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Molecular dynamics simulations of sonic hedgehog-receptor and inhibitor complexes and their applications for potential anticancer agent discovery.
PUBLISHED: 01-01-2013
The sonic hedgehog (Shh) signaling pathway is necessary for a variety of development and differentiation during embryogenesis as well as maintenance and renascence of diverse adult tissues. However, an abnormal activation of the signaling pathway is related to various cancers. In this pathway, the Shh signaling transduction is facilitated by binding of Shh to its receptor protein, Ptch. In this study, we modeled the 3D structure of functionally important key loop peptides of Ptch based on homologous proteins. Using this loop model, the molecular interactions between the structural components present in the pseudo-active site of Shh and key residues of Ptch was investigated in atomic level through molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. For the purpose of developing inhibitor candidates of the Shh signaling pathway, the Shh pseudo-active site of this interface region was selected as a target to block the direct binding between Shh and Ptch. Two different structure-based pharmacophore models were generated considering the key loop of Ptch and known inhibitor-induced conformational changes of the Shh through MD simulations. Finally two hit compounds were retrieved through a series of virtual screening combined with molecular docking simulations and we propose two hit compounds as potential inhibitory lead candidates to block the Shh signaling pathway based on their strong interactions to receptor or inhibitor induced conformations of the Shh.
Authors: Ambrish Roy, Dong Xu, Jonathan Poisson, Yang Zhang.
Published: 11-03-2011
Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
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Isolation of Distinct Cell Populations from the Developing Cerebellum by Microdissection
Authors: Larra W. Yuelling, Fang Du, Peng Li, Renata E. Muradimova, Zeng-jie Yang.
Institutions: Temple University Health System.
Microdissection is a novel technique that can isolate specific regions of a tissue and eliminate contamination from cellular sources in adjacent areas. This method was first utilized in the study of Nestin-expressing progenitors (NEPs), a newly identified population of cells in the cerebellar external germinal layer (EGL). Using microdissection in combination with fluorescent-activated cell sorting (FACS), a pure population of NEPs was collected separately from conventional granule neuron precursors in the EGL and from other contaminating Nestin-expressing cells in the cerebellum. Without microdissection, functional analyses of NEPs would not have been possible with the current methods available, such as Percoll gradient centrifugation and laser capture microdissection. This technique can also be applied for use with various tissues that contain either recognizable regions or fluorescently-labeled cells. Most importantly, a major advantage of this microdissection technique is that isolated cells are living and can be cultured for further experimentation, which is currently not possible with other described methods.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, microdissection, cerebellum, EGL, Nestin, medulloblastoma
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Assessing Teratogenic Changes in a Zebrafish Model of Fetal Alcohol Exposure
Authors: Evyn Loucks, Sara Ahlgren.
Institutions: Children's Memorial Research Center, Northwestern University.
Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a severe manifestation of embryonic exposure to ethanol. It presents with characteristic defects to the face and organs, including mental retardation due to disordered and damaged brain development. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a term used to cover a continuum of birth defects that occur due to maternal alcohol consumption, and occurs in approximately 4% of children born in the United States. With 50% of child-bearing age women reporting consumption of alcohol, and half of all pregnancies being unplanned, unintentional exposure is a continuing issue2. In order to best understand the damage produced by ethanol, plus produce a model with which to test potential interventions, we developed a model of developmental ethanol exposure using the zebrafish embryo. Zebrafish are ideal for this kind of teratogen study3-8. Each pair lays hundreds of eggs, which can then be collected without harming the adult fish. The zebrafish embryo is transparent and can be readily imaged with any number of stains. Analysis of these embryos after exposure to ethanol at different doses and times of duration and application shows that the gross developmental defects produced by ethanol are consistent with the human birth defect. Described here are the basic techniques used to study and manipulate the zebrafish FAS model.
Medicine, Issue 61, Zebrafish, fetal alcohol exposure, Danio rerio, development, mRNA expression, morpholino, ethanol exposure
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Assessment of Immunologically Relevant Dynamic Tertiary Structural Features of the HIV-1 V3 Loop Crown R2 Sequence by ab initio Folding
Authors: David Almond, Timothy Cardozo.
Institutions: School of Medicine, New York University.
The antigenic diversity of HIV-1 has long been an obstacle to vaccine design, and this variability is especially pronounced in the V3 loop of the virus' surface envelope glycoprotein. We previously proposed that the crown of the V3 loop, although dynamic and sequence variable, is constrained throughout the population of HIV-1 viruses to an immunologically relevant β-hairpin tertiary structure. Importantly, there are thousands of different V3 loop crown sequences in circulating HIV-1 viruses, making 3D structural characterization of trends across the diversity of viruses difficult or impossible by crystallography or NMR. Our previous successful studies with folding of the V3 crown1, 2 used the ab initio algorithm 3 accessible in the ICM-Pro molecular modeling software package (Molsoft LLC, La Jolla, CA) and suggested that the crown of the V3 loop, specifically from positions 10 to 22, benefits sufficiently from the flexibility and length of its flanking stems to behave to a large degree as if it were an unconstrained peptide freely folding in solution. As such, rapid ab initio folding of just this portion of the V3 loop of any individual strain of the 60,000+ circulating HIV-1 strains can be informative. Here, we folded the V3 loop of the R2 strain to gain insight into the structural basis of its unique properties. R2 bears a rare V3 loop sequence thought to be responsible for the exquisite sensitivity of this strain to neutralization by patient sera and monoclonal antibodies4, 5. The strain mediates CD4-independent infection and appears to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies. We demonstrate how evaluation of the results of the folding can be informative for associating observed structures in the folding with the immunological activities observed for R2.
Infection, Issue 43, HIV-1, structure-activity relationships, ab initio simulations, antibody-mediated neutralization, vaccine design
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Primary Orthotopic Glioma Xenografts Recapitulate Infiltrative Growth and Isocitrate Dehydrogenase I Mutation
Authors: J. Geraldo Valadez, Anuraag Sarangi, Christopher J. Lundberg, Michael K. Cooper.
Institutions: Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Veteran Affairs TVHS.
Malignant gliomas constitute a heterogeneous group of highly infiltrative glial neoplasms with distinct clinical and molecular features. Primary orthotopic xenografts recapitulate the histopathological and molecular features of malignant glioma subtypes in preclinical animal models. To model WHO grades III and IV malignant gliomas in transplantation assays, human tumor cells are xenografted into an orthotopic site, the brain, of immunocompromised mice. In contrast to secondary xenografts that utilize cultured tumor cells, human glioma cells are dissociated from resected specimens and transplanted without prior passage in tissue culture to generate primary xenografts. The procedure in this report details tumor sample preparation, intracranial transplantation into immunocompromised mice, monitoring for tumor engraftment and tumor harvesting for subsequent passage into recipient animals or analysis. Tumor cell preparation requires 2 hr and surgical procedure requires 20 min/animal.
Medicine, Issue 83, Glioma, Malignant glioma, primary orthotopic xenograft, isocitrate dehydrogenase
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Genetically-encoded Molecular Probes to Study G Protein-coupled Receptors
Authors: Saranga Naganathan, Amy Grunbeck, He Tian, Thomas Huber, Thomas P. Sakmar.
Institutions: The Rockefeller University.
To facilitate structural and dynamic studies of G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) signaling complexes, new approaches are required to introduce informative probes or labels into expressed receptors that do not perturb receptor function. We used amber codon suppression technology to genetically-encode the unnatural amino acid, p-azido-L-phenylalanine (azF) at various targeted positions in GPCRs heterologously expressed in mammalian cells. The versatility of the azido group is illustrated here in different applications to study GPCRs in their native cellular environment or under detergent solubilized conditions. First, we demonstrate a cell-based targeted photocrosslinking technology to identify the residues in the ligand-binding pocket of GPCR where a tritium-labeled small-molecule ligand is crosslinked to a genetically-encoded azido amino acid. We then demonstrate site-specific modification of GPCRs by the bioorthogonal Staudinger-Bertozzi ligation reaction that targets the azido group using phosphine derivatives. We discuss a general strategy for targeted peptide-epitope tagging of expressed membrane proteins in-culture and its detection using a whole-cell-based ELISA approach. Finally, we show that azF-GPCRs can be selectively tagged with fluorescent probes. The methodologies discussed are general, in that they can in principle be applied to any amino acid position in any expressed GPCR to interrogate active signaling complexes.
Genetics, Issue 79, Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled, Protein Engineering, Signal Transduction, Biochemistry, Unnatural amino acid, site-directed mutagenesis, G protein-coupled receptor, targeted photocrosslinking, bioorthogonal labeling, targeted epitope tagging
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Amide Coupling Reaction for the Synthesis of Bispyridine-based Ligands and Their Complexation to Platinum as Dinuclear Anticancer Agents
Authors: Michael G. Apps, Ben W. Johnson, Oliver B. Sutcliffe, Sarah D. Brown, Nial J. Wheate.
Institutions: The University of Sydney, University of Western Sydney, Manchester Metropolitan University, Nature Publishing Group.
Amide coupling reactions can be used to synthesize bispyridine-based ligands for use as bridging linkers in multinuclear platinum anticancer drugs. Isonicotinic acid, or its derivatives, are coupled to variable length diaminoalkane chains under an inert atmosphere in anhydrous DMF or DMSO with the use of a weak base, triethylamine, and a coupling agent, 1-propylphosphonic anhydride. The products precipitate from solution upon formation or can be precipitated by the addition of water. If desired, the ligands can be further purified by recrystallization from hot water. Dinuclear platinum complex synthesis using the bispyridine ligands is done in hot water using transplatin. The most informative of the chemical characterization techniques to determine the structure and gross purity of both the bispyridine ligands and the final platinum complexes is 1H NMR with particular analysis of the aromatic region of the spectra (7-9 ppm). The platinum complexes have potential application as anticancer agents and the synthesis method can be modified to produce trinuclear and other multinuclear complexes with different hydrogen bonding functionality in the bridging ligand.
Chemistry, Issue 87, BBR3464, picoplatin, bispyridine, amide coupling, inorganic synthesis, cancer
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Discovering Protein Interactions and Characterizing Protein Function Using HaloTag Technology
Authors: Danette L. Daniels, Jacqui Méndez, Hélène Benink, Andrew Niles, Nancy Murphy, Michael Ford, Richard Jones, Ravi Amunugama, David Allen, Marjeta Urh.
Institutions: Promega Corporation, MS Bioworks LLC.
Research in proteomics has exploded in recent years with advances in mass spectrometry capabilities that have led to the characterization of numerous proteomes, including those from viruses, bacteria, and yeast.  In comparison, analysis of the human proteome lags behind, partially due to the sheer number of proteins which must be studied, but also the complexity of networks and interactions these present. To specifically address the challenges of understanding the human proteome, we have developed HaloTag technology for protein isolation, particularly strong for isolation of multiprotein complexes and allowing more efficient capture of weak or transient interactions and/or proteins in low abundance.  HaloTag is a genetically encoded protein fusion tag, designed for covalent, specific, and rapid immobilization or labelling of proteins with various ligands. Leveraging these properties, numerous applications for mammalian cells were developed to characterize protein function and here we present methodologies including: protein pull-downs used for discovery of novel interactions or functional assays, and cellular localization. We find significant advantages in the speed, specificity, and covalent capture of fusion proteins to surfaces for proteomic analysis as compared to other traditional non-covalent approaches. We demonstrate these and the broad utility of the technology using two important epigenetic proteins as examples, the human bromodomain protein BRD4, and histone deacetylase HDAC1.  These examples demonstrate the power of this technology in enabling  the discovery of novel interactions and characterizing cellular localization in eukaryotes, which will together further understanding of human functional proteomics.              
Cellular Biology, Issue 89, proteomics, HaloTag, protein interactions, mass spectrometry, bromodomain proteins, BRD4, histone deacetylase (HDAC), HDAC cellular assays, and confocal imaging
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Anticancer Metal Complexes: Synthesis and Cytotoxicity Evaluation by the MTT Assay
Authors: Nitzan Ganot, Sigalit Meker, Lilia Reytman, Avia Tzubery, Edit Y. Tshuva.
Institutions: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Titanium (IV) and vanadium (V) complexes are highly potent anticancer agents. A challenge in their synthesis refers to their hydrolytic instability; therefore their preparation should be conducted under an inert atmosphere. Evaluation of the anticancer activity of these complexes can be achieved by the MTT assay. The MTT assay is a colorimetric viability assay based on enzymatic reduction of the MTT molecule to formazan when it is exposed to viable cells. The outcome of the reduction is a color change of the MTT molecule. Absorbance measurements relative to a control determine the percentage of remaining viable cancer cells following their treatment with varying concentrations of a tested compound, which is translated to the compound anticancer activity and its IC50 values. The MTT assay is widely common in cytotoxicity studies due to its accuracy, rapidity, and relative simplicity. Herein we present a detailed protocol for the synthesis of air sensitive metal based drugs and cell viability measurements, including preparation of the cell plates, incubation of the compounds with the cells, viability measurements using the MTT assay, and determination of IC50 values.
Medicine, Issue 81, Inorganic Chemicals, Therapeutics, Metals and Metallic Materials, anticancer drugs, cell viability, cisplatin, metal complex, cytotoxicity, HT-29, metal-based drugs, MTT assay, titanium (IV), vanadium (V)
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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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Preparation of Segmented Microtubules to Study Motions Driven by the Disassembling Microtubule Ends
Authors: Vladimir A. Volkov, Anatoly V. Zaytsev, Ekaterina L. Grishchuk.
Institutions: Russian Academy of Sciences, Federal Research Center of Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Immunology, Moscow, Russia, University of Pennsylvania.
Microtubule depolymerization can provide force to transport different protein complexes and protein-coated beads in vitro. The underlying mechanisms are thought to play a vital role in the microtubule-dependent chromosome motions during cell division, but the relevant proteins and their exact roles are ill-defined. Thus, there is a growing need to develop assays with which to study such motility in vitro using purified components and defined biochemical milieu. Microtubules, however, are inherently unstable polymers; their switching between growth and shortening is stochastic and difficult to control. The protocols we describe here take advantage of the segmented microtubules that are made with the photoablatable stabilizing caps. Depolymerization of such segmented microtubules can be triggered with high temporal and spatial resolution, thereby assisting studies of motility at the disassembling microtubule ends. This technique can be used to carry out a quantitative analysis of the number of molecules in the fluorescently-labeled protein complexes, which move processively with dynamic microtubule ends. To optimize a signal-to-noise ratio in this and other quantitative fluorescent assays, coverslips should be treated to reduce nonspecific absorption of soluble fluorescently-labeled proteins. Detailed protocols are provided to take into account the unevenness of fluorescent illumination, and determine the intensity of a single fluorophore using equidistant Gaussian fit. Finally, we describe the use of segmented microtubules to study microtubule-dependent motions of the protein-coated microbeads, providing insights into the ability of different motor and nonmotor proteins to couple microtubule depolymerization to processive cargo motion.
Basic Protocol, Issue 85, microscopy flow chamber, single-molecule fluorescence, laser trap, microtubule-binding protein, microtubule-dependent motor, microtubule tip-tracking
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Ex vivo Live Imaging of Single Cell Divisions in Mouse Neuroepithelium
Authors: Karolina Piotrowska-Nitsche, Tamara Caspary.
Institutions: Emory University School of Medicine, IGAB Polish Academy of Sciences.
We developed a system that integrates live imaging of fluorescent markers and culturing slices of embryonic mouse neuroepithelium. We took advantage of existing mouse lines for genetic cell lineage tracing: a tamoxifen-inducible Cre line and a Cre reporter line expressing dsRed upon Cre-mediated recombination. By using a relatively low level of tamoxifen, we were able to induce recombination in a small number of cells, permitting us to follow individual cell divisions. Additionally, we observed the transcriptional response to Sonic Hedgehog (Shh) signaling using an Olig2-eGFP transgenic line 1-3 and we monitored formation of cilia by infecting the cultured slice with virus expressing the cilia marker, Sstr3-GFP 4. In order to image the neuroepithelium, we harvested embryos at E8.5, isolated the neural tube, mounted the neural slice in proper culturing conditions into the imaging chamber and performed time-lapse confocal imaging. Our ex vivo live imaging method enables us to trace single cell divisions to assess the relative timing of primary cilia formation and Shh response in a physiologically relevant manner. This method can be easily adapted using distinct fluorescent markers and provides the field the tools with which to monitor cell behavior in situ and in real time.
Neuroscience, Issue 74, Genetics, Neurobiology, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Developmental Biology, ex vivo live imaging, cell division, imaging neuroepithelium, primary cilia, Shh, time-lapse confocal imaging, microscopy, immunofluorescence, cell culture, mouse, embryo, animal model
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Differentiation of Embryonic Stem Cells into Oligodendrocyte Precursors
Authors: Peng Jiang, Vimal Selvaraj, Wenbin Deng.
Institutions: School of Medicine, University of California, Davis.
Oligodendrocytes are the myelinating cells of the central nervous system. For regenerative cell therapy in demyelinating diseases, there is significant interest in deriving a pure population of lineage-committed oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) for transplantation. OPCs are characterized by the activity of the transcription factor Olig2 and surface expression of a proteoglycan NG2. Using the GFP-Olig2 (G-Olig2) mouse embryonic stem cell (mESC) reporter line, we optimized conditions for the differentiation of mESCs into GFP+Olig2+NG2+ OPCs. In our protocol, we first describe the generation of embryoid bodies (EBs) from mESCs. Second, we describe treatment of mESC-derived EBs with small molecules: (1) retinoic acid (RA) and (2) a sonic hedgehog (Shh) agonist purmorphamine (Pur) under defined culture conditions to direct EB differentiation into the oligodendroglial lineage. By this approach, OPCs can be obtained with high efficiency (>80%) in a time period of 30 days. Cells derived from mESCs in this protocol are phenotypically similar to OPCs derived from primary tissue culture. The mESC-derived OPCs do not show the spiking property described for a subpopulation of brain OPCs in situ. To study this electrophysiological property, we describe the generation of spiking mESC-derived OPCs by ectopically expressing NaV1.2 subunit. The spiking and nonspiking cells obtained from this protocol will help advance functional studies on the two subpopulations of OPCs.
Neurobiology, Issue 39, pluripotent stem cell, oligodendrocyte precursor cells, differentiation, myelin, neuroscience, brain
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Scalable Nanohelices for Predictive Studies and Enhanced 3D Visualization
Authors: Kwyn A. Meagher, Benjamin N. Doblack, Mercedes Ramirez, Lilian P. Davila.
Institutions: University of California Merced, University of California Merced.
Spring-like materials are ubiquitous in nature and of interest in nanotechnology for energy harvesting, hydrogen storage, and biological sensing applications.  For predictive simulations, it has become increasingly important to be able to model the structure of nanohelices accurately.  To study the effect of local structure on the properties of these complex geometries one must develop realistic models.  To date, software packages are rather limited in creating atomistic helical models.  This work focuses on producing atomistic models of silica glass (SiO2) nanoribbons and nanosprings for molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. Using an MD model of “bulk” silica glass, two computational procedures to precisely create the shape of nanoribbons and nanosprings are presented.  The first method employs the AWK programming language and open-source software to effectively carve various shapes of silica nanoribbons from the initial bulk model, using desired dimensions and parametric equations to define a helix.  With this method, accurate atomistic silica nanoribbons can be generated for a range of pitch values and dimensions.  The second method involves a more robust code which allows flexibility in modeling nanohelical structures.  This approach utilizes a C++ code particularly written to implement pre-screening methods as well as the mathematical equations for a helix, resulting in greater precision and efficiency when creating nanospring models.  Using these codes, well-defined and scalable nanoribbons and nanosprings suited for atomistic simulations can be effectively created.  An added value in both open-source codes is that they can be adapted to reproduce different helical structures, independent of material.  In addition, a MATLAB graphical user interface (GUI) is used to enhance learning through visualization and interaction for a general user with the atomistic helical structures.  One application of these methods is the recent study of nanohelices via MD simulations for mechanical energy harvesting purposes.
Physics, Issue 93, Helical atomistic models; open-source coding; graphical user interface; visualization software; molecular dynamics simulations; graphical processing unit accelerated simulations.
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Use of LysoTracker to Detect Programmed Cell Death in Embryos and Differentiating Embryonic Stem Cells
Authors: Jennifer L. Fogel, Thu Zan Tun Thein, Francesca V. Mariani.
Institutions: University of Southern California.
Programmed cell death (PCD) occurs in adults to maintain normal tissue homeostasis and during embryological development to shape tissues and organs1,2,6,7. During development, toxic chemicals or genetic alterations can cause an increase in PCD or change PCD patterns resulting in developmental abnormalities and birth defects3-5. To understand the etiology of these defects, the study of embryos can be complemented with in vitro assays that use differentiating embryonic stem (ES) cells. Apoptosis is a well-studied form of PCD that involves both intrinsic and extrinsic signaling to activate the caspase enzyme cascade. Characteristic cell changes include membrane blebbing, nuclear shrinking, and DNA fragmentation. Other forms of PCD do not involve caspase activation and may be the end-result of prolonged autophagy. Regardless of the PCD pathway, dying cells need to be removed. In adults, the immune cells perform this function, while in embryos, where the immune system has not yet developed, removal occurs by an alternative mechanism. This mechanism involves neighboring cells (called "non-professional phagocytes") taking on a phagocytic role-they recognize the 'eat me' signal on the surface of the dying cell and engulf it8-10. After engulfment, the debris is brought to the lysosome for degradation. Thus regardless of PCD mechanism, an increase in lysosomal activity can be correlated with increased cell death. To study PCD, a simple assay to visualize lysosomes in thick tissues and multilayer differentiating cultures can be useful. LysoTracker dye is a highly soluble small molecule that is retained in acidic subcellular compartments such as the lysosome11-13. The dye is taken up by diffusion and through the circulation. Since penetration is not a hindrance, visualization of PCD in thick tissues and multi-layer cultures is possible12,13. In contrast, TUNEL (Terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase dUTP nick end labeling) analysis14, is limited to small samples, histological sections, and monolayer cultures because the procedure requires the entry/permeability of a terminal transferase. In contrast to Aniline blue, which diffuses and is dissolved by solvents, LysoTracker Red DND-99 is fixable, bright, and stable. Staining can be visualized with standard fluorescent or confocal microscopy in whole-mount or section using aqueous or solvent-based mounting media12,13. Here we describe protocols using this dye to look at PCD in normal and sonic hedgehog null mouse embryos. In addition, we demonstrate analysis of PCD in differentiating ES cell cultures and present a simple quantification method. In summary, LysoTracker staining can be a great complement to other methods of detecting PCD.
Developmental Biology, Issue 68, Molecular Biology, Stem Cell Biology, Cellular Biology, mouse embryo, embryonic stem cells, lysosome, programmed cell death, imaging, sonic hedgehog
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Efficient Differentiation of Mouse Embryonic Stem Cells into Motor Neurons
Authors: Chia-Yen Wu, Dosh Whye, Robert W. Mason, Wenlan Wang.
Institutions: Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children.
Direct differentiation of embryonic stem (ES) cells into functional motor neurons represents a promising resource to study disease mechanisms, to screen new drug compounds, and to develop new therapies for motor neuron diseases such as spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Many current protocols use a combination of retinoic acid (RA) and sonic hedgehog (Shh) to differentiate mouse embryonic stem (mES) cells into motor neurons1-4. However, the differentiation efficiency of mES cells into motor neurons has only met with moderate success. We have developed a two-step differentiation protocol5 that significantly improves the differentiation efficiency compared with currently established protocols. The first step is to enhance the neuralization process by adding Noggin and fibroblast growth factors (FGFs). Noggin is a bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) antagonist and is implicated in neural induction according to the default model of neurogenesis and results in the formation of anterior neural patterning6. FGF signaling acts synergistically with Noggin in inducing neural tissue formation by promoting a posterior neural identity7-9. In this step, mES cells were primed with Noggin, bFGF, and FGF-8 for two days to promote differentiation towards neural lineages. The second step is to induce motor neuron specification. Noggin/FGFs exposed mES cells were incubated with RA and a Shh agonist, Smoothened agonist (SAG), for another 5 days to facilitate motor neuron generation. To monitor the differentiation of mESs into motor neurons, we used an ES cell line derived from a transgenic mouse expressing eGFP under the control of the motor neuron specific promoter Hb91. Using this robust protocol, we achieved 51±0.8% of differentiation efficiency (n = 3; p < 0.01, Student's t-test)5. Results from immunofluorescent staining showed that GFP+ cells express the motor neuron specific markers, Islet-1 and choline acetyltransferase (ChAT). Our two-step differentiation protocol provides an efficient way to differentiate mES cells into spinal motor neurons.
Stem Cell Biology, Issue 64, Molecular Biology, Developmental Biology, Mouse embryonic stem cells, motor neurons, spinal cord, Hb9, neurosciences, retinoic acid, sonic hedgehog, Islet-1, choline acetyltransferase
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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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Modeling Astrocytoma Pathogenesis In Vitro and In Vivo Using Cortical Astrocytes or Neural Stem Cells from Conditional, Genetically Engineered Mice
Authors: Robert S. McNeill, Ralf S. Schmid, Ryan E. Bash, Mark Vitucci, Kristen K. White, Andrea M. Werneke, Brian H. Constance, Byron Huff, C. Ryan Miller.
Institutions: University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
Current astrocytoma models are limited in their ability to define the roles of oncogenic mutations in specific brain cell types during disease pathogenesis and their utility for preclinical drug development. In order to design a better model system for these applications, phenotypically wild-type cortical astrocytes and neural stem cells (NSC) from conditional, genetically engineered mice (GEM) that harbor various combinations of floxed oncogenic alleles were harvested and grown in culture. Genetic recombination was induced in vitro using adenoviral Cre-mediated recombination, resulting in expression of mutated oncogenes and deletion of tumor suppressor genes. The phenotypic consequences of these mutations were defined by measuring proliferation, transformation, and drug response in vitro. Orthotopic allograft models, whereby transformed cells are stereotactically injected into the brains of immune-competent, syngeneic littermates, were developed to define the role of oncogenic mutations and cell type on tumorigenesis in vivo. Unlike most established human glioblastoma cell line xenografts, injection of transformed GEM-derived cortical astrocytes into the brains of immune-competent littermates produced astrocytomas, including the most aggressive subtype, glioblastoma, that recapitulated the histopathological hallmarks of human astrocytomas, including diffuse invasion of normal brain parenchyma. Bioluminescence imaging of orthotopic allografts from transformed astrocytes engineered to express luciferase was utilized to monitor in vivo tumor growth over time. Thus, astrocytoma models using astrocytes and NSC harvested from GEM with conditional oncogenic alleles provide an integrated system to study the genetics and cell biology of astrocytoma pathogenesis in vitro and in vivo and may be useful in preclinical drug development for these devastating diseases.
Neuroscience, Issue 90, astrocytoma, cortical astrocytes, genetically engineered mice, glioblastoma, neural stem cells, orthotopic allograft
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Feeder-free Derivation of Neural Crest Progenitor Cells from Human Pluripotent Stem Cells
Authors: Nadja Zeltner, Fabien G. Lafaille, Faranak Fattahi, Lorenz Studer.
Institutions: Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, The Rockefeller University.
Human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) have great potential for studying human embryonic development, for modeling human diseases in the dish and as a source of transplantable cells for regenerative applications after disease or accidents. Neural crest (NC) cells are the precursors for a large variety of adult somatic cells, such as cells from the peripheral nervous system and glia, melanocytes and mesenchymal cells. They are a valuable source of cells to study aspects of human embryonic development, including cell fate specification and migration. Further differentiation of NC progenitor cells into terminally differentiated cell types offers the possibility to model human diseases in vitro, investigate disease mechanisms and generate cells for regenerative medicine. This article presents the adaptation of a currently available in vitro differentiation protocol for the derivation of NC cells from hPSCs. This new protocol requires 18 days of differentiation, is feeder-free, easily scalable and highly reproducible among human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines as well as human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) lines. Both old and new protocols yield NC cells of equal identity.
Neuroscience, Issue 87, Embryonic Stem Cells (ESCs), Pluripotent Stem Cells, Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs), Neural Crest, Peripheral Nervous System (PNS), pluripotent stem cells, neural crest cells, in vitro differentiation, disease modeling, differentiation protocol, human embryonic stem cells, human pluripotent stem cells
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Mechanical Stimulation-induced Calcium Wave Propagation in Cell Monolayers: The Example of Bovine Corneal Endothelial Cells
Authors: Catheleyne D'hondt, Bernard Himpens, Geert Bultynck.
Institutions: KU Leuven.
Intercellular communication is essential for the coordination of physiological processes between cells in a variety of organs and tissues, including the brain, liver, retina, cochlea and vasculature. In experimental settings, intercellular Ca2+-waves can be elicited by applying a mechanical stimulus to a single cell. This leads to the release of the intracellular signaling molecules IP3 and Ca2+ that initiate the propagation of the Ca2+-wave concentrically from the mechanically stimulated cell to the neighboring cells. The main molecular pathways that control intercellular Ca2+-wave propagation are provided by gap junction channels through the direct transfer of IP3 and by hemichannels through the release of ATP. Identification and characterization of the properties and regulation of different connexin and pannexin isoforms as gap junction channels and hemichannels are allowed by the quantification of the spread of the intercellular Ca2+-wave, siRNA, and the use of inhibitors of gap junction channels and hemichannels. Here, we describe a method to measure intercellular Ca2+-wave in monolayers of primary corneal endothelial cells loaded with Fluo4-AM in response to a controlled and localized mechanical stimulus provoked by an acute, short-lasting deformation of the cell as a result of touching the cell membrane with a micromanipulator-controlled glass micropipette with a tip diameter of less than 1 μm. We also describe the isolation of primary bovine corneal endothelial cells and its use as model system to assess Cx43-hemichannel activity as the driven force for intercellular Ca2+-waves through the release of ATP. Finally, we discuss the use, advantages, limitations and alternatives of this method in the context of gap junction channel and hemichannel research.
Cellular Biology, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Biophysics, Immunology, Ophthalmology, Gap Junctions, Connexins, Connexin 43, Calcium Signaling, Ca2+, Cell Communication, Paracrine Communication, Intercellular communication, calcium wave propagation, gap junctions, hemichannels, endothelial cells, cell signaling, cell, isolation, cell culture
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RNA In situ Hybridization in Whole Mount Embryos and Cell Histology Adapted for Marine Elasmobranchs
Authors: Nicole A. Theodosiou.
Institutions: Union College.
Marine elasmobranchs are valued animal models for biomedical and genomic studies as they are the most primitive vertebrates to have adaptive immunity and have unique mechanisms for osmoregulation 1-3. As the most primitive living jawed-vertebrates with paired appendages, elasmobranchs are an evolutionarily important model, especially for studies in evolution and development. Marine elasmobranchs have also been used to study aquatic toxicology and stress physiology in relationship to climate change 4. Thus, development and adaptation of methodologies is needed to facilitate and expand the use of these primitive vertebrates to multiple biological disciplines. Here I present the successful adaptation of RNA whole mount in situ hybridization and histological techniques to study gene expression and cell histology in elasmobranchs. Monitoring gene expression is a hallmark tool of developmental biologists, and is widely used to investigate developmental processes 5. RNA whole mount in situ hybridization allows for the visualization and localization of specific gene transcripts in tissues of the developing embryo. The expression pattern of a gene's message can provide insight into what developmental processes and cell fate decisions a gene may control. By comparing the expression pattern of a gene at different developmental stages, insight can be gained into how the role of a gene changes during development. While whole mount in situ's provides a means to localize gene expression to tissue, histological techniques allow for the identification of differentiated cell types and tissues. Histological stains have varied functions. General stains are used to highlight cell morphology, for example hematoxylin and eosin for general staining of nuclei and cytoplasm, respectively. Other stains can highlight specific cell types. For example, the alcian blue stain reported in this paper is a widely used cationic stain to identify mucosaccharides. Staining of the digestive tract with alcian blue can identify the distribution of goblet cells that produce mucosaccharides. Variations in mucosaccharide constituents on short peptides distinguish goblet cells by function within the digestive tract 6. By using RNA whole mount in situ's and histochemical methods concurrently, cell fate decisions can be linked to gene-specific expression. Although RNA in situ's and histochemistry are widely used by researchers, their adaptation and use in marine elasmobranchs have met limited and varied success. Here I present protocols developed for elasmobranchs and used on a regular basis in my laboratory. Although further modification of the RNA in situ's hybridization method may be needed to adapt to different species, the protocols described here provide a strong starting point for researchers wanting to adapt the use of marine elasmobranchs to their scientific inquiries.
Genetics, Issue 74, Developmental Biology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Biochemistry, Marine Biology, Disciplines and Occupations, whole mount in situ hybridization, RNA in situs, RNA, acid mucins, alcian blue, nuclear fast red stain, elasmobranch, marine elasmobranchs, L. erinacea, Shh, Hoxa13, gene expression, hybridization, histology, skate, embryos, animal model
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Progenitor-derived Oligodendrocyte Culture System from Human Fetal Brain
Authors: Maria Chiara G. Monaco, Dragan Maric, Alexandra Bandeian, Emily Leibovitch, Wan Yang, Eugene O. Major.
Institutions: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health.
Differentiation of human neural progenitors into neuronal and glial cell types offers a model to study and compare molecular regulation of neural cell lineage development. In vitro expansion of neural progenitors from fetal CNS tissue has been well characterized. Despite the identification and isolation of glial progenitors from adult human sub-cortical white matter and development of various culture conditions to direct differentiation of fetal neural progenitors into myelin producing oligodendrocytes, acquiring sufficient human oligodendrocytes for in vitro experimentation remains difficult. Differentiation of galactocerebroside+ (GalC) and O4+ oligodendrocyte precursor or progenitor cells (OPC) from neural precursor cells has been reported using second trimester fetal brain. However, these cells do not proliferate in the absence of support cells including astrocytes and neurons, and are lost quickly over time in culture. The need remains for a culture system to produce cells of the oligodendrocyte lineage suitable for in vitro experimentation. Culture of primary human oligodendrocytes could, for example, be a useful model to study the pathogenesis of neurotropic infectious agents like the human polyomavirus, JCV, that in vivo infects those cells. These cultured cells could also provide models of other demyelinating diseases of the central nervous system (CNS). Primary, human fetal brain-derived, multipotential neural progenitor cells proliferate in vitro while maintaining the capacity to differentiate into neurons (progenitor-derived neurons, PDN) and astrocytes (progenitor-derived astrocytes, PDA) This study shows that neural progenitors can be induced to differentiate through many of the stages of oligodendrocytic lineage development (progenitor-derived oligodendrocytes, PDO). We culture neural progenitor cells in DMEM-F12 serum-free media supplemented with basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF), platelet derived growth factor (PDGF-AA), Sonic hedgehog (Shh), neurotrophic factor 3 (NT-3), N-2 and triiodothyronine (T3). The cultured cells are passaged at 2.5e6 cells per 75cm flasks approximately every seven days. Using these conditions, the majority of the cells in culture maintain a morphology characterized by few processes and express markers of pre-oligodendrocyte cells, such as A2B5 and O-4. When we remove the four growth factors (GF) (bFGF, PDGF-AA, Shh, NT-3) and add conditioned media from PDN, the cells start to acquire more processes and express markers specific of oligodendrocyte differentiation, such as GalC and myelin basic protein (MBP). We performed phenotypic characterization using multicolor flow cytometry to identify unique markers of oligodendrocyte.
Neuroscience, Issue 70, Developmental Biology, Medicine, Stem Cell Biology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Physiology, lineage characterization, neural progenitors, differentiation, cell culture model
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High Efficiency Differentiation of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells to Cardiomyocytes and Characterization by Flow Cytometry
Authors: Subarna Bhattacharya, Paul W. Burridge, Erin M. Kropp, Sandra L. Chuppa, Wai-Meng Kwok, Joseph C. Wu, Kenneth R. Boheler, Rebekah L. Gundry.
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin, Stanford University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin, Hong Kong University, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin.
There is an urgent need to develop approaches for repairing the damaged heart, discovering new therapeutic drugs that do not have toxic effects on the heart, and improving strategies to accurately model heart disease. The potential of exploiting human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) technology to generate cardiac muscle “in a dish” for these applications continues to generate high enthusiasm. In recent years, the ability to efficiently generate cardiomyogenic cells from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) has greatly improved, offering us new opportunities to model very early stages of human cardiac development not otherwise accessible. In contrast to many previous methods, the cardiomyocyte differentiation protocol described here does not require cell aggregation or the addition of Activin A or BMP4 and robustly generates cultures of cells that are highly positive for cardiac troponin I and T (TNNI3, TNNT2), iroquois-class homeodomain protein IRX-4 (IRX4), myosin regulatory light chain 2, ventricular/cardiac muscle isoform (MLC2v) and myosin regulatory light chain 2, atrial isoform (MLC2a) by day 10 across all human embryonic stem cell (hESC) and hiPSC lines tested to date. Cells can be passaged and maintained for more than 90 days in culture. The strategy is technically simple to implement and cost-effective. Characterization of cardiomyocytes derived from pluripotent cells often includes the analysis of reference markers, both at the mRNA and protein level. For protein analysis, flow cytometry is a powerful analytical tool for assessing quality of cells in culture and determining subpopulation homogeneity. However, technical variation in sample preparation can significantly affect quality of flow cytometry data. Thus, standardization of staining protocols should facilitate comparisons among various differentiation strategies. Accordingly, optimized staining protocols for the analysis of IRX4, MLC2v, MLC2a, TNNI3, and TNNT2 by flow cytometry are described.
Cellular Biology, Issue 91, human induced pluripotent stem cell, flow cytometry, directed differentiation, cardiomyocyte, IRX4, TNNI3, TNNT2, MCL2v, MLC2a
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Isolation, Enrichment, and Maintenance of Medulloblastoma Stem Cells
Authors: Xi Huang, Tatiana Ketova, Ying LItingtung, Chin Chiang.
Institutions: Vanderbilt University.
Brain tumors have been suggested to possess a small population of stem cells that are the root cause of tumorigenesis. Neurosphere assays have been generally adopted to study the nature of neural stem cells, including those derived from normal and tumorous tissues. However, appreciable amounts of differentiation and cell death are common in cultured neurospheres likely due to sub-optimal condition such as accessibility of all cells within sphere aggregates to culture medium. Medulloblastoma, the most common pediatric CNS tumor, is characterized by its rapid progression and tendency to spread along the entire brain-spinal axis with dismal clinical outcome. Medulloblastoma is a neuroepithelial tumor of the cerebellum, accounting for 20% and 40% of intracranial and posterior fossa tumor in childhood, respectively1. It is now well established that Shh signaling stimulates proliferation of cerebellar granule neuron precursors (CGNPs) during cerebellar development 2-4. Numerous studies using mouse models, in which the Shh pathway is constitutively activated, have linked Shh signaling with medulloblastoma 5-9. A recent report has shown that a subset of medulloblastoma cells derived from Patched1LacZ/+ mice are cancer stem cells, which are capable of initiating and propogating tumors 10. Here we describe an efficient method to isolate, enrich and maintain tumor stem cells derived from several mouse models of medulloblastoma, with constitutively activated Shh pathway due to a mutation in Smoothened (11, hereon referred as SmoM2), a GPCR that is critical for Shh pathway activation. In every isolated medulloblastoma tissue, we were able to establish numerous highly proliferative colonies. These cells robustly expressed several neural stem cell markers such as Nestin and Sox2, can undergo serial passages (greater than 20) and were clonogenic. While these cultured tumor stem cells were relatively small, often bipoar with high nuclear to cytoplasmic ratio when cultured under conditions favoring stem cell growth, they dramatically altered their morphology, extended multiple cellular processes, flattened and withdrew from the cell cycle upon switching to a cell culture medium supplemented with 10% fetal bovine serum. More importantly, these tumor stem cells differentiated into Tuj1+ or NeuN+ neurons, GFAP+ astrocytes and CNPase+ oligodendrocytes, thus highlighting their multi-potency. Furthermore, these cells were capable of propagating secondary medulloblastomas when orthotopically transplanted into host mice.
Medicine, Issue 43, medulloblastoma, stem cells, isolation, in vitro culture
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Placing Growth Factor-Coated Beads on Early Stage Chicken Embryos
Authors: Matthew J. Korn, Karina S. Cramer.
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
The neural tube expresses many proteins in specific spatiotemporal patterns during development. These proteins have been shown to be critical for cell fate determination, cell migration, and formation of neural circuits. Neuronal induction and patterning involve bone morphogenetic protein (BMP), sonic hedgehog (SHH), fibroblast growth factor (FGF), among others. In particular, the expression pattern of Fgf8 is in close proximity to regions expressing BMP4 and SHH. This expression pattern is consistent with developmental interactions that facilitate patterning in the telencephalon. Here we provide a visual demonstration of a method in which an in ovo preparation can be used to test the effects of Fgfs in the formation of the forebrain. Beads are coated with protein and placed in the developing neural tube to provide sustained exposure. Because the procedure uses small, carefully placed beads, it is minimally invasive and allows several beads to be placed within a single neural tube. Moreover, the method allows for continued development so that embryos can be analyzed at a more mature stage to detect changes in anatomy and in neural patterning. This simple but useful protocol allows for real time imaging. It provides a means to make spatially and temporally limited changes to endogenous protein levels.
Developmental Biology, Issue 8, Neuroscience, Growth Factor, Heparin-Coated Beads, Chicken, Embryos
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