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Automated universal BRAF state detection within the activation segment in skin metastases by pyrosequencing-based assay U-BRAF(V600).
PUBLISHED: 02-12-2013
Malignant melanoma is a highly-aggressive type of malignancy with considerable metastatic potential and frequent resistance to cytotoxic agents. BRAF mutant protein was recently recognized as therapeutic target in metastatic melanoma. We present a newly-developed U-BRAF(V600) approach - a universal pyrosequencing-based assay for mutation detection within activation segment in exon 15 of human braf. We identified 5 different BRAF mutations in a single assay analyzing 75 different formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) samples of cutaneous melanoma metastases from 29 patients. We found BRAF mutations in 21 of 29 metastases. All mutant variants were quantitatively detectable by the newly-developed U-BRAF(V600) assay. These results were confirmed by ultra-deep-sequencing validation ((~)60,000-fold coverage). In contrast to all other BRAF state detection methods, the U-BRAF(V600) assay is capable of automated quantitative identification of at least 36 previously-published BRAF mutations. Under the precaution of a minimum of 3% mutated cells in front of a background of wild type cells, U-BRAFV600 assay design completely excludes false wild-type results. The corresponding algorithm for classification of BRAF-mutated variants is provided. The single-reaction assay and data analysis automation makes our approach suitable for the assessment of large clinical sample sizes. Therefore, we suggest U-BRAF(V600) assay as a most powerful sequencing-based diagnostic tool to automatically identify BRAF state as a prerequisite to targeted therapy.
Authors: Inti Zlobec, Guido Suter, Aurel Perren, Alessandro Lugli.
Published: 09-23-2014
Biomarker research relies on tissue microarrays (TMA). TMAs are produced by repeated transfer of small tissue cores from a ‘donor’ block into a ‘recipient’ block and then used for a variety of biomarker applications. The construction of conventional TMAs is labor intensive, imprecise, and time-consuming. Here, a protocol using next-generation Tissue Microarrays (ngTMA) is outlined. ngTMA is based on TMA planning and design, digital pathology, and automated tissue microarraying. The protocol is illustrated using an example of 134 metastatic colorectal cancer patients. Histological, statistical and logistical aspects are considered, such as the tissue type, specific histological regions, and cell types for inclusion in the TMA, the number of tissue spots, sample size, statistical analysis, and number of TMA copies. Histological slides for each patient are scanned and uploaded onto a web-based digital platform. There, they are viewed and annotated (marked) using a 0.6-2.0 mm diameter tool, multiple times using various colors to distinguish tissue areas. Donor blocks and 12 ‘recipient’ blocks are loaded into the instrument. Digital slides are retrieved and matched to donor block images. Repeated arraying of annotated regions is automatically performed resulting in an ngTMA. In this example, six ngTMAs are planned containing six different tissue types/histological zones. Two copies of the ngTMAs are desired. Three to four slides for each patient are scanned; 3 scan runs are necessary and performed overnight. All slides are annotated; different colors are used to represent the different tissues/zones, namely tumor center, invasion front, tumor/stroma, lymph node metastases, liver metastases, and normal tissue. 17 annotations/case are made; time for annotation is 2-3 min/case. 12 ngTMAs are produced containing 4,556 spots. Arraying time is 15-20 hr. Due to its precision, flexibility and speed, ngTMA is a powerful tool to further improve the quality of TMAs used in clinical and translational research.
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Patient Derived Cell Culture and Isolation of CD133+ Putative Cancer Stem Cells from Melanoma
Authors: Yvonne Welte, Cathrin Davies, Reinhold Schäfer, Christian R.A. Regenbrecht.
Institutions: Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Free University Berlin, Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin.
Despite improved treatments options for melanoma available today, patients with advanced malignant melanoma still have a poor prognosis for progression-free and overall survival. Therefore, translational research needs to provide further molecular evidence to improve targeted therapies for malignant melanomas. In the past, oncogenic mechanisms related to melanoma were extensively studied in established cell lines. On the way to more personalized treatment regimens based on individual genetic profiles, we propose to use patient-derived cell lines instead of generic cell lines. Together with high quality clinical data, especially on patient follow-up, these cells will be instrumental to better understand the molecular mechanisms behind melanoma progression. Here, we report the establishment of primary melanoma cultures from dissected fresh tumor tissue. This procedure includes mincing and dissociation of the tissue into single cells, removal of contaminations with erythrocytes and fibroblasts as well as primary culture and reliable verification of the cells' melanoma origin. Recent reports revealed that melanomas, like the majority of tumors, harbor a small subpopulation of cancer stem cells (CSCs), which seem to exclusively fuel tumor initiation and progression towards the metastatic state. One of the key markers for CSC identification and isolation in melanoma is CD133. To isolate CD133+ CSCs from primary melanoma cultures, we have modified and optimized the Magnetic-Activated Cell Sorting (MACS) procedure from Miltenyi resulting in high sorting purity and viability of CD133+ CSCs and CD133- bulk, which can be cultivated and functionally analyzed thereafter.
Cancer Biology, Issue 73, Medicine, Stem Cell Biology, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Genetics, Oncology, Primary cell culture, melanoma, MACS, cancer stem cells, CD133, cancer, prostate cancer cells, melanoma, stem cells, cell culture, personalized treatment
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Screening for Melanoma Modifiers using a Zebrafish Autochthonous Tumor Model
Authors: Sharanya Iyengar, Yariv Houvras, Craig J. Ceol.
Institutions: University of Massachusetts Medical School, Weill Cornell Medical College , New York Presbyterian Hospital.
Genomic studies of human cancers have yielded a wealth of information about genes that are altered in tumors1,2,3. A challenge arising from these studies is that many genes are altered, and it can be difficult to distinguish genetic alterations that drove tumorigenesis from that those arose incidentally during transformation. To draw this distinction it is beneficial to have an assay that can quantitatively measure the effect of an altered gene on tumor initiation and other processes that enable tumors to persist and disseminate. Here we present a rapid means to screen large numbers of candidate melanoma modifiers in zebrafish using an autochthonous tumor model4 that encompasses steps required for melanoma initiation and maintenance. A key reagent in this assay is the miniCoopR vector, which couples a wild-type copy of the mitfa melanocyte specification factor to a Gateway recombination cassette into which candidate melanoma genes can be recombined5. The miniCoopR vector has a mitfa rescuing minigene which contains the promoter, open reading frame and 3'-untranslated region of the wild-type mitfa gene. It allows us to make constructs using full-length open reading frames of candidate melanoma modifiers. These individual clones can then be injected into single cell Tg(mitfa:BRAFV600E);p53(lf);mitfa(lf)zebrafish embryos. The miniCoopR vector gets integrated by Tol2-mediated transgenesis6 and rescues melanocytes. Because they are physically coupled to the mitfa rescuing minigene, candidate genes are expressed in rescued melanocytes, some of which will transform and develop into tumors. The effect of a candidate gene on melanoma initiation and melanoma cell properties can be measured using melanoma-free survival curves, invasion assays, antibody staining and transplantation assays.
Cancer Biology, Issue 69, Medicine, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Melanoma, zebrafish, Danio rerio, mitfa, melanocytes, tumor model, miniCoopR
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Profiling of Estrogen-regulated MicroRNAs in Breast Cancer Cells
Authors: Anne Katchy, Cecilia Williams.
Institutions: University of Houston.
Estrogen plays vital roles in mammary gland development and breast cancer progression. It mediates its function by binding to and activating the estrogen receptors (ERs), ERα, and ERβ. ERα is frequently upregulated in breast cancer and drives the proliferation of breast cancer cells. The ERs function as transcription factors and regulate gene expression. Whereas ERα's regulation of protein-coding genes is well established, its regulation of noncoding microRNA (miRNA) is less explored. miRNAs play a major role in the post-transcriptional regulation of genes, inhibiting their translation or degrading their mRNA. miRNAs can function as oncogenes or tumor suppressors and are also promising biomarkers. Among the miRNA assays available, microarray and quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) have been extensively used to detect and quantify miRNA levels. To identify miRNAs regulated by estrogen signaling in breast cancer, their expression in ERα-positive breast cancer cell lines were compared before and after estrogen-activation using both the µParaflo-microfluidic microarrays and Dual Labeled Probes-low density arrays. Results were validated using specific qPCR assays, applying both Cyanine dye-based and Dual Labeled Probes-based chemistry. Furthermore, a time-point assay was used to identify regulations over time. Advantages of the miRNA assay approach used in this study is that it enables a fast screening of mature miRNA regulations in numerous samples, even with limited sample amounts. The layout, including the specific conditions for cell culture and estrogen treatment, biological and technical replicates, and large-scale screening followed by in-depth confirmations using separate techniques, ensures a robust detection of miRNA regulations, and eliminates false positives and other artifacts. However, mutated or unknown miRNAs, or regulations at the primary and precursor transcript level, will not be detected. The method presented here represents a thorough investigation of estrogen-mediated miRNA regulation.
Medicine, Issue 84, breast cancer, microRNA, estrogen, estrogen receptor, microarray, qPCR
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RNAscope for In situ Detection of Transcriptionally Active Human Papillomavirus in Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Authors: Hongwei Wang, Mindy Xiao-Ming Wang, Nan Su, Li-chong Wang, Xingyong Wu, Son Bui, Allissa Nielsen, Hong-Thuy Vo, Nina Nguyen, Yuling Luo, Xiao-Jun Ma.
Institutions: Advanced Cell Diagnostics, Inc..
The 'gold standard' for oncogenic HPV detection is the demonstration of transcriptionally active high-risk HPV in tumor tissue. However, detection of E6/E7 mRNA by quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) requires RNA extraction which destroys the tumor tissue context critical for morphological correlation and has been difficult to be adopted in routine clinical practice. Our recently developed RNA in situ hybridization technology, RNAscope, permits direct visualization of RNA in formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissue with single molecule sensitivity and single cell resolution, which enables highly sensitive and specific in situ analysis of any RNA biomarker in routine clinical specimens. The RNAscope HPV assay was designed to detect the E6/E7 mRNA of seven high-risk HPV genotypes (HPV16, 18, 31, 33, 35, 52, and 58) using a pool of genotype-specific probes. It has demonstrated excellent sensitivity and specificity against the current 'gold standard' method of detecting E6/E7 mRNA by qRT-PCR. HPV status determined by RNAscope is strongly prognostic of clinical outcome in oropharyngeal cancer patients.
Medicine, Issue 85, RNAscope, Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma (HNSCC), Oropharyngeal Squamous Cell Carcinoma (OPSCC), Human Papillomavirus (HPV), E6/ E7 mRNA, in situ hybridization, tumor
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Investigating Protein-protein Interactions in Live Cells Using Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer
Authors: Pelagia Deriziotis, Sarah A. Graham, Sara B. Estruch, Simon E. Fisher.
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour.
Assays based on Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer (BRET) provide a sensitive and reliable means to monitor protein-protein interactions in live cells. BRET is the non-radiative transfer of energy from a 'donor' luciferase enzyme to an 'acceptor' fluorescent protein. In the most common configuration of this assay, the donor is Renilla reniformis luciferase and the acceptor is Yellow Fluorescent Protein (YFP). Because the efficiency of energy transfer is strongly distance-dependent, observation of the BRET phenomenon requires that the donor and acceptor be in close proximity. To test for an interaction between two proteins of interest in cultured mammalian cells, one protein is expressed as a fusion with luciferase and the second as a fusion with YFP. An interaction between the two proteins of interest may bring the donor and acceptor sufficiently close for energy transfer to occur. Compared to other techniques for investigating protein-protein interactions, the BRET assay is sensitive, requires little hands-on time and few reagents, and is able to detect interactions which are weak, transient, or dependent on the biochemical environment found within a live cell. It is therefore an ideal approach for confirming putative interactions suggested by yeast two-hybrid or mass spectrometry proteomics studies, and in addition it is well-suited for mapping interacting regions, assessing the effect of post-translational modifications on protein-protein interactions, and evaluating the impact of mutations identified in patient DNA.
Cellular Biology, Issue 87, Protein-protein interactions, Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer, Live cell, Transfection, Luciferase, Yellow Fluorescent Protein, Mutations
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High Throughput Quantitative Expression Screening and Purification Applied to Recombinant Disulfide-rich Venom Proteins Produced in E. coli
Authors: Natalie J. Saez, Hervé Nozach, Marilyne Blemont, Renaud Vincentelli.
Institutions: Aix-Marseille Université, Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA) Saclay, France.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) is the most widely used expression system for the production of recombinant proteins for structural and functional studies. However, purifying proteins is sometimes challenging since many proteins are expressed in an insoluble form. When working with difficult or multiple targets it is therefore recommended to use high throughput (HTP) protein expression screening on a small scale (1-4 ml cultures) to quickly identify conditions for soluble expression. To cope with the various structural genomics programs of the lab, a quantitative (within a range of 0.1-100 mg/L culture of recombinant protein) and HTP protein expression screening protocol was implemented and validated on thousands of proteins. The protocols were automated with the use of a liquid handling robot but can also be performed manually without specialized equipment. Disulfide-rich venom proteins are gaining increasing recognition for their potential as therapeutic drug leads. They can be highly potent and selective, but their complex disulfide bond networks make them challenging to produce. As a member of the FP7 European Venomics project (, our challenge is to develop successful production strategies with the aim of producing thousands of novel venom proteins for functional characterization. Aided by the redox properties of disulfide bond isomerase DsbC, we adapted our HTP production pipeline for the expression of oxidized, functional venom peptides in the E. coli cytoplasm. The protocols are also applicable to the production of diverse disulfide-rich proteins. Here we demonstrate our pipeline applied to the production of animal venom proteins. With the protocols described herein it is likely that soluble disulfide-rich proteins will be obtained in as little as a week. Even from a small scale, there is the potential to use the purified proteins for validating the oxidation state by mass spectrometry, for characterization in pilot studies, or for sensitive micro-assays.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, E. coli, expression, recombinant, high throughput (HTP), purification, auto-induction, immobilized metal affinity chromatography (IMAC), tobacco etch virus protease (TEV) cleavage, disulfide bond isomerase C (DsbC) fusion, disulfide bonds, animal venom proteins/peptides
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A Restriction Enzyme Based Cloning Method to Assess the In vitro Replication Capacity of HIV-1 Subtype C Gag-MJ4 Chimeric Viruses
Authors: Daniel T. Claiborne, Jessica L. Prince, Eric Hunter.
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University.
The protective effect of many HLA class I alleles on HIV-1 pathogenesis and disease progression is, in part, attributed to their ability to target conserved portions of the HIV-1 genome that escape with difficulty. Sequence changes attributed to cellular immune pressure arise across the genome during infection, and if found within conserved regions of the genome such as Gag, can affect the ability of the virus to replicate in vitro. Transmission of HLA-linked polymorphisms in Gag to HLA-mismatched recipients has been associated with reduced set point viral loads. We hypothesized this may be due to a reduced replication capacity of the virus. Here we present a novel method for assessing the in vitro replication of HIV-1 as influenced by the gag gene isolated from acute time points from subtype C infected Zambians. This method uses restriction enzyme based cloning to insert the gag gene into a common subtype C HIV-1 proviral backbone, MJ4. This makes it more appropriate to the study of subtype C sequences than previous recombination based methods that have assessed the in vitro replication of chronically derived gag-pro sequences. Nevertheless, the protocol could be readily modified for studies of viruses from other subtypes. Moreover, this protocol details a robust and reproducible method for assessing the replication capacity of the Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses on a CEM-based T cell line. This method was utilized for the study of Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses derived from 149 subtype C acutely infected Zambians, and has allowed for the identification of residues in Gag that affect replication. More importantly, the implementation of this technique has facilitated a deeper understanding of how viral replication defines parameters of early HIV-1 pathogenesis such as set point viral load and longitudinal CD4+ T cell decline.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, HIV-1, Gag, viral replication, replication capacity, viral fitness, MJ4, CEM, GXR25
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Transgenic Rodent Assay for Quantifying Male Germ Cell Mutant Frequency
Authors: Jason M. O'Brien, Marc A. Beal, John D. Gingerich, Lynda Soper, George R. Douglas, Carole L. Yauk, Francesco Marchetti.
Institutions: Environmental Health Centre.
De novo mutations arise mostly in the male germline and may contribute to adverse health outcomes in subsequent generations. Traditional methods for assessing the induction of germ cell mutations require the use of large numbers of animals, making them impractical. As such, germ cell mutagenicity is rarely assessed during chemical testing and risk assessment. Herein, we describe an in vivo male germ cell mutation assay using a transgenic rodent model that is based on a recently approved Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) test guideline. This method uses an in vitro positive selection assay to measure in vivo mutations induced in a transgenic λgt10 vector bearing a reporter gene directly in the germ cells of exposed males. We further describe how the detection of mutations in the transgene recovered from germ cells can be used to characterize the stage-specific sensitivity of the various spermatogenic cell types to mutagen exposure by controlling three experimental parameters: the duration of exposure (administration time), the time between exposure and sample collection (sampling time), and the cell population collected for analysis. Because a large number of germ cells can be assayed from a single male, this method has superior sensitivity compared with traditional methods, requires fewer animals and therefore much less time and resources.
Genetics, Issue 90, sperm, spermatogonia, male germ cells, spermatogenesis, de novo mutation, OECD TG 488, transgenic rodent mutation assay, N-ethyl-N-nitrosourea, genetic toxicology
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Automated Measurement of Microcirculatory Blood Flow Velocity in Pulmonary Metastases of Rats
Authors: Gert Blueschke, Gabi Hanna, Andrew N. Fontanella, Gregory M. Palmer, Alina Boico, Hooney Min, Mark W. Dewhirst, David C. Irwin, Yulin Zhao, Thies Schroeder.
Institutions: Duke University Medical Center, Duke University Medical Center, University of Colorado Denver, University of Mainz.
Because the lung is a major target organ of metastatic disease, animal models to study the physiology of pulmonary metastases are of great importance. However, very few methods exist to date to investigate lung metastases in a dynamic fashion at the microcirculatory level, due to the difficulty to access the lung with a microscope. Here, an intravital microscopy method is presented to functionally image and quantify the microcirculation of superficial pulmonary metastases in rats, using a closed-chest pulmonary window and automated analysis of blood flow velocity and direction. The utility of this method is demonstrated to measure increases in blood flow velocity in response to pharmacological intervention, and to image the well-known tortuous vasculature of solid tumors. This is the first demonstration of intravital microscopy on pulmonary metastases in a closed-chest model. Because of its minimized invasiveness, as well as due to its relative ease and practicality, this technology has the potential to experience widespread use in laboratories that specialize on pulmonary tumor research.
Cancer Biology, Issue 93, Lung metastases, intravital microscopy, tumor blood flow, tumor vasculature, blood flow velocity, sarcoma metastasis, breast cancer metastasis
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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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Identifying DNA Mutations in Purified Hematopoietic Stem/Progenitor Cells
Authors: Ziming Cheng, Ting Zhou, Azhar Merchant, Thomas J. Prihoda, Brian L. Wickes, Guogang Xu, Christi A. Walter, Vivienne I. Rebel.
Institutions: UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.
In recent years, it has become apparent that genomic instability is tightly related to many developmental disorders, cancers, and aging. Given that stem cells are responsible for ensuring tissue homeostasis and repair throughout life, it is reasonable to hypothesize that the stem cell population is critical for preserving genomic integrity of tissues. Therefore, significant interest has arisen in assessing the impact of endogenous and environmental factors on genomic integrity in stem cells and their progeny, aiming to understand the etiology of stem-cell based diseases. LacI transgenic mice carry a recoverable λ phage vector encoding the LacI reporter system, in which the LacI gene serves as the mutation reporter. The result of a mutated LacI gene is the production of β-galactosidase that cleaves a chromogenic substrate, turning it blue. The LacI reporter system is carried in all cells, including stem/progenitor cells and can easily be recovered and used to subsequently infect E. coli. After incubating infected E. coli on agarose that contains the correct substrate, plaques can be scored; blue plaques indicate a mutant LacI gene, while clear plaques harbor wild-type. The frequency of blue (among clear) plaques indicates the mutant frequency in the original cell population the DNA was extracted from. Sequencing the mutant LacI gene will show the location of the mutations in the gene and the type of mutation. The LacI transgenic mouse model is well-established as an in vivo mutagenesis assay. Moreover, the mice and the reagents for the assay are commercially available. Here we describe in detail how this model can be adapted to measure the frequency of spontaneously occurring DNA mutants in stem cell-enriched Lin-IL7R-Sca-1+cKit++(LSK) cells and other subpopulations of the hematopoietic system.
Infection, Issue 84, In vivo mutagenesis, hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells, LacI mouse model, DNA mutations, E. coli
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Identification of Metabolically Active Bacteria in the Gut of the Generalist Spodoptera littoralis via DNA Stable Isotope Probing Using 13C-Glucose
Authors: Yongqi Shao, Erika M Arias-Cordero, Wilhelm Boland.
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology.
Guts of most insects are inhabited by complex communities of symbiotic nonpathogenic bacteria. Within such microbial communities it is possible to identify commensal or mutualistic bacteria species. The latter ones, have been observed to serve multiple functions to the insect, i.e. helping in insect reproduction1, boosting the immune response2, pheromone production3, as well as nutrition, including the synthesis of essential amino acids4, among others.     Due to the importance of these associations, many efforts have been made to characterize the communities down to the individual members. However, most of these efforts were either based on cultivation methods or relied on the generation of 16S rRNA gene fragments which were sequenced for final identification. Unfortunately, these approaches only identified the bacterial species present in the gut and provided no information on the metabolic activity of the microorganisms. To characterize the metabolically active bacterial species in the gut of an insect, we used stable isotope probing (SIP) in vivo employing 13C-glucose as a universal substrate. This is a promising culture-free technique that allows the linkage of microbial phylogenies to their particular metabolic activity. This is possible by tracking stable, isotope labeled atoms from substrates into microbial biomarkers, such as DNA and RNA5. The incorporation of 13C isotopes into DNA increases the density of the labeled DNA compared to the unlabeled (12C) one. In the end, the 13C-labeled DNA or RNA is separated by density-gradient ultracentrifugation from the 12C-unlabeled similar one6. Subsequent molecular analysis of the separated nucleic acid isotopomers provides the connection between metabolic activity and identity of the species. Here, we present the protocol used to characterize the metabolically active bacteria in the gut of a generalist insect (our model system), Spodoptera littoralis (Lepidoptera, Noctuidae). The phylogenetic analysis of the DNA was done using pyrosequencing, which allowed high resolution and precision in the identification of insect gut bacterial community. As main substrate, 13C-labeled glucose was used in the experiments. The substrate was fed to the insects using an artificial diet.
Microbiology, Issue 81, Insects, Sequence Analysis, Genetics, Microbial, Bacteria, Lepidoptera, Spodoptera littoralis, stable-isotope-probing (SIP), pyro-sequencing, 13C-glucose, gut, microbiota, bacteria
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Detecting Somatic Genetic Alterations in Tumor Specimens by Exon Capture and Massively Parallel Sequencing
Authors: Helen H Won, Sasinya N Scott, A. Rose Brannon, Ronak H Shah, Michael F Berger.
Institutions: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
Efforts to detect and investigate key oncogenic mutations have proven valuable to facilitate the appropriate treatment for cancer patients. The establishment of high-throughput, massively parallel "next-generation" sequencing has aided the discovery of many such mutations. To enhance the clinical and translational utility of this technology, platforms must be high-throughput, cost-effective, and compatible with formalin-fixed paraffin embedded (FFPE) tissue samples that may yield small amounts of degraded or damaged DNA. Here, we describe the preparation of barcoded and multiplexed DNA libraries followed by hybridization-based capture of targeted exons for the detection of cancer-associated mutations in fresh frozen and FFPE tumors by massively parallel sequencing. This method enables the identification of sequence mutations, copy number alterations, and select structural rearrangements involving all targeted genes. Targeted exon sequencing offers the benefits of high throughput, low cost, and deep sequence coverage, thus conferring high sensitivity for detecting low frequency mutations.
Molecular Biology, Issue 80, Molecular Diagnostic Techniques, High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing, Genetics, Neoplasms, Diagnosis, Massively parallel sequencing, targeted exon sequencing, hybridization capture, cancer, FFPE, DNA mutations
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Experimental Metastasis Assay
Authors: Sonali Mohanty, Lei Xu.
Institutions: University of Rochester Medical Center, University of Rochester Medical Center.
Metastasis is the leading cause of death in cancer patients. To understand the mechanism of metastasis, an experimental metastasis assay was established using immunodeficient mice. This article delineates the procedures involved in this assay, including sample preparation, intravenous injection, and culturing cells from lung metastases. Briefly, a pre-determined number of human cancer cells were prepared in vitro and directly injected into the circulation of immunodeficient mice through their tail veins. A small number of cells survive the turbulence in the circulation and grow as metastases in internal organs, such as lung. The injected mice are dissected after a certain period. The tissue distribution of metastases is determined under a dissecting microscope. The number of metastases in a specific tissue is counted and it directly correlates with the metastatic ability of the injected cancer cells. The arisen metastases are isolated and cultured in vitro as cell lines, which often show enhanced metastatic abilities than the parental line when injected again into immunodeficient mice. These highly metastatic derivatives become useful tools for identifying genes or molecular pathways that regulate metastatic progression.
medicine, Issue 42, cancer, metastasis, experimental, mouse, intravenous injection, lung
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Quantitative Analyses of all Influenza Type A Viral Hemagglutinins and Neuraminidases using Universal Antibodies in Simple Slot Blot Assays
Authors: Caroline Gravel, Changgui Li, Junzhi Wang, Anwar M Hashem, Bozena Jaentschke, Gary Van Domselaar, Runtao He, Xuguang Li.
Institutions: Health canada, The State Food and Drug Administration, Beijing, University of Ottawa, King Abdulaziz University, Public Health Agency of Canada.
Hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA) are two surface proteins of influenza viruses which are known to play important roles in the viral life cycle and the induction of protective immune responses1,2. As the main target for neutralizing antibodies, HA is currently used as the influenza vaccine potency marker and is measured by single radial immunodiffusion (SRID)3. However, the dependence of SRID on the availability of the corresponding subtype-specific antisera causes a minimum of 2-3 months delay for the release of every new vaccine. Moreover, despite evidence that NA also induces protective immunity4, the amount of NA in influenza vaccines is not yet standardized due to a lack of appropriate reagents or analytical method5. Thus, simple alternative methods capable of quantifying HA and NA antigens are desirable for rapid release and better quality control of influenza vaccines. Universally conserved regions in all available influenza A HA and NA sequences were identified by bioinformatics analyses6-7. One sequence (designated as Uni-1) was identified in the only universally conserved epitope of HA, the fusion peptide6, while two conserved sequences were identified in neuraminidases, one close to the enzymatic active site (designated as HCA-2) and the other close to the N-terminus (designated as HCA-3)7. Peptides with these amino acid sequences were synthesized and used to immunize rabbits for the production of antibodies. The antibody against the Uni-1 epitope of HA was able to bind to 13 subtypes of influenza A HA (H1-H13) while the antibodies against the HCA-2 and HCA-3 regions of NA were capable of binding all 9 NA subtypes. All antibodies showed remarkable specificity against the viral sequences as evidenced by the observation that no cross-reactivity to allantoic proteins was detected. These universal antibodies were then used to develop slot blot assays to quantify HA and NA in influenza A vaccines without the need for specific antisera7,8. Vaccine samples were applied onto a PVDF membrane using a slot blot apparatus along with reference standards diluted to various concentrations. For the detection of HA, samples and standard were first diluted in Tris-buffered saline (TBS) containing 4M urea while for the measurement of NA they were diluted in TBS containing 0.01% Zwittergent as these conditions significantly improved the detection sensitivity. Following the detection of the HA and NA antigens by immunoblotting with their respective universal antibodies, signal intensities were quantified by densitometry. Amounts of HA and NA in the vaccines were then calculated using a standard curve established with the signal intensities of the various concentrations of the references used. Given that these antibodies bind to universal epitopes in HA or NA, interested investigators could use them as research tools in immunoassays other than the slot blot only.
Immunology, Issue 50, Virology, influenza, hemagglutinin, neuraminidase, quantification, universal antibody
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The Three-Dimensional Human Skin Reconstruct Model: a Tool to Study Normal Skin and Melanoma Progression
Authors: Ling Li, Mizuho Fukunaga-Kalabis, Meenhard Herlyn.
Institutions: The Wistar Institute.
Most in vitro studies in experimental skin biology have been done in 2-dimensional (2D) monocultures, while accumulating evidence suggests that cells behave differently when they are grown within a 3D extra-cellular matrix and also interact with other cells (1-5). Mouse models have been broadly utilized to study tissue morphogenesis in vivo. However mouse and human skin have significant differences in cellular architecture and physiology, which makes it difficult to extrapolate mouse studies to humans. Since melanocytes in mouse skin are mostly localized in hair follicles, they have distinct biological properties from those of humans, which locate primarily at the basal layer of the epidermis. The recent development of 3D human skin reconstruct models has enabled the field to investigate cell-matrix and cell-cell interactions between different cell types. The reconstructs consist of a "dermis" with fibroblasts embedded in a collagen I matrix, an "epidermis", which is comprised of stratified, differentiated keratinocytes and a functional basement membrane, which separates epidermis from dermis. Collagen provides scaffolding, nutrient delivery, and potential for cell-to-cell interaction. The 3D skin models incorporating melanocytic cells recapitulate natural features of melanocyte homeostasis and melanoma progression in human skin. As in vivo, melanocytes in reconstructed skin are localized at the basement membrane interspersed with basal layer keratinocytes. Melanoma cells exhibit the same characteristics reflecting the original tumor stage (RGP, VGP and metastatic melanoma cells) in vivo. Recently, dermal stem cells have been identified in the human dermis (6). These multi-potent stem cells can migrate to the epidermis and differentiate to melanocytes.
Bioengineering, Issue 54, 3D model, melanocyte, melanoma, skin
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Isolation of Fidelity Variants of RNA Viruses and Characterization of Virus Mutation Frequency
Authors: Stéphanie Beaucourt, Antonio V. Bordería, Lark L. Coffey, Nina F. Gnädig, Marta Sanz-Ramos, Yasnee Beeharry, Marco Vignuzzi.
Institutions: Institut Pasteur .
RNA viruses use RNA dependent RNA polymerases to replicate their genomes. The intrinsically high error rate of these enzymes is a large contributor to the generation of extreme population diversity that facilitates virus adaptation and evolution. Increasing evidence shows that the intrinsic error rates, and the resulting mutation frequencies, of RNA viruses can be modulated by subtle amino acid changes to the viral polymerase. Although biochemical assays exist for some viral RNA polymerases that permit quantitative measure of incorporation fidelity, here we describe a simple method of measuring mutation frequencies of RNA viruses that has proven to be as accurate as biochemical approaches in identifying fidelity altering mutations. The approach uses conventional virological and sequencing techniques that can be performed in most biology laboratories. Based on our experience with a number of different viruses, we have identified the key steps that must be optimized to increase the likelihood of isolating fidelity variants and generating data of statistical significance. The isolation and characterization of fidelity altering mutations can provide new insights into polymerase structure and function1-3. Furthermore, these fidelity variants can be useful tools in characterizing mechanisms of virus adaptation and evolution4-7.
Immunology, Issue 52, Polymerase fidelity, RNA virus, mutation frequency, mutagen, RNA polymerase, viral evolution
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A Matrigel-Based Tube Formation Assay to Assess the Vasculogenic Activity of Tumor Cells
Authors: Ralph A. Francescone III, Michael Faibish, Rong Shao.
Institutions: University of Massachusetts, University of Massachusetts, University of Massachusetts.
Over the past several decades, a tube formation assay using growth factor-reduced Matrigel has been typically employed to demonstrate the angiogenic activity of vascular endothelial cells in vitro1-5. However, recently growing evidence has shown that this assay is not limited to test vascular behavior for endothelial cells. Instead, it also has been used to test the ability of a number of tumor cells to develop a vascular phenotype6-8. This capability was consistent with their vasculogenic behavior identified in xenotransplanted animals, a process known as vasculogenic mimicry (VM)9. There is a multitude of evidence demonstrating that tumor cell-mediated VM plays a vital role in the tumor development, independent of endothelial cell angiogenesis6, 10-13. For example, tumor cells were found to participate in the blood perfused, vascular channel formation in tissue samples from melanoma and glioblastoma patients8, 10, 11. Here, we described this tubular network assay as a useful tool in evaluation of vasculogenic activity of tumor cells. We found that some tumor cell lines such as melanoma B16F1 cells, glioblastoma U87 cells, and breast cancer MDA-MB-435 cells are able to form vascular tubules; but some do not such as colon cancer HCT116 cells. Furthermore, this vascular phenotype is dependent on cell numbers plated on the Matrigel. Therefore, this assay may serve as powerful utility to screen the vascular potential of a variety of cell types including vascular cells, tumor cells as well as other cells.
Cancer Biology, Issue 55, tumor, vascular, endothelial, tube formation, Matrigel, in vitro
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Pyrosequencing for Microbial Identification and Characterization
Authors: Patrick J. Cummings, Ray Ahmed, Jeffrey A. Durocher, Adam Jessen, Tamar Vardi, Kristina M. Obom.
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University, Qiagen Sciences, Inc..
Pyrosequencing is a versatile technique that facilitates microbial genome sequencing that can be used to identify bacterial species, discriminate bacterial strains and detect genetic mutations that confer resistance to anti-microbial agents. The advantages of pyrosequencing for microbiology applications include rapid and reliable high-throughput screening and accurate identification of microbes and microbial genome mutations. Pyrosequencing involves sequencing of DNA by synthesizing the complementary strand a single base at a time, while determining the specific nucleotide being incorporated during the synthesis reaction. The reaction occurs on immobilized single stranded template DNA where the four deoxyribonucleotides (dNTP) are added sequentially and the unincorporated dNTPs are enzymatically degraded before addition of the next dNTP to the synthesis reaction. Detection of the specific base incorporated into the template is monitored by generation of chemiluminescent signals. The order of dNTPs that produce the chemiluminescent signals determines the DNA sequence of the template. The real-time sequencing capability of pyrosequencing technology enables rapid microbial identification in a single assay. In addition, the pyrosequencing instrument, can analyze the full genetic diversity of anti-microbial drug resistance, including typing of SNPs, point mutations, insertions, and deletions, as well as quantification of multiple gene copies that may occur in some anti-microbial resistance patterns.
Microbiology, Issue 78, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Basic Protocols, Genomics, Eukaryota, Bacteria, Viruses, Bacterial Infections and Mycoses, Virus Diseases, Diagnosis, Therapeutics, Equipment and Supplies, Technology, Industry, and Agriculture, Life Sciences (General), Pyrosequencing, DNA, Microbe, PCR, primers, Next-Generation, high-throughput, sequencing
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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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Electrochemotherapy of Tumours
Authors: Gregor Sersa, Damijan Miklavcic.
Institutions: Institute of Oncology Ljubljana, University of Ljubljana.
Electrochemotherapy is a combined use of certain chemotherapeutic drugs and electric pulses applied to the treated tumour nodule. Local application of electric pulses to the tumour increases drug delivery into cells, specifically at the site of electric pulse application. Drug uptake by delivery of electric pulses is increased for only those chemotherapeutic drugs whose transport through the plasma membrane is impeded. Among many drugs that have been tested so far, bleomycin and cisplatin found their way from preclinical testing to clinical use. Clinical data collected within a number of clinical studies indicate that approximately 80% of the treated cutaneous and subcutaneous tumour nodules of different malignancies are in an objective response, from these, approximately 70% in complete response after a single application of electrochemotherapy. Usually only one treatment is needed, however, electrochemotherapy can be repeated several times every few weeks with equal effectiveness each time. The treatment results in an effective eradication of the treated nodules, with a good cosmetic effect without tissue scarring.
Medicine, Issue 22, electrochemotherapy, electroporation, cisplatin, bleomycin, malignant tumours, cutaneous lesions
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A Strategy to Identify de Novo Mutations in Common Disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia
Authors: Gauthier Julie, Fadi F. Hamdan, Guy A. Rouleau.
Institutions: Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal.
There are several lines of evidence supporting the role of de novo mutations as a mechanism for common disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. First, the de novo mutation rate in humans is relatively high, so new mutations are generated at a high frequency in the population. However, de novo mutations have not been reported in most common diseases. Mutations in genes leading to severe diseases where there is a strong negative selection against the phenotype, such as lethality in embryonic stages or reduced reproductive fitness, will not be transmitted to multiple family members, and therefore will not be detected by linkage gene mapping or association studies. The observation of very high concordance in monozygotic twins and very low concordance in dizygotic twins also strongly supports the hypothesis that a significant fraction of cases may result from new mutations. Such is the case for diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. Second, despite reduced reproductive fitness1 and extremely variable environmental factors, the incidence of some diseases is maintained worldwide at a relatively high and constant rate. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia, with an incidence of approximately 1% worldwide. Mutational load can be thought of as a balance between selection for or against a deleterious mutation and its production by de novo mutation. Lower rates of reproduction constitute a negative selection factor that should reduce the number of mutant alleles in the population, ultimately leading to decreased disease prevalence. These selective pressures tend to be of different intensity in different environments. Nonetheless, these severe mental disorders have been maintained at a constant relatively high prevalence in the worldwide population across a wide range of cultures and countries despite a strong negative selection against them2. This is not what one would predict in diseases with reduced reproductive fitness, unless there was a high new mutation rate. Finally, the effects of paternal age: there is a significantly increased risk of the disease with increasing paternal age, which could result from the age related increase in paternal de novo mutations. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia3. The male-to-female ratio of mutation rate is estimated at about 4–6:1, presumably due to a higher number of germ-cell divisions with age in males. Therefore, one would predict that de novo mutations would more frequently come from males, particularly older males4. A high rate of new mutations may in part explain why genetic studies have so far failed to identify many genes predisposing to complexes diseases genes, such as autism and schizophrenia, and why diseases have been identified for a mere 3% of genes in the human genome. Identification for de novo mutations as a cause of a disease requires a targeted molecular approach, which includes studying parents and affected subjects. The process for determining if the genetic basis of a disease may result in part from de novo mutations and the molecular approach to establish this link will be illustrated, using autism and schizophrenia as examples.
Medicine, Issue 52, de novo mutation, complex diseases, schizophrenia, autism, rare variations, DNA sequencing
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