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Pubmed Article
Robust optimal design of experiments for model discrimination using an interactive software tool.
PUBLISHED: 02-04-2013
Mathematical modeling of biochemical processes significantly contributes to a better understanding of biological functionality and underlying dynamic mechanisms. To support time consuming and costly lab experiments, kinetic reaction equations can be formulated as a set of ordinary differential equations, which in turn allows to simulate and compare hypothetical models in silico. To identify new experimental designs that are able to discriminate between investigated models, the approach used in this work solves a semi-infinite constrained nonlinear optimization problem using derivative based numerical algorithms. The method takes into account parameter variabilities such that new experimental designs are robust against parameter changes while maintaining the optimal potential to discriminate between hypothetical models. In this contribution we present a newly developed software tool that offers a convenient graphical user interface for model discrimination. We demonstrate the beneficial operation of the discrimination approach and the usefulness of the software tool by analyzing a realistic benchmark experiment from literature. New robust optimal designs that allow to discriminate between the investigated model hypotheses of the benchmark experiment are successfully calculated and yield promising results. The involved robustification approach provides maximally discriminating experiments for the worst parameter configurations, which can be used to estimate the meaningfulness of upcoming experiments. A major benefit of the graphical user interface is the ability to interactively investigate the model behavior and the clear arrangement of numerous variables. In addition to a brief theoretical overview of the discrimination method and the functionality of the software tool, the importance of robustness of experimental designs against parameter variability is demonstrated on a biochemical benchmark problem. The software is licensed under the GNU General Public License and freely available at
Authors: Mirella Vivoli, Halina R. Novak, Jennifer A. Littlechild, Nicholas J. Harmer.
Published: 09-13-2014
A wide range of methods are currently available for determining the dissociation constant between a protein and interacting small molecules. However, most of these require access to specialist equipment, and often require a degree of expertise to effectively establish reliable experiments and analyze data. Differential scanning fluorimetry (DSF) is being increasingly used as a robust method for initial screening of proteins for interacting small molecules, either for identifying physiological partners or for hit discovery. This technique has the advantage that it requires only a PCR machine suitable for quantitative PCR, and so suitable instrumentation is available in most institutions; an excellent range of protocols are already available; and there are strong precedents in the literature for multiple uses of the method. Past work has proposed several means of calculating dissociation constants from DSF data, but these are mathematically demanding. Here, we demonstrate a method for estimating dissociation constants from a moderate amount of DSF experimental data. These data can typically be collected and analyzed within a single day. We demonstrate how different models can be used to fit data collected from simple binding events, and where cooperative binding or independent binding sites are present. Finally, we present an example of data analysis in a case where standard models do not apply. These methods are illustrated with data collected on commercially available control proteins, and two proteins from our research program. Overall, our method provides a straightforward way for researchers to rapidly gain further insight into protein-ligand interactions using DSF.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
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In Situ Neutron Powder Diffraction Using Custom-made Lithium-ion Batteries
Authors: William R. Brant, Siegbert Schmid, Guodong Du, Helen E. A. Brand, Wei Kong Pang, Vanessa K. Peterson, Zaiping Guo, Neeraj Sharma.
Institutions: University of Sydney, University of Wollongong, Australian Synchrotron, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, University of Wollongong, University of New South Wales.
Li-ion batteries are widely used in portable electronic devices and are considered as promising candidates for higher-energy applications such as electric vehicles.1,2 However, many challenges, such as energy density and battery lifetimes, need to be overcome before this particular battery technology can be widely implemented in such applications.3 This research is challenging, and we outline a method to address these challenges using in situ NPD to probe the crystal structure of electrodes undergoing electrochemical cycling (charge/discharge) in a battery. NPD data help determine the underlying structural mechanism responsible for a range of electrode properties, and this information can direct the development of better electrodes and batteries. We briefly review six types of battery designs custom-made for NPD experiments and detail the method to construct the ‘roll-over’ cell that we have successfully used on the high-intensity NPD instrument, WOMBAT, at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). The design considerations and materials used for cell construction are discussed in conjunction with aspects of the actual in situ NPD experiment and initial directions are presented on how to analyze such complex in situ data.
Physics, Issue 93, In operando, structure-property relationships, electrochemical cycling, electrochemical cells, crystallography, battery performance
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A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Authors: Brian H. Smith, Christina M. Burden.
Institutions: Arizona State University.
Insects modify their responses to stimuli through experience of associating those stimuli with events important for survival (e.g., food, mates, threats). There are several behavioral mechanisms through which an insect learns salient associations and relates them to these events. It is important to understand this behavioral plasticity for programs aimed toward assisting insects that are beneficial for agriculture. This understanding can also be used for discovering solutions to biomedical and agricultural problems created by insects that act as disease vectors and pests. The Proboscis Extension Response (PER) conditioning protocol was developed for honey bees (Apis mellifera) over 50 years ago to study how they perceive and learn about floral odors, which signal the nectar and pollen resources a colony needs for survival. The PER procedure provides a robust and easy-to-employ framework for studying several different ecologically relevant mechanisms of behavioral plasticity. It is easily adaptable for use with several other insect species and other behavioral reflexes. These protocols can be readily employed in conjunction with various means for monitoring neural activity in the CNS via electrophysiology or bioimaging, or for manipulating targeted neuromodulatory pathways. It is a robust assay for rapidly detecting sub-lethal effects on behavior caused by environmental stressors, toxins or pesticides. We show how the PER protocol is straightforward to implement using two procedures. One is suitable as a laboratory exercise for students or for quick assays of the effect of an experimental treatment. The other provides more thorough control of variables, which is important for studies of behavioral conditioning. We show how several measures for the behavioral response ranging from binary yes/no to more continuous variable like latency and duration of proboscis extension can be used to test hypotheses. And, we discuss some pitfalls that researchers commonly encounter when they use the procedure for the first time.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, PER, conditioning, honey bee, olfaction, olfactory processing, learning, memory, toxin assay
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Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Authors: Johannes Felix Buyel, Rainer Fischer.
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
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Scalable Nanohelices for Predictive Studies and Enhanced 3D Visualization
Authors: Kwyn A. Meagher, Benjamin N. Doblack, Mercedes Ramirez, Lilian P. Davila.
Institutions: University of California Merced, University of California Merced.
Spring-like materials are ubiquitous in nature and of interest in nanotechnology for energy harvesting, hydrogen storage, and biological sensing applications.  For predictive simulations, it has become increasingly important to be able to model the structure of nanohelices accurately.  To study the effect of local structure on the properties of these complex geometries one must develop realistic models.  To date, software packages are rather limited in creating atomistic helical models.  This work focuses on producing atomistic models of silica glass (SiO2) nanoribbons and nanosprings for molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. Using an MD model of “bulk” silica glass, two computational procedures to precisely create the shape of nanoribbons and nanosprings are presented.  The first method employs the AWK programming language and open-source software to effectively carve various shapes of silica nanoribbons from the initial bulk model, using desired dimensions and parametric equations to define a helix.  With this method, accurate atomistic silica nanoribbons can be generated for a range of pitch values and dimensions.  The second method involves a more robust code which allows flexibility in modeling nanohelical structures.  This approach utilizes a C++ code particularly written to implement pre-screening methods as well as the mathematical equations for a helix, resulting in greater precision and efficiency when creating nanospring models.  Using these codes, well-defined and scalable nanoribbons and nanosprings suited for atomistic simulations can be effectively created.  An added value in both open-source codes is that they can be adapted to reproduce different helical structures, independent of material.  In addition, a MATLAB graphical user interface (GUI) is used to enhance learning through visualization and interaction for a general user with the atomistic helical structures.  One application of these methods is the recent study of nanohelices via MD simulations for mechanical energy harvesting purposes.
Physics, Issue 93, Helical atomistic models; open-source coding; graphical user interface; visualization software; molecular dynamics simulations; graphical processing unit accelerated simulations.
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Stimulating the Lip Motor Cortex with Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
Authors: Riikka Möttönen, Jack Rogers, Kate E. Watkins.
Institutions: University of Oxford.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has proven to be a useful tool in investigating the role of the articulatory motor cortex in speech perception. Researchers have used single-pulse and repetitive TMS to stimulate the lip representation in the motor cortex. The excitability of the lip motor representation can be investigated by applying single TMS pulses over this cortical area and recording TMS-induced motor evoked potentials (MEPs) via electrodes attached to the lip muscles (electromyography; EMG). Larger MEPs reflect increased cortical excitability. Studies have shown that excitability increases during listening to speech as well as during viewing speech-related movements. TMS can be used also to disrupt the lip motor representation. A 15-min train of low-frequency sub-threshold repetitive stimulation has been shown to suppress motor excitability for a further 15-20 min. This TMS-induced disruption of the motor lip representation impairs subsequent performance in demanding speech perception tasks and modulates auditory-cortex responses to speech sounds. These findings are consistent with the suggestion that the motor cortex contributes to speech perception. This article describes how to localize the lip representation in the motor cortex and how to define the appropriate stimulation intensity for carrying out both single-pulse and repetitive TMS experiments.
Behavior, Issue 88, electromyography, motor cortex, motor evoked potential, motor excitability, speech, repetitive TMS, rTMS, virtual lesion, transcranial magnetic stimulation
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From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Authors: Wen-Ting Tsai, Ahmed Hassan, Purbasha Sarkar, Joaquin Correa, Zoltan Metlagel, Danielle M. Jorgens, Manfred Auer.
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g., signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation. The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
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Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Authors: Joe Bathelt, Helen O'Reilly, Michelle de Haan.
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3.  In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis. 
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials 
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Using the Threat Probability Task to Assess Anxiety and Fear During Uncertain and Certain Threat
Authors: Daniel E. Bradford, Katherine P. Magruder, Rachel A. Korhumel, John J. Curtin.
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Fear of certain threat and anxiety about uncertain threat are distinct emotions with unique behavioral, cognitive-attentional, and neuroanatomical components. Both anxiety and fear can be studied in the laboratory by measuring the potentiation of the startle reflex. The startle reflex is a defensive reflex that is potentiated when an organism is threatened and the need for defense is high. The startle reflex is assessed via electromyography (EMG) in the orbicularis oculi muscle elicited by brief, intense, bursts of acoustic white noise (i.e., “startle probes”). Startle potentiation is calculated as the increase in startle response magnitude during presentation of sets of visual threat cues that signal delivery of mild electric shock relative to sets of matched cues that signal the absence of shock (no-threat cues). In the Threat Probability Task, fear is measured via startle potentiation to high probability (100% cue-contingent shock; certain) threat cues whereas anxiety is measured via startle potentiation to low probability (20% cue-contingent shock; uncertain) threat cues. Measurement of startle potentiation during the Threat Probability Task provides an objective and easily implemented alternative to assessment of negative affect via self-report or other methods (e.g., neuroimaging) that may be inappropriate or impractical for some researchers. Startle potentiation has been studied rigorously in both animals (e.g., rodents, non-human primates) and humans which facilitates animal-to-human translational research. Startle potentiation during certain and uncertain threat provides an objective measure of negative affective and distinct emotional states (fear, anxiety) to use in research on psychopathology, substance use/abuse and broadly in affective science. As such, it has been used extensively by clinical scientists interested in psychopathology etiology and by affective scientists interested in individual differences in emotion.
Behavior, Issue 91, Startle; electromyography; shock; addiction; uncertainty; fear; anxiety; humans; psychophysiology; translational
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Using plusTipTracker Software to Measure Microtubule Dynamics in Xenopus laevis Growth Cones
Authors: Alina Stout, Salvatore D'Amico, Tiffany Enzenbacher, Patrick Ebbert, Laura Anne Lowery.
Institutions: Boston College.
Microtubule (MT) plus-end-tracking proteins (+TIPs) localize to the growing plus-ends of MTs and regulate MT dynamics1,2. One of the most well-known and widely-utilized +TIPs for analyzing MT dynamics is the End-Binding protein, EB1, which binds all growing MT plus-ends, and thus, is a marker for MT polymerization1. Many studies of EB1 behavior within growth cones have used time-consuming and biased computer-assisted, hand-tracking methods to analyze individual MTs1-3. Our approach is to quantify global parameters of MT dynamics using the software package, plusTipTracker4, following the acquisition of high-resolution, live images of tagged EB1 in cultured embryonic growth cones5. This software is a MATLAB-based, open-source, user-friendly package that combines automated detection, tracking, visualization, and analysis for movies of fluorescently-labeled +TIPs. Here, we present the protocol for using plusTipTracker for the analysis of fluorescently-labeled +TIP comets in cultured Xenopus laevis growth cones. However, this software can also be used to characterize MT dynamics in various cell types6-8.
Molecular Biology, Issue 91, plusTipTracker, microtubule plus-end-tracking proteins, EB1, growth cone, Xenopus laevis, live cell imaging analysis, microtubule dynamics
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Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Authors: C. R. Gallistel, Fuat Balci, David Freestone, Aaron Kheifets, Adam King.
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
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Oscillation and Reaction Board Techniques for Estimating Inertial Properties of a Below-knee Prosthesis
Authors: Jeremy D. Smith, Abbie E. Ferris, Gary D. Heise, Richard N. Hinrichs, Philip E. Martin.
Institutions: University of Northern Colorado, Arizona State University, Iowa State University.
The purpose of this study was two-fold: 1) demonstrate a technique that can be used to directly estimate the inertial properties of a below-knee prosthesis, and 2) contrast the effects of the proposed technique and that of using intact limb inertial properties on joint kinetic estimates during walking in unilateral, transtibial amputees. An oscillation and reaction board system was validated and shown to be reliable when measuring inertial properties of known geometrical solids. When direct measurements of inertial properties of the prosthesis were used in inverse dynamics modeling of the lower extremity compared with inertial estimates based on an intact shank and foot, joint kinetics at the hip and knee were significantly lower during the swing phase of walking. Differences in joint kinetics during stance, however, were smaller than those observed during swing. Therefore, researchers focusing on the swing phase of walking should consider the impact of prosthesis inertia property estimates on study outcomes. For stance, either one of the two inertial models investigated in our study would likely lead to similar outcomes with an inverse dynamics assessment.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, prosthesis inertia, amputee locomotion, below-knee prosthesis, transtibial amputee
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A Practical Guide to Phylogenetics for Nonexperts
Authors: Damien O'Halloran.
Institutions: The George Washington University.
Many researchers, across incredibly diverse foci, are applying phylogenetics to their research question(s). However, many researchers are new to this topic and so it presents inherent problems. Here we compile a practical introduction to phylogenetics for nonexperts. We outline in a step-by-step manner, a pipeline for generating reliable phylogenies from gene sequence datasets. We begin with a user-guide for similarity search tools via online interfaces as well as local executables. Next, we explore programs for generating multiple sequence alignments followed by protocols for using software to determine best-fit models of evolution. We then outline protocols for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships via maximum likelihood and Bayesian criteria and finally describe tools for visualizing phylogenetic trees. While this is not by any means an exhaustive description of phylogenetic approaches, it does provide the reader with practical starting information on key software applications commonly utilized by phylogeneticists. The vision for this article would be that it could serve as a practical training tool for researchers embarking on phylogenetic studies and also serve as an educational resource that could be incorporated into a classroom or teaching-lab.
Basic Protocol, Issue 84, phylogenetics, multiple sequence alignments, phylogenetic tree, BLAST executables, basic local alignment search tool, Bayesian models
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Semi-automated Optical Heartbeat Analysis of Small Hearts
Authors: Karen Ocorr, Martin Fink, Anthony Cammarato, Sanford I. Bernstein, Rolf Bodmer.
Institutions: The Sanford Burnham Institute for Medical Research, The Sanford Burnham Institute for Medical Research, San Diego State University.
We have developed a method for analyzing high speed optical recordings from Drosophila, zebrafish and embryonic mouse hearts (Fink, et. al., 2009). Our Semi-automatic Optical Heartbeat Analysis (SOHA) uses a novel movement detection algorithm that is able to detect cardiac movements associated with individual contractile and relaxation events. The program provides a host of physiologically relevant readouts including systolic and diastolic intervals, heart rate, as well as qualitative and quantitative measures of heartbeat arrhythmicity. The program also calculates heart diameter measurements during both diastole and systole from which fractional shortening and fractional area changes are calculated. Output is provided as a digital file compatible with most spreadsheet programs. Measurements are made for every heartbeat in a record increasing the statistical power of the output. We demonstrate each of the steps where user input is required and show the application of our methodology to the analysis of heart function in all three genetically tractable heart models.
Physiology, Issue 31, Drosophila, zebrafish, mouse, heart, myosin, dilated, restricted, cardiomyopathy, KCNQ, movement detection
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Determining Cell Number During Cell Culture using the Scepter Cell Counter
Authors: Kathleen Ongena, Chandreyee Das, Janet L. Smith, Sónia Gil, Grace Johnston.
Institutions: Millipore Inc.
Counting cells is often a necessary but tedious step for in vitro cell culture. Consistent cell concentrations ensure experimental reproducibility and accuracy. Cell counts are important for monitoring cell health and proliferation rate, assessing immortalization or transformation, seeding cells for subsequent experiments, transfection or infection, and preparing for cell-based assays. It is important that cell counts be accurate, consistent, and fast, particularly for quantitative measurements of cellular responses. Despite this need for speed and accuracy in cell counting, 71% of 400 researchers surveyed1 who count cells using a hemocytometer. While hemocytometry is inexpensive, it is laborious and subject to user bias and misuse, which results in inaccurate counts. Hemocytometers are made of special optical glass on which cell suspensions are loaded in specified volumes and counted under a microscope. Sources of errors in hemocytometry include: uneven cell distribution in the sample, too many or too few cells in the sample, subjective decisions as to whether a given cell falls within the defined counting area, contamination of the hemocytometer, user-to-user variation, and variation of hemocytometer filling rate2. To alleviate the tedium associated with manual counting, 29% of researchers count cells using automated cell counting devices; these include vision-based counters, systems that detect cells using the Coulter principle, or flow cytometry1. For most researchers, the main barrier to using an automated system is the price associated with these large benchtop instruments1. The Scepter cell counter is an automated handheld device that offers the automation and accuracy of Coulter counting at a relatively low cost. The system employs the Coulter principle of impedance-based particle detection3 in a miniaturized format using a combination of analog and digital hardware for sensing, signal processing, data storage, and graphical display. The disposable tip is engineered with a microfabricated, cell- sensing zone that enables discrimination by cell size and cell volume at sub-micron and sub-picoliter resolution. Enhanced with precision liquid-handling channels and electronics, the Scepter cell counter reports cell population statistics graphically displayed as a histogram.
Cellular Biology, Issue 45, Scepter, cell counting, cell culture, hemocytometer, Coulter, Impedance-based particle detection
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Polymerase Chain Reaction: Basic Protocol Plus Troubleshooting and Optimization Strategies
Authors: Todd C. Lorenz.
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
In the biological sciences there have been technological advances that catapult the discipline into golden ages of discovery. For example, the field of microbiology was transformed with the advent of Anton van Leeuwenhoek's microscope, which allowed scientists to visualize prokaryotes for the first time. The development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is one of those innovations that changed the course of molecular science with its impact spanning countless subdisciplines in biology. The theoretical process was outlined by Keppe and coworkers in 1971; however, it was another 14 years until the complete PCR procedure was described and experimentally applied by Kary Mullis while at Cetus Corporation in 1985. Automation and refinement of this technique progressed with the introduction of a thermal stable DNA polymerase from the bacterium Thermus aquaticus, consequently the name Taq DNA polymerase. PCR is a powerful amplification technique that can generate an ample supply of a specific segment of DNA (i.e., an amplicon) from only a small amount of starting material (i.e., DNA template or target sequence). While straightforward and generally trouble-free, there are pitfalls that complicate the reaction producing spurious results. When PCR fails it can lead to many non-specific DNA products of varying sizes that appear as a ladder or smear of bands on agarose gels. Sometimes no products form at all. Another potential problem occurs when mutations are unintentionally introduced in the amplicons, resulting in a heterogeneous population of PCR products. PCR failures can become frustrating unless patience and careful troubleshooting are employed to sort out and solve the problem(s). This protocol outlines the basic principles of PCR, provides a methodology that will result in amplification of most target sequences, and presents strategies for optimizing a reaction. By following this PCR guide, students should be able to: ● Set up reactions and thermal cycling conditions for a conventional PCR experiment ● Understand the function of various reaction components and their overall effect on a PCR experiment ● Design and optimize a PCR experiment for any DNA template ● Troubleshoot failed PCR experiments
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, PCR, optimization, primer design, melting temperature, Tm, troubleshooting, additives, enhancers, template DNA quantification, thermal cycler, molecular biology, genetics
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Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Authors: Marcus Cheetham, Lutz Jancke.
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2 proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness (DHL) (Figure 1). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
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The Dig Task: A Simple Scent Discrimination Reveals Deficits Following Frontal Brain Damage
Authors: Kris M. Martens, Cole Vonder Haar, Blake A. Hutsell, Michael R. Hoane.
Institutions: Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
Cognitive impairment is the most frequent cause of disability in humans following brain damage, yet the behavioral tasks used to assess cognition in rodent models of brain injury is lacking. Borrowing from the operant literature our laboratory utilized a basic scent discrimination paradigm1-4 in order to assess deficits in frontally-injured rats. Previously we have briefly described the Dig task and demonstrated that rats with frontal brain damage show severe deficits across multiple tests within the task5. Here we present a more detailed protocol for this task. Rats are placed into a chamber and allowed to discriminate between two scented sands, one of which contains a reinforcer. The trial ends after the rat either correctly discriminates (defined as digging in the correct scented sand), incorrectly discriminates, or 30 sec elapses. Rats that correctly discriminate are allowed to recover and consume the reinforcer. Rats that discriminate incorrectly are immediately removed from the chamber. This can continue through a variety of reversals and novel scents. The primary analysis is the accuracy for each scent pairing (cumulative proportion correct for each scent). The general findings from the Dig task suggest that it is a simple experimental preparation that can assess deficits in rats with bilateral frontal cortical damage compared to rats with unilateral parietal damage. The Dig task can also be easily incorporated into an existing cognitive test battery. The use of more tasks such as this one can lead to more accurate testing of frontal function following injury, which may lead to therapeutic options for treatment. All animal use was conducted in accordance with protocols approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.
Neuroscience, Issue 71, Medicine, Neurobiology, Anatomy, Physiology, Psychology, Behavior, cognitive assessment, dig task, scent discrimination, olfactory, brain injury, traumatic brain injury, TBI, brain damage, rats, animal model
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Identification of Disease-related Spatial Covariance Patterns using Neuroimaging Data
Authors: Phoebe Spetsieris, Yilong Ma, Shichun Peng, Ji Hyun Ko, Vijay Dhawan, Chris C. Tang, David Eidelberg.
Institutions: The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research.
The scaled subprofile model (SSM)1-4 is a multivariate PCA-based algorithm that identifies major sources of variation in patient and control group brain image data while rejecting lesser components (Figure 1). Applied directly to voxel-by-voxel covariance data of steady-state multimodality images, an entire group image set can be reduced to a few significant linearly independent covariance patterns and corresponding subject scores. Each pattern, termed a group invariant subprofile (GIS), is an orthogonal principal component that represents a spatially distributed network of functionally interrelated brain regions. Large global mean scalar effects that can obscure smaller network-specific contributions are removed by the inherent logarithmic conversion and mean centering of the data2,5,6. Subjects express each of these patterns to a variable degree represented by a simple scalar score that can correlate with independent clinical or psychometric descriptors7,8. Using logistic regression analysis of subject scores (i.e. pattern expression values), linear coefficients can be derived to combine multiple principal components into single disease-related spatial covariance patterns, i.e. composite networks with improved discrimination of patients from healthy control subjects5,6. Cross-validation within the derivation set can be performed using bootstrap resampling techniques9. Forward validation is easily confirmed by direct score evaluation of the derived patterns in prospective datasets10. Once validated, disease-related patterns can be used to score individual patients with respect to a fixed reference sample, often the set of healthy subjects that was used (with the disease group) in the original pattern derivation11. These standardized values can in turn be used to assist in differential diagnosis12,13 and to assess disease progression and treatment effects at the network level7,14-16. We present an example of the application of this methodology to FDG PET data of Parkinson's Disease patients and normal controls using our in-house software to derive a characteristic covariance pattern biomarker of disease.
Medicine, Issue 76, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Anatomy, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Basal Ganglia Diseases, Parkinsonian Disorders, Parkinson Disease, Movement Disorders, Neurodegenerative Diseases, PCA, SSM, PET, imaging biomarkers, functional brain imaging, multivariate spatial covariance analysis, global normalization, differential diagnosis, PD, brain, imaging, clinical techniques
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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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Quantifying Agonist Activity at G Protein-coupled Receptors
Authors: Frederick J. Ehlert, Hinako Suga, Michael T. Griffin.
Institutions: University of California, Irvine, University of California, Chapman University.
When an agonist activates a population of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), it elicits a signaling pathway that culminates in the response of the cell or tissue. This process can be analyzed at the level of a single receptor, a population of receptors, or a downstream response. Here we describe how to analyze the downstream response to obtain an estimate of the agonist affinity constant for the active state of single receptors. Receptors behave as quantal switches that alternate between active and inactive states (Figure 1). The active state interacts with specific G proteins or other signaling partners. In the absence of ligands, the inactive state predominates. The binding of agonist increases the probability that the receptor will switch into the active state because its affinity constant for the active state (Kb) is much greater than that for the inactive state (Ka). The summation of the random outputs of all of the receptors in the population yields a constant level of receptor activation in time. The reciprocal of the concentration of agonist eliciting half-maximal receptor activation is equivalent to the observed affinity constant (Kobs), and the fraction of agonist-receptor complexes in the active state is defined as efficacy (ε) (Figure 2). Methods for analyzing the downstream responses of GPCRs have been developed that enable the estimation of the Kobs and relative efficacy of an agonist 1,2. In this report, we show how to modify this analysis to estimate the agonist Kb value relative to that of another agonist. For assays that exhibit constitutive activity, we show how to estimate Kb in absolute units of M-1. Our method of analyzing agonist concentration-response curves 3,4 consists of global nonlinear regression using the operational model 5. We describe a procedure using the software application, Prism (GraphPad Software, Inc., San Diego, CA). The analysis yields an estimate of the product of Kobs and a parameter proportional to efficacy (τ). The estimate of τKobs of one agonist, divided by that of another, is a relative measure of Kb (RAi) 6. For any receptor exhibiting constitutive activity, it is possible to estimate a parameter proportional to the efficacy of the free receptor complex (τsys). In this case, the Kb value of an agonist is equivalent to τKobssys 3. Our method is useful for determining the selectivity of an agonist for receptor subtypes and for quantifying agonist-receptor signaling through different G proteins.
Molecular Biology, Issue 58, agonist activity, active state, ligand bias, constitutive activity, G protein-coupled receptor
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Designing and Implementing Nervous System Simulations on LEGO Robots
Authors: Daniel Blustein, Nikolai Rosenthal, Joseph Ayers.
Institutions: Northeastern University, Bremen University of Applied Sciences.
We present a method to use the commercially available LEGO Mindstorms NXT robotics platform to test systems level neuroscience hypotheses. The first step of the method is to develop a nervous system simulation of specific reflexive behaviors of an appropriate model organism; here we use the American Lobster. Exteroceptive reflexes mediated by decussating (crossing) neural connections can explain an animal's taxis towards or away from a stimulus as described by Braitenberg and are particularly well suited for investigation using the NXT platform.1 The nervous system simulation is programmed using LabVIEW software on the LEGO Mindstorms platform. Once the nervous system is tuned properly, behavioral experiments are run on the robot and on the animal under identical environmental conditions. By controlling the sensory milieu experienced by the specimens, differences in behavioral outputs can be observed. These differences may point to specific deficiencies in the nervous system model and serve to inform the iteration of the model for the particular behavior under study. This method allows for the experimental manipulation of electronic nervous systems and serves as a way to explore neuroscience hypotheses specifically regarding the neurophysiological basis of simple innate reflexive behaviors. The LEGO Mindstorms NXT kit provides an affordable and efficient platform on which to test preliminary biomimetic robot control schemes. The approach is also well suited for the high school classroom to serve as the foundation for a hands-on inquiry-based biorobotics curriculum.
Neuroscience, Issue 75, Neurobiology, Bioengineering, Behavior, Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science, Marine Biology, Biomimetics, Marine Science, Neurosciences, Synthetic Biology, Robotics, robots, Modeling, models, Sensory Fusion, nervous system, Educational Tools, programming, software, lobster, Homarus americanus, animal model
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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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