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Spontaneous structural changes in actin regulate G-F transformation.
Transformations between G- (monomeric) and F-actin (polymeric) are important in cellular behaviors such as migration, cytokinesis, and morphing. In order to understand these transitions, we combined single-molecule Förster resonance energy transfer with total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy to examine conformational changes of individual actin protomers. We found that the protomers can take different conformational states and that the transition interval is in the range of hundreds of seconds. The distribution of these states was dependent on the environment, suggesting that actin undergoes spontaneous structural changes that accommodate itself to polymerization.
Authors: Alyson R. Pierick, Melissa McKane, Kuo-Kuang Wen, Heather L. Bartlett.
Published: 07-30-2014
Mutations in actin cause a range of human diseases due to specific molecular changes that often alter cytoskeletal function. In this study, imaging of fluorescently tagged proteins using total internal fluorescence (TIRF) microscopy is used to visualize and quantify changes in cytoskeletal dynamics. TIRF microscopy and the use of fluorescent tags also allows for quantification of the changes in cytoskeletal dynamics caused by mutations in actin. Using this technique, quantification of cytoskeletal function in live cells valuably complements in vitro studies of protein function. As an example, missense mutations affecting the actin residue R256 have been identified in three human actin isoforms suggesting this amino acid plays an important role in regulatory interactions. The effects of the actin mutation R256H on cytoskeletal movements were studied using the yeast model. The protein, Aip1, which is known to assist cofilin in actin depolymerization, was tagged with green fluorescent protein (GFP) at the N-terminus and tracked in vivo using TIRF microscopy. The rate of Aip1p movement in both wild type and mutant strains was quantified. In cells expressing R256H mutant actin, Aip1p motion is restricted and the rate of movement is nearly half the speed measured in wild type cells (0.88 ± 0.30 μm/sec in R256H cells compared to 1.60 ± 0.42 μm/sec in wild type cells, p < 0.005).
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Live Cell Imaging of F-actin Dynamics via Fluorescent Speckle Microscopy (FSM)
Authors: James Lim, Gaudenz Danuser.
Institutions: Scripps Institute.
In this protocol we describe the use of Fluorescent Speckle Microscopy (FSM) to capture high-resolution images of actin dynamics in PtK1 cells. A unique advantage of FSM is its ability to capture the movement and turnover kinetics (assembly/disassembly) of the F-actin network within living cells. This technique is particularly useful in deriving quantitative measurements of F-actin dynamics when paired with computer vision software (qFSM). We describe the selection, microinjection and visualization of fluorescent actin probes in living cells. Importantly, similar procedures are applicable to visualizing other macomolecular assemblies. FSM has been demonstrated for microtubules, intermediate filaments, and adhesion complexes.
Cellular Biology, Issue 30, FSM, qFSM, speckle, actin, cytoskeleton, fluorescence, microscopy, microinjection
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Imaging G-protein Coupled Receptor (GPCR)-mediated Signaling Events that Control Chemotaxis of Dictyostelium Discoideum
Authors: Xuehua Xu, Tian Jin.
Institutions: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health.
Many eukaryotic cells can detect gradients of chemical signals in their environments and migrate accordingly 1. This guided cell migration is referred as chemotaxis, which is essential for various cells to carry out their functions such as trafficking of immune cells and patterning of neuronal cells 2, 3. A large family of G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) detects variable small peptides, known as chemokines, to direct cell migration in vivo 4. The final goal of chemotaxis research is to understand how a GPCR machinery senses chemokine gradients and controls signaling events leading to chemotaxis. To this end, we use imaging techniques to monitor, in real time, spatiotemporal concentrations of chemoattractants, cell movement in a gradient of chemoattractant, GPCR mediated activation of heterotrimeric G-protein, and intracellular signaling events involved in chemotaxis of eukaryotic cells 5-8. The simple eukaryotic organism, Dictyostelium discoideum, displays chemotaxic behaviors that are similar to those of leukocytes, and D. discoideum is a key model system for studying eukaryotic chemotaxis. As free-living amoebae, D. discoideum cells divide in rich medium. Upon starvation, cells enter a developmental program in which they aggregate through cAMP-mediated chemotaxis to form multicullular structures. Many components involved in chemotaxis to cAMP have been identified in D. discoideum. The binding of cAMP to a GPCR (cAR1) induces dissociation of heterotrimeric G-proteins into Gγ and Gβγ subunits 7, 9, 10. Gβγ subunits activate Ras, which in turn activates PI3K, converting PIP2 into PIP3 on the cell membrane 11-13. PIP3 serve as binding sites for proteins with pleckstrin Homology (PH) domains, thus recruiting these proteins to the membrane 14, 15. Activation of cAR1 receptors also controls the membrane associations of PTEN, which dephosphorylates PIP3 to PIP2 16, 17. The molecular mechanisms are evolutionarily conserved in chemokine GPCR-mediated chemotaxis of human cells such as neutrophils 18. We present following methods for studying chemotaxis of D. discoideum cells. 1. Preparation of chemotactic component cells. 2. Imaging chemotaxis of cells in a cAMP gradient. 3. Monitoring a GPCR induced activation of heterotrimeric G-protein in single live cells. 4. Imaging chemoattractant-triggered dynamic PIP3 responses in single live cells in real time. Our developed imaging methods can be applied to study chemotaxis of human leukocytes.
Molecular Biology, Issue 55, Chemotaxis, directional sensing, GPCR, PCR, G-proteins, signal transduction, Dictyostelium discoideum
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Labeling F-actin Barbed Ends with Rhodamine-actin in Permeabilized Neuronal Growth Cones
Authors: Bonnie M. Marsick, Paul C. Letourneau.
Institutions: University of Minnesota.
The motile tips of growing axons are called growth cones. Growth cones lead navigating axons through developing tissues by interacting with locally expressed molecular guidance cues that bind growth cone receptors and regulate the dynamics and organization of the growth cone cytoskeleton3-6. The main target of these navigational signals is the actin filament meshwork that fills the growth cone periphery and that drives growth cone motility through continual actin polymerization and dynamic remodeling7. Positive or attractive guidance cues induce growth cone turning by stimulating actin filament (F-actin) polymerization in the region of the growth cone periphery that is nearer the source of the attractant cue. This actin polymerization drives local growth cone protrusion, adhesion of the leading margin and axonal elongation toward the attractant. Actin filament polymerization depends on the availability of sufficient actin monomer and on polymerization nuclei or actin filament barbed ends for the addition of monomer. Actin monomer is abundantly available in chick retinal and dorsal root ganglion (DRG) growth cones. Consequently, polymerization increases rapidly when free F-actin barbed ends become available for monomer addition. This occurs in chick DRG and retinal growth cones via the local activation of the F-actin severing protein actin depolymerizing factor (ADF/cofilin) in the growth cone region closer to an attractant8-10. This heightened ADF/cofilin activity severs actin filaments to create new F-actin barbed ends for polymerization. The following method demonstrates this mechanism. Total content of F-actin is visualized by staining with fluorescent phalloidin. F-actin barbed ends are visualized by the incorporation of rhodamine-actin within growth cones that are permeabilized with the procedure described in the following, which is adapted from previous studies of other motile cells11, 12. When rhodamine-actin is added at a concentration above the critical concentration for actin monomer addition to barbed ends, rhodamine-actin assembles onto free barbed ends. If the attractive cue is presented in a gradient, such as being released from a micropipette positioned to one side of a growth cone, the incorporation of rhodamine-actin onto F-actin barbed ends will be greater in the growth cone side toward the micropipette10. Growth cones are small and delicate cell structures. The procedures of permeabilization, rhodamine-actin incorporation, fixation and fluorescence visualization are all carefully done and can be conducted on the stage of an inverted microscope. These methods can be applied to studying local actin polymerization in migrating neurons, other primary tissue cells or cell lines.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, Actin, growth cones, barbed ends, polymerization, guidance cues
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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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High Throughput Quantitative Expression Screening and Purification Applied to Recombinant Disulfide-rich Venom Proteins Produced in E. coli
Authors: Natalie J. Saez, Hervé Nozach, Marilyne Blemont, Renaud Vincentelli.
Institutions: Aix-Marseille Université, Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA) Saclay, France.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) is the most widely used expression system for the production of recombinant proteins for structural and functional studies. However, purifying proteins is sometimes challenging since many proteins are expressed in an insoluble form. When working with difficult or multiple targets it is therefore recommended to use high throughput (HTP) protein expression screening on a small scale (1-4 ml cultures) to quickly identify conditions for soluble expression. To cope with the various structural genomics programs of the lab, a quantitative (within a range of 0.1-100 mg/L culture of recombinant protein) and HTP protein expression screening protocol was implemented and validated on thousands of proteins. The protocols were automated with the use of a liquid handling robot but can also be performed manually without specialized equipment. Disulfide-rich venom proteins are gaining increasing recognition for their potential as therapeutic drug leads. They can be highly potent and selective, but their complex disulfide bond networks make them challenging to produce. As a member of the FP7 European Venomics project (, our challenge is to develop successful production strategies with the aim of producing thousands of novel venom proteins for functional characterization. Aided by the redox properties of disulfide bond isomerase DsbC, we adapted our HTP production pipeline for the expression of oxidized, functional venom peptides in the E. coli cytoplasm. The protocols are also applicable to the production of diverse disulfide-rich proteins. Here we demonstrate our pipeline applied to the production of animal venom proteins. With the protocols described herein it is likely that soluble disulfide-rich proteins will be obtained in as little as a week. Even from a small scale, there is the potential to use the purified proteins for validating the oxidation state by mass spectrometry, for characterization in pilot studies, or for sensitive micro-assays.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, E. coli, expression, recombinant, high throughput (HTP), purification, auto-induction, immobilized metal affinity chromatography (IMAC), tobacco etch virus protease (TEV) cleavage, disulfide bond isomerase C (DsbC) fusion, disulfide bonds, animal venom proteins/peptides
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Membrane Potentials, Synaptic Responses, Neuronal Circuitry, Neuromodulation and Muscle Histology Using the Crayfish: Student Laboratory Exercises
Authors: Brittany Baierlein, Alison L. Thurow, Harold L. Atwood, Robin L. Cooper.
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
The purpose of this report is to help develop an understanding of the effects caused by ion gradients across a biological membrane. Two aspects that influence a cell's membrane potential and which we address in these experiments are: (1) Ion concentration of K+ on the outside of the membrane, and (2) the permeability of the membrane to specific ions. The crayfish abdominal extensor muscles are in groupings with some being tonic (slow) and others phasic (fast) in their biochemical and physiological phenotypes, as well as in their structure; the motor neurons that innervate these muscles are correspondingly different in functional characteristics. We use these muscles as well as the superficial, tonic abdominal flexor muscle to demonstrate properties in synaptic transmission. In addition, we introduce a sensory-CNS-motor neuron-muscle circuit to demonstrate the effect of cuticular sensory stimulation as well as the influence of neuromodulators on certain aspects of the circuit. With the techniques obtained in this exercise, one can begin to answer many questions remaining in other experimental preparations as well as in physiological applications related to medicine and health. We have demonstrated the usefulness of model invertebrate preparations to address fundamental questions pertinent to all animals.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, neurophysiology, muscle, anatomy, electrophysiology
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Lignin Down-regulation of Zea mays via dsRNAi and Klason Lignin Analysis
Authors: Sang-Hyuck Park, Rebecca Garlock Ong, Chuansheng Mei, Mariam Sticklen.
Institutions: University of Arizona, Michigan State University, The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, Michigan State University.
To facilitate the use of lignocellulosic biomass as an alternative bioenergy resource, during biological conversion processes, a pretreatment step is needed to open up the structure of the plant cell wall, increasing the accessibility of the cell wall carbohydrates. Lignin, a polyphenolic material present in many cell wall types, is known to be a significant hindrance to enzyme access. Reduction in lignin content to a level that does not interfere with the structural integrity and defense system of the plant might be a valuable step to reduce the costs of bioethanol production. In this study, we have genetically down-regulated one of the lignin biosynthesis-related genes, cinnamoyl-CoA reductase (ZmCCR1) via a double stranded RNA interference technique. The ZmCCR1_RNAi construct was integrated into the maize genome using the particle bombardment method. Transgenic maize plants grew normally as compared to the wild-type control plants without interfering with biomass growth or defense mechanisms, with the exception of displaying of brown-coloration in transgenic plants leaf mid-ribs, husks, and stems. The microscopic analyses, in conjunction with the histological assay, revealed that the leaf sclerenchyma fibers were thinned but the structure and size of other major vascular system components was not altered. The lignin content in the transgenic maize was reduced by 7-8.7%, the crystalline cellulose content was increased in response to lignin reduction, and hemicelluloses remained unchanged. The analyses may indicate that carbon flow might have been shifted from lignin biosynthesis to cellulose biosynthesis. This article delineates the procedures used to down-regulate the lignin content in maize via RNAi technology, and the cell wall compositional analyses used to verify the effect of the modifications on the cell wall structure.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, Zea mays, cinnamoyl-CoA reductase (CCR), dsRNAi, Klason lignin measurement, cell wall carbohydrate analysis, gas chromatography (GC)
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Diffusion Tensor Magnetic Resonance Imaging in the Analysis of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Authors: Hans-Peter Müller, Jan Kassubek.
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
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A Novel Stretching Platform for Applications in Cell and Tissue Mechanobiology
Authors: Dominique Tremblay, Charles M. Cuerrier, Lukasz Andrzejewski, Edward R. O'Brien, Andrew E. Pelling.
Institutions: University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa, University of Calgary, University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa.
Tools that allow the application of mechanical forces to cells and tissues or that can quantify the mechanical properties of biological tissues have contributed dramatically to the understanding of basic mechanobiology. These techniques have been extensively used to demonstrate how the onset and progression of various diseases are heavily influenced by mechanical cues. This article presents a multi-functional biaxial stretching (BAXS) platform that can either mechanically stimulate single cells or quantify the mechanical stiffness of tissues. The BAXS platform consists of four voice coil motors that can be controlled independently. Single cells can be cultured on a flexible substrate that can be attached to the motors allowing one to expose the cells to complex, dynamic, and spatially varying strain fields. Conversely, by incorporating a force load cell, one can also quantify the mechanical properties of primary tissues as they are exposed to deformation cycles. In both cases, a proper set of clamps must be designed and mounted to the BAXS platform motors in order to firmly hold the flexible substrate or the tissue of interest. The BAXS platform can be mounted on an inverted microscope to perform simultaneous transmitted light and/or fluorescence imaging to examine the structural or biochemical response of the sample during stretching experiments. This article provides experimental details of the design and usage of the BAXS platform and presents results for single cell and whole tissue studies. The BAXS platform was used to measure the deformation of nuclei in single mouse myoblast cells in response to substrate strain and to measure the stiffness of isolated mouse aortas. The BAXS platform is a versatile tool that can be combined with various optical microscopies in order to provide novel mechanobiological insights at the sub-cellular, cellular and whole tissue levels.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, cell stretching, tissue mechanics, nuclear mechanics, uniaxial, biaxial, anisotropic, mechanobiology
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Study of the Actin Cytoskeleton in Live Endothelial Cells Expressing GFP-Actin
Authors: Travis M. Doggett, Jerome W. Breslin.
Institutions: Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.
The microvascular endothelium plays an important role as a selectively permeable barrier to fluids and solutes. The adhesive junctions between endothelial cells regulate permeability of the endothelium, and many studies have indicated the important contribution of the actin cytoskeleton to determining junctional integrity1-5. A cortical actin belt is thought to be important for the maintenance of stable junctions1, 2, 4, 5. In contrast, actin stress fibers are thought to generate centripetal tension within endothelial cells that weakens junctions2-5. Much of this theory has been based on studies in which endothelial cells are treated with inflammatory mediators known to increase endothelial permeability, and then fixing the cells and labeling F-actin for microscopic observation. However, these studies provide a very limited understanding of the role of the actin cytoskeleton because images of fixed cells provide only snapshots in time with no information about the dynamics of actin structures5. Live-cell imaging allows incorporation of the dynamic nature of the actin cytoskeleton into the studies of the mechanisms determining endothelial barrier integrity. A major advantage of this method is that the impact of various inflammatory stimuli on actin structures in endothelial cells can be assessed in the same set of living cells before and after treatment, removing potential bias that may occur when observing fixed specimens. Human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) are transfected with a GFP-β-actin plasmid and grown to confluence on glass coverslips. Time-lapse images of GFP-actin in confluent HUVEC are captured before and after the addition of inflammatory mediators that elicit time-dependent changes in endothelial barrier integrity. These studies enable visual observation of the fluid sequence of changes in the actin cytoskeleton that contribute to endothelial barrier disruption and restoration. Our results consistently show local, actin-rich lamellipodia formation and turnover in endothelial cells. The formation and movement of actin stress fibers can also be observed. An analysis of the frequency of formation and turnover of the local lamellipodia, before and after treatment with inflammatory stimuli can be documented by kymograph analyses. These studies provide important information on the dynamic nature of the actin cytoskeleton in endothelial cells that can used to discover previously unidentified molecular mechanisms important for the maintenance of endothelial barrier integrity.
Cell Biology, Issue 57, Endothelial cells, actin, cytoskeleton, live-cell imaging, GFP, lamellipodia, stress fibers, kymograph analysis
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Quantitative Measurement of Invadopodia-mediated Extracellular Matrix Proteolysis in Single and Multicellular Contexts
Authors: Karen H. Martin, Karen E. Hayes, Elyse L. Walk, Amanda Gatesman Ammer, Steven M. Markwell, Scott A. Weed.
Institutions: West Virginia University .
Cellular invasion into local tissues is a process important in development and homeostasis. Malregulated invasion and subsequent cell movement is characteristic of multiple pathological processes, including inflammation, cardiovascular disease and tumor cell metastasis1. Focalized proteolytic degradation of extracellular matrix (ECM) components in the epithelial or endothelial basement membrane is a critical step in initiating cellular invasion. In tumor cells, extensive in vitro analysis has determined that ECM degradation is accomplished by ventral actin-rich membrane protrusive structures termed invadopodia2,3. Invadopodia form in close apposition to the ECM, where they moderate ECM breakdown through the action of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). The ability of tumor cells to form invadopodia directly correlates with the ability to invade into local stroma and associated vascular components3. Visualization of invadopodia-mediated ECM degradation of cells by fluorescent microscopy using dye-labeled matrix proteins coated onto glass coverslips has emerged as the most prevalent technique for evaluating the degree of matrix proteolysis and cellular invasive potential4,5. Here we describe a version of the standard method for generating fluorescently-labeled glass coverslips utilizing a commercially available Oregon Green-488 gelatin conjugate. This method is easily scaled to rapidly produce large numbers of coated coverslips. We show some of the common microscopic artifacts that are often encountered during this procedure and how these can be avoided. Finally, we describe standardized methods using readily available computer software to allow quantification of labeled gelatin matrix degradation mediated by individual cells and by entire cellular populations. The described procedures provide the ability to accurately and reproducibly monitor invadopodia activity, and can also serve as a platform for evaluating the efficacy of modulating protein expression or testing of anti-invasive compounds on extracellular matrix degradation in single and multicellular settings.
Cellular Biology, Issue 66, Cancer Biology, Anatomy, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, invadopodia, extracellular matrix, gelatin, confocal microscopy, quantification, oregon green
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Fluorescence Imaging with One-nanometer Accuracy (FIONA)
Authors: Yong Wang, En Cai, Janet Sheung, Sang Hak Lee, Kai Wen Teng, Paul R. Selvin.
Institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Fluorescence imaging with one-nanometer accuracy (FIONA) is a simple but useful technique for localizing single fluorophores with nanometer precision in the x-y plane. Here a summary of the FIONA technique is reported and examples of research that have been performed using FIONA are briefly described. First, how to set up the required equipment for FIONA experiments, i.e., a total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy (TIRFM), with details on aligning the optics, is described. Then how to carry out a simple FIONA experiment on localizing immobilized Cy3-DNA single molecules using appropriate protocols, followed by the use of FIONA to measure the 36 nm step size of a single truncated myosin Va motor labeled with a quantum dot, is illustrated. Lastly, recent effort to extend the application of FIONA to thick samples is reported. It is shown that, using a water immersion objective and quantum dots soaked deep in sol-gels and rabbit eye corneas (>200 µm), localization precision of 2-3 nm can be achieved.
Molecular Biology, Issue 91, FIONA, fluorescence imaging, nanometer precision, myosin walking, thick tissue
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Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Authors: Nikki M. Curthoys, Michael J. Mlodzianoski, Dahan Kim, Samuel T. Hess.
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
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Test Samples for Optimizing STORM Super-Resolution Microscopy
Authors: Daniel J. Metcalf, Rebecca Edwards, Neelam Kumarswami, Alex E. Knight.
Institutions: National Physical Laboratory.
STORM is a recently developed super-resolution microscopy technique with up to 10 times better resolution than standard fluorescence microscopy techniques. However, as the image is acquired in a very different way than normal, by building up an image molecule-by-molecule, there are some significant challenges for users in trying to optimize their image acquisition. In order to aid this process and gain more insight into how STORM works we present the preparation of 3 test samples and the methodology of acquiring and processing STORM super-resolution images with typical resolutions of between 30-50 nm. By combining the test samples with the use of the freely available rainSTORM processing software it is possible to obtain a great deal of information about image quality and resolution. Using these metrics it is then possible to optimize the imaging procedure from the optics, to sample preparation, dye choice, buffer conditions, and image acquisition settings. We also show examples of some common problems that result in poor image quality, such as lateral drift, where the sample moves during image acquisition and density related problems resulting in the 'mislocalization' phenomenon.
Molecular Biology, Issue 79, Genetics, Bioengineering, Biomedical Engineering, Biophysics, Basic Protocols, HeLa Cells, Actin Cytoskeleton, Coated Vesicles, Receptor, Epidermal Growth Factor, Actins, Fluorescence, Endocytosis, Microscopy, STORM, super-resolution microscopy, nanoscopy, cell biology, fluorescence microscopy, test samples, resolution, actin filaments, fiducial markers, epidermal growth factor, cell, imaging
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Preparation of Segmented Microtubules to Study Motions Driven by the Disassembling Microtubule Ends
Authors: Vladimir A. Volkov, Anatoly V. Zaytsev, Ekaterina L. Grishchuk.
Institutions: Russian Academy of Sciences, Federal Research Center of Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Immunology, Moscow, Russia, University of Pennsylvania.
Microtubule depolymerization can provide force to transport different protein complexes and protein-coated beads in vitro. The underlying mechanisms are thought to play a vital role in the microtubule-dependent chromosome motions during cell division, but the relevant proteins and their exact roles are ill-defined. Thus, there is a growing need to develop assays with which to study such motility in vitro using purified components and defined biochemical milieu. Microtubules, however, are inherently unstable polymers; their switching between growth and shortening is stochastic and difficult to control. The protocols we describe here take advantage of the segmented microtubules that are made with the photoablatable stabilizing caps. Depolymerization of such segmented microtubules can be triggered with high temporal and spatial resolution, thereby assisting studies of motility at the disassembling microtubule ends. This technique can be used to carry out a quantitative analysis of the number of molecules in the fluorescently-labeled protein complexes, which move processively with dynamic microtubule ends. To optimize a signal-to-noise ratio in this and other quantitative fluorescent assays, coverslips should be treated to reduce nonspecific absorption of soluble fluorescently-labeled proteins. Detailed protocols are provided to take into account the unevenness of fluorescent illumination, and determine the intensity of a single fluorophore using equidistant Gaussian fit. Finally, we describe the use of segmented microtubules to study microtubule-dependent motions of the protein-coated microbeads, providing insights into the ability of different motor and nonmotor proteins to couple microtubule depolymerization to processive cargo motion.
Basic Protocol, Issue 85, microscopy flow chamber, single-molecule fluorescence, laser trap, microtubule-binding protein, microtubule-dependent motor, microtubule tip-tracking
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Proton Transfer and Protein Conformation Dynamics in Photosensitive Proteins by Time-resolved Step-scan Fourier-transform Infrared Spectroscopy
Authors: Víctor A. Lórenz-Fonfría, Joachim Heberle.
Institutions: Freie Universität Berlin.
Monitoring the dynamics of protonation and protein backbone conformation changes during the function of a protein is an essential step towards understanding its mechanism. Protonation and conformational changes affect the vibration pattern of amino acid side chains and of the peptide bond, respectively, both of which can be probed by infrared (IR) difference spectroscopy. For proteins whose function can be repetitively and reproducibly triggered by light, it is possible to obtain infrared difference spectra with (sub)microsecond resolution over a broad spectral range using the step-scan Fourier transform infrared technique. With ~102-103 repetitions of the photoreaction, the minimum number to complete a scan at reasonable spectral resolution and bandwidth, the noise level in the absorption difference spectra can be as low as ~10-4, sufficient to follow the kinetics of protonation changes from a single amino acid. Lower noise levels can be accomplished by more data averaging and/or mathematical processing. The amount of protein required for optimal results is between 5-100 µg, depending on the sampling technique used. Regarding additional requirements, the protein needs to be first concentrated in a low ionic strength buffer and then dried to form a film. The protein film is hydrated prior to the experiment, either with little droplets of water or under controlled atmospheric humidity. The attained hydration level (g of water / g of protein) is gauged from an IR absorption spectrum. To showcase the technique, we studied the photocycle of the light-driven proton-pump bacteriorhodopsin in its native purple membrane environment, and of the light-gated ion channel channelrhodopsin-2 solubilized in detergent.
Biophysics, Issue 88, bacteriorhodopsin, channelrhodopsin, attenuated total reflection, proton transfer, protein dynamics, infrared spectroscopy, time-resolved spectroscopy, step-scan, membrane proteins, singular value decomposition
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Visualizing Neuroblast Cytokinesis During C. elegans Embryogenesis
Authors: Denise Wernike, Chloe van Oostende, Alisa Piekny.
Institutions: Concordia University.
This protocol describes the use of fluorescence microscopy to image dividing cells within developing Caenorhabditis elegans embryos. In particular, this protocol focuses on how to image dividing neuroblasts, which are found underneath the epidermal cells and may be important for epidermal morphogenesis. Tissue formation is crucial for metazoan development and relies on external cues from neighboring tissues. C. elegans is an excellent model organism to study tissue morphogenesis in vivo due to its transparency and simple organization, making its tissues easy to study via microscopy. Ventral enclosure is the process where the ventral surface of the embryo is covered by a single layer of epithelial cells. This event is thought to be facilitated by the underlying neuroblasts, which provide chemical guidance cues to mediate migration of the overlying epithelial cells. However, the neuroblasts are highly proliferative and also may act as a mechanical substrate for the ventral epidermal cells. Studies using this experimental protocol could uncover the importance of intercellular communication during tissue formation, and could be used to reveal the roles of genes involved in cell division within developing tissues.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, C. elegans, morphogenesis, cytokinesis, neuroblasts, anillin, microscopy, cell division
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Analyzing Protein Dynamics Using Hydrogen Exchange Mass Spectrometry
Authors: Nikolai Hentze, Matthias P. Mayer.
Institutions: University of Heidelberg.
All cellular processes depend on the functionality of proteins. Although the functionality of a given protein is the direct consequence of its unique amino acid sequence, it is only realized by the folding of the polypeptide chain into a single defined three-dimensional arrangement or more commonly into an ensemble of interconverting conformations. Investigating the connection between protein conformation and its function is therefore essential for a complete understanding of how proteins are able to fulfill their great variety of tasks. One possibility to study conformational changes a protein undergoes while progressing through its functional cycle is hydrogen-1H/2H-exchange in combination with high-resolution mass spectrometry (HX-MS). HX-MS is a versatile and robust method that adds a new dimension to structural information obtained by e.g. crystallography. It is used to study protein folding and unfolding, binding of small molecule ligands, protein-protein interactions, conformational changes linked to enzyme catalysis, and allostery. In addition, HX-MS is often used when the amount of protein is very limited or crystallization of the protein is not feasible. Here we provide a general protocol for studying protein dynamics with HX-MS and describe as an example how to reveal the interaction interface of two proteins in a complex.   
Chemistry, Issue 81, Molecular Chaperones, mass spectrometers, Amino Acids, Peptides, Proteins, Enzymes, Coenzymes, Protein dynamics, conformational changes, allostery, protein folding, secondary structure, mass spectrometry
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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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Reconstitution of a Kv Channel into Lipid Membranes for Structural and Functional Studies
Authors: Sungsoo Lee, Hui Zheng, Liang Shi, Qiu-Xing Jiang.
Institutions: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.
To study the lipid-protein interaction in a reductionistic fashion, it is necessary to incorporate the membrane proteins into membranes of well-defined lipid composition. We are studying the lipid-dependent gating effects in a prototype voltage-gated potassium (Kv) channel, and have worked out detailed procedures to reconstitute the channels into different membrane systems. Our reconstitution procedures take consideration of both detergent-induced fusion of vesicles and the fusion of protein/detergent micelles with the lipid/detergent mixed micelles as well as the importance of reaching an equilibrium distribution of lipids among the protein/detergent/lipid and the detergent/lipid mixed micelles. Our data suggested that the insertion of the channels in the lipid vesicles is relatively random in orientations, and the reconstitution efficiency is so high that no detectable protein aggregates were seen in fractionation experiments. We have utilized the reconstituted channels to determine the conformational states of the channels in different lipids, record electrical activities of a small number of channels incorporated in planar lipid bilayers, screen for conformation-specific ligands from a phage-displayed peptide library, and support the growth of 2D crystals of the channels in membranes. The reconstitution procedures described here may be adapted for studying other membrane proteins in lipid bilayers, especially for the investigation of the lipid effects on the eukaryotic voltage-gated ion channels.
Molecular Biology, Issue 77, Biochemistry, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Structural Biology, Biophysics, Membrane Lipids, Phospholipids, Carrier Proteins, Membrane Proteins, Micelles, Molecular Motor Proteins, life sciences, biochemistry, Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, lipid-protein interaction, channel reconstitution, lipid-dependent gating, voltage-gated ion channel, conformation-specific ligands, lipids
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Live Cell Response to Mechanical Stimulation Studied by Integrated Optical and Atomic Force Microscopy
Authors: Andreea Trache, Soon-Mi Lim.
Institutions: Texas A&M Health Science Center, Texas A&M University.
To understand the mechanism by which living cells sense mechanical forces, and how they respond and adapt to their environment, a new technology able to investigate cells behavior at sub-cellular level with high spatial and temporal resolution was developed. Thus, an atomic force microscope (AFM) was integrated with total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) microscopy and fast-spinning disk (FSD) confocal microscopy. The integrated system is broadly applicable across a wide range of molecular dynamic studies in any adherent live cells, allowing direct optical imaging of cell responses to mechanical stimulation in real-time. Significant rearrangement of the actin filaments and focal adhesions was shown due to local mechanical stimulation at the apical cell surface that induced changes into the cellular structure throughout the cell body. These innovative techniques will provide new information for understanding live cell restructuring and dynamics in response to mechanical force. A detailed protocol and a representative data set that show live cell response to mechanical stimulation are presented.
Cellular Biology, Issue 44, live cells, mechanical stimulation, integrated microscopy, atomic force microscopy, spinning-disk confocal, total internal reflection fluorescence
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Single Molecule Methods for Monitoring Changes in Bilayer Elastic Properties
Authors: Helgi Ingolfson, Ruchi Kapoor, Shemille A. Collingwood, Olaf Sparre Andersen.
Institutions: Weill Cornell Medical College, Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University.
Membrane protein function is regulated by the cell membrane lipid composition. This regulation is due to a combination of specific lipid-protein interactions and more general lipid bilayer-protein interactions. These interactions are particularly important in pharmacological research, as many current pharmaceuticals on the market can alter the lipid bilayer material properties, which can lead to altered membrane protein function. The formation of gramicidin channels are dependent on conformational changes in gramicidin subunits which are in turn dependent on the properties of the lipid. Hence the gramicidin channel current is a reporter of altered properties of the bilayer due to certain compounds.
Cellular Biology, Issue 21, Springer Protocols, Membrane Biophysics, Gramicidin Channels, Artificial Bilayers, Bilayer Elastic Properties,
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Monitoring Actin Disassembly with Time-lapse Microscopy
Authors: Hao Yuan Kueh.
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
Cellular Biology, Issue 1, cytoskeleton, actin, timelapse, filament, chamber
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Actin Co-Sedimentation Assay; for the Analysis of Protein Binding to F-Actin
Authors: Jyoti Srivastava, Diane Barber.
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco - UCSF.
The actin cytoskeleton within the cell is a network of actin filaments that allows the movement of cells and cellular processes, and that generates tension and helps maintains cellular shape. Although the actin cytoskeleton is a rigid structure, it is a dynamic structure that is constantly remodeling. A number of proteins can bind to the actin cytoskeleton. The binding of a particular protein to F-actin is often desired to support cell biological observations or to further understand dynamic processes due to remodeling of the actin cytoskeleton. The actin co-sedimentation assay is an in vitro assay routinely used to analyze the binding of specific proteins or protein domains with F-actin. The basic principles of the assay involve an incubation of the protein of interest (full length or domain of) with F-actin, ultracentrifugation step to pellet F-actin and analysis of the protein co-sedimenting with F-actin. Actin co-sedimentation assays can be designed accordingly to measure actin binding affinities and in competition assays.
Biochemistry, Issue 13, F-actin, protein, in vitro binding, ultracentrifugation
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Live Imaging of Cell Motility and Actin Cytoskeleton of Individual Neurons and Neural Crest Cells in Zebrafish Embryos
Authors: Erica Andersen, Namrata Asuri, Matthew Clay, Mary Halloran.
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The zebrafish is an ideal model for imaging cell behaviors during development in vivo. Zebrafish embryos are externally fertilized and thus easily accessible at all stages of development. Moreover, their optical clarity allows high resolution imaging of cell and molecular dynamics in the natural environment of the intact embryo. We are using a live imaging approach to analyze cell behaviors during neural crest cell migration and the outgrowth and guidance of neuronal axons. Live imaging is particularly useful for understanding mechanisms that regulate cell motility processes. To visualize details of cell motility, such as protrusive activity and molecular dynamics, it is advantageous to label individual cells. In zebrafish, plasmid DNA injection yields a transient mosaic expression pattern and offers distinct benefits over other cell labeling methods. For example, transgenic lines often label entire cell populations and thus may obscure visualization of the fine protrusions (or changes in molecular distribution) in a single cell. In addition, injection of DNA at the one-cell stage is less invasive and more precise than dye injections at later stages. Here we describe a method for labeling individual developing neurons or neural crest cells and imaging their behavior in vivo. We inject plasmid DNA into 1-cell stage embryos, which results in mosaic transgene expression. The vectors contain cell-specific promoters that drive expression of a gene of interest in a subset of sensory neurons or neural crest cells. We provide examples of cells labeled with membrane targeted GFP or with a biosensor probe that allows visualization of F-actin in living cells1. Erica Andersen, Namrata Asuri, and Matthew Clay contributed equally to this work.
Developmental Biology, Issue 36, zebrafish, axon guidance, neural crest, cell behavior, actin, microinjection, embryos
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