Electron cryo-tomography is a powerful tool in structural biology, capable of visualizing the three-dimensional structure of biological samples, such as cells, organelles, membrane vesicles, or viruses at molecular detail. To achieve this, the aqueous sample is rapidly vitrified in liquid ethane, which preserves it in a close-to-native, frozen-hydrated state. In the electron microscope, tilt series are recorded at liquid nitrogen temperature, from which 3D tomograms are reconstructed. The signal-to-noise ratio of the tomographic volume is inherently low. Recognizable, recurring features are enhanced by subtomogram averaging, by which individual subvolumes are cut out, aligned and averaged to reduce noise. In this way, 3D maps with a resolution of 2 nm or better can be obtained. A fit of available high-resolution structures to the 3D volume then produces atomic models of protein complexes in their native environment. Here we show how we use electron cryo-tomography to study the in situ organization of large membrane protein complexes in mitochondria. We find that ATP synthases are organized in rows of dimers along highly curved apices of the inner membrane cristae, whereas complex I is randomly distributed in the membrane regions on either side of the rows. By subtomogram averaging we obtained a structure of the mitochondrial ATP synthase dimer within the cristae membrane.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
Use of Stopped-Flow Fluorescence and Labeled Nucleotides to Analyze the ATP Turnover Cycle of Kinesins
Institutions: University of Nottingham.
The kinesin superfamily of microtubule associated motor proteins share a characteristic motor domain which both hydrolyses ATP and binds microtubules. Kinesins display differences across the superfamily both in ATP turnover and in microtubule interaction. These differences tailor specific kinesins to various functions such as cargo transport, microtubule sliding, microtubule depolymerization and microtubule stabilization. To understand the mechanism of action of a kinesin it is important to understand how the chemical cycle of ATP turnover is coupled to the mechanical cycle of microtubule interaction. To dissect the ATP turnover cycle, one approach is to utilize fluorescently labeled nucleotides to visualize individual steps in the cycle. Determining the kinetics of each nucleotide transition in the ATP turnover cycle allows the rate-limiting step or steps for the complete cycle to be identified. For a kinesin, it is important to know the rate-limiting step, in the absence of microtubules, as this step is generally accelerated several thousand fold when the kinesin interacts with microtubules. The cycle in the absence of microtubules is then compared to that in the presence of microtubules to fully understand a kinesin’s ATP turnover cycle. The kinetics of individual nucleotide transitions are generally too fast to observe by manually mixing reactants, particularly in the presence of microtubules. A rapid mixing device, such as a stopped-flow fluorimeter, which allows kinetics to be observed on timescales of as little as a few milliseconds, can be used to monitor such transitions. Here, we describe protocols in which rapid mixing of reagents by stopped-flow is used in conjunction with fluorescently labeled nucleotides to dissect the ATP turnover cycle of a kinesin.
Chemistry, Issue 92, Kinesin, ATP turnover, mantATP, mantADP, stopped-flow fluorescence, microtubules, enzyme kinetics, nucleotide
Preparation of Segmented Microtubules to Study Motions Driven by the Disassembling Microtubule Ends
Institutions: Russian Academy of Sciences, Federal Research Center of Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Immunology, Moscow, Russia, University of Pennsylvania.
Microtubule depolymerization can provide force to transport different protein complexes and protein-coated beads in vitro
. The underlying mechanisms are thought to play a vital role in the microtubule-dependent chromosome motions during cell division, but the relevant proteins and their exact roles are ill-defined. Thus, there is a growing need to develop assays with which to study such motility in vitro
using purified components and defined biochemical milieu. Microtubules, however, are inherently unstable polymers; their switching between growth and shortening is stochastic and difficult to control. The protocols we describe here take advantage of the segmented microtubules that are made with the photoablatable stabilizing caps. Depolymerization of such segmented microtubules can be triggered with high temporal and spatial resolution, thereby assisting studies of motility at the disassembling microtubule ends. This technique can be used to carry out a quantitative analysis of the number of molecules in the fluorescently-labeled protein complexes, which move processively with dynamic microtubule ends. To optimize a signal-to-noise ratio in this and other quantitative fluorescent assays, coverslips should be treated to reduce nonspecific absorption of soluble fluorescently-labeled proteins. Detailed protocols are provided to take into account the unevenness of fluorescent illumination, and determine the intensity of a single fluorophore using equidistant Gaussian fit. Finally, we describe the use of segmented microtubules to study microtubule-dependent motions of the protein-coated microbeads, providing insights into the ability of different motor and nonmotor proteins to couple microtubule depolymerization to processive cargo motion.
Basic Protocol, Issue 85, microscopy flow chamber, single-molecule fluorescence, laser trap, microtubule-binding protein, microtubule-dependent motor, microtubule tip-tracking
A Restriction Enzyme Based Cloning Method to Assess the In vitro Replication Capacity of HIV-1 Subtype C Gag-MJ4 Chimeric Viruses
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University.
The protective effect of many HLA class I alleles on HIV-1 pathogenesis and disease progression is, in part, attributed to their ability to target conserved portions of the HIV-1 genome that escape with difficulty. Sequence changes attributed to cellular immune pressure arise across the genome during infection, and if found within conserved regions of the genome such as Gag, can affect the ability of the virus to replicate in vitro
. Transmission of HLA-linked polymorphisms in Gag to HLA-mismatched recipients has been associated with reduced set point viral loads. We hypothesized this may be due to a reduced replication capacity of the virus. Here we present a novel method for assessing the in vitro
replication of HIV-1 as influenced by the gag
gene isolated from acute time points from subtype C infected Zambians. This method uses restriction enzyme based cloning to insert the gag
gene into a common subtype C HIV-1 proviral backbone, MJ4. This makes it more appropriate to the study of subtype C sequences than previous recombination based methods that have assessed the in vitro
replication of chronically derived gag-pro
sequences. Nevertheless, the protocol could be readily modified for studies of viruses from other subtypes. Moreover, this protocol details a robust and reproducible method for assessing the replication capacity of the Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses on a CEM-based T cell line. This method was utilized for the study of Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses derived from 149 subtype C acutely infected Zambians, and has allowed for the identification of residues in Gag that affect replication. More importantly, the implementation of this technique has facilitated a deeper understanding of how viral replication defines parameters of early HIV-1 pathogenesis such as set point viral load and longitudinal CD4+ T cell decline.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, HIV-1, Gag, viral replication, replication capacity, viral fitness, MJ4, CEM, GXR25
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g.
, signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation.
The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
Fundamental Technical Elements of Freeze-fracture/Freeze-etch in Biological Electron Microscopy
Institutions: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Freeze-fracture/freeze-etch describes a process whereby specimens, typically biological or nanomaterial in nature, are frozen, fractured, and replicated to generate a carbon/platinum “cast” intended for examination by transmission electron microscopy. Specimens are subjected to ultrarapid freezing rates, often in the presence of cryoprotective agents to limit ice crystal formation, with subsequent fracturing of the specimen at liquid nitrogen cooled temperatures under high vacuum. The resultant fractured surface is replicated and stabilized by evaporation of carbon and platinum from an angle that confers surface three-dimensional detail to the cast. This technique has proved particularly enlightening for the investigation of cell membranes and their specializations and has contributed considerably to the understanding of cellular form to related cell function. In this report, we survey the instrument requirements and technical protocol for performing freeze-fracture, the associated nomenclature and characteristics of fracture planes, variations on the conventional procedure, and criteria for interpretation of freeze-fracture images. This technique has been widely used for ultrastructural investigation in many areas of cell biology and holds promise as an emerging imaging technique for molecular, nanotechnology, and materials science studies.
Biophysics, Issue 91, Freeze-fracture; Freeze-etch; Membranes; Intercellular junctions; Materials science; Nanotechnology; Electron microscopy
Amide Coupling Reaction for the Synthesis of Bispyridine-based Ligands and Their Complexation to Platinum as Dinuclear Anticancer Agents
Institutions: The University of Sydney, University of Western Sydney, Manchester Metropolitan University, Nature Publishing Group.
Amide coupling reactions can be used to synthesize bispyridine-based ligands for use as bridging linkers in multinuclear platinum anticancer drugs. Isonicotinic acid, or its derivatives, are coupled to variable length diaminoalkane chains under an inert atmosphere in anhydrous DMF or DMSO with the use of a weak base, triethylamine, and a coupling agent, 1-propylphosphonic anhydride. The products precipitate from solution upon formation or can be precipitated by the addition of water. If desired, the ligands can be further purified by recrystallization from hot water. Dinuclear platinum complex synthesis using the bispyridine ligands is done in hot water using transplatin. The most informative of the chemical characterization techniques to determine the structure and gross purity of both the bispyridine ligands and the final platinum complexes is 1
H NMR with particular analysis of the aromatic region of the spectra (7-9 ppm). The platinum complexes have potential application as anticancer agents and the synthesis method can be modified to produce trinuclear and other multinuclear complexes with different hydrogen bonding functionality in the bridging ligand.
Chemistry, Issue 87, BBR3464, picoplatin, bispyridine, amide coupling, inorganic synthesis, cancer
Live Imaging of Drosophila Larval Neuroblasts
Institutions: National Institutes of Health.
Stem cells divide asymmetrically to generate two progeny cells with unequal fate potential: a self-renewing stem cell and a differentiating cell. Given their relevance to development and disease, understanding the mechanisms that govern asymmetric stem cell division has been a robust area of study. Because they are genetically tractable and undergo successive rounds of cell division about once every hour, the stem cells of the Drosophila
central nervous system, or neuroblasts, are indispensable models for the study of stem cell division. About 100 neural stem cells are located near the surface of each of the two larval brain lobes, making this model system particularly useful for live imaging microscopy studies. In this work, we review several approaches widely used to visualize stem cell divisions, and we address the relative advantages and disadvantages of those techniques that employ dissociated versus intact brain tissues. We also detail our simplified protocol used to explant whole brains from third instar larvae for live cell imaging and fixed analysis applications.
Neuroscience, Issue 89, live imaging, Drosophila, neuroblast, stem cell, asymmetric division, centrosome, brain, cell cycle, mitosis
Metabolomic Analysis of Rat Brain by High Resolution Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy of Tissue Extracts
Institutions: Aix-Marseille Université, Aix-Marseille Université.
Studies of gene expression on the RNA and protein levels have long been used to explore biological processes underlying disease. More recently, genomics and proteomics have been complemented by comprehensive quantitative analysis of the metabolite pool present in biological systems. This strategy, termed metabolomics, strives to provide a global characterization of the small-molecule complement involved in metabolism. While the genome and the proteome define the tasks cells can perform, the metabolome is part of the actual phenotype. Among the methods currently used in metabolomics, spectroscopic techniques are of special interest because they allow one to simultaneously analyze a large number of metabolites without prior selection for specific biochemical pathways, thus enabling a broad unbiased approach. Here, an optimized experimental protocol for metabolomic analysis by high-resolution NMR spectroscopy is presented, which is the method of choice for efficient quantification of tissue metabolites. Important strengths of this method are (i) the use of crude extracts, without the need to purify the sample and/or separate metabolites; (ii) the intrinsically quantitative nature of NMR, permitting quantitation of all metabolites represented by an NMR spectrum with one reference compound only; and (iii) the nondestructive nature of NMR enabling repeated use of the same sample for multiple measurements. The dynamic range of metabolite concentrations that can be covered is considerable due to the linear response of NMR signals, although metabolites occurring at extremely low concentrations may be difficult to detect. For the least abundant compounds, the highly sensitive mass spectrometry method may be advantageous although this technique requires more intricate sample preparation and quantification procedures than NMR spectroscopy. We present here an NMR protocol adjusted to rat brain analysis; however, the same protocol can be applied to other tissues with minor modifications.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, metabolomics, brain tissue, rodents, neurochemistry, tissue extracts, NMR spectroscopy, quantitative metabolite analysis, cerebral metabolism, metabolic profile
Ex vivo Culture of Drosophila Pupal Testis and Single Male Germ-line Cysts: Dissection, Imaging, and Pharmacological Treatment
Institutions: Philipps-Universität Marburg, Philipps-Universität Marburg.
During spermatogenesis in mammals and in Drosophila melanogaster,
male germ cells develop in a series of essential developmental processes. This includes differentiation from a stem cell population, mitotic amplification, and meiosis. In addition, post-meiotic germ cells undergo a dramatic morphological reshaping process as well as a global epigenetic reconfiguration of the germ line chromatin—the histone-to-protamine switch.
Studying the role of a protein in post-meiotic spermatogenesis using mutagenesis or other genetic tools is often impeded by essential embryonic, pre-meiotic, or meiotic functions of the protein under investigation. The post-meiotic phenotype of a mutant of such a protein could be obscured through an earlier developmental block, or the interpretation of the phenotype could be complicated. The model organism Drosophila melanogaster
offers a bypass to this problem: intact testes and even cysts of germ cells dissected from early pupae are able to develop ex vivo
in culture medium. Making use of such cultures allows microscopic imaging of living germ cells in testes and of germ-line cysts. Importantly, the cultivated testes and germ cells also become accessible to pharmacological inhibitors, thereby permitting manipulation of enzymatic functions during spermatogenesis, including post-meiotic stages.
The protocol presented describes how to dissect and cultivate pupal testes and germ-line cysts. Information on the development of pupal testes and culture conditions are provided alongside microscope imaging data of live testes and germ-line cysts in culture. We also describe a pharmacological assay to study post-meiotic spermatogenesis, exemplified by an assay targeting the histone-to-protamine switch using the histone acetyltransferase inhibitor anacardic acid. In principle, this cultivation method could be adapted to address many other research questions in pre- and post-meiotic spermatogenesis.
Developmental Biology, Issue 91,
Ex vivo culture, testis, male germ-line cells, Drosophila, imaging, pharmacological assay
Preparation of Primary Neurons for Visualizing Neurites in a Frozen-hydrated State Using Cryo-Electron Tomography
Institutions: Baylor College of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, University of California at San Diego, Baylor College of Medicine.
Neurites, both dendrites and axons, are neuronal cellular processes that enable the conduction of electrical impulses between neurons. Defining the structure of neurites is critical to understanding how these processes move materials and signals that support synaptic communication. Electron microscopy (EM) has been traditionally used to assess the ultrastructural features within neurites; however, the exposure to organic solvent during dehydration and resin embedding can distort structures. An important unmet goal is the formulation of procedures that allow for structural evaluations not impacted by such artifacts.
Here, we have established a detailed and reproducible protocol for growing and flash-freezing whole neurites of different primary neurons on electron microscopy grids followed by their examination with cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET). This technique allows for 3-D visualization of frozen, hydrated neurites at nanometer resolution, facilitating assessment of their morphological differences. Our protocol yields an unprecedented view of dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurites, and a visualization of hippocampal neurites in their near-native state. As such, these methods create a foundation for future studies on neurites of both normal neurons and those impacted by neurological disorders.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, Neurons, Cryo-electron Microscopy, Electron Microscope Tomography, Brain, rat, primary neuron culture, morphological assay
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (http://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
Rejection of Fluorescence Background in Resonance and Spontaneous Raman Microspectroscopy
Institutions: University of California, Davis, University of California, Davis.
Raman spectroscopy is often plagued by a strong fluorescent background, particularly for biological samples. If a sample is excited with a train of ultrafast pulses, a system that can temporally separate spectrally overlapping signals on a picosecond timescale can isolate promptly arriving Raman scattered light from late-arriving fluorescence light. Here we discuss the construction and operation of a complex nonlinear optical system that uses all-optical switching in the form of a low-power optical Kerr gate to isolate Raman and fluorescence signals. A single 808 nm laser with 2.4 W of average power and 80 MHz repetition rate is split, with approximately 200 mW of 808 nm light being converted to < 5 mW of 404 nm light sent to the sample to excite Raman scattering. The remaining unconverted 808 nm light is then sent to a nonlinear medium where it acts as the pump for the all-optical shutter. The shutter opens and closes in 800 fs with a peak efficiency of approximately 5%. Using this system we are able to successfully separate Raman and fluorescence signals at an 80 MHz repetition rate using pulse energies and average powers that remain biologically safe. Because the system has no spare capacity in terms of optical power, we detail several design and alignment considerations that aid in maximizing the throughput of the system. We also discuss our protocol for obtaining the spatial and temporal overlap of the signal and pump beams within the Kerr medium, as well as a detailed protocol for spectral acquisition. Finally, we report a few representative results of Raman spectra obtained in the presence of strong fluorescence using our time-gating system.
Microbiology, Issue 51, Raman scattering, all-optical gating, nonlinear optics, fluorescence, timeresolved spectroscopy.
Video-rate Scanning Confocal Microscopy and Microendoscopy
Institutions: Harvard University , Harvard-MIT, Harvard Medical School.
Confocal microscopy has become an invaluable tool in biology and the biomedical sciences, enabling rapid, high-sensitivity, and high-resolution optical sectioning of complex systems. Confocal microscopy is routinely used, for example, to study specific cellular targets1
, monitor dynamics in living cells2-4
, and visualize the three dimensional evolution of entire organisms5,6
. Extensions of confocal imaging systems, such as confocal microendoscopes, allow for high-resolution imaging in vivo7
and are currently being applied to disease imaging and diagnosis in clinical settings8,9
Confocal microscopy provides three-dimensional resolution by creating so-called "optical sections" using straightforward geometrical optics. In a standard wide-field microscope, fluorescence generated from a sample is collected by an objective lens and relayed directly to a detector. While acceptable for imaging thin samples, thick samples become blurred by fluorescence generated above and below the objective focal plane. In contrast, confocal microscopy enables virtual, optical sectioning of samples, rejecting out-of-focus light to build high resolution three-dimensional representations of samples.
Confocal microscopes achieve this feat by using a confocal aperture in the detection beam path. The fluorescence collected from a sample by the objective is relayed back through the scanning mirrors and through the primary dichroic mirror, a mirror carefully selected to reflect shorter wavelengths such as the laser excitation beam while passing the longer, Stokes-shifted fluorescence emission. This long-wavelength fluorescence signal is then passed to a pair of lenses on either side of a pinhole that is positioned at a plane exactly conjugate with the focal plane of the objective lens. Photons collected from the focal volume of the object are collimated by the objective lens and are focused by the confocal lenses through the pinhole. Fluorescence generated above or below the focal plane will therefore not be collimated properly, and will not pass through the confocal pinhole1
, creating an optical section in which only light from the microscope focus is visible. (Fig 1
). Thus the pinhole effectively acts as a virtual aperture in the focal plane, confining the detected emission to only one limited spatial location.
Modern commercial confocal microscopes offer users fully automated operation, making formerly complex imaging procedures relatively straightforward and accessible. Despite the flexibility and power of these systems, commercial confocal microscopes are not well suited for all confocal imaging tasks, such as many in vivo
imaging applications. Without the ability to create customized imaging systems to meet their needs, important experiments can remain out of reach to many scientists.
In this article, we provide a step-by-step method for the complete construction of a custom, video-rate confocal imaging system from basic components. The upright microscope will be constructed using a resonant galvanometric mirror to provide the fast scanning axis, while a standard speed resonant galvanometric mirror will scan the slow axis. To create a precise scanned beam in the objective lens focus, these mirrors will be positioned at the so-called telecentric planes using four relay lenses. Confocal detection will be accomplished using a standard, off-the-shelf photomultiplier tube (PMT), and the images will be captured and displayed using a Matrox framegrabber card and the included software.
Bioengineering, Issue 56, Microscopy, confocal microscopy, microendoscopy, video-rate, fluorescence, scanning, in vivo imaging
A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
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
Isolating LacZ-expressing Cells from Mouse Inner Ear Tissues using Flow Cytometry
Institutions: Stanford University School of Medicine.
Isolation of specific cell types allows one to analyze rare cell populations such as stem/progenitor cells. Such an approach to studying inner ear tissues presents a unique challenge because of the paucity of cells of interest and few transgenic reporter mouse models. Here, we describe a protocol using fluorescence-conjugated probes to selectively label LacZ-positive cells from the neonatal cochleae.
The most common underlying pathology of sensorineural hearing loss is the irreversible damage and loss of cochlear sensory hair cells, which are required to transduce sound waves to neural impulses. Recent evidence suggests that the murine auditory and vestibular organs harbor stem/progenitor cells that may have regenerative potential1,2
. These findings warrant further investigation, including identifying specific cell types with stem/progenitor cell characteristics. The Wnt signaling pathway has been demonstrated to play a critical role in maintaining stem/progenitor cell populations in several organ systems3-7
. We have recently identified Wnt-responsive Axin2-expressing cells in the neonatal cochlea, but their function is largely unknown8
To better understand the behavior of these Wnt-responsive cells in vitro
, we have developed a method of isolating Axin2-expressing cells from cochleae of Axin2-LacZ reporter mice9
. Using flow cytometry to isolate Axin2-LacZ positive cells from the neonatal cochleae, we could in turn execute a variety of experiments on live cells to interrogate their behavior as stem/progenitor cells. Here, we describe in detail the steps for the microdissection of neonatal cochlea, dissociation of these tissues, labeling of the LacZ-positive cells using a fluorogenic substrate, and cell sorting. Techniques for dissociating cochleae into single cells and isolating cochlear cells via flow cytometry have been described2,10-12
. We have made modifications to these techniques to establish a novel protocol to isolate LacZ-expressing cells from the neonatal cochlea.
Neuroscience, Issue 58, cochlea, axin2, Wnt, organ of Corti, fluorescence-activated cell sorting
Analysis of Cell Cycle Position in Mammalian Cells
Institutions: University of Western Ontario, University of Western Ontario.
The regulation of cell proliferation is central to tissue morphogenesis during the development of multicellular organisms. Furthermore, loss of control of cell proliferation underlies the pathology of diseases like cancer. As such there is great need to be able to investigate cell proliferation and quantitate the proportion of cells in each phase of the cell cycle. It is also of vital importance to indistinguishably identify cells that are replicating their DNA within a larger population. Since a cell′s decision to proliferate is made in the G1 phase immediately before initiating DNA synthesis and progressing through the rest of the cell cycle, detection of DNA synthesis at this stage allows for an unambiguous determination of the status of growth regulation in cell culture experiments.
DNA content in cells can be readily quantitated by flow cytometry of cells stained with propidium iodide, a fluorescent DNA intercalating dye. Similarly, active DNA synthesis can be quantitated by culturing cells in the presence of radioactive thymidine, harvesting the cells, and measuring the incorporation of radioactivity into an acid insoluble fraction. We have considerable expertise with cell cycle analysis and recommend a different approach. We Investigate cell proliferation using bromodeoxyuridine/fluorodeoxyuridine (abbreviated simply as BrdU) staining that detects the incorporation of these thymine analogs into recently synthesized DNA. Labeling and staining cells with BrdU, combined with total DNA staining by propidium iodide and analysis by flow cytometry1
offers the most accurate measure of cells in the various stages of the cell cycle. It is our preferred method because it combines the detection of active DNA synthesis, through antibody based staining of BrdU, with total DNA content from propidium iodide. This allows for the clear separation of cells in G1 from early S phase, or late S phase from G2/M. Furthermore, this approach can be utilized to investigate the effects of many different cell stimuli and pharmacologic agents on the regulation of progression through these different cell cycle phases.
In this report we describe methods for labeling and staining cultured cells, as well as their analysis by flow cytometry. We also include experimental examples of how this method can be used to measure the effects of growth inhibiting signals from cytokines such as TGF-β1, and proliferative inhibitors such as the cyclin dependent kinase inhibitor, p27KIP1. We also include an alternate protocol that allows for the analysis of cell cycle position in a sub-population of cells within a larger culture5
. In this case, we demonstrate how to detect a cell cycle arrest in cells transfected with the retinoblastoma gene even when greatly outnumbered by untransfected cells in the same culture. These examples illustrate the many ways that DNA staining and flow cytometry can be utilized and adapted to investigate fundamental questions of mammalian cell cycle control.
Molecular Biology, Issue 59, cell cycle, proliferation, flow cytometry, DNA synthesis, fluorescence
Flexural Rigidity Measurements of Biopolymers Using Gliding Assays
Institutions: Lawrence University.
Microtubules are cytoskeletal polymers which play a role in cell division, cell mechanics, and intracellular transport. Each of these functions requires microtubules that are stiff and straight enough to span a significant fraction of the cell diameter. As a result, the microtubule persistence length, a measure of stiffness, has been actively studied for the past two decades1
. Nonetheless, open questions remain: short microtubules are 10-50 times less stiff than long microtubules2-4
, and even long microtubules have measured persistence lengths which vary by an order of magnitude5-9
Here, we present a method to measure microtubule persistence length. The method is based on a kinesin-driven microtubule gliding assay10
. By combining sparse fluorescent labeling of individual microtubules with single particle tracking of individual fluorophores attached to the microtubule, the gliding trajectories of single microtubules are tracked with nanometer-level precision. The persistence length of the trajectories is the same as the persistence length of the microtubule under the conditions used11
. An automated tracking routine is used to create microtubule trajectories from fluorophores attached to individual microtubules, and the persistence length of this trajectory is calculated using routines written in IDL.
This technique is rapidly implementable, and capable of measuring the persistence length of 100 microtubules in one day of experimentation. The method can be extended to measure persistence length under a variety of conditions, including persistence length as a function of length along microtubules. Moreover, the analysis routines used can be extended to myosin-based acting gliding assays, to measure the persistence length of actin filaments as well.
Biophysics, Issue 69, Bioengineering, Physics, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, microtubule, persistence length, flexural rigidity, gliding assay, mechanics, cytoskeleton, actin
Diffusion Tensor Magnetic Resonance Imaging in the Analysis of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Institutions: University of Ulm.
Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) techniques provide information on the microstructural processes of the cerebral white matter (WM) in vivo
. The present applications are designed to investigate differences of WM involvement patterns in different brain diseases, especially neurodegenerative disorders, by use of different DTI analyses in comparison with matched controls.
DTI data analysis is performed in a variate fashion, i.e.
voxelwise comparison of regional diffusion direction-based metrics such as fractional anisotropy (FA), together with fiber tracking (FT) accompanied by tractwise fractional anisotropy statistics (TFAS) at the group level in order to identify differences in FA along WM structures, aiming at the definition of regional patterns of WM alterations at the group level. Transformation into a stereotaxic standard space is a prerequisite for group studies and requires thorough data processing to preserve directional inter-dependencies. The present applications show optimized technical approaches for this preservation of quantitative and directional information during spatial normalization in data analyses at the group level. On this basis, FT techniques can be applied to group averaged data in order to quantify metrics information as defined by FT. Additionally, application of DTI methods, i.e.
differences in FA-maps after stereotaxic alignment, in a longitudinal analysis at an individual subject basis reveal information about the progression of neurological disorders. Further quality improvement of DTI based results can be obtained during preprocessing by application of a controlled elimination of gradient directions with high noise levels.
In summary, DTI is used to define a distinct WM pathoanatomy of different brain diseases by the combination of whole brain-based and tract-based DTI analysis.
Medicine, Issue 77, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Anatomy, Physiology, Neurodegenerative Diseases, nuclear magnetic resonance, NMR, MR, MRI, diffusion tensor imaging, fiber tracking, group level comparison, neurodegenerative diseases, brain, imaging, clinical techniques
Production of Xenopus tropicalis Egg Extracts to Identify Microtubule-associated RNAs
Institutions: Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School.
Many organisms localize mRNAs to specific subcellular destinations to spatially and temporally control gene expression. Recent studies have demonstrated that the majority of the transcriptome is localized to a nonrandom position in cells and embryos. One approach to identify localized mRNAs is to biochemically purify a cellular structure of interest and to identify all associated transcripts. Using recently developed high-throughput sequencing technologies it is now straightforward to identify all RNAs associated with a subcellular structure. To facilitate transcript identification it is necessary to work with an organism with a fully sequenced genome. One attractive system for the biochemical purification of subcellular structures are egg extracts produced from the frog Xenopus laevis.
However, X. laevis
currently does not have a fully sequenced genome, which hampers transcript identification. In this article we describe a method to produce egg extracts from a related frog, X. tropicalis,
that has a fully sequenced genome. We provide details for microtubule polymerization, purification and transcript isolation. While this article describes a specific method for identification of microtubule-associated transcripts, we believe that it will be easily applied to other subcellular structures and will provide a powerful method for identification of localized RNAs.
Molecular Biology, Issue 76, Genetics, Developmental Biology, Biochemistry, Bioengineering, Cellular Biology, RNA, Messenger, Stored, RNA Processing, Post-Transcriptional, Xenopus, microtubules, egg extract, purification, RNA localization, mRNA, Xenopus tropicalis, eggs, animal model
Visualizing Single Molecular Complexes In Vivo Using Advanced Fluorescence Microscopy
Institutions: University of Oxford, University of Oxford.
Full insight into the mechanisms of living cells can be achieved only by investigating the key processes that elicit and direct events at a cellular level. To date the shear complexity of biological systems has caused precise single-molecule experimentation to be far too demanding, instead focusing on studies of single systems using relatively crude bulk ensemble-average measurements. However, many important processes occur in the living cell at the level of just one or a few molecules; ensemble measurements generally mask the stochastic and heterogeneous nature of these events. Here, using advanced optical microscopy and analytical image analysis tools we demonstrate how to monitor proteins within a single living bacterial cell to a precision of single molecules and how we can observe dynamics within molecular complexes in functioning biological machines. The techniques are directly relevant physiologically. They are minimally-perturbative and non-invasive to the biological sample under study and are fully attuned for investigations in living material, features not readily available to other single-molecule approaches of biophysics. In addition, the biological specimens studied all produce fluorescently-tagged protein at levels which are almost identical to the unmodified cell strains ("genomic encoding"), as opposed to the more common but less ideal approach for generating significantly more protein than would occur naturally ('plasmid expression'). Thus, the actual biological samples which will be investigated are significantly closer to the natural organisms, and therefore the observations more relevant to real physiological processes.
Bioengineering, Issue 31, Single-molecule, fluorescence, microscopy, TIRF, FRAP, in vivo, membrane protein, GFP, diffusion, bacteria
Microinjection Techniques for Studying Mitosis in the Drosophila melanogaster Syncytial Embryo
Institutions: University of California, Davis.
This protocol describes the use of the Drosophila melanogaster
syncytial embryo for studying mitosis1
has useful genetics with a sequenced genome, and it can be easily maintained and manipulated. Many mitotic mutants exist, and transgenic flies expressing functional fluorescently (e.g. GFP) - tagged mitotic proteins have been and are being generated. Targeted gene expression is possible using the GAL4/UAS system2
early embryo carries out multiple mitoses very rapidly (cell cycle duration, ≈10 min). It is well suited for imaging mitosis, because during cycles 10-13, nuclei divide rapidly and synchronously without intervening cytokinesis at the surface of the embryo in a single monolayer just underneath the cortex. These rapidly dividing nuclei probably use the same mitotic machinery as other cells, but they are optimized for speed; the checkpoint is generally believed to not be stringent, allowing the study of mitotic proteins whose absence would cause cell cycle arrest in cells with a strong checkpoint. Embryos expressing GFP labeled proteins or microinjected with fluorescently labeled proteins can be easily imaged to follow live dynamics (Fig. 1). In addition, embryos can be microinjected with function-blocking antibodies or inhibitors of specific proteins to study the effect of the loss or perturbation of their function3
. These reagents can diffuse throughout the embryo, reaching many spindles to produce a gradient of concentration of inhibitor, which in turn results in a gradient of defects comparable to an allelic series of mutants. Ideally, if the target protein is fluorescently labeled, the gradient of inhibition can be directly visualized4
. It is assumed that the strongest phenotype is comparable to the null phenotype, although it is hard to formally exclude the possibility that the antibodies may have dominant effects in rare instances, so rigorous controls and cautious interpretation must be applied. Further away from the injection site, protein function is only partially lost allowing other functions of the target protein to become evident.
Developmental Biology, Issue 31, mitosis, Drosophila melanogaster syncytial embryo, microinjection, protein inhibition