatable foods can produce a rewarding effect that strengthens action-outcome associations and reinforces future behavior directed at obtaining these foods. Increasing evidence that the rewarding effects of energy-dense foods play a profound role in overeating and the development of obesity has heightened interest in studying the genes, molecules and neural circuitry that modulate food reward1,2. The rewarding impact of different stimuli can be studied by measuring the willingness to work to obtain them, such as in operant conditioning tasks3. Operant models of food reward measure acquired and voluntary behavioral responses that are directed at obtaining food. A commonly used measure of reward strength is an operant procedure known as the progressive ratio (PR) schedule of reinforcement.4,5 In the PR task, the subject is required to make an increasing number of operant responses for each successive reward. The pioneering study of Hodos (1961) demonstrated that the number of responses made to obtain the last reward, termed the breakpoint, serves as an index of reward strength4. While operant procedures that measure changes in response rate alone cannot separate changes in reward strength from alterations in performance capacity, the breakpoint derived from the PR schedule is a well-validated measure of the rewarding effects of food. The PR task has been used extensively to assess the rewarding impact of drugs of abuse and food in rats (e.g.,6-8), but to a lesser extent in mice9. The increased use of genetically engineered mice and diet-induced obese mouse models has heightened demands for behavioral measures of food reward in mice. In the present article we detail the materials and procedures used to train mice to respond (lever-press) for a high-fat and high-sugar food pellets on a PR schedule of reinforcement. We show that breakpoint response thresholds increase following acute food deprivation and decrease with peripheral administration of the anorectic hormone leptin and thereby validate the use of this food-operant paradigm in mice.
Neuroscience, Issue 63, behavioral neuroscience, operant conditioning, food, reward, obesity, leptin, mouse
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Avidity-based Extracellular Interaction Screening (AVEXIS) for the Scalable Detection of Low-affinity Extracellular Receptor-Ligand Interactions
Authors: Jason S. Kerr, Gavin J. Wright.
Institutions: Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.
Extracellular protein:protein interactions between secreted or membrane-tethered proteins are critical for both initiating intercellular communication and ensuring cohesion within multicellular organisms. Proteins predicted to form extracellular interactions are encoded by approximately a quarter of human genes1, but despite their importance and abundance, the majority of these proteins have no documented binding partner. Primarily, this is due to their biochemical intractability: membrane-embedded proteins are difficult to solubilise in their native conformation and contain structurally-important posttranslational modifications. Also, the interaction affinities between receptor proteins are often characterised by extremely low interaction strengths (half-lives < 1 second) precluding their detection with many commonly-used high throughput methods2. Here, we describe an assay, AVEXIS (AVidity-based EXtracellular Interaction Screen) that overcomes these technical challenges enabling the detection of very weak protein interactions (t1/2 ≤ 0.1 sec) with a low false positive rate3. The assay is usually implemented in a high throughput format to enable the systematic screening of many thousands of interactions in a convenient microtitre plate format (Fig. 1). It relies on the production of soluble recombinant protein libraries that contain the ectodomain fragments of cell surface receptors or secreted proteins within which to screen for interactions; therefore, this approach is suitable for type I, type II, GPI-linked cell surface receptors and secreted proteins but not for multipass membrane proteins such as ion channels or transporters. The recombinant protein libraries are produced using a convenient and high-level mammalian expression system4, to ensure that important posttranslational modifications such as glycosylation and disulphide bonds are added. Expressed recombinant proteins are secreted into the medium and produced in two forms: a biotinylated bait which can be captured on a streptavidin-coated solid phase suitable for screening, and a pentamerised enzyme-tagged (β-lactamase) prey. The bait and prey proteins are presented to each other in a binary fashion to detect direct interactions between them, similar to a conventional ELISA (Fig. 1). The pentamerisation of the proteins in the prey is achieved through a peptide sequence from the cartilage oligomeric matrix protein (COMP) and increases the local concentration of the ectodomains thereby providing significant avidity gains to enable even very transient interactions to be detected. By normalising the activities of both the bait and prey to predetermined levels prior to screening, we have shown that interactions having monomeric half-lives of 0.1 sec can be detected with low false positive rates3.
Molecular Biology, Issue 61, Receptor-ligand pairs, Extracellular protein interactions, AVEXIS, Adhesion receptors, Transient/weak interactions, High throughput screening
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Ex Vivo Assessment of Contractility, Fatigability and Alternans in Isolated Skeletal Muscles
Authors: Ki Ho Park, Leticia Brotto, Oanh Lehoang, Marco Brotto, Jianjie Ma, Xiaoli Zhao.
Institutions: UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Ohio State University .
Described here is a method to measure contractility of isolated skeletal muscles. Parameters such as muscle force, muscle power, contractile kinetics, fatigability, and recovery after fatigue can be obtained to assess specific aspects of the excitation-contraction coupling (ECC) process such as excitability, contractile machinery and Ca2+ handling ability. This method removes the nerve and blood supply and focuses on the isolated skeletal muscle itself. We routinely use this method to identify genetic components that alter the contractile property of skeletal muscle though modulating Ca2+ signaling pathways. Here, we describe a newly identified skeletal muscle phenotype, i.e., mechanic alternans, as an example of the various and rich information that can be obtained using the in vitro muscle contractility assay. Combination of this assay with single cell assays, genetic approaches and biochemistry assays can provide important insights into the mechanisms of ECC in skeletal muscle.
Physiology, Issue 69, extensor digitorum longus, soleus, in vitro contractility, calcium signaling, muscle-tendon complex, mechanic alternans
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Detection of Protein Palmitoylation in Cultured Hippocampal Neurons by Immunoprecipitation and Acyl-Biotin Exchange (ABE)
Authors: G. Stefano Brigidi, Shernaz X Bamji.
Institutions: University of British Columbia .
Palmitoylation is a post-translational lipid modification involving the attachment of a 16-carbon saturated fatty acid, palmitate, to cysteine residues of substrate proteins through a labile thioester bond [reviewed in1]. Palmitoylation of a substrate protein increases its hydrophobicity, and typically facilitates its trafficking toward cellular membranes. Recent studies have shown palmitoylation to be one of the most common lipid modifications in neurons1, 2, suggesting that palmitate turnover is an important mechanism by which these cells regulate the targeting and trafficking of proteins. The identification and detection of palmitoylated substrates can therefore better our understanding of protein trafficking in neurons. Detection of protein palmitoylation in the past has been technically hindered due to the lack of a consensus sequence among substrate proteins, and the reliance on metabolic labeling of palmitoyl-proteins with 3H-palmitate, a time-consuming biochemical assay with low sensitivity. Development of the Acyl-Biotin Exchange (ABE) assay enables more rapid and high sensitivity detection of palmitoylated proteins2-4, and is optimal for measuring the dynamic turnover of palmitate on neuronal proteins. The ABE assay is comprised of three biochemical steps (Figure 1): 1) irreversible blockade of unmodified cysteine thiol groups using N-ethylmaliemide (NEM), 2) specific cleavage and unmasking of the palmitoylated cysteine's thiol group by hydroxylamine (HAM), and 3) selective labeling of the palmitoylated cysteine using a thiol-reactive biotinylation reagent, biotin-BMCC. Purification of the thiol-biotinylated proteins following the ABE steps has differed, depending on the overall goal of the experiment. Here, we describe a method to purify a palmitoylated protein of interest in primary hippocampal neurons by an initial immunoprecipitation (IP) step using an antibody directed against the protein, followed by the ABE assay and western blotting to directly measure palmitoylation levels of that protein, which is termed the IP-ABE assay. Low-density cultures of embryonic rat hippocampal neurons have been widely used to study the localization, function, and trafficking of neuronal proteins, making them ideally suited for studying neuronal protein palmitoylation using the IP-ABE assay. The IP-ABE assay mainly requires standard IP and western blotting reagents, and is only limited by the availability of antibodies against the target substrate. This assay can easily be adapted for the purification and detection of transfected palmitoylated proteins in heterologous cell cultures, primary neuronal cultures derived from various brain tissues of both mouse and rat, and even primary brain tissue itself.
Neuroscience, Issue 72, Biochemistry, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Physiology, Proteins, synapse, cultured hippocampal neurons, palmitoylation, lipid, immunoprecipitation, western blotting, biotin, Acyl-Biotin Exchange, ABE, neuron, brain, cell culture, rat, mouse, animal model
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Real-time Analyses of Retinol Transport by the Membrane Receptor of Plasma Retinol Binding Protein
Authors: Riki Kawaguchi, Ming Zhong, Hui Sun.
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Vitamin A is essential for vision and the growth/differentiation of almost all human organs. Plasma retinol binding protein (RBP) is the principle and specific carrier of vitamin A in the blood. Here we describe an optimized technique to produce and purify holo-RBP and two real-time monitoring techniques to study the transport of vitamin A by the high-affinity RBP receptor STRA6. The first technique makes it possible to produce a large quantity of high quality holo-RBP (100%-loaded with retinol) for vitamin A transport assays. High quality RBP is essential for functional assays because misfolded RBP releases vitamin A readily and bacterial contamination in RBP preparation can cause artifacts. Real-time monitoring techniques like electrophysiology have made critical contributions to the studies of membrane transport. The RBP receptor-mediated retinol transport has not been analyzed in real time until recently. The second technique described here is the real-time analysis of STRA6-catalyzed retinol release or loading. The third technique is real-time analysis of STRA6-catalyzed retinol transport from holo-RBP to cellular retinol binding protein I (CRBP-I). These techniques provide high sensitivity and resolution in revealing RBP receptor's vitamin A uptake mechanism.
Biochemistry, Issue 71, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Ophthalmology, Proteomics, Proteins, Membrane Transport Proteins, Vitamin A, retinoid, RBP complex, membrane transport, membrane receptor, STRA6, retinol binding protein
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Interview: Protein Folding and Studies of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Authors: Susan Lindquist.
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In this interview, Dr. Lindquist describes relationships between protein folding, prion diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. The problem of the protein folding is at the core of the modern biology. In addition to their traditional biochemical functions, proteins can mediate transfer of biological information and therefore can be considered a genetic material. This recently discovered function of proteins has important implications for studies of human disorders. Dr. Lindquist also describes current experimental approaches to investigate the mechanism of neurodegenerative diseases based on genetic studies in model organisms.
Neuroscience, issue 17, protein folding, brain, neuron, prion, neurodegenerative disease, yeast, screen, Translational Research
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