Functional inactivation of gene expression in mammalian cells is crucial for the study of the contribution of a protein of interest to various pathways1,2. However, conditional knockdown of gene expression is required in cases when constitutive knockdown is not tolerated by cells for a long period of time3-5. Here we describe a protocol for preparation of cell lines allowing conditional knockdown of subunits of the ACF chromatin remodeling factor. These cell lines facilitate the determination of the contribution of ACF to induction of cell death by the adenovirus E4orf4 protein6. Sequences encoding short hairpin RNAs for the Acf1 and SNF2h subunits of the ACF chromatin remodeling factor were cloned next to a doxycycline-inducible promoter in a plasmid also containing a gene for the neomycin resistance gene. Neomycin-resistant cell clones were selected in the presence of G418 and isolated. The resulting cell lines were induced by doxycycline treatment, and once Acf1 or SNF2h expression levels were reduced, the cells were transfected with a plasmid encoding E4orf4 or an empty vector. To confirm the specific effect of the shRNA constructs, Acf1 or SNF2h protein levels were restored to WT levels by cotransfection with a plasmid expressing Acf1 or SNF2h which were rendered resistant to the shRNA by introduction of silent mutations. The ability of E4orf4 to induce cell death in the various samples was determined by a DAPI assay, in which the frequency of appearance of nuclei with apoptotic morphologies in the transfected cell population was measured7-9.
The protocol described here can be utilized for determination of the functional contribution of various proteins to induction of cell death by their protein partners in cases when constitutive knockdown may be cell lethal.
20 Related JoVE Articles!
DNA Vector-based RNA Interference to Study Gene Function in Cancer
Institutions: Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Wake Forest University School of Medicine.
RNA interference (RNAi) inhibits gene expression by specifically degrading target mRNAs. Since the discovery of double-stranded small interference RNA (siRNA) in gene silencing1
, RNAi has become a powerful research tool in gene function studies. Compared to genetic deletion, RNAi-mediated gene silencing possesses many advantages, such as the ease with which it is carried out and its suitability to most cell lines. Multiple studies have demonstrated the applications of RNAi technology in cancer research. In particular, the development of the DNA vector-based technology to produce small hairpin RNA (shRNA) driven by the U6 or H1 promoter has made long term and inducible gene silencing possible2,3
. Its use in combination with genetically engineered viral vectors, such as lentivirus, facilitates high efficiencies of shRNA delivery and/or integration into genomic DNA for stable shRNA expression.
We describe a detailed procedure using the DNA vector-based RNAi technology to determine gene function, including construction of lentiviral vectors expressing shRNA, lentivirus production and cell infection, and functional studies using a mouse xenograft model.
Various strategies have been reported in generating shRNA constructs. The protocol described here employing PCR amplification and a 3-fragment ligation can be used to directly and efficiently generate shRNA-containing lentiviral constructs without leaving any extra nucleotide adjacent to a shRNA coding sequence. Since the shRNA-expression cassettes created by this strategy can be cut out by restriction enzymes, they can be easily moved to other vectors with different fluorescent or antibiotic markers. Most commercial transfection reagents can be used in lentivirus production. However, in this report, we provide an economic method using calcium phosphate precipitation that can achieve over 90% transfection efficiency in 293T cells. Compared to constitutive shRNA expression vectors, an inducible shRNA system is particularly suitable to knocking down a gene essential to cell proliferation. We demonstrate the gene silencing of Yin Yang 1 (YY1), a potential oncogene in breast cancer4,5
, by a Tet-On inducible shRNA system and its effects on tumor formation. Research using lentivirus requires review and approval of a biosafety protocol by the Biosafety Committee of a researcher's institution. Research using animal models requires review and approval of an animal protocol by the Animal Care and Use Committee (ACUC) of a researcher's institution.
Cancer Biology, Issue 64, Medicine, Genetics, RNAi, shRNA, gene silencing, mouse xenograft, tumor formation
Rapid Genetic Analysis of Epithelial-Mesenchymal Signaling During Hair Regeneration
Institutions: Stanford University School of Medicine .
Hair follicle morphogenesis, a complex process requiring interaction between epithelia-derived keratinocytes and the underlying mesenchyme, is an attractive model system to study organ development and tissue-specific signaling. Although hair follicle development is genetically tractable, fast and reproducible analysis of factors essential for this process remains a challenge. Here we describe a procedure to generate targeted overexpression or shRNA-mediated knockdown of factors using lentivirus in a tissue-specific manner. Using a modified version of a hair regeneration model 5, 6, 11
, we can achieve robust gain- or loss-of-function analysis in primary mouse keratinocytes or dermal cells to facilitate study of epithelial-mesenchymal signaling pathways that lead to hair follicle morphogenesis. We describe how to isolate fresh primary mouse keratinocytes and dermal cells, which contain dermal papilla cells and their precursors, deliver lentivirus containing either shRNA or cDNA to one of the cell populations, and combine the cells to generate fully formed hair follicles on the backs of nude mice. This approach allows analysis of tissue-specific factors required to generate hair follicles within three weeks and provides a fast and convenient companion to existing genetic models.
Genetics, Issue 72, Tissue Engineering, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Cellular Biology, Surgery, Epithelial Biology, regeneration, chamber, hair, follicle, dermis, dermal cells, keratinocyte, graft, epithelial, cell culture, lentivirus, knockdown, shRNA-mediated knockdown, overexpression, mice, transgenic mice, animal model
MISSION LentiPlex Pooled shRNA Library Screening in Mammalian Cells
RNA interference (RNAi) is an intrinsic cellular mechanism for the regulation of gene expression. Harnessing the innate power of this system enables us to knockdown gene expression levels in loss of gene function studies.
There are two main methods for performing RNAi. The first is the use of small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) that are chemically synthesized, and the second utilizes short-hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) encoded within plasmids 1
. The latter can be transfected into cells directly or packaged into replication incompetent lentiviral particles. The main advantages of using lentiviral shRNAs is the ease of introduction into a wide variety of cell types, their ability to stably integrate into the genome for long term gene knockdown and selection, and their efficacy in conducting high-throughput loss of function screens. To facilitate this we have created the LentiPlex pooled shRNA library.
The MISSION LentiPlex Human shRNA Pooled Library is a genome-wide lentiviral pool produced using a proprietary process. The library consists of over 75,000 shRNA constructs from the TRC collection targeting 15,000+ human genes 2
. Each library is tested for shRNA representation before product release to ensure robust library coverage. The library is provided in a ready-to-use lentiviral format at titers of at least 5 x 108
TU/ml via p24 assay and is pre-divided into ten subpools of approximately 8,000 shRNA constructs each. Amplification and sequencing primers are also provided for downstream target identification.
Previous studies established a synergistic antitumor activity of TRAIL when combined with Paclitaxel in A549 cells, a human lung carcinoma cell line 3, 4
. In this study we demonstrate the application of a pooled LentiPlex shRNA library to rapidly conduct a positive selection screen for genes involved in the cytotoxicity of A549 cells when exposed to TRAIL and Paclitaxel. One barrier often encountered with high-throughput screens is the cost and difficulty in deconvolution; we also detail a cost-effective polyclonal approach utilizing traditional sequencing.
Molecular Biology, Issue 58, LentiPlex, shRNA, RNAi, High-Throughput Screening, Deconvolution, TRAIL, Paclitaxel, A549
Activation of Apoptosis by Cytoplasmic Microinjection of Cytochrome c
Institutions: University of North Carolina , University of North Carolina .
Apoptosis, or programmed cell death, is a conserved and highly regulated pathway by which cells die1
. Apoptosis can be triggered when cells encounter a wide range of cytotoxic stresses. These insults initiate signaling cascades that ultimately cause the release of cytochrome c
from the mitochondrial intermembrane space to the cytoplasm2
. The release of cytochrome c
from mitochondria is a key event that triggers the rapid activation of caspases, the key cellular proteases which ultimately execute cell death3-4
The pathway of apoptosis is regulated at points upstream and downstream of cytochrome c
release from mitochondria5
. In order to study the post-mitochondrial regulation of caspase activation, many investigators have turned to direct cytoplasmic microinjection of holocytochrome c
(heme-attached) protein into cells6-9
. Cytochrome c
is normally localized to the mitochondria where attachment of a heme group is necessary to enable it to activate apoptosis10-11
. Therefore, to directly activate caspases, it is necessary to inject the holocytochrome c
protein instead of its cDNA, because while the expression of cytochrome c
from cDNA constructs will result in mitochondrial targeting and heme attachment, it will be sequestered from cytosolic caspases. Thus, the direct cytosolic microinjection of purified heme-attached cytochrome c
protein is a useful tool to mimic mitochondrial cytochrome c
release and apoptosis without the use of toxic insults which cause cellular and mitochondrial damage.
In this article, we describe a method for the microinjection of cytochrome c
protein into cells, using mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) and primary sympathetic neurons as examples. While this protocol focuses on the injection of cytochrome c
for investigations of apoptosis, the techniques shown here can also be easily adapted for microinjection of other proteins of interest.
Cellular Biology, Issue 52, Microinjection, apoptosis, cytochrome c, fibroblasts, neurons
Packaging HIV- or FIV-based Lentivector Expression Constructs & Transduction of VSV-G Pseudotyped Viral Particles
Institutions: System Biosciences.
As with standard plasmid vectors, it is possible to transfect lentivectors in plasmid form into cells with low-to-medium efficiency to obtain transient expression of effectors. Packaging lentiviral expression constructs into pseudoviral particles, however, enables up to 100% transduction, even with difficult-to-transfect cells, such as primary, stem, and differentiated cells. Moreover, the lentiviral delivery does not produce the specific cellular responses typically associated with chemical transfections, such as cell death resulting from toxicity of the transfection reagent 1, 2
. When transduced into target cells, the lentiviral construct integrates into genomic DNA and provides stable expression of the small hairpin RNA (shRNA), cDNA, microRNA or reporter gene 3, 4
. Target cells stably expressing the effector molecule can be isolated using a selectable marker contained in the expression vector construct such as puromycin or GFP. After pseudoviral particles infect target cells, they cannot replicate within target cells because the viral structural genes are absent and the long terminal repeats (LTRs) are designed to be self-inactivating upon transduction 5, 6
There are three main components necessary for efficient lentiviral packaging 1, 5, 6, 7
1. The lentiviral expression vector that contains some of the genetic elements required for packaging, stable integration of the viral expression construct into genomic DNA, and expression of the effector or reporter.
2. The lentiviral packaging plasmids that provide the proteins essential for transcription and packaging of an RNA copy of the expression construct into recombinant pseudoviral particles. This protocol uses the pPACK plasmids (SBI) that encode for gag, pol, and rev from the HIV or FIV genome and Vesicular Stomatitis Virus g protein (VSV-G) for the viral coat protein.
3. 293TN producer cells (derived from HEK293 cells) that express the SV40 large T antigen, which is required for high-titer lentiviral production and a neomycin resistance gene, useful for reselecting the cells for maintenance.
An overview of the viral production protocol can be seen in Figure 1
. Viral production starts by co-transfecting 293TN producer cells with the lentiviral expression vector and the packaging plasmids. Viral particles are secreted into the media. After 48-72 hours the cell culture media is harvested. Cellular debris is removed from the cell culture media, and the viral particles are precipitated by centrifugation with PEG-it for concentration. Produced lentiviral particles are then titered and can be used to transduce target cells. Details of viral titering are not included in this protocol, but can be found at:
This protocol has been optimized using the specific products indicated. Other reagents may be substituted, but the same results cannot be guaranteed.
Immunology, Issue 62, lentivector, virus packaging, pseudovirus production, lentiviral packaging, HIV-based lentivector, lentiviral delivery, lentiviral transduction, lentivirus concentration, stable expression, stable cell lines
Use of a Caspase Multiplexing Assay to Determine Apoptosis in a Hypothalamic Cell Model
Institutions: Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System, University of Minnesota, University of Minnesota, University of Minnesota.
The ability to multiplex assays in studies of complex cellular mechanisms eliminates the need for repetitive experiments, provides internal controls, and decreases waste in costs and reagents. Here we describe optimization of a multiplex assay to assess apoptosis following a palmitic acid (PA) challenge in an in vitro
hypothalamic model, using both fluorescent and luminescent based assays to measure viable cell counts and caspase-3/7 activity in a 96-well microtiter plate format. Following PA challenge, viable cells were determined by a resazurin-based fluorescent assay. Caspase-3/7 activity was then determined using a luminogenic substrate, DEVD, and normalized to cell number. This multiplexing assay is a useful technique for determining change in caspase activity following an apoptotic stimulus, such as saturated fatty acid challenge. The saturated fatty acid PA can increase hypothalamic oxidative stress and apoptosis, indicating the potential importance of assays such as that described here in studying the relationship between saturated fatty acids and neuronal function.
Neuroscience, Issue 86, apoptosis, obesity, caspase, resazurin, DEVD, palmitic acid, hypothalamic model
Neuromodulation and Mitochondrial Transport: Live Imaging in Hippocampal Neurons over Long Durations
Institutions: The Neurosciences Institute.
To understand the relationship between mitochondrial transport and neuronal function, it is critical to observe mitochondrial behavior in live cultured neurons for extended durations1-3
. This is now possible through the use of vital dyes and fluorescent proteins with which cytoskeletal components, organelles, and other structures in living cells can be labeled and then visualized via dynamic fluorescence microscopy. For example, in embryonic chicken sympathetic neurons, mitochondrial movement was characterized using the vital dye rhodamine 1234
. In another study, mitochondria were visualized in rat forebrain neurons by transfection of mitochondrially targeted eYFP5
. However, imaging of primary neurons over minutes, hours, or even days presents a number of issues. Foremost among these are: 1) maintenance of culture conditions such as temperature, humidity, and pH during long imaging sessions; 2) a strong, stable fluorescent signal to assure both the quality of acquired images and accurate measurement of signal intensity during image analysis; and 3) limiting exposure times during image acquisition to minimize photobleaching and avoid phototoxicity.
Here, we describe a protocol that permits the observation, visualization, and analysis of mitochondrial movement in cultured hippocampal neurons with high temporal resolution and under optimal life support conditions. We have constructed an affordable stage-top incubator that provides good temperature regulation and atmospheric gas flow, and also limits the degree of media evaporation, assuring stable pH and osmolarity. This incubator is connected, via inlet and outlet hoses, to a standard tissue culture incubator, which provides constant humidity levels and an atmosphere of 5-10% CO2
/air. This design offers a cost-effective alternative to significantly more expensive microscope incubators that don't necessarily assure the viability of cells over many hours or even days. To visualize mitochondria, we infect cells with a lentivirus encoding a red fluorescent protein that is targeted to the mitochondrion. This assures a strong and persistent signal, which, in conjunction with the use of a stable xenon light source, allows us to limit exposure times during image acquisition and all but precludes photobleaching and phototoxicity. Two injection ports on the top of the stage-top incubator allow the acute administration of neurotransmitters and other reagents intended to modulate mitochondrial movement. In sum, lentivirus-mediated expression of an organelle-targeted red fluorescent protein and the combination of our stage-top incubator, a conventional inverted fluorescence microscope, CCD camera, and xenon light source allow us to acquire time-lapse images of mitochondrial transport in living neurons over longer durations than those possible in studies deploying conventional vital dyes and off-the-shelf life support systems.
Neuroscience, Issue 52, Mitochondria, Transport, Neuromodulation, Hippocampal neuron, Serotonin, Dopamine, Fluorescence, Time-lapse, Live imaging, Stage-top incubator
Lignin Down-regulation of Zea mays via dsRNAi and Klason Lignin Analysis
Institutions: University of Arizona, Michigan State University, The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, Michigan State University.
To facilitate the use of lignocellulosic biomass as an alternative bioenergy resource, during biological conversion processes, a pretreatment step is needed to open up the structure of the plant cell wall, increasing the accessibility of the cell wall carbohydrates. Lignin, a polyphenolic material present in many cell wall types, is known to be a significant hindrance to enzyme access. Reduction in lignin content to a level that does not interfere with the structural integrity and defense system of the plant might be a valuable step to reduce the costs of bioethanol production. In this study, we have genetically down-regulated one of the lignin biosynthesis-related genes, cinnamoyl-CoA reductase (ZmCCR1
) via a double stranded RNA interference technique. The ZmCCR1_RNAi
construct was integrated into the maize genome using the particle bombardment method. Transgenic maize plants grew normally as compared to the wild-type control plants without interfering with biomass growth or defense mechanisms, with the exception of displaying of brown-coloration in transgenic plants leaf mid-ribs, husks, and stems. The microscopic analyses, in conjunction with the histological assay, revealed that the leaf sclerenchyma fibers were thinned but the structure and size of other major vascular system components was not altered. The lignin content in the transgenic maize was reduced by 7-8.7%, the crystalline cellulose content was increased in response to lignin reduction, and hemicelluloses remained unchanged. The analyses may indicate that carbon flow might have been shifted from lignin biosynthesis to cellulose biosynthesis. This article delineates the procedures used to down-regulate the lignin content in maize via RNAi technology, and the cell wall compositional analyses used to verify the effect of the modifications on the cell wall structure.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, Zea mays, cinnamoyl-CoA reductase (CCR), dsRNAi, Klason lignin measurement, cell wall carbohydrate analysis, gas chromatography (GC)
Functional Interrogation of Adult Hypothalamic Neurogenesis with Focal Radiological Inhibition
Institutions: California Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, University Of Washington Medical Center, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
The functional characterization of adult-born neurons remains a significant challenge. Approaches to inhibit adult neurogenesis via invasive viral delivery or transgenic animals have potential confounds that make interpretation of results from these studies difficult. New radiological tools are emerging, however, that allow one to noninvasively investigate the function of select groups of adult-born neurons through accurate and precise anatomical targeting in small animals. Focal ionizing radiation inhibits the birth and differentiation of new neurons, and allows targeting of specific neural progenitor regions. In order to illuminate the potential functional role that adult hypothalamic neurogenesis plays in the regulation of physiological processes, we developed a noninvasive focal irradiation technique to selectively inhibit the birth of adult-born neurons in the hypothalamic median eminence. We describe a method for C
omputer tomography-guided f
radiation (CFIR) delivery to enable precise and accurate anatomical targeting in small animals. CFIR uses three-dimensional volumetric image guidance for localization and targeting of the radiation dose, minimizes radiation exposure to nontargeted brain regions, and allows for conformal dose distribution with sharp beam boundaries. This protocol allows one to ask questions regarding the function of adult-born neurons, but also opens areas to questions in areas of radiobiology, tumor biology, and immunology. These radiological tools will facilitate the translation of discoveries at the bench to the bedside.
Neuroscience, Issue 81, Neural Stem Cells (NSCs), Body Weight, Radiotherapy, Image-Guided, Metabolism, Energy Metabolism, Neurogenesis, Cell Proliferation, Neurosciences, Irradiation, Radiological treatment, Computer-tomography (CT) imaging, Hypothalamus, Hypothalamic Proliferative Zone (HPZ), Median Eminence (ME), Small Animal Radiation Research Platform (SARRP)
Lentivirus-mediated Genetic Manipulation and Visualization of Olfactory Sensory Neurons in vivo
Institutions: University of California, Davis.
Development of a precise olfactory circuit relies on accurate projection of olfactory sensory neuron (OSN) axons to their synaptic
targets in the olfactory bulb (OB). The molecular mechanisms of OSN axon growth and targeting are not well understood. Manipulating gene expression and subsequent
visualizing of single OSN axons and their terminal arbor morphology have thus far been challenging. To study gene function at the single cell level within a specified
time frame, we developed a lentiviral based technique to manipulate gene expression in OSNs in vivo
. Lentiviral particles are delivered to OSNs by microinjection
into the olfactory epithelium (OE). Expression cassettes are then permanently integrated into the genome of transduced OSNs. Green fluorescent protein expression
identifies infected OSNs and outlines their entire morphology, including the axon terminal arbor. Due to the short turnaround time between microinjection and
reporter detection, gene function studies can be focused within a very narrow period of development. With this method, we have detected GFP expression within as
few as three days and as long as three months following injection. We have achieved both over-expression and shRNA mediated knock-down by lentiviral microinjection.
This method provides detailed morphologies of OSN cell bodies and axons at the single cell level in vivo
, and thus allows characterization of candidate gene function
during olfactory development.
Neuroscience, Issue 51, lentivirus, olfactory, sensory, neurons, genetics
Bacterial Delivery of RNAi Effectors: Transkingdom RNAi
Institutions: Charité Campus Mitte.
RNA interference (RNAi) represents a high effective mechanism for specific inhibition of mRNA expression. Besides its potential as a powerful laboratory tool, the RNAi pathway appears to be promising for therapeutic utilization. For development of RNA interference (RNAi)-based therapies, delivery of RNAi-mediating agents to target cells is one of the major obstacles. A novel strategy to overcome this hurdle is transkingdom RNAi (tk
RNAi). This technology uses non-pathogenic bacteria, e.g. Escherichia coli
, to produce and deliver therapeutic short hairpin RNA (shRNA) into target cells to induce RNAi. A first-generation tk
RNAi-mediating vector, TRIP, contains the bacteriophage T7 promoter for expression regulation of a therapeutic shRNA of interest. Furthermore, TRIP has the Inv
locus from Yersinia pseudotuberculosis
that encodes invasin, which permits natural noninvasive bacteria to enter β1-integrin-positive mammalian cells and the HlyA
gene from Listeria monocytogenes
, which produces listeriolysin O. This enzyme allows the therapeutic shRNA to escape from entry vesicles within the cytoplasm of the target cell. TRIP constructs are introduced into a competent non-pathogenic Escherichia coli
strain, which encodes T7 RNA polymerase necessary for the T7 promoter-driven synthesis of shRNAs. A well-characterized cancer-associated target molecule for different RNAi strategies is ABCB1 (MDR1/P-glycoprotein, MDR1/P-gp). This ABC-transporter acts as a drug extrusion pump and mediates the "classical" ABCB1-mediated multidrug resistance (MDR) phenotype of human cancer cells which is characterized by a specific cross resistance pattern. Different ABCB1-expressing MDR cancer cells were treated with anti-ABCB1 shRNA expression vector bearing E. coli
. This procedure resulted in activation of the RNAi pathways within the cancer cells and a considerable down regulation of the ABCB1 encoding mRNA as well as the corresponding drug extrusion pump. Accordingly, drug accumulation was enhanced in the pristine drug-resistant cancer cells and the MDR phenotype was reversed. By means of this model the data provide the proof-of-concept that tk
RNAi is suitable for modulation of cancer-associated factors, e.g. ABCB1, in human cancer cells.
Microbiology, Issue 42, Transkingdom RNAi, shRNA, gene therapy, cancer, multidrug resistance, bacteria
Cell Labeling and Injection in Developing Embryonic Mouse Hearts
Institutions: Aix-Marseille University, University of California, San Diego.
Testing the fate of embryonic or pluripotent stem cell-derivatives in in vitro
protocols has led to controversial outcomes that do not necessarily reflect their in vivo
potential. Preferably, these cells should be placed in a proper embryonic environment in order to acquire their definite phenotype. Furthermore, cell lineage tracing studies in the mouse after labeling cells with dyes or retroviral vectors has remained mostly limited to early stage mouse embryos with still poorly developed organs. To overcome these limitations, we designed standard and ultrasound-mediated microinjection protocols to inject various agents in targeted regions of the heart in mouse embryos at E9.5 and later stages of development. Embryonic explant or embryos are then cultured or left to further develop in utero
. These agents include fluorescent dyes, virus, shRNAs, or stem cell-derived progenitor cells. Our approaches allow for preservation of the function of the organ while monitoring migration and fate of labeled and/or injected cells. These technologies can be extended to other organs and will be very helpful to address key biological questions in biology of development.
Developmental Biology, Issue 86, Cell, DNA, dye injection, mouse embryo, embryo culture, ultrasound, mouse heart, stem cells
A Primary Neuron Culture System for the Study of Herpes Simplex Virus Latency and Reactivation
Institutions: New York University School of Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, New York University School of Medicine.
Herpes simplex virus type-1 (HSV-1) establishes a life-long latent infection in peripheral neurons. This latent reservoir is the source of recurrent reactivation events that ensure transmission and contribute to clinical disease. Current antivirals do not impact the latent reservoir and there are no vaccines. While the molecular details of lytic replication are well-characterized, mechanisms controlling latency in neurons remain elusive. Our present understanding of latency is derived from in vivo
studies using small animal models, which have been indispensable for defining viral gene requirements and the role of immune responses. However, it is impossible to distinguish specific effects on the virus-neuron relationship from more general consequences of infection mediated by immune or non-neuronal support cells in live animals. In addition, animal experimentation is costly, time-consuming, and limited in terms of available options for manipulating host processes. To overcome these limitations, a neuron-only system is desperately needed that reproduces the in vivo
characteristics of latency and reactivation but offers the benefits of tissue culture in terms of homogeneity and accessibility.
Here we present an in vitro
model utilizing cultured primary sympathetic neurons from rat superior cervical ganglia (SCG) (Figure 1
) to study HSV-1 latency and reactivation that fits most if not all of the desired criteria. After eliminating non-neuronal cells, near-homogeneous TrkA+
neuron cultures are infected with HSV-1 in the presence of acyclovir (ACV) to suppress lytic replication. Following ACV removal, non-productive HSV-1 infections that faithfully exhibit accepted hallmarks of latency are efficiently established. Notably, lytic mRNAs, proteins, and infectious virus become undetectable, even in the absence of selection, but latency-associated transcript (LAT) expression persists in neuronal nuclei. Viral genomes are maintained at an average copy number of 25 per neuron and can be induced to productively replicate by interfering with PI3-Kinase / Akt signaling or the simple withdrawal of nerve growth factor1
. A recombinant HSV-1 encoding EGFP fused to the viral lytic protein Us11 provides a functional, real-time marker for replication resulting from reactivation that is readily quantified. In addition to chemical treatments, genetic methodologies such as RNA-interference or gene delivery via lentiviral vectors can be successfully applied to the system permitting mechanistic studies that are very difficult, if not impossible, in animals. In summary, the SCG-based HSV-1 latency / reactivation system provides a powerful, necessary tool to unravel the molecular mechanisms controlling HSV1 latency and reactivation in neurons, a long standing puzzle in virology whose solution may offer fresh insights into developing new therapies that target the latent herpesvirus reservoir.
Immunology, Issue 62, neuron cell culture, Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV), molecular biology, virology
High Content Screening in Neurodegenerative Diseases
Institutions: VU University Medical Center, Neuroscience Campus Amsterdam.
The functional annotation of genomes, construction of molecular networks and novel drug target identification, are important challenges that need to be addressed as a matter of great urgency1-4
. Multiple complementary 'omics' approaches have provided clues as to the genetic risk factors and pathogenic mechanisms underlying numerous neurodegenerative diseases, but most findings still require functional validation5
. For example, a recent genome wide association study for Parkinson's Disease (PD), identified many new loci as risk factors for the disease, but the underlying causative variant(s) or pathogenic mechanism is not known6, 7
. As each associated region can contain several genes, the functional evaluation of each of the genes on phenotypes associated with the disease, using traditional cell biology techniques would take too long.
There is also a need to understand the molecular networks that link genetic mutations to the phenotypes they cause. It is expected that disease phenotypes are the result of multiple interactions that have been disrupted. Reconstruction of these networks using traditional molecular methods would be time consuming. Moreover, network predictions from independent studies of individual components, the reductionism approach, will probably underestimate the network complexity8
. This underestimation could, in part, explain the low success rate of drug approval due to undesirable or toxic side effects. Gaining a network perspective of disease related pathways using HT/HC cellular screening approaches, and identifying key nodes within these pathways, could lead to the identification of targets that are more suited for therapeutic intervention.
High-throughput screening (HTS) is an ideal methodology to address these issues9-12
. but traditional methods were one dimensional whole-well cell assays, that used simplistic readouts for complex biological processes. They were unable to simultaneously quantify the many phenotypes observed in neurodegenerative diseases such as axonal transport deficits or alterations in morphology properties13, 14
. This approach could not be used to investigate the dynamic nature of cellular processes or pathogenic events that occur in a subset of cells. To quantify such features one has to move to multi-dimensional phenotypes termed high-content screening (HCS)4, 15-17
. HCS is the cell-based quantification of several processes simultaneously, which provides a more detailed representation of the cellular response to various perturbations compared to HTS.
HCS has many advantages over HTS18, 19
, but conducting a high-throughput (HT)-high-content (HC) screen in neuronal models is problematic due to high cost, environmental variation and human error. In order to detect cellular responses on a 'phenomics' scale using HC imaging one has to reduce variation and error, while increasing sensitivity and reproducibility.
Herein we describe a method to accurately and reliably conduct shRNA screens using automated cell culturing20
and HC imaging in neuronal cellular models. We describe how we have used this methodology to identify modulators for one particular protein, DJ1, which when mutated causes autosomal recessive parkinsonism21
Combining the versatility of HC imaging with HT methods, it is possible to accurately quantify a plethora of phenotypes. This could subsequently be utilized to advance our understanding of the genome, the pathways involved in disease pathogenesis as well as identify potential therapeutic targets.
Medicine, Issue 59, High-throughput screening, high-content screening, neurodegeneration, automated cell culturing, Parkinson’s disease
Viability Assays for Cells in Culture
Institutions: Duquesne University.
Manual cell counts on a microscope are a sensitive means of assessing cellular viability but are time-consuming and therefore expensive. Computerized viability assays are expensive in terms of equipment but can be faster and more objective than manual cell counts. The present report describes the use of three such viability assays. Two of these assays are infrared and one is luminescent. Both infrared assays rely on a 16 bit Odyssey Imager. One infrared assay uses the DRAQ5 stain for nuclei combined with the Sapphire stain for cytosol and is visualized in the 700 nm channel. The other infrared assay, an In-Cell Western, uses antibodies against cytoskeletal proteins (α-tubulin or microtubule associated protein 2) and labels them in the 800 nm channel. The third viability assay is a commonly used luminescent assay for ATP, but we use a quarter of the recommended volume to save on cost. These measurements are all linear and correlate with the number of cells plated, but vary in sensitivity. All three assays circumvent time-consuming microscopy and sample the entire well, thereby reducing sampling error. Finally, all of the assays can easily be completed within one day of the end of the experiment, allowing greater numbers of experiments to be performed within short timeframes. However, they all rely on the assumption that cell numbers remain in proportion to signal strength after treatments, an assumption that is sometimes not met, especially for cellular ATP. Furthermore, if cells increase or decrease in size after treatment, this might affect signal strength without affecting cell number. We conclude that all viability assays, including manual counts, suffer from a number of caveats, but that computerized viability assays are well worth the initial investment. Using all three assays together yields a comprehensive view of cellular structure and function.
Cellular Biology, Issue 83, In-cell Western, DRAQ5, Sapphire, Cell Titer Glo, ATP, primary cortical neurons, toxicity, protection, N-acetyl cysteine, hormesis
Monitoring Cell-autonomous Circadian Clock Rhythms of Gene Expression Using Luciferase Bioluminescence Reporters
Institutions: The University of Memphis.
In mammals, many aspects of behavior and physiology such as sleep-wake cycles and liver metabolism are regulated by endogenous circadian clocks (reviewed1,2
). The circadian time-keeping system is a hierarchical multi-oscillator network, with the central clock located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) synchronizing and coordinating extra-SCN and peripheral clocks elsewhere1,2
. Individual cells are the functional units for generation and maintenance of circadian rhythms3,4
, and these oscillators of different tissue types in the organism share a remarkably similar biochemical negative feedback mechanism. However, due to interactions at the neuronal network level in the SCN and through rhythmic, systemic cues at the organismal level, circadian rhythms at the organismal level are not necessarily cell-autonomous5-7
. Compared to traditional studies of locomotor activity in vivo
and SCN explants ex vivo
, cell-based in vitro
assays allow for discovery of cell-autonomous circadian defects5,8
. Strategically, cell-based models are more experimentally tractable for phenotypic characterization and rapid discovery of basic clock mechanisms5,8-13
Because circadian rhythms are dynamic, longitudinal measurements with high temporal resolution are needed to assess clock function. In recent years, real-time bioluminescence recording using firefly luciferase
as a reporter has become a common technique for studying circadian rhythms in mammals14,15
, as it allows for examination of the persistence and dynamics of molecular rhythms. To monitor cell-autonomous circadian rhythms of gene expression, luciferase reporters can be introduced into cells via transient transfection13,16,17
or stable transduction5,10,18,19
. Here we describe a stable transduction protocol using lentivirus-mediated gene delivery. The lentiviral vector system is superior to traditional methods such as transient transfection and germline transmission because of its efficiency and versatility: it permits efficient delivery and stable integration into the host genome of both dividing and non-dividing cells20
. Once a reporter cell line is established, the dynamics of clock function can be examined through bioluminescence recording. We first describe the generation of P(Per2
reporter lines, and then present data from this and other circadian reporters. In these assays, 3T3 mouse fibroblasts and U2OS human osteosarcoma cells are used as cellular models. We also discuss various ways of using these clock models in circadian studies. Methods described here can be applied to a great variety of cell types to study the cellular and molecular basis of circadian clocks, and may prove useful in tackling problems in other biological systems.
Genetics, Issue 67, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Chemical Biology, Circadian clock, firefly luciferase, real-time bioluminescence technology, cell-autonomous model, lentiviral vector, RNA interference (RNAi), high-throughput screening (HTS)
Direct Imaging of ER Calcium with Targeted-Esterase Induced Dye Loading (TED)
Institutions: University of Wuerzburg, Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology, Martinsried, Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich.
Visualization of calcium dynamics is important to understand the role of calcium in cell physiology. To examine calcium dynamics, synthetic fluorescent Ca2+
indictors have become popular. Here we demonstrate TED (= targeted-esterase induced dye loading), a method to improve the release of Ca2+
indicator dyes in the ER lumen of different cell types. To date, TED was used in cell lines, glial cells, and neurons in vitro
. TED bases on efficient, recombinant targeting of a high carboxylesterase activity to the ER lumen using vector-constructs that express Carboxylesterases (CES). The latest TED vectors contain a core element of CES2 fused to a red fluorescent protein, thus enabling simultaneous two-color imaging. The dynamics of free calcium in the ER are imaged in one color, while the corresponding ER structure appears in red. At the beginning of the procedure, cells are transduced with a lentivirus. Subsequently, the infected cells are seeded on coverslips to finally enable live cell imaging. Then, living cells are incubated with the acetoxymethyl ester (AM-ester) form of low-affinity Ca2+
indicators, for instance Fluo5N-AM, Mag-Fluo4-AM, or Mag-Fura2-AM. The esterase activity in the ER cleaves off hydrophobic side chains from the AM form of the Ca2+
indicator and a hydrophilic fluorescent dye/Ca2+
complex is formed and trapped in the ER lumen. After dye loading, the cells are analyzed at an inverted confocal laser scanning microscope. Cells are continuously perfused with Ringer-like solutions and the ER calcium dynamics are directly visualized by time-lapse imaging. Calcium release from the ER is identified by a decrease in fluorescence intensity in regions of interest, whereas the refilling of the ER calcium store produces an increase in fluorescence intensity. Finally, the change in fluorescent intensity over time is determined by calculation of ΔF/F0
Cellular Biology, Issue 75, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Bioengineering, Virology, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Surgery, Endoplasmic Reticulum, ER, Calcium Signaling, calcium store, calcium imaging, calcium indicator, metabotropic signaling, Ca2+, neurons, cells, mouse, animal model, cell culture, targeted esterase induced dye loading, imaging
Inhibitory Synapse Formation in a Co-culture Model Incorporating GABAergic Medium Spiny Neurons and HEK293 Cells Stably Expressing GABAA Receptors
Institutions: University College London.
Inhibitory neurons act in the central nervous system to regulate the dynamics and spatio-temporal co-ordination of neuronal networks. GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) is the predominant inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It is released from the presynaptic terminals of inhibitory neurons within highly specialized intercellular junctions known as synapses, where it binds to GABAA
Rs) present at the plasma membrane of the synapse-receiving, postsynaptic neurons. Activation of these GABA-gated ion channels leads to influx of chloride resulting in postsynaptic potential changes that decrease the probability that these neurons will generate action potentials.
During development, diverse types of inhibitory neurons with distinct morphological, electrophysiological and neurochemical characteristics have the ability to recognize their target neurons and form synapses which incorporate specific GABAA
Rs subtypes. This principle of selective innervation of neuronal targets raises the question as to how the appropriate synaptic partners identify each other.
To elucidate the underlying molecular mechanisms, a novel in vitro
co-culture model system was established, in which medium spiny GABAergic neurons, a highly homogenous population of neurons isolated from the embryonic striatum, were cultured with stably transfected HEK293 cell lines that express different GABAA
R subtypes. Synapses form rapidly, efficiently and selectively in this system, and are easily accessible for quantification. Our results indicate that various GABAA
R subtypes differ in their ability to promote synapse formation, suggesting that this reduced in vitro
model system can be used to reproduce, at least in part, the in vivo
conditions required for the recognition of the appropriate synaptic partners and formation of specific synapses. Here the protocols for culturing the medium spiny neurons and generating HEK293 cells lines expressing GABAA
Rs are first described, followed by detailed instructions on how to combine these two cell types in co-culture and analyze the formation of synaptic contacts.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, Developmental neuroscience, synaptogenesis, synaptic inhibition, co-culture, stable cell lines, GABAergic, medium spiny neurons, HEK 293 cell line
Gene-environment Interaction Models to Unmask Susceptibility Mechanisms in Parkinson's Disease
Institutions: SRI International, University of California-Santa Cruz.
Lipoxygenase (LOX) activity has been implicated in neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, but its effects in Parkinson's disease (PD) pathogenesis are less understood. Gene-environment interaction models have utility in unmasking the impact of specific cellular pathways in toxicity that may not be observed using a solely genetic or toxicant disease model alone. To evaluate if distinct LOX isozymes selectively contribute to PD-related neurodegeneration, transgenic (i.e.
5-LOX and 12/15-LOX deficient) mice can be challenged with a toxin that mimics cell injury and death in the disorder. Here we describe the use of a neurotoxin, 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP), which produces a nigrostriatal lesion to elucidate the distinct contributions of LOX isozymes to neurodegeneration related to PD. The use of MPTP in mouse, and nonhuman primate, is well-established to recapitulate the nigrostriatal damage in PD. The extent of MPTP-induced lesioning is measured by HPLC analysis of dopamine and its metabolites and semi-quantitative Western blot analysis of striatum for tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), the rate-limiting enzyme for the synthesis of dopamine. To assess inflammatory markers, which may demonstrate LOX isozyme-selective sensitivity, glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) and Iba-1 immunohistochemistry are performed on brain sections containing substantia nigra, and GFAP Western blot analysis is performed on striatal homogenates. This experimental approach can provide novel insights into gene-environment interactions underlying nigrostriatal degeneration and PD.
Medicine, Issue 83, MPTP, dopamine, Iba1, TH, GFAP, lipoxygenase, transgenic, gene-environment interactions, mouse, Parkinson's disease, neurodegeneration, neuroinflammation
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco - UCSF.
RNA interference (RNAi) is a system of gene silencing in living cells. In RNAi, genes homologous in sequence to short interfering RNAs (siRNA) are silenced at the post-transcriptional state. Short hairpin RNAs, precursors to siRNA, can be expressed using lentivirus, allowing for RNAi in a variety of cell types. Lentiviruses, such as the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, are capable to infecting both dividing and non-dividing cells. We will describe a procedure which to package lentiviruses. Packaging refers to the preparation of competent virus from DNA vectors. Lentiviral vector production systems are based on a 'split' system, where the natural viral genome has been split into individual helper plasmid constructs. This splitting of the different viral elements into four separate vectors diminishes the risk of creating a replication-capable virus by adventitious recombination of the lentiviral genome. Here, a vector containing the shRNA of interest and three packaging vectors (p-VSVG, pRSV, pMDL) are transiently transfected into human 293 cells. After at least a 48-hour incubation period, the virus containing supernatant is harvested and concentrated. Finally, virus titer is determined by reporter (fluorescent) expression with a flow cytometer.
Microbiology, Issue 32, Lentivirus, RNAi, viral titration, transfection, retrovirus, flow cytometry, split vector system, shRNA.