The large conducting arteries in vertebrates are composed of a specialized extracellular matrix designed to provide pulse dampening and reduce the work performed by the heart. The mix of matrix proteins determines the passive mechanical properties of the arterial wall1. When the matrix proteins are altered in development, aging, disease or injury, the arterial wall remodels, changing the mechanical properties and leading to subsequent cardiac adaptation2. In normal development, the remodeling leads to a functional cardiac and cardiovascular system optimized for the needs of the adult organism. In disease, the remodeling often leads to a negative feedback cycle that can cause cardiac failure and death. By quantifying passive arterial mechanical properties in development and disease, we can begin to understand the normal remodeling process to recreate it in tissue engineering and the pathological remodeling process to test disease treatments.
Mice are useful models for studying passive arterial mechanics in development and disease. They have a relatively short lifespan (mature adults by 3 months and aged adults by 2 years), so developmental3 and aging studies4 can be carried out over a limited time course. The advances in mouse genetics provide numerous genotypes and phenotypes to study changes in arterial mechanics with disease progression5 and disease treatment6. Mice can also be manipulated experimentally to study the effects of changes in hemodynamic parameters on the arterial remodeling process7. One drawback of the mouse model, especially for examining young ages, is the size of the arteries.
We describe a method for passive mechanical testing of carotid arteries from mice aged 3 days to adult (approximately 90 days). We adapt a commercial myograph system to mount the arteries and perform multiple pressure or axial stretch protocols on each specimen. We discuss suitable protocols for each age, the necessary measurements and provide example data. We also include data analysis strategies for rigorous mechanical characterization of the arteries.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
Acute Dissociation of Lamprey Reticulospinal Axons to Enable Recording from the Release Face Membrane of Individual Functional Presynaptic Terminals
Institutions: University of Illinois at Chicago.
Synaptic transmission is an extremely rapid process. Action potential driven influx of Ca2+
into the presynaptic terminal, through voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs) located in the release face membrane, is the trigger for vesicle fusion and neurotransmitter release. Crucial to the rapidity of synaptic transmission is the spatial and temporal synchrony between the arrival of the action potential, VGCCs and the neurotransmitter release machinery. The ability to directly record Ca2+
currents from the release face membrane of individual presynaptic terminals is imperative for a precise understanding of the relationship between presynaptic Ca2+
and neurotransmitter release. Access to the presynaptic release face membrane for electrophysiological recording is not available in most preparations and presynaptic Ca2+
entry has been characterized using imaging techniques and macroscopic current measurements – techniques that do not have sufficient temporal resolution to visualize Ca2+
entry. The characterization of VGCCs directly at single presynaptic terminals has not been possible in central synapses and has thus far been successfully achieved only in the calyx-type synapse of the chick ciliary ganglion and in rat calyces. We have successfully addressed this problem in the giant reticulospinal synapse of the lamprey spinal cord by developing an acutely dissociated preparation of the spinal cord that yields isolated reticulospinal axons with functional presynaptic terminals devoid of postsynaptic structures. We can fluorescently label and identify individual presynaptic terminals and target them for recording. Using this preparation, we have characterized VGCCs directly at the release face of individual presynaptic terminals using immunohistochemistry and electrophysiology approaches. Ca2+
currents have been recorded directly at the release face membrane of individual presynaptic terminals, the first such recording to be carried out at central synapses.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, reticulospinal synapse, reticulospinal axons, presynaptic terminal, presynaptic calcium, voltage-gated calcium channels, vesicle fusion, synaptic transmission, neurotransmitter release, spinal cord, lamprey, synaptic vesicles, acute dissociation
Deriving the Time Course of Glutamate Clearance with a Deconvolution Analysis of Astrocytic Transporter Currents
Institutions: National Institutes of Health.
The highest density of glutamate transporters in the brain is found in astrocytes. Glutamate transporters couple the movement of glutamate across the membrane with the co-transport of 3 Na+
and 1 H+
and the counter-transport of 1 K+
. The stoichiometric current generated by the transport process can be monitored with whole-cell patch-clamp recordings from astrocytes. The time course of the recorded current is shaped by the time course of the glutamate concentration profile to which astrocytes are exposed, the kinetics of glutamate transporters, and the passive electrotonic properties of astrocytic membranes. Here we describe the experimental and analytical methods that can be used to record glutamate transporter currents in astrocytes and isolate the time course of glutamate clearance from all other factors that shape the waveform of astrocytic transporter currents. The methods described here can be used to estimate the lifetime of flash-uncaged and synaptically-released glutamate at astrocytic membranes in any region of the central nervous system during health and disease.
Neurobiology, Issue 78, Neuroscience, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Biophysics, Astrocytes, Synapses, Glutamic Acid, Membrane Transport Proteins, Astrocytes, glutamate transporters, uptake, clearance, hippocampus, stratum radiatum, CA1, gene, brain, slice, animal model
Designing Silk-silk Protein Alloy Materials for Biomedical Applications
Institutions: Rowan University, Rowan University, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, Rowan University.
Fibrous proteins display different sequences and structures that have been used for various applications in biomedical fields such as biosensors, nanomedicine, tissue regeneration, and drug delivery. Designing materials based on the molecular-scale interactions between these proteins will help generate new multifunctional protein alloy biomaterials with tunable properties. Such alloy material systems also provide advantages in comparison to traditional synthetic polymers due to the materials biodegradability, biocompatibility, and tenability in the body. This article used the protein blends of wild tussah silk (Antheraea pernyi
) and domestic mulberry silk (Bombyx mori
) as an example to provide useful protocols regarding these topics, including how to predict protein-protein interactions by computational methods, how to produce protein alloy solutions, how to verify alloy systems by thermal analysis, and how to fabricate variable alloy materials including optical materials with diffraction gratings, electric materials with circuits coatings, and pharmaceutical materials for drug release and delivery. These methods can provide important information for designing the next generation multifunctional biomaterials based on different protein alloys.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, protein alloys, biomaterials, biomedical, silk blends, computational simulation, implantable electronic devices
Stretch in Brain Microvascular Endothelial Cells (cEND) as an In Vitro Traumatic Brain Injury Model of the Blood Brain Barrier
Institutions: Zentrum für operative Medizin der Universität Würzburg, University of Vienna.
Due to the high mortality incident brought about by traumatic brain injury (TBI), methods that would enable one to better understand the underlying mechanisms involved in it are useful for treatment. There are both in vivo
and in vitro
methods available for this purpose. In vivo
models can mimic actual head injury as it occurs during TBI. However, in vivo
techniques may not be exploited for studies at the cell physiology level. Hence, in vitro
methods are more advantageous for this purpose since they provide easier access to the cells and the extracellular environment for manipulation.
Our protocol presents an in vitro
model of TBI using stretch injury in brain microvascular endothelial cells. It utilizes pressure applied to the cells cultured in flexible-bottomed wells. The pressure applied may easily be controlled and can produce injury that ranges from low to severe. The murine brain microvascular endothelial cells (cEND) generated in our laboratory is a well-suited model for the blood brain barrier (BBB) thus providing an advantage to other systems that employ a similar technique. In addition, due to the simplicity of the method, experimental set-ups are easily duplicated. Thus, this model can be used in studying the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in TBI at the BBB.
Medicine, Issue 80, stretch injury, traumatic brain injury, blood-brain barrier, brain microvascular endothelial cells (cEND)
Isolation and Functional Characterization of Human Ventricular Cardiomyocytes from Fresh Surgical Samples
Institutions: University of Florence, University of Florence.
Cardiomyocytes from diseased hearts are subjected to complex remodeling processes involving changes in cell structure, excitation contraction coupling and membrane ion currents. Those changes are likely to be responsible for the increased arrhythmogenic risk and the contractile alterations leading to systolic and diastolic dysfunction in cardiac patients. However, most information on the alterations of myocyte function in cardiac diseases has come from animal models.
Here we describe and validate a protocol to isolate viable myocytes from small surgical samples of ventricular myocardium from patients undergoing cardiac surgery operations. The protocol is described in detail. Electrophysiological and intracellular calcium measurements are reported to demonstrate the feasibility of a number of single cell measurements in human ventricular cardiomyocytes obtained with this method.
The protocol reported here can be useful for future investigations of the cellular and molecular basis of functional alterations of the human heart in the presence of different cardiac diseases. Further, this method can be used to identify novel therapeutic targets at cellular level and to test the effectiveness of new compounds on human cardiomyocytes, with direct translational value.
Medicine, Issue 86, cardiology, cardiac cells, electrophysiology, excitation-contraction coupling, action potential, calcium, myocardium, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, cardiac patients, cardiac disease
A Novel Stretching Platform for Applications in Cell and Tissue Mechanobiology
Institutions: University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa, University of Calgary, University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa.
Tools that allow the application of mechanical forces to cells and tissues or that can quantify the mechanical properties of biological tissues have contributed dramatically to the understanding of basic mechanobiology. These techniques have been extensively used to demonstrate how the onset and progression of various diseases are heavily influenced by mechanical cues. This article presents a multi-functional biaxial stretching (BAXS) platform that can either mechanically stimulate single cells or quantify the mechanical stiffness of tissues. The BAXS platform consists of four voice coil motors that can be controlled independently. Single cells can be cultured on a flexible substrate that can be attached to the motors allowing one to expose the cells to complex, dynamic, and spatially varying strain fields. Conversely, by incorporating a force load cell, one can also quantify the mechanical properties of primary tissues as they are exposed to deformation cycles. In both cases, a proper set of clamps must be designed and mounted to the BAXS platform motors in order to firmly hold the flexible substrate or the tissue of interest. The BAXS platform can be mounted on an inverted microscope to perform simultaneous transmitted light and/or fluorescence imaging to examine the structural or biochemical response of the sample during stretching experiments. This article provides experimental details of the design and usage of the BAXS platform and presents results for single cell and whole tissue studies. The BAXS platform was used to measure the deformation of nuclei in single mouse myoblast cells in response to substrate strain and to measure the stiffness of isolated mouse aortas. The BAXS platform is a versatile tool that can be combined with various optical microscopies in order to provide novel mechanobiological insights at the sub-cellular, cellular and whole tissue levels.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, cell stretching, tissue mechanics, nuclear mechanics, uniaxial, biaxial, anisotropic, mechanobiology
One-channel Cell-attached Patch-clamp Recording
Institutions: University at Buffalo, SUNY, University at Buffalo, SUNY, The Scripps Research Institute, University at Buffalo, SUNY.
Ion channel proteins are universal devices for fast communication across biological membranes. The temporal signature of the ionic flux they generate depends on properties intrinsic to each channel protein as well as the mechanism by which it is generated and controlled and represents an important area of current research. Information about the operational dynamics of ion channel proteins can be obtained by observing long stretches of current produced by a single molecule. Described here is a protocol for obtaining one-channel cell-attached patch-clamp current recordings for a ligand gated ion channel, the NMDA receptor, expressed heterologously in HEK293 cells or natively in cortical neurons. Also provided are instructions on how to adapt the method to other ion channels of interest by presenting the example of the mechano-sensitive channel PIEZO1. This method can provide data regarding the channel’s conductance properties and the temporal sequence of open-closed conformations that make up the channel’s activation mechanism, thus helping to understand their functions in health and disease.
Neuroscience, Issue 88, biophysics, ion channels, single-channel recording, NMDA receptors, gating, electrophysiology, patch-clamp, kinetic analysis
The Preparation of Electrohydrodynamic Bridges from Polar Dielectric Liquids
Institutions: Wetsus - Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Water Technology, IRCAM GmbH, Graz University of Technology.
Horizontal and vertical liquid bridges are simple and powerful tools for exploring the interaction of high intensity electric fields (8-20 kV/cm) and polar dielectric liquids. These bridges are unique from capillary bridges in that they exhibit extensibility beyond a few millimeters, have complex bi-directional mass transfer patterns, and emit non-Planck infrared radiation. A number of common solvents can form such bridges as well as low conductivity solutions and colloidal suspensions. The macroscopic behavior is governed by electrohydrodynamics and provides a means of studying fluid flow phenomena without the presence of rigid walls. Prior to the onset of a liquid bridge several important phenomena can be observed including advancing meniscus height (electrowetting), bulk fluid circulation (the Sumoto effect), and the ejection of charged droplets (electrospray). The interaction between surface, polarization, and displacement forces can be directly examined by varying applied voltage and bridge length. The electric field, assisted by gravity, stabilizes the liquid bridge against Rayleigh-Plateau instabilities. Construction of basic apparatus for both vertical and horizontal orientation along with operational examples, including thermographic images, for three liquids (e.g.
, water, DMSO, and glycerol) is presented.
Physics, Issue 91, floating water bridge, polar dielectric liquids, liquid bridge, electrohydrodynamics, thermography, dielectrophoresis, electrowetting, Sumoto effect, Armstrong effect
Analysis of Tubular Membrane Networks in Cardiac Myocytes from Atria and Ventricles
Institutions: Heart Research Center Goettingen, University Medical Center Goettingen, German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) partner site Goettingen, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
In cardiac myocytes a complex network of membrane tubules - the transverse-axial tubule system (TATS) - controls deep intracellular signaling functions. While the outer surface membrane and associated TATS membrane components appear to be continuous, there are substantial differences in lipid and protein content. In ventricular myocytes (VMs), certain TATS components are highly abundant contributing to rectilinear tubule networks and regular branching 3D architectures. It is thought that peripheral TATS components propagate action potentials from the cell surface to thousands of remote intracellular sarcoendoplasmic reticulum (SER) membrane contact domains, thereby activating intracellular Ca2+
release units (CRUs). In contrast to VMs, the organization and functional role of TATS membranes in atrial myocytes (AMs) is significantly different and much less understood. Taken together, quantitative structural characterization of TATS membrane networks in healthy and diseased myocytes is an essential prerequisite towards better understanding of functional plasticity and pathophysiological reorganization. Here, we present a strategic combination of protocols for direct quantitative analysis of TATS membrane networks in living VMs and AMs. For this, we accompany primary cell isolations of mouse VMs and/or AMs with critical quality control steps and direct membrane staining protocols for fluorescence imaging of TATS membranes. Using an optimized workflow for confocal or superresolution TATS image processing, binarized and skeletonized data are generated for quantitative analysis of the TATS network and its components. Unlike previously published indirect regional aggregate image analysis strategies, our protocols enable direct characterization of specific components and derive complex physiological properties of TATS membrane networks in living myocytes with high throughput and open access software tools. In summary, the combined protocol strategy can be readily applied for quantitative TATS network studies during physiological myocyte adaptation or disease changes, comparison of different cardiac or skeletal muscle cell types, phenotyping of transgenic models, and pharmacological or therapeutic interventions.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cardiac myocyte, atria, ventricle, heart, primary cell isolation, fluorescence microscopy, membrane tubule, transverse-axial tubule system, image analysis, image processing, T-tubule, collagenase
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
Whole Cell Patch Clamp for Investigating the Mechanisms of Infrared Neural Stimulation
Institutions: Swinburne University of Technology, The University of Melbourne.
It has been demonstrated in recent years that pulsed, infrared laser light can be used to elicit electrical responses in neural tissue, independent of any further modification of the target tissue. Infrared neural stimulation has been reported in a variety of peripheral and sensory neural tissue in vivo
, with particular interest shown in stimulation of neurons in the auditory nerve. However, while INS has been shown to work in these settings, the mechanism (or mechanisms) by which infrared light causes neural excitation is currently not well understood. The protocol presented here describes a whole cell patch clamp method designed to facilitate the investigation of infrared neural stimulation in cultured primary auditory neurons. By thoroughly characterizing the response of these cells to infrared laser illumination in vitro
under controlled conditions, it may be possible to gain an improved understanding of the fundamental physical and biochemical processes underlying infrared neural stimulation.
Neuroscience, Issue 77, Biomedical Engineering, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Physiology, Primary Cell Culture, Biophysics, Electrophysiology, fiber optics, infrared neural stimulation, patch clamp, in vitro models, spiral ganglion neurons, neurons, patch clamp recordings, cell culture
Extracellularly Identifying Motor Neurons for a Muscle Motor Pool in Aplysia californica
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University , Case Western Reserve University , Case Western Reserve University .
In animals with large identified neurons (e.g.
mollusks), analysis of motor pools is done using intracellular techniques1,2,3,4
. Recently, we developed a technique to extracellularly stimulate and record individual neurons in Aplysia californica5
. We now describe a protocol for using this technique to uniquely identify and characterize motor neurons within a motor pool.
This extracellular technique has advantages. First, extracellular electrodes can stimulate and record neurons through the sheath5
, so it does not need to be removed. Thus, neurons will be healthier in extracellular experiments than in intracellular ones. Second, if ganglia are rotated by appropriate pinning of the sheath, extracellular electrodes can access neurons on both sides of the ganglion, which makes it easier and more efficient to identify multiple neurons in the same preparation. Third, extracellular electrodes do not need to penetrate cells, and thus can be easily moved back and forth among neurons, causing less damage to them. This is especially useful when one tries to record multiple neurons during repeating motor patterns that may only persist for minutes. Fourth, extracellular electrodes are more flexible than intracellular ones during muscle movements. Intracellular electrodes may pull out and damage neurons during muscle contractions. In contrast, since extracellular electrodes are gently pressed onto the sheath above neurons, they usually stay above the same neuron during muscle contractions, and thus can be used in more intact preparations.
To uniquely identify motor neurons for a motor pool (in particular, the I1/I3 muscle in Aplysia
) using extracellular electrodes, one can use features that do not require intracellular measurements as criteria: soma size and location, axonal projection, and muscle innervation4,6,7
. For the particular motor pool used to illustrate the technique, we recorded from buccal nerves 2 and 3 to measure axonal projections, and measured the contraction forces of the I1/I3 muscle to determine the pattern of muscle innervation for the individual motor neurons.
We demonstrate the complete process of first identifying motor neurons using muscle innervation, then characterizing their timing during motor patterns, creating a simplified diagnostic method for rapid identification. The simplified and more rapid diagnostic method is superior for more intact preparations, e.g.
in the suspended buccal mass preparation8
or in vivo9
. This process can also be applied in other motor pools10,11,12
or in other animal systems2,3,13,14
Neuroscience, Issue 73, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Anatomy, Behavior, Neurobiology, Animal, Neurosciences, Neurophysiology, Electrophysiology, Aplysia, Aplysia californica, California sea slug, invertebrate, feeding, buccal mass, ganglia, motor neurons, neurons, extracellular stimulation and recordings, extracellular electrodes, animal model
Evaluation of Muscle Function of the Extensor Digitorum Longus Muscle Ex vivo and Tibialis Anterior Muscle In situ in Mice
Institutions: University of Missouri.
Body movements are mainly provided by mechanical function of skeletal muscle. Skeletal muscle is composed of numerous bundles of myofibers that are sheathed by intramuscular connective tissues. Each myofiber contains many myofibrils that run longitudinally along the length of the myofiber. Myofibrils are the contractile apparatus of muscle and they are composed of repeated contractile units known as sarcomeres. A sarcomere unit contains actin and myosin filaments that are spaced by the Z discs and titin protein. Mechanical function of skeletal muscle is defined by the contractile and passive properties of muscle. The contractile properties are used to characterize the amount of force generated during muscle contraction, time of force generation and time of muscle relaxation. Any factor that affects muscle contraction (such as interaction between actin and myosin filaments, homeostasis of calcium, ATP/ADP ratio, etc.) influences the contractile properties. The passive properties refer to the elastic and viscous properties (stiffness and viscosity) of the muscle in the absence of contraction. These properties are determined by the extracellular and the intracellular structural components (such as titin) and connective tissues (mainly collagen) 1-2
. The contractile and passive properties are two inseparable aspects of muscle function. For example, elbow flexion is accomplished by contraction of muscles in the anterior compartment of the upper arm and passive stretch of muscles in the posterior compartment of the upper arm. To truly understand muscle function, both contractile and passive properties should be studied.
The contractile and/or passive mechanical properties of muscle are often compromised in muscle diseases. A good example is Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), a severe muscle wasting disease caused by dystrophin deficiency 3
. Dystrophin is a cytoskeletal protein that stabilizes the muscle cell membrane (sarcolemma) during muscle contraction 4
. In the absence of dystrophin, the sarcolemma is damaged by the shearing force generated during force transmission. This membrane tearing initiates a chain reaction which leads to muscle cell death and loss of contractile machinery. As a consequence, muscle force is reduced and dead myofibers are replaced by fibrotic tissues 5
. This later change increases muscle stiffness 6
. Accurate measurement of these changes provides important guide to evaluate disease progression and to determine therapeutic efficacy of novel gene/cell/pharmacological interventions. Here, we present two methods to evaluate both contractile and passive mechanical properties of the extensor digitorum longus (EDL) muscle and the contractile properties of the tibialis anterior (TA) muscle.
Medicine, Issue 72, Immunology, Microbiology, Anatomy, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Muscle, Skeletal, Neuromuscular Diseases, Drug Therapy, Gene Therapy, Musculoskeletal Diseases, Skeletal Muscle, Tibialis Anterior, Contractile Properties, Passive Properties, EDL, TA, animal model
An Experimental System to Study Mechanotransduction in Fetal Lung Cells
Institutions: Alpert Medical School of Brown University.
Mechanical forces generated in utero
by repetitive breathing-like movements and by fluid distension are critical for normal lung development. A key component of lung development is the differentiation of alveolar type II epithelial cells, the major source of pulmonary surfactant. These cells also participate in fluid homeostasis in the alveolar lumen, host defense, and injury repair. In addition, distal lung parenchyma cells can be directly exposed to exaggerated stretch during mechanical ventilation after birth. However, the precise molecular and cellular mechanisms by which lung cells sense mechanical stimuli to influence lung development and to promote lung injury are not completely understood. Here, we provide a simple and high purity method to isolate type II cells and fibroblasts from rodent fetal lungs. Then, we describe an in vitro
system, The Flexcell Strain Unit, to provide mechanical stimulation to fetal cells, simulating mechanical forces in fetal lung development or lung injury. This experimental system provides an excellent tool to investigate molecular and cellular mechanisms in fetal lung cells exposed to stretch. Using this approach, our laboratory has identified several receptors and signaling proteins that participate in mechanotransduction in fetal lung development and lung injury.
Bioengineering, Issue 60, Mechanical stretch, differentiation, lung injury, isolation, fetal, type II epithelial cells, fibroblasts
Stretching Short Sequences of DNA with Constant Force Axial Optical Tweezers
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Michigan .
Single-molecule techniques for stretching DNA of contour lengths less than a kilobase are fraught with experimental difficulties. However, many interesting biological events such as histone binding and protein-mediated looping of DNA1,2
, occur on this length scale. In recent years, the mechanical properties of DNA have been shown to play a significant role in fundamental cellular processes like the packaging of DNA into compact nucleosomes and chromatin fibers3,4
. Clearly, it is then important to understand the mechanical properties of short stretches of DNA. In this paper, we provide a practical guide to a single-molecule optical tweezing technique that we have developed to study the mechanical behavior of DNA with contour lengths as short as a few hundred basepairs.
The major hurdle in stretching short segments of DNA is that conventional optical tweezers are generally designed to apply force in a direction lateral to the stage5,6,
(see Fig. 1). In this geometry, the angle between the bead and the coverslip, to which the DNA is tethered, becomes very steep for submicron length DNA. The axial position must now be accounted for, which can be a challenge, and, since the extension drags the microsphere closer to the coverslip, steric effects are enhanced. Furthermore, as a result of the asymmetry of the microspheres, lateral extensions will generate varying levels of torque due to rotation of the microsphere within the optical trap since the direction of the reactive force changes during the extension.
Alternate methods for stretching submicron DNA run up against their own unique hurdles. For instance, a dual-beam optical trap is limited to stretching DNA of around a wavelength, at which point interference effects between the two traps and from light scattering between the microspheres begin to pose a significant problem. Replacing one of the traps with a micropipette would most likely suffer from similar challenges. While one could directly use the axial potential to stretch the DNA, an active feedback scheme would be needed to apply a constant force and the bandwidth of this will be quite limited, especially at low forces.
We circumvent these fundamental problems by directly pulling the DNA away from the coverslip by using a constant force axial optical tweezers7,8
. This is achieved by trapping the bead in a linear region of the optical potential, where the optical force is constant-the strength of which can be tuned by adjusting the laser power. Trapping within the linear region also serves as an all optical force-clamp on the DNA that extends for nearly 350 nm in the axial direction. We simultaneously compensate for thermal and mechanical drift by finely adjusting the position of the stage so that a reference microsphere stuck to the coverslip remains at the same position and focus, allowing for a virtually limitless observation period.
Bioengineering, Issue 56, Genetics, DNA stretching, DNA, Axial Optical Tweezers, Single-Molecule Biophysics, Biophysics
Membrane Potentials, Synaptic Responses, Neuronal Circuitry, Neuromodulation and Muscle Histology Using the Crayfish: Student Laboratory Exercises
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
The purpose of this report is to help develop an understanding of the effects caused by ion gradients across a biological membrane. Two aspects that influence a cell's membrane potential and which we address in these experiments are: (1) Ion concentration of K+
on the outside of the membrane, and (2) the permeability of the membrane to specific ions. The crayfish abdominal extensor muscles are in groupings with some being tonic (slow) and others phasic (fast) in their biochemical and physiological phenotypes, as well as in their structure; the motor neurons that innervate these muscles are correspondingly different in functional characteristics. We use these muscles as well as the superficial, tonic abdominal flexor muscle to demonstrate properties in synaptic transmission. In addition, we introduce a sensory-CNS-motor neuron-muscle circuit to demonstrate the effect of cuticular sensory stimulation as well as the influence of neuromodulators on certain aspects of the circuit. With the techniques obtained in this exercise, one can begin to answer many questions remaining in other experimental preparations as well as in physiological applications related to medicine and health. We have demonstrated the usefulness of model invertebrate preparations to address fundamental questions pertinent to all animals.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, neurophysiology, muscle, anatomy, electrophysiology
Modeling Biological Membranes with Circuit Boards and Measuring Electrical Signals in Axons: Student Laboratory Exercises
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
This is a demonstration of how electrical models can be used to characterize biological membranes. This exercise also introduces biophysical terminology used in electrophysiology. The same equipment is used in the membrane model as on live preparations. Some properties of an isolated nerve cord are investigated: nerve action potentials, recruitment of neurons, and responsiveness of the nerve cord to environmental factors.
Basic Protocols, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, Modeling, Student laboratory, Nerve cord
High-Resolution Endocardial and Epicardial Optical Mapping in a Sheep Model of Stretch-Induced Atrial Fibrillation
Institutions: University of Michigan .
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a complex cardiac arrhythmia with high morbidity and mortality.1,2
It is the most common sustained cardiac rhythm disturbance seen in clinical practice and its prevalence is expected to increase in the coming years.3
Increased intra-atrial pressure and dilatation have been long recognized to lead to AF,1,4
which highlights the relevance of using animal models and stretch to study AF dynamics. Understanding the mechanisms underlying AF requires visualization of the cardiac electrical waves with high spatial and temporal resolution. While high-temporal resolution can be achieved by conventional electrical mapping traditionally used in human electrophysiological studies, the small number of intra-atrial electrodes that can be used simultaneously limits the spatial resolution and precludes any detailed tracking of the electrical waves during the arrhythmia. The introduction of optical mapping in the early 90's enabled wide-field characterization of fibrillatory activity together with sub-millimeter spatial resolution in animal models5,6
and led to the identification of rapidly spinning electrical wave patterns (rotors) as the sources of the fibrillatory activity that may occur in the ventricles or the atria.7-9
Using combined time- and frequency-domain analyses of optical mapping it is possible to demonstrate discrete sites of high frequency periodic activity during AF, along with frequency gradients between left and right atrium. The region with fastest rotors activates at the highest frequency and drives the overall arrhythmia.10,11
The waves emanating from such rotor interact with either functional or anatomic obstacles in their path, resulting in the phenomenon of fibrillatory conduction.12
Mapping the endocardial surface of the posterior left atrium (PLA) allows the tracking of AF wave dynamics in the region with the highest rotor frequency. Importantly, the PLA is the region where intracavitary catheter-based ablative procedures are most successful terminating AF in patients,13
which underscores the relevance of studying AF dynamics from the interior of the left atrium. Here we describe a sheep model of acute stretch-induced AF, which resembles some of the characteristics of human paroxysmal AF. Epicardial mapping on the left atrium is complemented with endocardial mapping of the PLA using a dual-channel rigid borescope c-mounted to a CCD camera, which represents the most direct approach to visualize the patterns of activation in the most relevant region for AF maintenance.
Medicine, Issue 53, atrial fibrillation, endocardial mapping, patterns of activation, posterior left atrium
Axon Stretch Growth: The Mechanotransduction of Neuronal Growth
Institutions: New Jersey Institute of Technology, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
During pre-synaptic embryonic development, neuronal processes traverse short distances to reach their targets via growth cone. Over time, neuronal somata are separated from their axon terminals due to skeletal growth of the enlarging organism (Weiss 1941; Gray, Hukkanen et al.
1992). This mechanotransduction induces a secondary mode of neuronal growth capable of accommodating continual elongation of the axon (Bray 1984; Heidemann and Buxbaum 1994; Heidemann, Lamoureux et al.
1995; Pfister, Iwata et al.
Axon Stretch Growth (ASG) is conceivably a central factor in the maturation of short embryonic processes into the long nerves and white matter tracts characteristic of the adult nervous system. To study ASG in vitro
, we engineered bioreactors to apply tension to the short axonal processes of neuronal cultures (Loverde, Ozoka et al.
2011). Here, we detail the methods we use to prepare bioreactors and conduct ASG. First, within each stretching lane of the bioreactor, neurons are plated upon a micro-manipulated towing substrate. Next, neurons regenerate their axonal processes, via growth cone extension, onto a stationary substrate. Finally, stretch growth is performed by towing the plated cell bodies away from the axon terminals adhered to the stationary substrate; recapitulating skeletal growth after growth cone extension.
Previous work has shown that ASG of embryonic rat dorsal root ganglia neurons are capable of unprecedented growth rates up to 10mm/day, reaching lengths of up to 10cm; while concurrently resulting in increased axonal diameters (Smith, Wolf et al.
2001; Pfister, Iwata et al.
2004; Pfister, Bonislawski et al.
2006; Pfister, Iwata et al.
2006; Smith 2009). This is in dramatic contrast to regenerative growth cone extension (in absence of mechanical stimuli) where growth rates average 1mm/day with successful regeneration limited to lengths of less than 3cm (Fu and Gordon 1997; Pfister, Gordon et al.
2011). Accordingly, further study of ASG may help to reveal dysregulated growth mechanisms that limit regeneration in the absence of mechanical stimuli.
Bioengineering, Issue 54, tissue engineering, live imaging, axon stretch growth, nerve development, neuron, neuroscience
Stretching Micropatterned Cells on a PDMS Membrane
Institutions: Institut Curie.
Mechanical forces exerted on cells and/or tissues play a major role in numerous processes. We have developed a device to stretch cells plated on a PolyDiMethylSiloxane (PDMS) membrane, compatible with imaging. This technique is reproducible and versatile. The PDMS membrane can be micropatterned in order to confine cells or tissues to a specific geometry. The first step is to print micropatterns onto the PDMS membrane with a deep UV technique. The PDMS membrane is then mounted on a mechanical stretcher. A chamber is bound on top of the membrane with biocompatible grease to allow gliding during the stretch. The cells are seeded and allowed to spread for several hours on the micropatterns. The sample can be stretched and unstretched multiple times with the use of a micrometric screw. It takes less than a minute to apply the stretch to its full extent (around 30%). The technique presented here does not include a motorized device, which is necessary for applying repeated stretch cycles quickly and/or computer controlled stretching, but this can be implemented. Stretching of cells or tissue can be of interest for questions related to cell forces, cell response to mechanical stress or tissue morphogenesis. This video presentation will show how to avoid typical problems that might arise when doing this type of seemingly simple experiment.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, micropatterns, stretching, forces, PDMS, microscopy, polarity, mechanical forces
Optical Mapping of Action Potentials and Calcium Transients in the Mouse Heart
Institutions: Washington University in St. Louis.
The mouse heart is a popular model for cardiovascular studies due to the existence of low cost technology for genetic engineering in this species. Cardiovascular physiological phenotyping of the mouse heart can be easily done using fluorescence imaging employing various probes for transmembrane potential (Vm
), calcium transients (CaT), and other parameters. Excitation-contraction coupling is characterized by action potential and intracellular calcium dynamics; therefore, it is critically important to map both Vm
and CaT simultaneously from the same location on the heart1-4
. Simultaneous optical mapping from Langendorff perfused mouse hearts has the potential to elucidate mechanisms underlying heart failure, arrhythmias, metabolic disease, and other heart diseases. Visualization of activation, conduction velocity, action potential duration, and other parameters at a myriad of sites cannot be achieved from cellular level investigation but is well solved by optical mapping1,5,6
. In this paper we present the instrumentation setup and experimental conditions for simultaneous optical mapping of Vm
and CaT in mouse hearts with high spatio-temporal resolution using state-of-the-art CMOS imaging technology. Consistent optical recordings obtained with this method illustrate that simultaneous optical mapping of Langendorff perfused mouse hearts is both feasible and reliable.
Bioengineering, Issue 55, optical mapping, action potential, calcium transient, mouse, heart
Mechanical Stimulation of Stem Cells Using Cyclic Uniaxial Strain
Institutions: University of California, Berkeley.
The role of mechanical forces in the development and maintenance of biological tissues is well documented, including several mechanically regulated phenomena such as bone remodeling, muscular hypertrophy, and smooth muscle cell plasticity. However, the forces involved are often extremely complex and difficult to monitor and control in vivo. To better investigate the effects of mechanical forces on cells, we have developed an in vitro method for applying uniaxial cyclic tensile strain to adherent cells cultured on elastic membranes. This method utilizes a custom-designed bioreactor with a motorized cam-rotor system to apply the desired force. Here we present a step-by-step video protocol demonstrating how to assemble the various components of each "stretch chamber", including, in this case, a silicone membrane with micropatterned topography to orient the cells with the direction of the strain. We also describe procedures for sterilizing the chambers, seeding cells onto the membrane, latching the chamber into the bioreactor, and adjusting the mechanical parameters (i.e. magnitude and rate of strain). The procedures outlined in this particular protocol are specific for seeding human mesenchymal stem cells onto silicone membranes with 10 µm wide channels oriented parallel to the direction of strain. However, the methods and materials presented in this system are flexible enough to accommodate a number of variations on this theme: strain rate, magnitude, duration, cell type, membrane topography, membrane coating, etc. can all be tailored to the desired application or outcome. This is a robust method for investigating the effects of uniaxial tensile strain applied to cells in vitro.
Cell Biology, Issue 6, stem cells, tissue engineering, tissue culture, mechanical strain, uniaxial, micropatterning, bioreactor