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High yield production and refolding of the double-knot toxin, an activator of TRPV1 channels.
A unique peptide toxin, named double-knot toxin (DkTx), was recently purified from the venom of the tarantula Ornithoctonus huwena and was found to stably activate TRPV1 channels by targeting the outer pore domain. DkTx has been shown to consist of two inhibitory cysteine-knot (ICK) motifs, referred to as K1 and K2, each containing six cysteine residues. Beyond this initial characterization, however, the structural and functional details about DkTx remains elusive in large part due to the lack of a high yielding methodology for the synthesis and folding of this cysteine-rich peptide. Here, we overcome this obstacle by generating pure DkTx in quantities sufficient for structural and functional analyses. Our methodology entails expression of DkTx in E. coli followed by oxidative folding of the isolated linear peptide. Upon screening of various oxidative conditions for optimizing the folding yield of the toxin, we observed that detergents were required for efficient folding of the linear peptide. Our synthetic DkTx co-eluted with the native toxin on HPLC, and irreversibly activated TRPV1 in a manner identical to native DkTx. Interestingly, we find that DkTx has two interconvertible conformations present in a 1?6 ratio at equilibrium. Kinetic analysis of DkTx folding suggests that the K1 and K2 domains influence each other during the folding process. Moreover, the CD spectra of the toxins shows that the secondary structures of K1 and K2 remains intact even after separating the two knots. These findings provide a starting point for detailed studies on the structural and functional characterization of DkTx and utilization of this toxin as a tool to explore the elusive mechanisms underlying the polymodal gating of TRPV1.
Authors: Alberto Natali, Laura M. Roy, Roberta Croce.
Published: 10-10-2014
In plants and green algae, light is captured by the light-harvesting complexes (LHCs), a family of integral membrane proteins that coordinate chlorophylls and carotenoids. In vivo, these proteins are folded with pigments to form complexes which are inserted in the thylakoid membrane of the chloroplast. The high similarity in the chemical and physical properties of the members of the family, together with the fact that they can easily lose pigments during isolation, makes their purification in a native state challenging. An alternative approach to obtain homogeneous preparations of LHCs was developed by Plumley and Schmidt in 19871, who showed that it was possible to reconstitute these complexes in vitro starting from purified pigments and unfolded apoproteins, resulting in complexes with properties very similar to that of native complexes. This opened the way to the use of bacterial expressed recombinant proteins for in vitro reconstitution. The reconstitution method is powerful for various reasons: (1) pure preparations of individual complexes can be obtained, (2) pigment composition can be controlled to assess their contribution to structure and function, (3) recombinant proteins can be mutated to study the functional role of the individual residues (e.g., pigment binding sites) or protein domain (e.g., protein-protein interaction, folding). This method has been optimized in several laboratories and applied to most of the light-harvesting complexes. The protocol described here details the method of reconstituting light-harvesting complexes in vitro currently used in our laboratory, and examples describing applications of the method are provided.
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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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Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Authors: James Smadbeck, Meghan B. Peterson, George A. Khoury, Martin S. Taylor, Christodoulos A. Floudas.
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity. To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (, a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
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Viability Assays for Cells in Culture
Authors: Jessica M. Posimo, Ajay S. Unnithan, Amanda M. Gleixner, Hailey J. Choi, Yiran Jiang, Sree H. Pulugulla, Rehana K. Leak.
Institutions: Duquesne University.
Manual cell counts on a microscope are a sensitive means of assessing cellular viability but are time-consuming and therefore expensive. Computerized viability assays are expensive in terms of equipment but can be faster and more objective than manual cell counts. The present report describes the use of three such viability assays. Two of these assays are infrared and one is luminescent. Both infrared assays rely on a 16 bit Odyssey Imager. One infrared assay uses the DRAQ5 stain for nuclei combined with the Sapphire stain for cytosol and is visualized in the 700 nm channel. The other infrared assay, an In-Cell Western, uses antibodies against cytoskeletal proteins (α-tubulin or microtubule associated protein 2) and labels them in the 800 nm channel. The third viability assay is a commonly used luminescent assay for ATP, but we use a quarter of the recommended volume to save on cost. These measurements are all linear and correlate with the number of cells plated, but vary in sensitivity. All three assays circumvent time-consuming microscopy and sample the entire well, thereby reducing sampling error. Finally, all of the assays can easily be completed within one day of the end of the experiment, allowing greater numbers of experiments to be performed within short timeframes. However, they all rely on the assumption that cell numbers remain in proportion to signal strength after treatments, an assumption that is sometimes not met, especially for cellular ATP. Furthermore, if cells increase or decrease in size after treatment, this might affect signal strength without affecting cell number. We conclude that all viability assays, including manual counts, suffer from a number of caveats, but that computerized viability assays are well worth the initial investment. Using all three assays together yields a comprehensive view of cellular structure and function.
Cellular Biology, Issue 83, In-cell Western, DRAQ5, Sapphire, Cell Titer Glo, ATP, primary cortical neurons, toxicity, protection, N-acetyl cysteine, hormesis
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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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Rapid Generation of Amyloid from Native Proteins In vitro
Authors: Stephanie M Dorta-Estremera, Jingjing Li, Wei Cao.
Institutions: The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Proteins carry out crucial tasks in organisms by exerting functions elicited from their specific three dimensional folds. Although the native structures of polypeptides fulfill many purposes, it is now recognized that most proteins can adopt an alternative assembly of beta-sheet rich amyloid. Insoluble amyloid fibrils are initially associated with multiple human ailments, but they are increasingly shown as functional players participating in various important cellular processes. In addition, amyloid deposited in patient tissues contains nonproteinaceous components, such as nucleic acids and glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). These cofactors can facilitate the formation of amyloid, resulting in the generation of different types of insoluble precipitates. By taking advantage of our understanding how proteins misfold via an intermediate stage of soluble amyloid precursor, we have devised a method to convert native proteins to amyloid fibrils in vitro. This approach allows one to prepare amyloid in large quantities, examine the properties of amyloid generated from specific proteins, and evaluate the structural changes accompanying the conversion.
Biochemistry, Issue 82, amyloid, soluble protein oligomer, amyloid precursor, protein misfolding, amyloid fibril, protein aggregate
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Microwave-assisted Functionalization of Poly(ethylene glycol) and On-resin Peptides for Use in Chain Polymerizations and Hydrogel Formation
Authors: Amy H. Van Hove, Brandon D. Wilson, Danielle S. W. Benoit.
Institutions: University of Rochester, University of Rochester, University of Rochester Medical Center.
One of the main benefits to using poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) macromers in hydrogel formation is synthetic versatility. The ability to draw from a large variety of PEG molecular weights and configurations (arm number, arm length, and branching pattern) affords researchers tight control over resulting hydrogel structures and properties, including Young’s modulus and mesh size. This video will illustrate a rapid, efficient, solvent-free, microwave-assisted method to methacrylate PEG precursors into poly(ethylene glycol) dimethacrylate (PEGDM). This synthetic method provides much-needed starting materials for applications in drug delivery and regenerative medicine. The demonstrated method is superior to traditional methacrylation methods as it is significantly faster and simpler, as well as more economical and environmentally friendly, using smaller amounts of reagents and solvents. We will also demonstrate an adaptation of this technique for on-resin methacrylamide functionalization of peptides. This on-resin method allows the N-terminus of peptides to be functionalized with methacrylamide groups prior to deprotection and cleavage from resin. This allows for selective addition of methacrylamide groups to the N-termini of the peptides while amino acids with reactive side groups (e.g. primary amine of lysine, primary alcohol of serine, secondary alcohols of threonine, and phenol of tyrosine) remain protected, preventing functionalization at multiple sites. This article will detail common analytical methods (proton Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy (;H-NMR) and Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization Time of Flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-ToF)) to assess the efficiency of the functionalizations. Common pitfalls and suggested troubleshooting methods will be addressed, as will modifications of the technique which can be used to further tune macromer functionality and resulting hydrogel physical and chemical properties. Use of synthesized products for the formation of hydrogels for drug delivery and cell-material interaction studies will be demonstrated, with particular attention paid to modifying hydrogel composition to affect mesh size, controlling hydrogel stiffness and drug release.
Chemistry, Issue 80, Poly(ethylene glycol), peptides, polymerization, polymers, methacrylation, peptide functionalization, 1H-NMR, MALDI-ToF, hydrogels, macromer synthesis
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Isolation and Quantification of Botulinum Neurotoxin From Complex Matrices Using the BoTest Matrix Assays
Authors: F. Mark Dunning, Timothy M. Piazza, Füsûn N. Zeytin, Ward C. Tucker.
Institutions: BioSentinel Inc., Madison, WI.
Accurate detection and quantification of botulinum neurotoxin (BoNT) in complex matrices is required for pharmaceutical, environmental, and food sample testing. Rapid BoNT testing of foodstuffs is needed during outbreak forensics, patient diagnosis, and food safety testing while accurate potency testing is required for BoNT-based drug product manufacturing and patient safety. The widely used mouse bioassay for BoNT testing is highly sensitive but lacks the precision and throughput needed for rapid and routine BoNT testing. Furthermore, the bioassay's use of animals has resulted in calls by drug product regulatory authorities and animal-rights proponents in the US and abroad to replace the mouse bioassay for BoNT testing. Several in vitro replacement assays have been developed that work well with purified BoNT in simple buffers, but most have not been shown to be applicable to testing in highly complex matrices. Here, a protocol for the detection of BoNT in complex matrices using the BoTest Matrix assays is presented. The assay consists of three parts: The first part involves preparation of the samples for testing, the second part is an immunoprecipitation step using anti-BoNT antibody-coated paramagnetic beads to purify BoNT from the matrix, and the third part quantifies the isolated BoNT's proteolytic activity using a fluorogenic reporter. The protocol is written for high throughput testing in 96-well plates using both liquid and solid matrices and requires about 2 hr of manual preparation with total assay times of 4-26 hr depending on the sample type, toxin load, and desired sensitivity. Data are presented for BoNT/A testing with phosphate-buffered saline, a drug product, culture supernatant, 2% milk, and fresh tomatoes and includes discussion of critical parameters for assay success.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, Botulinum, food testing, detection, quantification, complex matrices, BoTest Matrix, Clostridium, potency testing
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Expression, Isolation, and Purification of Soluble and Insoluble Biotinylated Proteins for Nerve Tissue Regeneration
Authors: Aleesha M. McCormick, Natalie A. Jarmusik, Elizabeth J. Endrizzi, Nic D. Leipzig.
Institutions: University of Akron.
Recombinant protein engineering has utilized Escherichia coli (E. coli) expression systems for nearly 4 decades, and today E. coli is still the most widely used host organism. The flexibility of the system allows for the addition of moieties such as a biotin tag (for streptavidin interactions) and larger functional proteins like green fluorescent protein or cherry red protein. Also, the integration of unnatural amino acids like metal ion chelators, uniquely reactive functional groups, spectroscopic probes, and molecules imparting post-translational modifications has enabled better manipulation of protein properties and functionalities. As a result this technique creates customizable fusion proteins that offer significant utility for various fields of research. More specifically, the biotinylatable protein sequence has been incorporated into many target proteins because of the high affinity interaction between biotin with avidin and streptavidin. This addition has aided in enhancing detection and purification of tagged proteins as well as opening the way for secondary applications such as cell sorting. Thus, biotin-labeled molecules show an increasing and widespread influence in bioindustrial and biomedical fields. For the purpose of our research we have engineered recombinant biotinylated fusion proteins containing nerve growth factor (NGF) and semaphorin3A (Sema3A) functional regions. We have reported previously how these biotinylated fusion proteins, along with other active protein sequences, can be tethered to biomaterials for tissue engineering and regenerative purposes. This protocol outlines the basics of engineering biotinylatable proteins at the milligram scale, utilizing  a T7 lac inducible vector and E. coli expression hosts, starting from transformation to scale-up and purification.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, protein engineering, recombinant protein production, AviTag, BirA, biotinylation, pET vector system, E. coli, inclusion bodies, Ni-NTA, size exclusion chromatography
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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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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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Bladder Smooth Muscle Strip Contractility as a Method to Evaluate Lower Urinary Tract Pharmacology
Authors: F. Aura Kullmann, Stephanie L. Daugherty, William C. de Groat, Lori A. Birder.
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
We describe an in vitro method to measure bladder smooth muscle contractility, and its use for investigating physiological and pharmacological properties of the smooth muscle as well as changes induced by pathology. This method provides critical information for understanding bladder function while overcoming major methodological difficulties encountered in in vivo experiments, such as surgical and pharmacological manipulations that affect stability and survival of the preparations, the use of human tissue, and/or the use of expensive chemicals. It also provides a way to investigate the properties of each bladder component (i.e. smooth muscle, mucosa, nerves) in healthy and pathological conditions. The urinary bladder is removed from an anesthetized animal, placed in Krebs solution and cut into strips. Strips are placed into a chamber filled with warm Krebs solution. One end is attached to an isometric tension transducer to measure contraction force, the other end is attached to a fixed rod. Tissue is stimulated by directly adding compounds to the bath or by electric field stimulation electrodes that activate nerves, similar to triggering bladder contractions in vivo. We demonstrate the use of this method to evaluate spontaneous smooth muscle contractility during development and after an experimental spinal cord injury, the nature of neurotransmission (transmitters and receptors involved), factors involved in modulation of smooth muscle activity, the role of individual bladder components, and species and organ differences in response to pharmacological agents. Additionally, it could be used for investigating intracellular pathways involved in contraction and/or relaxation of the smooth muscle, drug structure-activity relationships and evaluation of transmitter release. The in vitro smooth muscle contractility method has been used extensively for over 50 years, and has provided data that significantly contributed to our understanding of bladder function as well as to pharmaceutical development of compounds currently used clinically for bladder management.
Medicine, Issue 90, Krebs, species differences, in vitro, smooth muscle contractility, neural stimulation
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Assembly of Nucleosomal Arrays from Recombinant Core Histones and Nucleosome Positioning DNA
Authors: Ryan A. Rogge, Anna A. Kalashnikova, Uma M. Muthurajan, Mary E. Porter-Goff, Karolin Luger, Jeffrey C. Hansen.
Institutions: Colorado State University .
Core histone octamers that are repetitively spaced along a DNA molecule are called nucleosomal arrays. Nucleosomal arrays are obtained in one of two ways: purification from in vivo sources, or reconstitution in vitro from recombinant core histones and tandemly repeated nucleosome positioning DNA. The latter method has the benefit of allowing for the assembly of a more compositionally uniform and precisely positioned nucleosomal array. Sedimentation velocity experiments in the analytical ultracentrifuge yield information about the size and shape of macromolecules by analyzing the rate at which they migrate through solution under centrifugal force. This technique, along with atomic force microscopy, can be used for quality control, ensuring that the majority of DNA templates are saturated with nucleosomes after reconstitution. Here we describe the protocols necessary to reconstitute milligram quantities of length and compositionally defined nucleosomal arrays suitable for biochemical and biophysical studies of chromatin structure and function.
Cellular Biology, Issue 79, Chromosome Structures, Chromatin, Nucleosomes, Histones, Microscopy, Atomic Force (AFM), Biochemistry, Chromatin, Nucleosome, Nucleosomal Array, Histone, Analytical Ultracentrifugation, Sedimentation Velocity
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Giant Liposome Preparation for Imaging and Patch-Clamp Electrophysiology
Authors: Marcus D. Collins, Sharona E. Gordon.
Institutions: University of Washington.
The reconstitution of ion channels into chemically defined lipid membranes for electrophysiological recording has been a powerful technique to identify and explore the function of these important proteins. However, classical preparations, such as planar bilayers, limit the manipulations and experiments that can be performed on the reconstituted channel and its membrane environment. The more cell-like structure of giant liposomes permits traditional patch-clamp experiments without sacrificing control of the lipid environment. Electroformation is an efficient mean to produce giant liposomes >10 μm in diameter which relies on the application of alternating voltage to a thin, ordered lipid film deposited on an electrode surface. However, since the classical protocol calls for the lipids to be deposited from organic solvents, it is not compatible with less robust membrane proteins like ion channels and must be modified. Recently, protocols have been developed to electroform giant liposomes from partially dehydrated small liposomes, which we have adapted to protein-containing liposomes in our laboratory. We present here the background, equipment, techniques, and pitfalls of electroformation of giant liposomes from small liposome dispersions. We begin with the classic protocol, which should be mastered first before attempting the more challenging protocols that follow. We demonstrate the process of controlled partial dehydration of small liposomes using vapor equilibrium with saturated salt solutions. Finally, we demonstrate the process of electroformation itself. We will describe simple, inexpensive equipment that can be made in-house to produce high-quality liposomes, and describe visual inspection of the preparation at each stage to ensure the best results.
Physiology, Issue 76, Biophysics, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Proteins, Membranes, Artificial, Lipid Bilayers, Liposomes, Phospholipids, biochemistry, Lipids, Giant Unilamellar Vesicles, liposome, electrophysiology, electroformation, reconstitution, patch clamp
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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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Thermodynamics of Membrane Protein Folding Measured by Fluorescence Spectroscopy
Authors: Diana E. Schlamadinger, Judy E. Kim.
Institutions: University of California San Diego - UCSD.
Membrane protein folding is an emerging topic with both fundamental and health-related significance. The abundance of membrane proteins in cells underlies the need for comprehensive study of the folding of this ubiquitous family of proteins. Additionally, advances in our ability to characterize diseases associated with misfolded proteins have motivated significant experimental and theoretical efforts in the field of protein folding. Rapid progress in this important field is unfortunately hindered by the inherent challenges associated with membrane proteins and the complexity of the folding mechanism. Here, we outline an experimental procedure for measuring the thermodynamic property of the Gibbs free energy of unfolding in the absence of denaturant, ΔH2O, for a representative integral membrane protein from E. coli. This protocol focuses on the application of fluorescence spectroscopy to determine equilibrium populations of folded and unfolded states as a function of denaturant concentration. Experimental considerations for the preparation of synthetic lipid vesicles as well as key steps in the data analysis procedure are highlighted. This technique is versatile and may be pursued with different types of denaturant, including temperature and pH, as well as in various folding environments of lipids and micelles. The current protocol is one that can be generalized to any membrane or soluble protein that meets the set of criteria discussed below.
Bioengineering, Issue 50, tryptophan, peptides, Gibbs free energy, protein stability, vesicles
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A Calcium Bioluminescence Assay for Functional Analysis of Mosquito (Aedes aegypti) and Tick (Rhipicephalus microplus) G Protein-coupled Receptors
Authors: Hsiao-Ling Lu, Cymon N. Kersch, Suparna Taneja-Bageshwar, Patricia V. Pietrantonio.
Institutions: Texas A&M University (TAMU), Texas A&M University (TAMU).
Arthropod hormone receptors are potential targets for novel pesticides as they regulate many essential physiological and behavioral processes. The majority of them belong to the superfamily of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). We have focused on characterizing arthropod kinin receptors from the tick and mosquito. Arthropod kinins are multifunctional neuropeptides with myotropic, diuretic, and neurotransmitter function. Here, a method for systematic analyses of structure-activity relationships of insect kinins on two heterologous kinin receptor-expressing systems is described. We provide important information relevant to the development of biostable kinin analogs with the potential to disrupt the diuretic, myotropic, and/or digestive processes in ticks and mosquitoes. The kinin receptors from the southern cattle tick, Boophilus microplus (Canestrini), and the mosquito Aedes aegypti (Linnaeus), were stably expressed in the mammalian cell line CHO-K1. Functional analyses of these receptors were completed using a calcium bioluminescence plate assay that measures intracellular bioluminescence to determine cytoplasmic calcium levels upon peptide application to these recombinant cells. This method takes advantage of the aequorin protein, a photoprotein isolated from luminescent jellyfish. We transiently transfected the aequorin plasmid (mtAEQ/pcDNA1) in cell lines that stably expressed the kinin receptors. These cells were then treated with the cofactor coelenterazine, which complexes with intracellular aequorin. This bond breaks in the presence of calcium, emitting luminescence levels indicative of the calcium concentration. As the kinin receptor signals through the release of intracellular calcium, the intensity of the signal is related to the potency of the peptide. This protocol is a synthesis of several previously described protocols with modifications; it presents step-by-step instructions for the stable expression of GPCRs in a mammalian cell line through functional plate assays (Staubly et al., 2002 and Stables et al., 1997). Using this methodology, we were able to establish stable cell lines expressing the mosquito and the tick kinin receptors, compare the potency of three mosquito kinins, identify critical amino acid positions for the ligand-receptor interaction, and perform semi-throughput screening of a peptide library. Because insect kinins are susceptible to fast enzymatic degradation by endogenous peptidases, they are severely limited in use as tools for pest control or endocrinological studies. Therefore, we also tested kinin analogs containing amino isobutyric acid (Aib) to enhance their potency and biostability. This peptidase-resistant analog represents an important lead in the development of biostable insect kinin analogs and may aid in the development of neuropeptide-based arthropod control strategies.
Immunology, Issue 50, Aequorin calcium reporter, coelenterazine, G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR), CHO-K1 cells, mammalian cell culture, neuropeptide SAR studies (SAR= structure-activity relationships), receptor-neuropeptide interaction, bioluminescence, drug discovery, semi-throughput screening in plates
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Monitoring Equilibrium Changes in RNA Structure by 'Peroxidative' and 'Oxidative' Hydroxyl Radical Footprinting
Authors: Ravichandra Bachu, Frances-Camille S. Padlan, Sara Rouhanifard, Michael Brenowitz, Jörg C. Schlatterer.
Institutions: Hunter College , Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
RNA molecules play an essential role in biology. In addition to transmitting genetic information, RNA can fold into unique tertiary structures fulfilling a specific biologic role as regulator, binder or catalyst. Information about tertiary contact formation is essential to understand the function of RNA molecules. Hydroxyl radicals (•OH) are unique probes of the structure of nucleic acids due to their high reactivity and small size.1 When used as a footprinting probe, hydroxyl radicals map the solvent accessible surface of the phosphodiester backbone of DNA1 and RNA2 with as fine as single nucleotide resolution. Hydroxyl radical footprinting can be used to identify the nucleotides within an intermolecular contact surface, e.g. in DNA-protein1 and RNA-protein complexes. Equilibrium3 and kinetic4 transitions can be determined by conducting hydroxyl radical footprinting as a function of a solution variable or time, respectively. A key feature of footprinting is that limited exposure to the probe (e.g., 'single-hit kinetics') results in the uniform sampling of each nucleotide of the polymer.5 In this video article, we use the P4-P6 domain of the Tetrahymena ribozyme to illustrate RNA sample preparation and the determination of a Mg(II)-mediated folding isotherms. We describe the use of the well known hydroxyl radical footprinting protocol that requires H2O2 (we call this the 'peroxidative' protocol) and a valuable, but not widely known, alternative that uses naturally dissolved O2 (we call this the 'oxidative' protocol). An overview of the data reduction, transformation and analysis procedures is presented.
Molecular Biology, Issue 56, hydroxyl radical, footprinting, RNA, Fenton, equilibrium
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Detection of Toxin Translocation into the Host Cytosol by Surface Plasmon Resonance
Authors: Michael Taylor, Tuhina Banerjee, Neyda VanBennekom, Ken Teter.
Institutions: University of Central Florida.
AB toxins consist of an enzymatic A subunit and a cell-binding B subunit1. These toxins are secreted into the extracellular milieu, but they act upon targets within the eukaryotic cytosol. Some AB toxins travel by vesicle carriers from the cell surface to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) before entering the cytosol2-4. In the ER, the catalytic A chain dissociates from the rest of the toxin and moves through a protein-conducting channel to reach its cytosolic target5. The translocated, cytosolic A chain is difficult to detect because toxin trafficking to the ER is an extremely inefficient process: most internalized toxin is routed to the lysosomes for degradation, so only a small fraction of surface-bound toxin reaches the Golgi apparatus and ER6-12. To monitor toxin translocation from the ER to the cytosol in cultured cells, we combined a subcellular fractionation protocol with the highly sensitive detection method of surface plasmon resonance (SPR)13-15. The plasma membrane of toxin-treated cells is selectively permeabilized with digitonin, allowing collection of a cytosolic fraction which is subsequently perfused over an SPR sensor coated with an anti-toxin A chain antibody. The antibody-coated sensor can capture and detect pg/mL quantities of cytosolic toxin. With this protocol, it is possible to follow the kinetics of toxin entry into the cytosol and to characterize inhibitory effects on the translocation event. The concentration of cytosolic toxin can also be calculated from a standard curve generated with known quantities of A chain standards that have been perfused over the sensor. Our method represents a rapid, sensitive, and quantitative detection system that does not require radiolabeling or other modifications to the target toxin.
Immunology, Issue 59, Surface plasmon resonance, AB toxin, translocation, endoplasmic reticulum, cell culture, cholera toxin, pertussis toxin
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Isolation of Ribosome Bound Nascent Polypeptides in vitro to Identify Translational Pause Sites Along mRNA
Authors: Sujata S. Jha, Anton A. Komar.
Institutions: Cleveland State University.
The rate of translational elongation is non-uniform. mRNA secondary structure, codon usage and mRNA associated proteins may alter ribosome movement on the messagefor review see 1. However, it's now widely accepted that synonymous codon usage is the primary cause of non-uniform translational elongation rates1. Synonymous codons are not used with identical frequency. A bias exists in the use of synonymous codons with some codons used more frequently than others2. Codon bias is organism as well as tissue specific2,3. Moreover, frequency of codon usage is directly proportional to the concentrations of cognate tRNAs4. Thus, a frequently used codon will have higher multitude of corresponding tRNAs, which further implies that a frequent codon will be translated faster than an infrequent one. Thus, regions on mRNA enriched in rare codons (potential pause sites) will as a rule slow down ribosome movement on the message and cause accumulation of nascent peptides of the respective sizes5-8. These pause sites can have functional impact on the protein expression, mRNA stability and protein foldingfor review see 9. Indeed, it was shown that alleviation of such pause sites can alter ribosome movement on mRNA and subsequently may affect the efficiency of co-translational (in vivo) protein folding1,7,10,11. To understand the process of protein folding in vivo, in the cell, that is ultimately coupled to the process of protein synthesis it is essential to gain comprehensive insights into the impact of codon usage/tRNA content on the movement of ribosomes along mRNA during translational elongation. Here we describe a simple technique that can be used to locate major translation pause sites for a given mRNA translated in various cell-free systems6-8. This procedure is based on isolation of nascent polypeptides accumulating on ribosomes during in vitro translation of a target mRNA. The rationale is that at low-frequency codons, the increase in the residence time of the ribosomes results in increased amounts of nascent peptides of the corresponding sizes. In vitro transcribed mRNA is used for in vitro translational reactions in the presence of radioactively labeled amino acids to allow the detection of the nascent chains. In order to isolate ribosome bound nascent polypeptide complexes the translation reaction is layered on top of 30% glycerol solution followed by centrifugation. Nascent polypeptides in polysomal pellet are further treated with ribonuclease A and resolved by SDS PAGE. This technique can be potentially used for any protein and allows analysis of ribosome movement along mRNA and the detection of the major pause sites. Additionally, this protocol can be adapted to study factors and conditions that can alter ribosome movement and thus potentially can also alter the function/conformation of the protein.
Genetics, Issue 65, Molecular Biology, Ribosome, Nascent polypeptide, Co-translational protein folding, Synonymous codon usage, gene regulation
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Using SecM Arrest Sequence as a Tool to Isolate Ribosome Bound Polypeptides
Authors: Sujata S. Jha, Anton A. Komar.
Institutions: Cleveland State University.
Extensive research has provided ample evidences suggesting that protein folding in the cell is a co-translational process1-5. However, the exact pathway that polypeptide chain follows during co-translational folding to achieve its functional form is still an enigma. In order to understand this process and to determine the exact conformation of the co-translational folding intermediates, it is essential to develop techniques that allow the isolation of RNCs carrying nascent chains of predetermined sizes to allow their further structural analysis. SecM (secretion monitor) is a 170 amino acid E. coli protein that regulates expression of the downstream SecA (secretion driving) ATPase in the secM-secA operon6. Nakatogawa and Ito originally found that a 17 amino acid long sequence (150-FSTPVWISQAQGIRAGP-166) in the C-terminal region of the SecM protein is sufficient and necessary to cause stalling of SecM elongation at Gly165, thereby producing peptidyl-glycyl-tRNA stably bound to the ribosomal P-site7-9. More importantly, it was found that this 17 amino acid long sequence can be fused to the C-terminus of virtually any full-length and/or truncated protein thus allowing the production of RNCs carrying nascent chains of predetermined sizes7. Thus, when fused or inserted into the target protein, SecM stalling sequence produces arrest of the polypeptide chain elongation and generates stable RNCs both in vivo in E. coli cells and in vitro in a cell-free system. Sucrose gradient centrifugation is further utilized to isolate RNCs. The isolated RNCs can be used to analyze structural and functional features of the co-translational folding intermediates. Recently, this technique has been successfully used to gain insights into the structure of several ribosome bound nascent chains10,11. Here we describe the isolation of bovine Gamma-B Crystallin RNCs fused to SecM and generated in an in vitro translation system.
Molecular Biology, Issue 64, Ribosome, nascent polypeptides, co-translational protein folding, translational arrest, in vitro translation
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High-throughput Screening for Small-molecule Modulators of Inward Rectifier Potassium Channels
Authors: Rene Raphemot, C. David Weaver, Jerod S. Denton.
Institutions: Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
Specific members of the inward rectifier potassium (Kir) channel family are postulated drug targets for a variety of disorders, including hypertension, atrial fibrillation, and pain1,2. For the most part, however, progress toward understanding their therapeutic potential or even basic physiological functions has been slowed by the lack of good pharmacological tools. Indeed, the molecular pharmacology of the inward rectifier family has lagged far behind that of the S4 superfamily of voltage-gated potassium (Kv) channels, for which a number of nanomolar-affinity and highly selective peptide toxin modulators have been discovered3. The bee venom toxin tertiapin and its derivatives are potent inhibitors of Kir1.1 and Kir3 channels4,5, but peptides are of limited use therapeutically as well as experimentally due to their antigenic properties and poor bioavailability, metabolic stability and tissue penetrance. The development of potent and selective small-molecule probes with improved pharmacological properties will be a key to fully understanding the physiology and therapeutic potential of Kir channels. The Molecular Libraries Probes Production Center Network (MLPCN) supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Common Fund has created opportunities for academic scientists to initiate probe discovery campaigns for molecular targets and signaling pathways in need of better pharmacology6. The MLPCN provides researchers access to industry-scale screening centers and medicinal chemistry and informatics support to develop small-molecule probes to elucidate the function of genes and gene networks. The critical step in gaining entry to the MLPCN is the development of a robust target- or pathway-specific assay that is amenable for high-throughput screening (HTS). Here, we describe how to develop a fluorescence-based thallium (Tl+) flux assay of Kir channel function for high-throughput compound screening7,8,9,10.The assay is based on the permeability of the K+ channel pore to the K+ congener Tl+. A commercially available fluorescent Tl+ reporter dye is used to detect transmembrane flux of Tl+ through the pore. There are at least three commercially available dyes that are suitable for Tl+ flux assays: BTC, FluoZin-2, and FluxOR7,8. This protocol describes assay development using FluoZin-2. Although originally developed and marketed as a zinc indicator, FluoZin-2 exhibits a robust and dose-dependent increase in fluorescence emission upon Tl+ binding. We began working with FluoZin-2 before FluxOR was available7,8 and have continued to do so9,10. However, the steps in assay development are essentially identical for all three dyes, and users should determine which dye is most appropriate for their specific needs. We also discuss the assay's performance benchmarks that must be reached to be considered for entry to the MLPCN. Since Tl+ readily permeates most K+ channels, the assay should be adaptable to most K+ channel targets.
Biochemistry, Issue 71, Molecular Biology, Chemistry, Cellular Biology, Chemical Biology, Pharmacology, Molecular Pharmacology, Potassium channels, drug discovery, drug screening, high throughput, small molecules, fluorescence, thallium flux, checkerboard analysis, DMSO, cell lines, screen, assay, assay development
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Determination of the Gas-phase Acidities of Oligopeptides
Authors: Jianhua Ren, Ashish Sawhney, Yuan Tian, Bhupinder Padda, Patrick Batoon.
Institutions: University of the Pacific.
Amino acid residues located at different positions in folded proteins often exhibit different degrees of acidities. For example, a cysteine residue located at or near the N-terminus of a helix is often more acidic than that at or near the C-terminus 1-6. Although extensive experimental studies on the acid-base properties of peptides have been carried out in the condensed phase, in particular in aqueous solutions 6-8, the results are often complicated by solvent effects 7. In fact, most of the active sites in proteins are located near the interior region where solvent effects have been minimized 9,10. In order to understand intrinsic acid-base properties of peptides and proteins, it is important to perform the studies in a solvent-free environment. We present a method to measure the acidities of oligopeptides in the gas-phase. We use a cysteine-containing oligopeptide, Ala3CysNH2 (A3CH), as the model compound. The measurements are based on the well-established extended Cooks kinetic method (Figure 1) 11-16. The experiments are carried out using a triple-quadrupole mass spectrometer interfaced with an electrospray ionization (ESI) ion source (Figure 2). For each peptide sample, several reference acids are selected. The reference acids are structurally similar organic compounds with known gas-phase acidities. A solution of the mixture of the peptide and a reference acid is introduced into the mass spectrometer, and a gas-phase proton-bound anionic cluster of peptide-reference acid is formed. The proton-bound cluster is mass isolated and subsequently fragmented via collision-induced dissociation (CID) experiments. The resulting fragment ion abundances are analyzed using a relationship between the acidities and the cluster ion dissociation kinetics. The gas-phase acidity of the peptide is then obtained by linear regression of the thermo-kinetic plots 17,18. The method can be applied to a variety of molecular systems, including organic compounds, amino acids and their derivatives, oligonucleotides, and oligopeptides. By comparing the gas-phase acidities measured experimentally with those values calculated for different conformers, conformational effects on the acidities can be evaluated.
Chemistry, Issue 76, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Oligopeptide, gas-phase acidity, kinetic method, collision-induced dissociation, triple-quadrupole mass spectrometry, oligopeptides, peptides, mass spectrometry, MS
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Production of Disulfide-stabilized Transmembrane Peptide Complexes for Structural Studies
Authors: Pooja Sharma, Mariam Kaywan-Lutfi, Logesvaran Krshnan, Eamon F. X. Byrne, Melissa Joy Call, Matthew Edwin Call.
Institutions: The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, The University of Melbourne.
Physical interactions among the lipid-embedded alpha-helical domains of membrane proteins play a crucial role in folding and assembly of membrane protein complexes and in dynamic processes such as transmembrane (TM) signaling and regulation of cell-surface protein levels. Understanding the structural features driving the association of particular sequences requires sophisticated biophysical and biochemical analyses of TM peptide complexes. However, the extreme hydrophobicity of TM domains makes them very difficult to manipulate using standard peptide chemistry techniques, and production of suitable study material often proves prohibitively challenging. Identifying conditions under which peptides can adopt stable helical conformations and form complexes spontaneously adds a further level of difficulty. Here we present a procedure for the production of homo- or hetero-dimeric TM peptide complexes from materials that are expressed in E. coli, thus allowing incorporation of stable isotope labels for nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) or non-natural amino acids for other applications relatively inexpensively. The key innovation in this method is that TM complexes are produced and purified as covalently associated (disulfide-crosslinked) assemblies that can form stable, stoichiometric and homogeneous structures when reconstituted into detergent, lipid or other membrane-mimetic materials. We also present carefully optimized procedures for expression and purification that are equally applicable whether producing single TM domains or crosslinked complexes and provide advice for adapting these methods to new TM sequences.
Biochemistry, Issue 73, Structural Biology, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Biophysics, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Membrane Proteins, Proteins, Molecular Structure, transmembrane domain, peptide chemistry, membrane protein structure, immune receptors, reversed-phase HPLC, HPLC, peptides, lipids, protein, cloning, TFA Elution, CNBr Digestion, NMR, expression, cell culture
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Real-time Analyses of Retinol Transport by the Membrane Receptor of Plasma Retinol Binding Protein
Authors: Riki Kawaguchi, Ming Zhong, Hui Sun.
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Vitamin A is essential for vision and the growth/differentiation of almost all human organs. Plasma retinol binding protein (RBP) is the principle and specific carrier of vitamin A in the blood. Here we describe an optimized technique to produce and purify holo-RBP and two real-time monitoring techniques to study the transport of vitamin A by the high-affinity RBP receptor STRA6. The first technique makes it possible to produce a large quantity of high quality holo-RBP (100%-loaded with retinol) for vitamin A transport assays. High quality RBP is essential for functional assays because misfolded RBP releases vitamin A readily and bacterial contamination in RBP preparation can cause artifacts. Real-time monitoring techniques like electrophysiology have made critical contributions to the studies of membrane transport. The RBP receptor-mediated retinol transport has not been analyzed in real time until recently. The second technique described here is the real-time analysis of STRA6-catalyzed retinol release or loading. The third technique is real-time analysis of STRA6-catalyzed retinol transport from holo-RBP to cellular retinol binding protein I (CRBP-I). These techniques provide high sensitivity and resolution in revealing RBP receptor's vitamin A uptake mechanism.
Biochemistry, Issue 71, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Ophthalmology, Proteomics, Proteins, Membrane Transport Proteins, Vitamin A, retinoid, RBP complex, membrane transport, membrane receptor, STRA6, retinol binding protein
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Interview: Protein Folding and Studies of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Authors: Susan Lindquist.
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In this interview, Dr. Lindquist describes relationships between protein folding, prion diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. The problem of the protein folding is at the core of the modern biology. In addition to their traditional biochemical functions, proteins can mediate transfer of biological information and therefore can be considered a genetic material. This recently discovered function of proteins has important implications for studies of human disorders. Dr. Lindquist also describes current experimental approaches to investigate the mechanism of neurodegenerative diseases based on genetic studies in model organisms.
Neuroscience, issue 17, protein folding, brain, neuron, prion, neurodegenerative disease, yeast, screen, Translational Research
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