Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2 proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness (DHL) (Figure 1). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
26 Related JoVE Articles!
Profiling Individual Human Embryonic Stem Cells by Quantitative RT-PCR
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Heterogeneity of stem cell population hampers detailed understanding of stem cell biology, such as their differentiation propensity toward different lineages. A single cell transcriptome assay can be a new approach for dissecting individual variation. We have developed the single cell qRT-PCR method, and confirmed that this method works well in several gene expression profiles. In single cell level, each human embryonic stem cell, sorted by OCT4::EGFP positive cells, has high expression in OCT4
, but a different level of NANOG
expression. Our single cell gene expression assay should be useful to interrogate population heterogeneities.
Molecular Biology, Issue 87, Single cell, heterogeneity, Amplification, qRT-PCR, Reverse transcriptase, human Embryonic Stem cell, FACS
Development of a Negative Selectable Marker for Entamoeba histolytica
Institutions: University of Virginia Health System.
is the causative agent of amebiasis and infects up to 10% of the world's population. The molecular techniques that have enabled the up- and down-regulation of gene expression rely on the transfection of stably maintained plasmids. While these have increased our understanding of Entamoeba virulence factors, the capacity to integrate exogenous DNA into genome, which would allow reverse genetics experiments, would be a significant advantage in the study of this parasite. The challenges presented by this organism include inability to select for homologous recombination events and difficulty to cure episomal plasmid DNA from transfected trophozoites. The later results in a high background of exogenous DNA, a major problem in the identification of trophozoites in which a bona fide genomic integration event has occurred. We report the development of a negative selection system based upon transgenic expression of a yeast cytosine deaminase and uracil phosphoribosyl transferase chimera (FCU1) and selection with prodrug 5-fluorocytosine (5-FC). The FCU1 enzyme converts non-toxic 5-FC into toxic 5-fluorouracil and 5-fluorouridine-5'-monophosphate. E. histolytica
lines expressing FCU1 were found to be 30 fold more sensitive to the prodrug compared to the control strain.
Infectious Disease, Issue 46, Entamoeba, negative selectable marker, 5-fluorocytosine, gene knockout, Cytosine deaminase, UPRT CMFDA.
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
Creating Objects and Object Categories for Studying Perception and Perceptual Learning
Institutions: Georgia Health Sciences University, Georgia Health Sciences University, Georgia Health Sciences University, Palo Alto Research Center, Palo Alto Research Center, University of Minnesota .
In order to quantitatively study object perception, be it perception by biological systems or by machines, one needs to create objects and object categories with precisely definable, preferably naturalistic, properties1
. Furthermore, for studies on perceptual learning, it is useful to create novel objects and object categories (or object classes
) with such properties2
Many innovative and useful methods currently exist for creating novel objects and object categories3-6
(also see refs. 7,8). However, generally speaking, the existing methods have three broad types of shortcomings.
First, shape variations are generally imposed by the experimenter5,9,10
, and may therefore be different from the variability in natural categories, and optimized for a particular recognition algorithm. It would be desirable to have the variations arise independently of the externally imposed constraints.
Second, the existing methods have difficulty capturing the shape complexity of natural objects11-13
. If the goal is to study natural object perception, it is desirable for objects and object categories to be naturalistic, so as to avoid possible confounds and special cases.
Third, it is generally hard to quantitatively measure the available information in the stimuli created by conventional methods. It would be desirable to create objects and object categories where the available information can be precisely measured and, where necessary, systematically manipulated (or 'tuned'). This allows one to formulate the underlying object recognition tasks in quantitative terms.
Here we describe a set of algorithms, or methods, that meet all three of the above criteria. Virtual morphogenesis (VM) creates novel, naturalistic virtual 3-D objects called 'digital embryos' by simulating the biological process of embryogenesis14
. Virtual phylogenesis (VP) creates novel, naturalistic object categories by simulating the evolutionary process of natural selection9,12,13
. Objects and object categories created by these simulations can be further manipulated by various morphing methods to generate systematic variations of shape characteristics15,16
. The VP and morphing methods can also be applied, in principle, to novel virtual objects other than digital embryos, or to virtual versions of real-world objects9,13
. Virtual objects created in this fashion can be rendered as visual images using a conventional graphical toolkit, with desired manipulations of surface texture, illumination, size, viewpoint and background. The virtual objects can also be 'printed' as haptic objects using a conventional 3-D prototyper.
We also describe some implementations of these computational algorithms to help illustrate the potential utility of the algorithms. It is important to distinguish the algorithms from their implementations. The implementations are demonstrations offered solely as a 'proof of principle' of the underlying algorithms. It is important to note that, in general, an implementation of a computational algorithm often has limitations that the algorithm itself does not have.
Together, these methods represent a set of powerful and flexible tools for studying object recognition and perceptual learning by biological and computational systems alike. With appropriate extensions, these methods may also prove useful in the study of morphogenesis and phylogenesis.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, machine learning, brain, classification, category learning, cross-modal perception, 3-D prototyping, inference
Appetitive Associative Olfactory Learning in Drosophila Larvae
Institutions: University of Konstanz, University of Fribourg.
In the following we describe the methodological details of appetitive associative olfactory learning in Drosophila
larvae. The setup, in combination with genetic interference, provides a handle to analyze the neuronal and molecular fundamentals of specifically associative
learning in a simple larval brain.
Organisms can use past experience to adjust present behavior. Such acquisition of behavioral potential can be defined as learning, and the physical bases of these potentials as memory traces1-4
. Neuroscientists try to understand how these processes are organized in terms of molecular and neuronal changes in the brain by using a variety of methods in model organisms ranging from insects to vertebrates5,6
. For such endeavors it is helpful to use model systems that are simple and experimentally accessible. The Drosophila
larva has turned out to satisfy these demands based on the availability of robust behavioral assays, the existence of a variety of transgenic techniques and the elementary organization of the nervous system comprising only about 10,000 neurons (albeit with some concessions: cognitive limitations, few behavioral options, and richness of experience questionable)7-10
larvae can form associations between odors and appetitive gustatory reinforcement like sugar11-14
. In a standard assay, established in the lab of B. Gerber, animals receive a two-odor reciprocal training: A first group of larvae is exposed to an odor A together with a gustatory reinforcer (sugar reward) and is subsequently exposed to an odor B without reinforcement 9
. Meanwhile a second group of larvae receives reciprocal training while experiencing odor A without reinforcement and subsequently being exposed to odor B with reinforcement (sugar reward). In the following both groups are tested for their preference between the two odors. Relatively higher preferences for the rewarded odor reflect associative learning - presented as a performance index (PI). The conclusion regarding the associative nature of the performance index is compelling, because apart from the contingency between odors and tastants, other parameters, such as odor and reward exposure, passage of time and handling do not differ between the two groups9
Neuroscience, Issue 72, Developmental Biology, Neurobiology, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Physiology, Behavior, Drosophila, fruit fly, larvae, instar, olfaction, olfactory system, odor, 1-octanol, OCT, learning, reward, sugar, feeding, animal model
Barnes Maze Testing Strategies with Small and Large Rodent Models
Institutions: University of Missouri, Food and Drug Administration.
Spatial learning and memory of laboratory rodents is often assessed via navigational ability in mazes, most popular of which are the water and dry-land (Barnes) mazes. Improved performance over sessions or trials is thought to reflect learning and memory of the escape cage/platform location. Considered less stressful than water mazes, the Barnes maze is a relatively simple design of a circular platform top with several holes equally spaced around the perimeter edge. All but one of the holes are false-bottomed or blind-ending, while one leads to an escape cage. Mildly aversive stimuli (e.g.
bright overhead lights) provide motivation to locate the escape cage. Latency to locate the escape cage can be measured during the session; however, additional endpoints typically require video recording. From those video recordings, use of automated tracking software can generate a variety of endpoints that are similar to those produced in water mazes (e.g.
distance traveled, velocity/speed, time spent in the correct quadrant, time spent moving/resting, and confirmation of latency). Type of search strategy (i.e.
random, serial, or direct) can be categorized as well. Barnes maze construction and testing methodologies can differ for small rodents, such as mice, and large rodents, such as rats. For example, while extra-maze cues are effective for rats, smaller wild rodents may require intra-maze cues with a visual barrier around the maze. Appropriate stimuli must be identified which motivate the rodent to locate the escape cage. Both Barnes and water mazes can be time consuming as 4-7 test trials are typically required to detect improved learning and memory performance (e.g.
shorter latencies or path lengths to locate the escape platform or cage) and/or differences between experimental groups. Even so, the Barnes maze is a widely employed behavioral assessment measuring spatial navigational abilities and their potential disruption by genetic, neurobehavioral manipulations, or drug/ toxicant exposure.
Behavior, Issue 84, spatial navigation, rats, Peromyscus, mice, intra- and extra-maze cues, learning, memory, latency, search strategy, escape motivation
Identification of Disease-related Spatial Covariance Patterns using Neuroimaging Data
Institutions: The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research.
The scaled subprofile model (SSM)1-4
is a multivariate PCA-based algorithm that identifies major sources of variation in patient and control group brain image data while rejecting lesser components (Figure 1
). Applied directly to voxel-by-voxel covariance data of steady-state multimodality images, an entire group image set can be reduced to a few significant linearly independent covariance patterns and corresponding subject scores. Each pattern, termed a group invariant subprofile (GIS), is an orthogonal principal component that represents a spatially distributed network of functionally interrelated brain regions. Large global mean scalar effects that can obscure smaller network-specific contributions are removed by the inherent logarithmic conversion and mean centering of the data2,5,6
. Subjects express each of these patterns to a variable degree represented by a simple scalar score that can correlate with independent clinical or psychometric descriptors7,8
. Using logistic regression analysis of subject scores (i.e.
pattern expression values), linear coefficients can be derived to combine multiple principal components into single disease-related spatial covariance patterns, i.e.
composite networks with improved discrimination of patients from healthy control subjects5,6
. Cross-validation within the derivation set can be performed using bootstrap resampling techniques9
. Forward validation is easily confirmed by direct score evaluation of the derived patterns in prospective datasets10
. Once validated, disease-related patterns can be used to score individual patients with respect to a fixed reference sample, often the set of healthy subjects that was used (with the disease group) in the original pattern derivation11
. These standardized values can in turn be used to assist in differential diagnosis12,13
and to assess disease progression and treatment effects at the network level7,14-16
. We present an example of the application of this methodology to FDG PET data of Parkinson's Disease patients and normal controls using our in-house software to derive a characteristic covariance pattern biomarker of disease.
Medicine, Issue 76, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Anatomy, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Basal Ganglia Diseases, Parkinsonian Disorders, Parkinson Disease, Movement Disorders, Neurodegenerative Diseases, PCA, SSM, PET, imaging biomarkers, functional brain imaging, multivariate spatial covariance analysis, global normalization, differential diagnosis, PD, brain, imaging, clinical techniques
A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Institutions: Arizona State University.
Insects modify their responses to stimuli through experience of associating those stimuli with events important for survival (e.g.
, food, mates, threats). There are several behavioral mechanisms through which an insect learns salient associations and relates them to these events. It is important to understand this behavioral plasticity for programs aimed toward assisting insects that are beneficial for agriculture. This understanding can also be used for discovering solutions to biomedical and agricultural problems created by insects that act as disease vectors and pests. The Proboscis Extension Response (PER) conditioning protocol was developed for honey bees (Apis mellifera
) over 50 years ago to study how they perceive and learn about floral odors, which signal the nectar and pollen resources a colony needs for survival. The PER procedure provides a robust and easy-to-employ framework for studying several different ecologically relevant mechanisms of behavioral plasticity. It is easily adaptable for use with several other insect species and other behavioral reflexes. These protocols can be readily employed in conjunction with various means for monitoring neural activity in the CNS via electrophysiology or bioimaging, or for manipulating targeted neuromodulatory pathways. It is a robust assay for rapidly detecting sub-lethal effects on behavior caused by environmental stressors, toxins or pesticides.
We show how the PER protocol is straightforward to implement using two procedures. One is suitable as a laboratory exercise for students or for quick assays of the effect of an experimental treatment. The other provides more thorough control of variables, which is important for studies of behavioral conditioning. We show how several measures for the behavioral response ranging from binary yes/no to more continuous variable like latency and duration of proboscis extension can be used to test hypotheses. And, we discuss some pitfalls that researchers commonly encounter when they use the procedure for the first time.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, PER, conditioning, honey bee, olfaction, olfactory processing, learning, memory, toxin assay
An Allele-specific Gene Expression Assay to Test the Functional Basis of Genetic Associations
Institutions: University of Oxford.
The number of significant genetic associations with common complex traits is constantly increasing. However, most of these associations have not been understood at molecular level. One of the mechanisms mediating the effect of DNA variants on phenotypes is gene expression, which has been shown to be particularly relevant for complex traits1
This method tests in a cellular context the effect of specific DNA sequences on gene expression. The principle is to measure the relative abundance of transcripts arising from the two alleles of a gene, analysing cells which carry one copy of the DNA sequences associated with disease (the risk variants)2,3
. Therefore, the cells used for this method should meet two fundamental genotypic requirements: they have to be heterozygous both for DNA risk variants and for DNA markers, typically coding polymorphisms, which can distinguish transcripts based on their chromosomal origin (Figure 1). DNA risk variants and DNA markers do not need to have the same allele frequency but the phase (haplotypic) relationship of the genetic markers needs to be understood. It is also important to choose cell types which express the gene of interest. This protocol refers specifically to the procedure adopted to extract nucleic acids from fibroblasts but the method is equally applicable to other cells types including primary cells.
DNA and RNA are extracted from the selected cell lines and cDNA is generated. DNA and cDNA are analysed with a primer extension assay, designed to target the coding DNA markers4
. The primer extension assay is carried out using the MassARRAY (Sequenom)5
platform according to the manufacturer's specifications. Primer extension products are then analysed by matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF/MS). Because the selected markers are heterozygous they will generate two peaks on the MS profiles. The area of each peak is proportional to the transcript abundance and can be measured with a function of the MassARRAY Typer software to generate an allelic ratio (allele 1: allele 2) calculation. The allelic ratio obtained for cDNA is normalized using that measured from genomic DNA, where the allelic ratio is expected to be 1:1 to correct for technical artifacts. Markers with a normalised allelic ratio significantly different to 1 indicate that the amount of transcript generated from the two chromosomes in the same cell is different, suggesting that the DNA variants associated with the phenotype have an effect on gene expression. Experimental controls should be used to confirm the results.
Cellular Biology, Issue 45, Gene expression, regulatory variant, haplotype, association study, primer extension, MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry, single nucleotide polymorphism, allele-specific
Modeling Neural Immune Signaling of Episodic and Chronic Migraine Using Spreading Depression In Vitro
Institutions: The University of Chicago Medical Center, The University of Chicago Medical Center.
Migraine and its transformation to chronic migraine are healthcare burdens in need of improved treatment options. We seek to define how neural immune signaling modulates the susceptibility to migraine, modeled in vitro
using spreading depression (SD), as a means to develop novel therapeutic targets for episodic and chronic migraine. SD is the likely cause of migraine aura and migraine pain. It is a paroxysmal loss of neuronal function triggered by initially increased neuronal activity, which slowly propagates within susceptible brain regions. Normal brain function is exquisitely sensitive to, and relies on, coincident low-level immune signaling. Thus, neural immune signaling likely affects electrical activity of SD, and therefore migraine. Pain perception studies of SD in whole animals are fraught with difficulties, but whole animals are well suited to examine systems biology aspects of migraine since SD activates trigeminal nociceptive pathways. However, whole animal studies alone cannot be used to decipher the cellular and neural circuit mechanisms of SD. Instead, in vitro
preparations where environmental conditions can be controlled are necessary. Here, it is important to recognize limitations of acute slices and distinct advantages of hippocampal slice cultures. Acute brain slices cannot reveal subtle changes in immune signaling since preparing the slices alone triggers: pro-inflammatory changes that last days, epileptiform behavior due to high levels of oxygen tension needed to vitalize the slices, and irreversible cell injury at anoxic slice centers.
In contrast, we examine immune signaling in mature hippocampal slice cultures since the cultures closely parallel their in vivo
counterpart with mature trisynaptic function; show quiescent astrocytes, microglia, and cytokine levels; and SD is easily induced in an unanesthetized preparation. Furthermore, the slices are long-lived and SD can be induced on consecutive days without injury, making this preparation the sole means to-date capable of modeling the neuroimmune consequences of chronic SD, and thus perhaps chronic migraine. We use electrophysiological techniques and non-invasive imaging to measure
neuronal cell and circuit functions coincident with SD. Neural immune gene expression variables are measured with qPCR screening, qPCR arrays, and, importantly, use of cDNA preamplification for detection of ultra-low level targets such as interferon-gamma using whole, regional, or specific cell enhanced (via laser dissection microscopy) sampling. Cytokine cascade signaling is further assessed with multiplexed phosphoprotein related targets with gene expression and phosphoprotein changes confirmed via cell-specific immunostaining. Pharmacological and siRNA strategies are used to mimic
SD immune signaling.
Neuroscience, Issue 52, innate immunity, hormesis, microglia, T-cells, hippocampus, slice culture, gene expression, laser dissection microscopy, real-time qPCR, interferon-gamma
Preparation of Primary Neurons for Visualizing Neurites in a Frozen-hydrated State Using Cryo-Electron Tomography
Institutions: Baylor College of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, University of California at San Diego, Baylor College of Medicine.
Neurites, both dendrites and axons, are neuronal cellular processes that enable the conduction of electrical impulses between neurons. Defining the structure of neurites is critical to understanding how these processes move materials and signals that support synaptic communication. Electron microscopy (EM) has been traditionally used to assess the ultrastructural features within neurites; however, the exposure to organic solvent during dehydration and resin embedding can distort structures. An important unmet goal is the formulation of procedures that allow for structural evaluations not impacted by such artifacts.
Here, we have established a detailed and reproducible protocol for growing and flash-freezing whole neurites of different primary neurons on electron microscopy grids followed by their examination with cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET). This technique allows for 3-D visualization of frozen, hydrated neurites at nanometer resolution, facilitating assessment of their morphological differences. Our protocol yields an unprecedented view of dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurites, and a visualization of hippocampal neurites in their near-native state. As such, these methods create a foundation for future studies on neurites of both normal neurons and those impacted by neurological disorders.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, Neurons, Cryo-electron Microscopy, Electron Microscope Tomography, Brain, rat, primary neuron culture, morphological assay
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g.
, signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation.
The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
Annotation of Plant Gene Function via Combined Genomics, Metabolomics and Informatics
Given the ever expanding number of model plant species for which complete genome sequences are available and the abundance of bio-resources such as knockout mutants, wild accessions and advanced breeding populations, there is a rising burden for gene functional annotation. In this protocol, annotation of plant gene function using combined co-expression gene analysis, metabolomics and informatics is provided (Figure 1
). This approach is based on the theory of using target genes of known function to allow the identification of non-annotated genes likely to be involved in a certain metabolic process, with the identification of target compounds via metabolomics. Strategies are put forward for applying this information on populations generated by both forward and reverse genetics approaches in spite of none of these are effortless. By corollary this approach can also be used as an approach to characterise unknown peaks representing new or specific secondary metabolites in the limited tissues, plant species or stress treatment, which is currently the important trial to understanding plant metabolism.
Plant Biology, Issue 64, Genetics, Bioinformatics, Metabolomics, Plant metabolism, Transcriptome analysis, Functional annotation, Computational biology, Plant biology, Theoretical biology, Spectroscopy and structural analysis
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
Mapping Bacterial Functional Networks and Pathways in Escherichia Coli using Synthetic Genetic Arrays
Institutions: University of Toronto, University of Toronto, University of Regina.
Phenotypes are determined by a complex series of physical (e.g.
protein-protein) and functional (e.g.
gene-gene or genetic) interactions (GI)1
. While physical interactions can indicate which bacterial proteins are associated as complexes, they do not necessarily reveal pathway-level functional relationships1. GI screens, in which the growth of double mutants bearing two deleted or inactivated genes is measured and compared to the corresponding single mutants, can illuminate epistatic dependencies between loci and hence provide a means to query and discover novel functional relationships2
. Large-scale GI maps have been reported for eukaryotic organisms like yeast3-7
, but GI information remains sparse for prokaryotes8
, which hinders the functional annotation of bacterial genomes. To this end, we and others have developed high-throughput quantitative bacterial GI screening methods9, 10
Here, we present the key steps required to perform quantitative E. coli
Synthetic Genetic Array (eSGA) screening procedure on a genome-scale9
, using natural bacterial conjugation and homologous recombination to systemically generate and measure the fitness of large numbers of double mutants in a colony array format.
Briefly, a robot is used to transfer, through conjugation, chloramphenicol (Cm) - marked mutant alleles from engineered Hfr (High frequency of recombination) 'donor strains' into an ordered array of kanamycin (Kan) - marked F- recipient strains. Typically, we use loss-of-function single mutants bearing non-essential gene deletions (e.g.
the 'Keio' collection11
) and essential gene hypomorphic mutations (i.e.
alleles conferring reduced protein expression, stability, or activity9, 12, 13
) to query the functional associations of non-essential and essential genes, respectively. After conjugation and ensuing genetic exchange mediated by homologous recombination, the resulting double mutants are selected on solid medium containing both antibiotics. After outgrowth, the plates are digitally imaged and colony sizes are quantitatively scored using an in-house automated image processing system14
. GIs are revealed when the growth rate of a double mutant is either significantly better or worse than expected9
. Aggravating (or negative) GIs often result between loss-of-function mutations in pairs of genes from compensatory pathways that impinge on the same essential process2
. Here, the loss of a single gene is buffered, such that either single mutant is viable. However, the loss of both pathways is deleterious and results in synthetic lethality or sickness (i.e.
slow growth). Conversely, alleviating (or positive) interactions can occur between genes in the same pathway or protein complex2
as the deletion of either gene alone is often sufficient to perturb the normal function of the pathway or complex such that additional perturbations do not reduce activity, and hence growth, further. Overall, systematically identifying and analyzing GI networks can provide unbiased, global maps of the functional relationships between large numbers of genes, from which pathway-level information missed by other approaches can be inferred9
Genetics, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Aggravating, alleviating, conjugation, double mutant, Escherichia coli, genetic interaction, Gram-negative bacteria, homologous recombination, network, synthetic lethality or sickness, suppression
A Manual Small Molecule Screen Approaching High-throughput Using Zebrafish Embryos
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
Zebrafish have become a widely used model organism to investigate the mechanisms that underlie developmental biology and to study human disease pathology due to their considerable degree of genetic conservation with humans. Chemical genetics entails testing the effect that small molecules have on a biological process and is becoming a popular translational research method to identify therapeutic compounds. Zebrafish are specifically appealing to use for chemical genetics because of their ability to produce large clutches of transparent embryos, which are externally fertilized. Furthermore, zebrafish embryos can be easily drug treated by the simple addition of a compound to the embryo media. Using whole-mount in situ
hybridization (WISH), mRNA expression can be clearly visualized within zebrafish embryos. Together, using chemical genetics and WISH, the zebrafish becomes a potent whole organism context in which to determine the cellular and physiological effects of small molecules. Innovative advances have been made in technologies that utilize machine-based screening procedures, however for many labs such options are not accessible or remain cost-prohibitive. The protocol described here explains how to execute a manual high-throughput chemical genetic screen that requires basic resources and can be accomplished by a single individual or small team in an efficient period of time. Thus, this protocol provides a feasible strategy that can be implemented by research groups to perform chemical genetics in zebrafish, which can be useful for gaining fundamental insights into developmental processes, disease mechanisms, and to identify novel compounds and signaling pathways that have medically relevant applications.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, zebrafish, chemical genetics, chemical screen, in vivo small molecule screen, drug discovery, whole mount in situ hybridization (WISH), high-throughput screening (HTS), high-content screening (HCS)
Isolation of Fidelity Variants of RNA Viruses and Characterization of Virus Mutation Frequency
Institutions: Institut Pasteur .
RNA viruses use RNA dependent RNA polymerases to replicate their genomes. The intrinsically high error rate of these enzymes is a large contributor to the generation of extreme population diversity that facilitates virus adaptation and evolution. Increasing evidence shows that the intrinsic error rates, and the resulting mutation frequencies, of RNA viruses can be modulated by subtle amino acid changes to the viral polymerase. Although biochemical assays exist for some viral RNA polymerases that permit quantitative measure of incorporation fidelity, here we describe a simple method of measuring mutation frequencies of RNA viruses that has proven to be as accurate as biochemical approaches in identifying fidelity altering mutations. The approach uses conventional virological and sequencing techniques that can be performed in most biology laboratories. Based on our experience with a number of different viruses, we have identified the key steps that must be optimized to increase the likelihood of isolating fidelity variants and generating data of statistical significance. The isolation and characterization of fidelity altering mutations can provide new insights into polymerase structure and function1-3
. Furthermore, these fidelity variants can be useful tools in characterizing mechanisms of virus adaptation and evolution4-7
Immunology, Issue 52, Polymerase fidelity, RNA virus, mutation frequency, mutagen, RNA polymerase, viral evolution
High-throughput Functional Screening using a Homemade Dual-glow Luciferase Assay
Institutions: Massachusetts General Hospital.
We present a rapid and inexpensive high-throughput screening protocol to identify transcriptional regulators of alpha-synuclein, a gene associated with Parkinson's disease. 293T cells are transiently transfected with plasmids from an arrayed ORF expression library, together with luciferase reporter plasmids, in a one-gene-per-well microplate format. Firefly luciferase activity is assayed after 48 hr to determine the effects of each library gene upon alpha-synuclein transcription, normalized to expression from an internal control construct (a hCMV promoter directing Renilla
luciferase). This protocol is facilitated by a bench-top robot enclosed in a biosafety cabinet, which performs aseptic liquid handling in 96-well format. Our automated transfection protocol is readily adaptable to high-throughput lentiviral library production or other functional screening protocols requiring triple-transfections of large numbers of unique library plasmids in conjunction with a common set of helper plasmids. We also present an inexpensive and validated alternative to commercially-available, dual luciferase reagents which employs PTC124, EDTA, and pyrophosphate to suppress firefly luciferase activity prior to measurement of Renilla
luciferase. Using these methods, we screened 7,670 human genes and identified 68 regulators of alpha-synuclein. This protocol is easily modifiable to target other genes of interest.
Cellular Biology, Issue 88, Luciferases, Gene Transfer Techniques, Transfection, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Transfections, Robotics
Genetic Manipulation in Δku80 Strains for Functional Genomic Analysis of Toxoplasma gondii
Institutions: The Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth.
Targeted genetic manipulation using homologous recombination is the method of choice for functional genomic analysis to obtain a detailed view of gene function and phenotype(s). The development of mutant strains with targeted gene deletions, targeted mutations, complemented gene function, and/or tagged genes provides powerful strategies to address gene function, particularly if these genetic manipulations can be efficiently targeted to the gene locus of interest using integration mediated by double cross over homologous recombination.
Due to very high rates of nonhomologous recombination, functional genomic analysis of Toxoplasma gondii
has been previously limited by the absence of efficient methods for targeting gene deletions and gene replacements to specific genetic loci. Recently, we abolished the major pathway of nonhomologous recombination in type I and type II strains of T. gondii
by deleting the gene encoding the KU80 protein1,2
. The Δku80
strains behave normally during tachyzoite (acute) and bradyzoite (chronic) stages in vitro
and in vivo
and exhibit essentially a 100% frequency of homologous recombination. The Δku80
strains make functional genomic studies feasible on the single gene as well as on the genome scale1-4
Here, we report methods for using type I and type II Δku80Δhxgprt
strains to advance gene targeting approaches in T. gondii
. We outline efficient methods for generating gene deletions, gene replacements, and tagged genes by targeted insertion or deletion of the hypoxanthine-xanthine-guanine phosphoribosyltransferase (HXGPRT
) selectable marker. The described gene targeting protocol can be used in a variety of ways in Δku80
strains to advance functional analysis of the parasite genome and to develop single strains that carry multiple targeted genetic manipulations. The application of this genetic method and subsequent phenotypic assays will reveal fundamental and unique aspects of the biology of T. gondii
and related significant human pathogens that cause malaria (Plasmodium
sp.) and cryptosporidiosis (Cryptosporidium
Infectious Diseases, Issue 77, Genetics, Microbiology, Infection, Medicine, Immunology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Bioengineering, Genomics, Parasitology, Pathology, Apicomplexa, Coccidia, Toxoplasma, Genetic Techniques, Gene Targeting, Eukaryota, Toxoplasma gondii, genetic manipulation, gene targeting, gene deletion, gene replacement, gene tagging, homologous recombination, DNA, sequencing
Analysis of Nephron Composition and Function in the Adult Zebrafish Kidney
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish model has emerged as a relevant system to study kidney development, regeneration and disease. Both the embryonic and adult zebrafish kidneys are composed of functional units known as nephrons, which are highly conserved with other vertebrates, including mammals. Research in zebrafish has recently demonstrated that two distinctive phenomena transpire after adult nephrons incur damage: first, there is robust regeneration within existing nephrons that replaces the destroyed tubule epithelial cells; second, entirely new nephrons are produced from renal progenitors in a process known as neonephrogenesis. In contrast, humans and other mammals seem to have only a limited ability for nephron epithelial regeneration. To date, the mechanisms responsible for these kidney regeneration phenomena remain poorly understood. Since adult zebrafish kidneys undergo both nephron epithelial regeneration and neonephrogenesis, they provide an outstanding experimental paradigm to study these events. Further, there is a wide range of genetic and pharmacological tools available in the zebrafish model that can be used to delineate the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate renal regeneration. One essential aspect of such research is the evaluation of nephron structure and function. This protocol describes a set of labeling techniques that can be used to gauge renal composition and test nephron functionality in the adult zebrafish kidney. Thus, these methods are widely applicable to the future phenotypic characterization of adult zebrafish kidney injury paradigms, which include but are not limited to, nephrotoxicant exposure regimes or genetic methods of targeted cell death such as the nitroreductase mediated cell ablation technique. Further, these methods could be used to study genetic perturbations in adult kidney formation and could also be applied to assess renal status during chronic disease modeling.
Cellular Biology, Issue 90,
zebrafish; kidney; nephron; nephrology; renal; regeneration; proximal tubule; distal tubule; segment; mesonephros; physiology; acute kidney injury (AKI)
Using SCOPE to Identify Potential Regulatory Motifs in Coregulated Genes
Institutions: Dartmouth College.
SCOPE is an ensemble motif finder that uses three component algorithms in parallel to identify potential regulatory motifs by over-representation and motif position preference1
. Each component algorithm is optimized to find a different kind of motif. By taking the best of these three approaches, SCOPE performs better than any single algorithm, even in the presence of noisy data1
. In this article, we utilize a web version of SCOPE2
to examine genes that are involved in telomere maintenance. SCOPE has been incorporated into at least two other motif finding programs3,4
and has been used in other studies5-8
The three algorithms that comprise SCOPE are BEAM9
, which finds non-degenerate motifs (ACCGGT), PRISM10
, which finds degenerate motifs (ASCGWT), and SPACER11
, which finds longer bipartite motifs (ACCnnnnnnnnGGT). These three algorithms have been optimized to find their corresponding type of motif. Together, they allow SCOPE to perform extremely well.
Once a gene set has been analyzed and candidate motifs identified, SCOPE can look for other genes that contain the motif which, when added to the original set, will improve the motif score. This can occur through over-representation or motif position preference. Working with partial gene sets that have biologically verified transcription factor binding sites, SCOPE was able to identify most of the rest of the genes also regulated by the given transcription factor.
Output from SCOPE shows candidate motifs, their significance, and other information both as a table and as a graphical motif map. FAQs and video tutorials are available at the SCOPE web site which also includes a "Sample Search" button that allows the user to perform a trial run.
Scope has a very friendly user interface that enables novice users to access the algorithm's full power without having to become an expert in the bioinformatics of motif finding. As input, SCOPE can take a list of genes, or FASTA sequences. These can be entered in browser text fields, or read from a file. The output from SCOPE contains a list of all identified motifs with their scores, number of occurrences, fraction of genes containing the motif, and the algorithm used to identify the motif. For each motif, result details include a consensus representation of the motif, a sequence logo, a position weight matrix, and a list of instances for every motif occurrence (with exact positions and "strand" indicated). Results are returned in a browser window and also optionally by email. Previous papers describe the SCOPE algorithms in detail1,2,9-11
Genetics, Issue 51, gene regulation, computational biology, algorithm, promoter sequence motif
Interview: Protein Folding and Studies of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In this interview, Dr. Lindquist describes relationships between protein folding, prion diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. The problem of the protein folding is at the core of the modern biology. In addition to their traditional biochemical functions, proteins can mediate transfer of biological information and therefore can be considered a genetic material. This recently discovered function of proteins has important implications for studies of human disorders. Dr. Lindquist also describes current experimental approaches to investigate the mechanism of neurodegenerative diseases based on genetic studies in model organisms.
Neuroscience, issue 17, protein folding, brain, neuron, prion, neurodegenerative disease, yeast, screen, Translational Research
A high-throughput method to globally study the organelle morphology in S. cerevisiae
Institutions: University of British Columbia - UBC.
High-throughput methods to examine protein localization or organelle morphology is an effective tool for studying protein interactions and can help achieve an comprehensive understanding of molecular pathways. In Saccharomyces cerevisiae, with the development of the non-essential gene deletion array, we can globally study the morphology of different organelles like the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and the mitochondria using GFP (or variant)-markers in different gene backgrounds. However, incorporating GFP markers in each single mutant individually is a labor-intensive process. Here, we describe a procedure that is routinely used in our laboratory. By using a robotic system to handle high-density yeast arrays and drug selection techniques, we can significantly shorten the time required and improve reproducibility. In brief, we cross a GFP-tagged mitochondrial marker (Apc1-GFP) to a high-density array of 4,672 nonessential gene deletion mutants by robotic replica pinning. Through diploid selection, sporulation, germination and dual marker selection, we recover both alleles. As a result, each haploid single mutant contains Apc1-GFP incorporated at its genomic locus. Now, we can study the morphology of mitochondria in all non-essential mutant background. Using this high-throughput approach, we can conveniently study and delineate the pathways and genes involved in the inheritance and the formation of organelles in a genome-wide setting.
Microbiology, Issue 25, High throughput, confocal microscopy, Acp1, mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Tomato Analyzer: A Useful Software Application to Collect Accurate and Detailed Morphological and Colorimetric Data from Two-dimensional Objects
Institutions: The Ohio State University.
Measuring fruit morphology and color traits of vegetable and fruit crops in an objective and reproducible way is important for detailed phenotypic analyses of these traits. Tomato Analyzer (TA) is a software program that measures 37 attributes related to two-dimensional shape in a semi-automatic and reproducible manner1,2
. Many of these attributes, such as angles at the distal and proximal ends of the fruit and areas of indentation, are difficult to quantify manually. The attributes are organized in ten categories within the software: Basic Measurement, Fruit Shape Index, Blockiness, Homogeneity, Proximal Fruit End Shape, Distal Fruit End Shape, Asymmetry, Internal Eccentricity, Latitudinal Section and Morphometrics. The last category requires neither prior knowledge nor predetermined notions of the shape attributes, so morphometric analysis offers an unbiased option that may be better adapted to high-throughput analyses than attribute analysis. TA also offers the Color Test application that was designed to collect color measurements from scanned images and allow scanning devices to be calibrated using color standards3
TA provides several options to export and analyze shape attribute, morphometric, and color data. The data may be exported to an excel file in batch mode (more than 100 images at one time) or exported as individual images. The user can choose between output that displays the average for each attribute for the objects in each image (including standard deviation), or an output that displays the attribute values for each object on the image. TA has been a valuable and effective tool for indentifying and confirming tomato fruit shape Quantitative Trait Loci (QTL), as well as performing in-depth analyses of the effect of key fruit shape genes on plant morphology. Also, TA can be used to objectively classify fruit into various shape categories. Lastly, fruit shape and color traits in other plant species as well as other plant organs such as leaves and seeds can be evaluated with TA.
Plant Biology, Issue 37, morphology, color, image processing, quantitative trait loci, software
Quantitative Comparison of cis-Regulatory Element (CRE) Activities in Transgenic Drosophila melanogaster
Institutions: University of Dayton, University of Dayton.
Gene expression patterns are specified by cis
-regulatory element (CRE) sequences, which are also called enhancers or cis-regulatory modules. A typical CRE possesses an arrangement of binding sites for several transcription factor proteins that confer a regulatory logic specifying when, where, and at what level the regulated gene(s) is expressed. The full set of CREs within an animal genome encodes the organism′s program for development1
, and empirical as well as theoretical studies indicate that mutations in CREs played a prominent role in morphological evolution2-4
. Moreover, human genome wide association studies indicate that genetic variation in CREs contribute substantially to phenotypic variation5,6
. Thus, understanding regulatory logic and how mutations affect such logic is a central goal of genetics.
Reporter transgenes provide a powerful method to study the in vivo
function of CREs. Here a known or suspected CRE sequence is coupled to heterologous promoter and coding sequences for a reporter gene encoding an easily observable protein product. When a reporter transgene is inserted into a host organism, the CRE′s activity becomes visible in the form of the encoded reporter protein. P-element mediated transgenesis in the fruit fly species Drosophila (D.) melanogaster7
has been used for decades to introduce reporter transgenes into this model organism, though the genomic placement of transgenes is random. Hence, reporter gene activity is strongly influenced by the local chromatin and gene environment, limiting CRE comparisons to being qualitative. In recent years, the phiC31 based integration system was adapted for use in D. melanogaster
to insert transgenes into specific genome landing sites8-10
. This capability has made the quantitative measurement of gene and, relevant here, CRE activity11-13
feasible. The production of transgenic fruit flies can be outsourced, including phiC31-based integration, eliminating the need to purchase expensive equipment and/or have proficiency at specialized transgene injection protocols.
Here, we present a general protocol to quantitatively evaluate a CRE′s activity, and show how this approach can be used to measure the effects of an introduced mutation on a CRE′s activity and to compare the activities of orthologous CREs. Although the examples given are for a CRE active during fruit fly metamorphosis, the approach can be applied to other developmental stages, fruit fly species, or model organisms. Ultimately, a more widespread use of this approach to study CREs should advance an understanding of regulatory logic and how logic can vary and evolve.
Developmental Biology, Issue 58, Cis-regulatory element, CRE, cis-regulatory module, enhancer, site-specific integration, reporter transgenes, confocal microscopy, regulatory logic, transcription factors, binding sites, Drosophila melanogaster, Drosophila
A Strategy to Identify de Novo Mutations in Common Disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia
Institutions: Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal.
There are several lines of evidence supporting the role of de novo
mutations as a mechanism for common disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. First, the de novo
mutation rate in humans is relatively high, so new mutations are generated at a high frequency in the population. However, de novo
mutations have not been reported in most common diseases. Mutations in genes leading to severe diseases where there is a strong negative selection against the phenotype, such as lethality in embryonic stages or reduced reproductive fitness, will not be transmitted to multiple family members, and therefore will not be detected by linkage gene mapping or association studies. The observation of very high concordance in monozygotic twins and very low concordance in dizygotic twins also strongly supports the hypothesis that a significant fraction of cases may result from new mutations. Such is the case for diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. Second, despite reduced reproductive fitness1
and extremely variable environmental factors, the incidence of some diseases is maintained worldwide at a relatively high and constant rate. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia, with an incidence of approximately 1% worldwide. Mutational load can be thought of as a balance between selection for or against a deleterious mutation and its production by de novo
mutation. Lower rates of reproduction constitute a negative selection factor that should reduce the number of mutant alleles in the population, ultimately leading to decreased disease prevalence. These selective pressures tend to be of different intensity in different environments. Nonetheless, these severe mental disorders have been maintained at a constant relatively high prevalence in the worldwide population across a wide range of cultures and countries despite a strong negative selection against them2
. This is not what one would predict in diseases with reduced reproductive fitness, unless there was a high new mutation rate. Finally, the effects of paternal age: there is a significantly increased risk of the disease with increasing paternal age, which could result from the age related increase in paternal de novo
mutations. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia3
. The male-to-female ratio of mutation rate is estimated at about 4–6:1, presumably due to a higher number of germ-cell divisions with age in males. Therefore, one would predict that de novo
mutations would more frequently come from males, particularly older males4
. A high rate of new mutations may in part explain why genetic studies have so far failed to identify many genes predisposing to complexes diseases genes, such as autism and schizophrenia, and why diseases have been identified for a mere 3% of genes in the human genome. Identification for de novo
mutations as a cause of a disease requires a targeted molecular approach, which includes studying parents and affected subjects. The process for determining if the genetic basis of a disease may result in part from de novo
mutations and the molecular approach to establish this link will be illustrated, using autism and schizophrenia as examples.
Medicine, Issue 52, de novo mutation, complex diseases, schizophrenia, autism, rare variations, DNA sequencing