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?/?-Plectoxin-Pt1a: an excitatory spider toxin with actions on both Ca(2+) and Na(+) channels.
PUBLISHED: 01-01-2013
The venom of spider Plectreurys tristis contains a variety of peptide toxins that selectively target neuronal ion channels. O-palmitoylation of a threonine or serine residue, along with a characteristic and highly constrained disulfide bond structure, are hallmarks of a family of toxins found in this venom. Here, we report the isolation and characterization of a new toxin, ?/?-plectoxin-Pt1a, from this spider venom. It is a 40 amino acid peptide containing an O-palmitoylated Ser-39. Analysis of ?/?-plectoxin-Pt1a cDNA reveals a small precursor containing a secretion signal sequence, a 14 amino acid N-terminal propeptide, and a C-terminal amidation signal. The biological activity of ?/?-plectoxin-Pt1a is also unique. It preferentially blocks a subset of Ca(2+) channels that is apparently not required for neurotransmitter release; decreases threshold for Na(+) channel activation; and slows Na(+) channel inactivation. As ?/?-plectoxin-Pt1a enhances synaptic transmission by prolonging presynaptic release of neurotransmitter, its effects on Na(+) and Ca(2+) channels may act synergistically to sustain the terminal excitability.
Venoms are chemically complex secretions typically comprising numerous proteins and peptides with varied physiological activities. Functional characterization of venom proteins has important biomedical applications, including the identification of drug leads or probes for cellular receptors. Spiders are the most species rich clade of venomous organisms, but the venoms of only a few species are well-understood, in part due to the difficulty associated with collecting minute quantities of venom from small animals. This paper presents a protocol for the collection of venom from spiders using electrical stimulation, demonstrating the procedure on the Western black widow (Latrodectus hesperus). The collected venom is useful for varied downstream analyses including direct protein identification via mass spectrometry, functional assays, and stimulation of venom gene expression for transcriptomic studies. This technique has the advantage over protocols that isolate venom from whole gland homogenates, which do not separate genuine venom components from cellular proteins that are not secreted as part of the venom. Representative results demonstrate the detection of known venom peptides from the collected sample using mass spectrometry. The venom collection procedure is followed by a protocol for dissecting spider venom glands, with results demonstrating that this leads to the characterization of venom-expressed proteins and peptides at the sequence level.
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Inhibitory Synapse Formation in a Co-culture Model Incorporating GABAergic Medium Spiny Neurons and HEK293 Cells Stably Expressing GABAA Receptors
Authors: Laura E. Brown, Celine Fuchs, Martin W. Nicholson, F. Anne Stephenson, Alex M. Thomson, Jasmina N. Jovanovic.
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 receptors (GABAARs) 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 GABAARs 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 GABAAR subtypes. Synapses form rapidly, efficiently and selectively in this system, and are easily accessible for quantification. Our results indicate that various GABAAR 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 GABAARs 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
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Direct Imaging of ER Calcium with Targeted-Esterase Induced Dye Loading (TED)
Authors: Samira Samtleben, Juliane Jaepel, Caroline Fecher, Thomas Andreska, Markus Rehberg, Robert Blum.
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
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Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Authors: James Smadbeck, Meghan B. Peterson, George A. Khoury, Martin S. Taylor, Christodoulos A. Floudas.
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity. To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (, a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
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Viability Assays for Cells in Culture
Authors: Jessica M. Posimo, Ajay S. Unnithan, Amanda M. Gleixner, Hailey J. Choi, Yiran Jiang, Sree H. Pulugulla, Rehana K. Leak.
Institutions: Duquesne University.
Manual cell counts on a microscope are a sensitive means of assessing cellular viability but are time-consuming and therefore expensive. Computerized viability assays are expensive in terms of equipment but can be faster and more objective than manual cell counts. The present report describes the use of three such viability assays. Two of these assays are infrared and one is luminescent. Both infrared assays rely on a 16 bit Odyssey Imager. One infrared assay uses the DRAQ5 stain for nuclei combined with the Sapphire stain for cytosol and is visualized in the 700 nm channel. The other infrared assay, an In-Cell Western, uses antibodies against cytoskeletal proteins (α-tubulin or microtubule associated protein 2) and labels them in the 800 nm channel. The third viability assay is a commonly used luminescent assay for ATP, but we use a quarter of the recommended volume to save on cost. These measurements are all linear and correlate with the number of cells plated, but vary in sensitivity. All three assays circumvent time-consuming microscopy and sample the entire well, thereby reducing sampling error. Finally, all of the assays can easily be completed within one day of the end of the experiment, allowing greater numbers of experiments to be performed within short timeframes. However, they all rely on the assumption that cell numbers remain in proportion to signal strength after treatments, an assumption that is sometimes not met, especially for cellular ATP. Furthermore, if cells increase or decrease in size after treatment, this might affect signal strength without affecting cell number. We conclude that all viability assays, including manual counts, suffer from a number of caveats, but that computerized viability assays are well worth the initial investment. Using all three assays together yields a comprehensive view of cellular structure and function.
Cellular Biology, Issue 83, In-cell Western, DRAQ5, Sapphire, Cell Titer Glo, ATP, primary cortical neurons, toxicity, protection, N-acetyl cysteine, hormesis
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Microwave-assisted Functionalization of Poly(ethylene glycol) and On-resin Peptides for Use in Chain Polymerizations and Hydrogel Formation
Authors: Amy H. Van Hove, Brandon D. Wilson, Danielle S. W. Benoit.
Institutions: University of Rochester, University of Rochester, University of Rochester Medical Center.
One of the main benefits to using poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) macromers in hydrogel formation is synthetic versatility. The ability to draw from a large variety of PEG molecular weights and configurations (arm number, arm length, and branching pattern) affords researchers tight control over resulting hydrogel structures and properties, including Young’s modulus and mesh size. This video will illustrate a rapid, efficient, solvent-free, microwave-assisted method to methacrylate PEG precursors into poly(ethylene glycol) dimethacrylate (PEGDM). This synthetic method provides much-needed starting materials for applications in drug delivery and regenerative medicine. The demonstrated method is superior to traditional methacrylation methods as it is significantly faster and simpler, as well as more economical and environmentally friendly, using smaller amounts of reagents and solvents. We will also demonstrate an adaptation of this technique for on-resin methacrylamide functionalization of peptides. This on-resin method allows the N-terminus of peptides to be functionalized with methacrylamide groups prior to deprotection and cleavage from resin. This allows for selective addition of methacrylamide groups to the N-termini of the peptides while amino acids with reactive side groups (e.g. primary amine of lysine, primary alcohol of serine, secondary alcohols of threonine, and phenol of tyrosine) remain protected, preventing functionalization at multiple sites. This article will detail common analytical methods (proton Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy (;H-NMR) and Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization Time of Flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-ToF)) to assess the efficiency of the functionalizations. Common pitfalls and suggested troubleshooting methods will be addressed, as will modifications of the technique which can be used to further tune macromer functionality and resulting hydrogel physical and chemical properties. Use of synthesized products for the formation of hydrogels for drug delivery and cell-material interaction studies will be demonstrated, with particular attention paid to modifying hydrogel composition to affect mesh size, controlling hydrogel stiffness and drug release.
Chemistry, Issue 80, Poly(ethylene glycol), peptides, polymerization, polymers, methacrylation, peptide functionalization, 1H-NMR, MALDI-ToF, hydrogels, macromer synthesis
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Isolation and Quantification of Botulinum Neurotoxin From Complex Matrices Using the BoTest Matrix Assays
Authors: F. Mark Dunning, Timothy M. Piazza, Füsûn N. Zeytin, Ward C. Tucker.
Institutions: BioSentinel Inc., Madison, WI.
Accurate detection and quantification of botulinum neurotoxin (BoNT) in complex matrices is required for pharmaceutical, environmental, and food sample testing. Rapid BoNT testing of foodstuffs is needed during outbreak forensics, patient diagnosis, and food safety testing while accurate potency testing is required for BoNT-based drug product manufacturing and patient safety. The widely used mouse bioassay for BoNT testing is highly sensitive but lacks the precision and throughput needed for rapid and routine BoNT testing. Furthermore, the bioassay's use of animals has resulted in calls by drug product regulatory authorities and animal-rights proponents in the US and abroad to replace the mouse bioassay for BoNT testing. Several in vitro replacement assays have been developed that work well with purified BoNT in simple buffers, but most have not been shown to be applicable to testing in highly complex matrices. Here, a protocol for the detection of BoNT in complex matrices using the BoTest Matrix assays is presented. The assay consists of three parts: The first part involves preparation of the samples for testing, the second part is an immunoprecipitation step using anti-BoNT antibody-coated paramagnetic beads to purify BoNT from the matrix, and the third part quantifies the isolated BoNT's proteolytic activity using a fluorogenic reporter. The protocol is written for high throughput testing in 96-well plates using both liquid and solid matrices and requires about 2 hr of manual preparation with total assay times of 4-26 hr depending on the sample type, toxin load, and desired sensitivity. Data are presented for BoNT/A testing with phosphate-buffered saline, a drug product, culture supernatant, 2% milk, and fresh tomatoes and includes discussion of critical parameters for assay success.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, Botulinum, food testing, detection, quantification, complex matrices, BoTest Matrix, Clostridium, potency testing
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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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Application of Two-spotted Spider Mite Tetranychus urticae for Plant-pest Interaction Studies
Authors: Marc Cazaux, Marie Navarro, Kristie A. Bruinsma, Vladimir Zhurov, Tara Negrave, Thomas Van Leeuwen, Vojislava Grbic, Miodrag Grbic.
Institutions: The University of Western Ontario, Instituto de Ciencias de la Vid y el Vino, Ghent University, University of Amsterdam.
The two-spotted spider mite, Tetranychus urticae, is a ubiquitous polyphagous arthropod herbivore that feeds on a remarkably broad array of species, with more than 150 of economic value. It is a major pest of greenhouse crops, especially in Solanaceae and Cucurbitaceae (e.g., tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini) and greenhouse ornamentals (e.g., roses, chrysanthemum, carnations), annual field crops (such as maize, cotton, soybean, and sugar beet), and in perennial cultures (alfalfa, strawberries, grapes, citruses, and plums)1,2. In addition to the extreme polyphagy that makes it an important agricultural pest, T. urticae has a tendency to develop resistance to a wide array of insecticides and acaricides that are used for its control3-7. T. urticae is an excellent experimental organism, as it has a rapid life cycle (7 days at 27 °C) and can be easily maintained at high density in the laboratory. Methods to assay gene expression (including in situ hybridization and antibody staining) and to inactivate expression of spider mite endogenous genes using RNA interference have been developed8-10. Recently, the whole genome sequence of T. urticae has been reported, creating an opportunity to develop this pest herbivore as a model organism with equivalent genomic resources that already exist in some of its host plants (Arabidopsis thaliana and the tomato Solanum lycopersicum)11. Together, these model organisms could provide insights into molecular bases of plant-pest interactions. Here, an efficient method for quick and easy collection of a large number of adult female mites, their application on an experimental plant host, and the assessment of the plant damage due to spider mite feeding are described. The presented protocol enables fast and efficient collection of hundreds of individuals at any developmental stage (eggs, larvae, nymphs, adult males, and females) that can be used for subsequent experimental application.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 89, two-spotted spider mite, plant-herbivore interaction, Tetranychus urticae, Arabidopsis thaliana, plant damage analysis, herbivory, plant pests
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Bladder Smooth Muscle Strip Contractility as a Method to Evaluate Lower Urinary Tract Pharmacology
Authors: F. Aura Kullmann, Stephanie L. Daugherty, William C. de Groat, Lori A. Birder.
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
We describe an in vitro method to measure bladder smooth muscle contractility, and its use for investigating physiological and pharmacological properties of the smooth muscle as well as changes induced by pathology. This method provides critical information for understanding bladder function while overcoming major methodological difficulties encountered in in vivo experiments, such as surgical and pharmacological manipulations that affect stability and survival of the preparations, the use of human tissue, and/or the use of expensive chemicals. It also provides a way to investigate the properties of each bladder component (i.e. smooth muscle, mucosa, nerves) in healthy and pathological conditions. The urinary bladder is removed from an anesthetized animal, placed in Krebs solution and cut into strips. Strips are placed into a chamber filled with warm Krebs solution. One end is attached to an isometric tension transducer to measure contraction force, the other end is attached to a fixed rod. Tissue is stimulated by directly adding compounds to the bath or by electric field stimulation electrodes that activate nerves, similar to triggering bladder contractions in vivo. We demonstrate the use of this method to evaluate spontaneous smooth muscle contractility during development and after an experimental spinal cord injury, the nature of neurotransmission (transmitters and receptors involved), factors involved in modulation of smooth muscle activity, the role of individual bladder components, and species and organ differences in response to pharmacological agents. Additionally, it could be used for investigating intracellular pathways involved in contraction and/or relaxation of the smooth muscle, drug structure-activity relationships and evaluation of transmitter release. The in vitro smooth muscle contractility method has been used extensively for over 50 years, and has provided data that significantly contributed to our understanding of bladder function as well as to pharmaceutical development of compounds currently used clinically for bladder management.
Medicine, Issue 90, Krebs, species differences, in vitro, smooth muscle contractility, neural stimulation
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Acute Dissociation of Lamprey Reticulospinal Axons to Enable Recording from the Release Face Membrane of Individual Functional Presynaptic Terminals
Authors: Shankar Ramachandran, Simon Alford.
Institutions: University of Illinois at Chicago.
Synaptic transmission is an extremely rapid process. Action potential driven influx of Ca2+ into the presynaptic terminal, through voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs) located in the release face membrane, is the trigger for vesicle fusion and neurotransmitter release. Crucial to the rapidity of synaptic transmission is the spatial and temporal synchrony between the arrival of the action potential, VGCCs and the neurotransmitter release machinery. The ability to directly record Ca2+ currents from the release face membrane of individual presynaptic terminals is imperative for a precise understanding of the relationship between presynaptic Ca2+ and neurotransmitter release. Access to the presynaptic release face membrane for electrophysiological recording is not available in most preparations and presynaptic Ca2+ entry has been characterized using imaging techniques and macroscopic current measurements – techniques that do not have sufficient temporal resolution to visualize Ca2+ entry. The characterization of VGCCs directly at single presynaptic terminals has not been possible in central synapses and has thus far been successfully achieved only in the calyx-type synapse of the chick ciliary ganglion and in rat calyces. We have successfully addressed this problem in the giant reticulospinal synapse of the lamprey spinal cord by developing an acutely dissociated preparation of the spinal cord that yields isolated reticulospinal axons with functional presynaptic terminals devoid of postsynaptic structures. We can fluorescently label and identify individual presynaptic terminals and target them for recording. Using this preparation, we have characterized VGCCs directly at the release face of individual presynaptic terminals using immunohistochemistry and electrophysiology approaches. Ca2+ currents have been recorded directly at the release face membrane of individual presynaptic terminals, the first such recording to be carried out at central synapses.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, reticulospinal synapse, reticulospinal axons, presynaptic terminal, presynaptic calcium, voltage-gated calcium channels, vesicle fusion, synaptic transmission, neurotransmitter release, spinal cord, lamprey, synaptic vesicles, acute dissociation
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Detection of Protein Palmitoylation in Cultured Hippocampal Neurons by Immunoprecipitation and Acyl-Biotin Exchange (ABE)
Authors: G. Stefano Brigidi, Shernaz X Bamji.
Institutions: University of British Columbia .
Palmitoylation is a post-translational lipid modification involving the attachment of a 16-carbon saturated fatty acid, palmitate, to cysteine residues of substrate proteins through a labile thioester bond [reviewed in1]. Palmitoylation of a substrate protein increases its hydrophobicity, and typically facilitates its trafficking toward cellular membranes. Recent studies have shown palmitoylation to be one of the most common lipid modifications in neurons1, 2, suggesting that palmitate turnover is an important mechanism by which these cells regulate the targeting and trafficking of proteins. The identification and detection of palmitoylated substrates can therefore better our understanding of protein trafficking in neurons. Detection of protein palmitoylation in the past has been technically hindered due to the lack of a consensus sequence among substrate proteins, and the reliance on metabolic labeling of palmitoyl-proteins with 3H-palmitate, a time-consuming biochemical assay with low sensitivity. Development of the Acyl-Biotin Exchange (ABE) assay enables more rapid and high sensitivity detection of palmitoylated proteins2-4, and is optimal for measuring the dynamic turnover of palmitate on neuronal proteins. The ABE assay is comprised of three biochemical steps (Figure 1): 1) irreversible blockade of unmodified cysteine thiol groups using N-ethylmaliemide (NEM), 2) specific cleavage and unmasking of the palmitoylated cysteine's thiol group by hydroxylamine (HAM), and 3) selective labeling of the palmitoylated cysteine using a thiol-reactive biotinylation reagent, biotin-BMCC. Purification of the thiol-biotinylated proteins following the ABE steps has differed, depending on the overall goal of the experiment. Here, we describe a method to purify a palmitoylated protein of interest in primary hippocampal neurons by an initial immunoprecipitation (IP) step using an antibody directed against the protein, followed by the ABE assay and western blotting to directly measure palmitoylation levels of that protein, which is termed the IP-ABE assay. Low-density cultures of embryonic rat hippocampal neurons have been widely used to study the localization, function, and trafficking of neuronal proteins, making them ideally suited for studying neuronal protein palmitoylation using the IP-ABE assay. The IP-ABE assay mainly requires standard IP and western blotting reagents, and is only limited by the availability of antibodies against the target substrate. This assay can easily be adapted for the purification and detection of transfected palmitoylated proteins in heterologous cell cultures, primary neuronal cultures derived from various brain tissues of both mouse and rat, and even primary brain tissue itself.
Neuroscience, Issue 72, Biochemistry, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Physiology, Proteins, synapse, cultured hippocampal neurons, palmitoylation, lipid, immunoprecipitation, western blotting, biotin, Acyl-Biotin Exchange, ABE, neuron, brain, cell culture, rat, mouse, animal model
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Synthetic Spider Silk Production on a Laboratory Scale
Authors: Yang Hsia, Eric Gnesa, Ryan Pacheco, Kristin Kohler, Felicia Jeffery, Craig Vierra.
Institutions: University of the Pacific.
As society progresses and resources become scarcer, it is becoming increasingly important to cultivate new technologies that engineer next generation biomaterials with high performance properties. The development of these new structural materials must be rapid, cost-efficient and involve processing methodologies and products that are environmentally friendly and sustainable. Spiders spin a multitude of different fiber types with diverse mechanical properties, offering a rich source of next generation engineering materials for biomimicry that rival the best manmade and natural materials. Since the collection of large quantities of natural spider silk is impractical, synthetic silk production has the ability to provide scientists with access to an unlimited supply of threads. Therefore, if the spinning process can be streamlined and perfected, artificial spider fibers have the potential use for a broad range of applications ranging from body armor, surgical sutures, ropes and cables, tires, strings for musical instruments, and composites for aviation and aerospace technology. In order to advance the synthetic silk production process and to yield fibers that display low variance in their material properties from spin to spin, we developed a wet-spinning protocol that integrates expression of recombinant spider silk proteins in bacteria, purification and concentration of the proteins, followed by fiber extrusion and a mechanical post-spin treatment. This is the first visual representation that reveals a step-by-step process to spin and analyze artificial silk fibers on a laboratory scale. It also provides details to minimize the introduction of variability among fibers spun from the same spinning dope. Collectively, these methods will propel the process of artificial silk production, leading to higher quality fibers that surpass natural spider silks.
Bioengineering, Issue 65, Biochemistry, Spider silk, fibroins, synthetic spider silk, silk-producing glands, wet-spinning, post-spin draw
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Mutagenesis and Functional Analysis of Ion Channels Heterologously Expressed in Mammalian Cells
Authors: Bartosz Balana, Natalie Taylor, Paul A. Slesinger.
Institutions: Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
We will demonstrate how to study the functional effects of introducing a point mutation in an ion channel. We study G protein-gated inwardly rectifying potassium (referred to as GIRK) channels, which are important for regulating the excitability of neurons. There are four different mammalian GIRK channel subunits (GIRK1-GIRK4) - we focus on GIRK2 because it forms a homotetramer. Stimulation of different types of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), such as the muscarinic receptor (M2R), leads to activation of GIRK channels. Alcohol also directly activates GIRK channels. We will show how to mutate one amino acid by specifically changing one or more nucleotides in the cDNA for the GIRK channel. This mutated cDNA sequence will be amplified in bacteria, purified, and the presence of the point mutation will be confirmed by DNA sequencing. The cDNAs for the mutated and wild-type GIRK channels will be transfected into human embryonic kidney HEK293T cells cultured in vitro. Lastly, whole-cell patch-clamp electrophysiology will be used to study the macroscopic potassium currents through the ectopically expressed wild-type or mutated GIRK channels. In this experiment, we will examine the effect of a L257W mutation in GIRK2 channels on M2R-dependent and alcohol-dependent activation.
Cellular Biology, Issue 44, Ion channels, electrophysiology, patch-clamping, site-directed mutagenesis, biophysics, neuroscience
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Membrane Potentials, Synaptic Responses, Neuronal Circuitry, Neuromodulation and Muscle Histology Using the Crayfish: Student Laboratory Exercises
Authors: Brittany Baierlein, Alison L. Thurow, Harold L. Atwood, Robin L. Cooper.
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
The purpose of this report is to help develop an understanding of the effects caused by ion gradients across a biological membrane. Two aspects that influence a cell's membrane potential and which we address in these experiments are: (1) Ion concentration of K+ on the outside of the membrane, and (2) the permeability of the membrane to specific ions. The crayfish abdominal extensor muscles are in groupings with some being tonic (slow) and others phasic (fast) in their biochemical and physiological phenotypes, as well as in their structure; the motor neurons that innervate these muscles are correspondingly different in functional characteristics. We use these muscles as well as the superficial, tonic abdominal flexor muscle to demonstrate properties in synaptic transmission. In addition, we introduce a sensory-CNS-motor neuron-muscle circuit to demonstrate the effect of cuticular sensory stimulation as well as the influence of neuromodulators on certain aspects of the circuit. With the techniques obtained in this exercise, one can begin to answer many questions remaining in other experimental preparations as well as in physiological applications related to medicine and health. We have demonstrated the usefulness of model invertebrate preparations to address fundamental questions pertinent to all animals.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, neurophysiology, muscle, anatomy, electrophysiology
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Single Particle Electron Microscopy Reconstruction of the Exosome Complex Using the Random Conical Tilt Method
Authors: Xueqi Liu, Hong-Wei Wang.
Institutions: Yale University.
Single particle electron microscopy (EM) reconstruction has recently become a popular tool to get the three-dimensional (3D) structure of large macromolecular complexes. Compared to X-ray crystallography, it has some unique advantages. First, single particle EM reconstruction does not need to crystallize the protein sample, which is the bottleneck in X-ray crystallography, especially for large macromolecular complexes. Secondly, it does not need large amounts of protein samples. Compared with milligrams of proteins necessary for crystallization, single particle EM reconstruction only needs several micro-liters of protein solution at nano-molar concentrations, using the negative staining EM method. However, despite a few macromolecular assemblies with high symmetry, single particle EM is limited at relatively low resolution (lower than 1 nm resolution) for many specimens especially those without symmetry. This technique is also limited by the size of the molecules under study, i.e. 100 kDa for negatively stained specimens and 300 kDa for frozen-hydrated specimens in general. For a new sample of unknown structure, we generally use a heavy metal solution to embed the molecules by negative staining. The specimen is then examined in a transmission electron microscope to take two-dimensional (2D) micrographs of the molecules. Ideally, the protein molecules have a homogeneous 3D structure but exhibit different orientations in the micrographs. These micrographs are digitized and processed in computers as "single particles". Using two-dimensional alignment and classification techniques, homogenous molecules in the same views are clustered into classes. Their averages enhance the signal of the molecule's 2D shapes. After we assign the particles with the proper relative orientation (Euler angles), we will be able to reconstruct the 2D particle images into a 3D virtual volume. In single particle 3D reconstruction, an essential step is to correctly assign the proper orientation of each single particle. There are several methods to assign the view for each particle, including the angular reconstitution1 and random conical tilt (RCT) method2. In this protocol, we describe our practice in getting the 3D reconstruction of yeast exosome complex using negative staining EM and RCT. It should be noted that our protocol of electron microscopy and image processing follows the basic principle of RCT but is not the only way to perform the method. We first describe how to embed the protein sample into a layer of Uranyl-Formate with a thickness comparable to the protein size, using a holey carbon grid covered with a layer of continuous thin carbon film. Then the specimen is inserted into a transmission electron microscope to collect untilted (0-degree) and tilted (55-degree) pairs of micrographs that will be used later for processing and obtaining an initial 3D model of the yeast exosome. To this end, we perform RCT and then refine the initial 3D model by using the projection matching refinement method3.
Structural Biology, Issue 49, Electron microscopy, single particle three-dimensional reconstruction, exosome complex, negative staining
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Vibrodissociation of Neurons from Rodent Brain Slices to Study Synaptic Transmission and Image Presynaptic Terminals
Authors: Sang Beom Jun, Verginia Cuzon Carlson, Stephen Ikeda, David Lovinger.
Institutions: National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Ewha Womans University, National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Mechanical dissociation of neurons from the central nervous system has the advantage that presynaptic boutons remain attached to the isolated neuron of interest. This allows for examination of synaptic transmission under conditions where the extracellular and postsynaptic intracellular environments can be well controlled. A vibration-based technique without the use of proteases, known as vibrodissociation, is the most popular technique for mechanical isolation. A micropipette, with the tip fire-polished to the shape of a small ball, is placed into a brain slice made from a P1-P21 rodent. The micropipette is vibrated parallel to the slice surface and lowered through the slice thickness resulting in the liberation of isolated neurons. The isolated neurons are ready for study within a few minutes of vibrodissociation. This technique has advantages over the use of primary neuronal cultures, brain slices and enzymatically isolated neurons including: rapid production of viable, relatively mature neurons suitable for electrophysiological and imaging studies; superior control of the extracellular environment free from the influence of neighboring cells; suitability for well-controlled pharmacological experiments using rapid drug application and total cell superfusion; and improved space-clamp in whole-cell recordings relative to neurons in slice or cell culture preparations. This preparation can be used to examine synaptic physiology, pharmacology, modulation and plasticity. Real-time imaging of both pre- and postsynaptic elements in the living cells and boutons is also possible using vibrodissociated neurons. Characterization of the molecular constituents of pre- and postsynaptic elements can also be achieved with immunological and imaging-based approaches.
Neuroscience, Issue 51, neuronal dissociation, synaptic transmission, GABA, calcium imaging, electrophysiology, hippocampus, striatum
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Detection of Toxin Translocation into the Host Cytosol by Surface Plasmon Resonance
Authors: Michael Taylor, Tuhina Banerjee, Neyda VanBennekom, Ken Teter.
Institutions: University of Central Florida.
AB toxins consist of an enzymatic A subunit and a cell-binding B subunit1. These toxins are secreted into the extracellular milieu, but they act upon targets within the eukaryotic cytosol. Some AB toxins travel by vesicle carriers from the cell surface to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) before entering the cytosol2-4. In the ER, the catalytic A chain dissociates from the rest of the toxin and moves through a protein-conducting channel to reach its cytosolic target5. The translocated, cytosolic A chain is difficult to detect because toxin trafficking to the ER is an extremely inefficient process: most internalized toxin is routed to the lysosomes for degradation, so only a small fraction of surface-bound toxin reaches the Golgi apparatus and ER6-12. To monitor toxin translocation from the ER to the cytosol in cultured cells, we combined a subcellular fractionation protocol with the highly sensitive detection method of surface plasmon resonance (SPR)13-15. The plasma membrane of toxin-treated cells is selectively permeabilized with digitonin, allowing collection of a cytosolic fraction which is subsequently perfused over an SPR sensor coated with an anti-toxin A chain antibody. The antibody-coated sensor can capture and detect pg/mL quantities of cytosolic toxin. With this protocol, it is possible to follow the kinetics of toxin entry into the cytosol and to characterize inhibitory effects on the translocation event. The concentration of cytosolic toxin can also be calculated from a standard curve generated with known quantities of A chain standards that have been perfused over the sensor. Our method represents a rapid, sensitive, and quantitative detection system that does not require radiolabeling or other modifications to the target toxin.
Immunology, Issue 59, Surface plasmon resonance, AB toxin, translocation, endoplasmic reticulum, cell culture, cholera toxin, pertussis toxin
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A Fluorescent Screening Assay for Identifying Modulators of GIRK Channels
Authors: Maribel Vazquez, Charity A. Dunn, Kenneth B. Walsh.
Institutions: University of South Carolina, School of Medicine.
G protein-gated inward rectifier K+ (GIRK) channels function as cellular mediators of a wide range of hormones and neurotransmitters and are expressed in the brain, heart, skeletal muscle and endocrine tissue1,2. GIRK channels become activated following the binding of ligands (neurotransmitters, hormones, drugs, etc.) to their plasma membrane-bound, G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). This binding causes the stimulation of G proteins (Gi and Go) which subsequently bind to and activate the GIRK channel. Once opened the GIRK channel allows the movement of K+ out of the cell causing the resting membrane potential to become more negative. As a consequence, GIRK channel activation in neurons decreases spontaneous action potential formation and inhibits the release of excitatory neurotransmitters. In the heart, activation of the GIRK channel inhibits pacemaker activity thereby slowing the heart rate. GIRK channels represent novel targets for the development of new therapeutic agents for the treatment neuropathic pain, drug addiction, cardiac arrhythmias and other disorders3. However, the pharmacology of these channels remains largely unexplored. Although a number of drugs including anti-arrhythmic agents, antipsychotic drugs and antidepressants block the GIRK channel, this inhibition is not selective and occurs at relatively high drug concentrations3. Here, we describe a real-time screening assay for identifying new modulators of GIRK channels. In this assay, neuronal AtT20 cells, expressing GIRK channels, are loaded with membrane potential-sensitive fluorescent dyes such as bis-(1,3-dibutylbarbituric acid) trimethine oxonol [DiBAC4(3)] or HLB 021-152 (Figure 1). The dye molecules become strongly fluorescent following uptake into the cells (Figure 1). Treatment of the cells with GPCR ligands stimulates the GIRK channels to open. The resulting K+ efflux out of the cell causes the membrane potential to become more negative and the fluorescent signal to decrease (Figure 1). Thus, drugs that modulate K+ efflux through the GIRK channel can be assayed using a fluorescent plate reader. Unlike other ion channel screening assays, such atomic absorption spectrometry4 or radiotracer analysis5, the GIRK channel fluorescent assay provides a fast, real-time and inexpensive screening procedure.
Medicine, Issue 62, G protein-gated inward rectifier K+ (GIRK) channels, clonal cell lines, drug screening, fluorescent dyes, K+ channel modulators, Pharmacology
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Electrophysiological Recording in the Drosophila Embryo
Authors: Kaiyun Chen, David E. Featherstone, Kendal Broadie.
Institutions: University of Illinois, Vanderbilt University.
Drosophila is a premier genetic model for the study of both embryonic development and functional neuroscience. Traditionally, these fields are quite isolated from each other, with largely independent histories and scientific communities. However, the interface between these usually disparate fields is the developmental programs underlying acquisition of functional electrical signaling properties and differentiation of functional chemical synapses during the final phases of neural circuit formation. This interface is a critically important area for investigation. In Drosophila, these phases of functional development occur during a period of <8 hours (at 25°C) during the last third of embryogenesis. This late developmental period was long considered intractable to investigation owing to the deposition of a tough, impermeable epidermal cuticle. A breakthrough advance was the application of water-polymerizing surgical glue that can be locally applied to the cuticle to enable controlled dissection of late-stage embryos. With a dorsal longitudinal incision, the embryo can be laid flat, exposing the ventral nerve cord and body wall musculature to experimental investigation. Whole-cell patch-clamp techniques can then be employed to record from individually-identifiable neurons and somatic muscles. These recording configurations have been used to track the appearance and maturation of ionic currents and action potential propagation in both neurons and muscles. Genetic mutants affecting these electrical properties have been characterized to reveal the molecular composition of ion channels and associated signaling complexes, and to begin exploration of the molecular mechanisms of functional differentiation. A particular focus has been the assembly of synaptic connections, both in the central nervous system and periphery. The glutamatergic neuromuscular junction (NMJ) is most accessible to a combination of optical imaging and electrophysiological recording. A glass suction electrode is used to stimulate the peripheral nerve, with excitatory junction current (EJC) recordings made in the voltage-clamped muscle. This recording configuration has been used to chart the functional differentiation of the synapse, and track the appearance and maturation of presynaptic glutamate release properties. In addition, postsynaptic properties can be assayed independently via iontophoretic or pressure application of glutamate directly to the muscle surface, to measure the appearance and maturation of the glutamate receptor fields. Thus, both pre- and postsynaptic elements can be monitored separately or in combination during embryonic synaptogenesis. This system has been heavily used to isolate and characterize genetic mutants that impair embryonic synapse formation, and thus reveal the molecular mechanisms governing the specification and differentiation of synapse connections and functional synaptic signaling properties.
Neuroscience, Issue 27, Drosophila, embryo, whole-cell patch-clamp, muscle, neuron, neuromuscular junction, synapse
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Preparation of Artificial Bilayers for Electrophysiology Experiments
Authors: Ruchi Kapoor, Jung H. Kim, Helgi Ingolfson, Olaf Sparre Andersen.
Institutions: Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University.
Planar lipid bilayers, also called artificial lipid bilayers, allow you to study ion-conducting channels in a well-defined environment. These bilayers can be used for many different studies, such as the characterization of membrane-active peptides, the reconstitution of ion channels or investigations on how changes in lipid bilayer properties alter the function of bilayer-spanning channels. Here, we show how to form a planar bilayer and how to isolate small patches from the bilayer, and in a second video will also demonstrate a procedure for using gramicidin channels to determine changes in lipid bilayer elastic properties. We also demonstrate the individual steps needed to prepare the bilayer chamber, the electrodes and how to test that the bilayer is suitable for single-channel measurements.
Cellular Biology, Issue 20, Springer Protocols, Artificial Bilayers, Bilayer Patch Experiments, Lipid Bilayers, Bilayer Punch Electrodes, Electrophysiology
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Applying Microfluidics to Electrophysiology
Authors: David T. Eddington.
Institutions: University of Illinois, Chicago.
Microfluidics can be integrated with standard electrophysiology techniques to allow new experimental modalities. Specifically, the motivation for the microfluidic brain slice device is discussed including how the device docks to standard perfusion chambers and the technique of passive pumping which is used to deliver boluses of neuromodulators to the brain slice. By simplifying the device design, we are able to achieve a practical solution to the current unmet electrophysiology need of applying multiple neuromodulators across multiple regions of the brain slice. This is achieved by substituting the standard coverglass substrate of the perfusion chamber with a thin microfluidic device bonded to the coverglass substrate. This was then attached to the perfusion chamber and small holes connect the open-well of the perfusion chamber to the microfluidic channels buried within the microfluidic substrate. These microfluidic channels are interfaced with ports drilled into the edge of the perfusion chamber to access and deliver stimulants. This project represents how the field of microfluidics is transitioning away from proof-of concept device demonstrations and into practical solutions for unmet experimental and clinical needs.
Neuroscience, Issue 8, Biomedical Engineering, Microfluidics, Slice Recording, Electrophysiology, Neurotransmitter, Bioengineering
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Loading Drosophila Nerve Terminals with Calcium Indicators
Authors: Adam J. Rossano, Gregory T. Macleod.
Institutions: University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA).
Calcium plays many roles in the nervous system but none more impressive than as the trigger for neurotransmitter release, and none more profound than as the messenger essential for the synaptic plasticity that supports learning and memory. To further elucidate the molecular underpinnings of Ca2+-dependent synaptic mechanisms, a model system is required that is both genetically malleable and physiologically accessible. Drosophila melanogaster provides such a model. In this system, genetically-encoded fluorescent indicators are available to detect Ca2+ changes in nerve terminals. However, these indicators have limited sensitivity to Ca2+ and often show a non-linear response. Synthetic fluorescent indicators are better suited for measuring the rapid Ca2+ changes associated with nerve activity. Here we demonstrate a technique for loading dextran-conjugated synthetic Ca2+ indicators into live nerve terminals in Drosophila larvae. Particular emphasis is placed on those aspects of the protocol most critical to the technique's success, such as how to avoid static electricity discharges along the isolated nerves, maintaining the health of the preparation during extended loading periods, and ensuring axon survival by providing Ca2+ to promote sealing of severed axon endings. Low affinity dextran-conjugated Ca2+-indicators, such as fluo-4 and rhod, are available which show a high signal-to-noise ratio while minimally disrupting presynaptic Ca2+ dynamics. Dextran-conjugation helps prevent Ca2+ indicators being sequestered into organelles such as mitochondria. The loading technique can be applied equally to larvae, embryos and adults.
Neuroscience, Issue 6, Drosophila, neuron, imaging
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Methods for Patch Clamp Capacitance Recordings from the Calyx
Authors: Kenneth Paradiso, Wei Wu, Ling-Gang Wu.
Institutions: National Institute of Health.
We demonstrate the basic techniques for presynaptic patch clamp recording at the calyx of Held, a mammalian central nervous system nerve terminal. Electrical recordings from the presynaptic terminal allow the measurement of action potentials, calcium channel currents, vesicle fusion (exocytosis) and subsequent membrane uptake (endocytosis). The fusion of vesicles containing neurotransmitter causes the vesicle membrane to be added to the cell membrane of the calyx. This increase in the amount of cell membrane is measured as an increase in capacitance. The subsequent reduction in capacitance indicates endocytosis, the process of membrane uptake or removal from the calyx membrane. Endocytosis, is necessary to maintain the structure of the calyx and it is also necessary to form vesicles that will be filled with neurotransmitter for future exocytosis events. Capacitance recordings at the calyx of Held have made it possible to directly and rapidly measure vesicular release and subsequent endocytosis in a mammalian CNS nerve terminal. In addition, the corresponding postsynaptic activity can be simultaneously measured by using paired recordings. Thus a complete picture of the presynaptic and postsynaptic electrical activity at a central nervous system synapse is achievable using this preparation. Here, the methods for slice preparation, morphological features for identification of calyces of Held, basic patch clamping techniques, and examples of capacitance recordings to measure exocytosis and endocytosis are presented.
Neuroscience, Issue 6, membrane fusion, exocytosis, endocytosis
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