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GOMoDo: A GPCRs online modeling and docking webserver.
PUBLISHED: 01-01-2013
G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) are a superfamily of cell signaling membrane proteins that include >750 members in the human genome alone. They are the largest family of drug targets. The vast diversity and relevance of GPCRs contrasts with the paucity of structures available: only 21 unique GPCR structures have been experimentally determined as of the beginning of 2013. User-friendly modeling and small molecule docking tools are thus in great demand. While both GPCR structural predictions and docking servers exist separately, with GOMoDo (GPCR Online Modeling and Docking), we provide a web server to seamlessly model GPCR structures and dock ligands to the models in a single consistent pipeline. GOMoDo can automatically perform template choice, homology modeling and either blind or information-driven docking by combining together proven, state of the art bioinformatic tools. The web server gives the user the possibility of guiding the whole procedure. The GOMoDo server is freely accessible at
Authors: Saranga Naganathan, Amy Grunbeck, He Tian, Thomas Huber, Thomas P. Sakmar.
Published: 09-13-2013
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.
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A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Authors: Ambrish Roy, Dong Xu, Jonathan Poisson, Yang Zhang.
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
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.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
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Characterization of G Protein-coupled Receptors by a Fluorescence-based Calcium Mobilization Assay
Authors: Jelle Caers, Katleen Peymen, Nick Suetens, Liesbet Temmerman, Tom Janssen, Liliane Schoofs, Isabel Beets.
Institutions: KU Leuven.
For more than 20 years, reverse pharmacology has been the preeminent strategy to discover the activating ligands of orphan G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). The onset of a reverse pharmacology assay is the cloning and subsequent transfection of a GPCR of interest in a cellular expression system. The heterologous expressed receptor is then challenged with a compound library of candidate ligands to identify the receptor-activating ligand(s). Receptor activation can be assessed by measuring changes in concentration of second messenger reporter molecules, like calcium or cAMP. The fluorescence-based calcium mobilization assay described here is a frequently used medium-throughput reverse pharmacology assay. The orphan GPCR is transiently expressed in human embryonic kidney 293T (HEK293T) cells and a promiscuous Gα16 construct is co-transfected. Following ligand binding, activation of the Gα16 subunit induces the release of calcium from the endoplasmic reticulum. Prior to ligand screening, the receptor-expressing cells are loaded with a fluorescent calcium indicator, Fluo-4 acetoxymethyl. The fluorescent signal of Fluo-4 is negligible in cells under resting conditions, but can be amplified more than a 100-fold upon the interaction with calcium ions that are released after receptor activation. The described technique does not require the time-consuming establishment of stably transfected cell lines in which the transfected genetic material is integrated into the host cell genome. Instead, a transient transfection, generating temporary expression of the target gene, is sufficient to perform the screening assay. The setup allows medium-throughput screening of hundreds of compounds. Co-transfection of the promiscuous Gα16, which couples to most GPCRs, allows the intracellular signaling pathway to be redirected towards the release of calcium, regardless of the native signaling pathway in endogenous settings. The HEK293T cells are easy to handle and have proven their efficacy throughout the years in receptor deorphanization assays. However, optimization of the assay for specific receptors may remain necessary.
Cellular Biology, Issue 89, G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR), calcium mobilization assay, reverse pharmacology, deorphanization, cellular expression system, HEK293T, Fluo-4, FlexStation
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A Fluorescent Screening Assay for Identifying Modulators of GIRK Channels
Authors: Maribel Vazquez, Charity A. Dunn, Kenneth B. Walsh.
Institutions: University of South Carolina, School of Medicine.
G protein-gated inward rectifier K+ (GIRK) channels function as cellular mediators of a wide range of hormones and neurotransmitters and are expressed in the brain, heart, skeletal muscle and endocrine tissue1,2. GIRK channels become activated following the binding of ligands (neurotransmitters, hormones, drugs, etc.) to their plasma membrane-bound, G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). This binding causes the stimulation of G proteins (Gi and Go) which subsequently bind to and activate the GIRK channel. Once opened the GIRK channel allows the movement of K+ out of the cell causing the resting membrane potential to become more negative. As a consequence, GIRK channel activation in neurons decreases spontaneous action potential formation and inhibits the release of excitatory neurotransmitters. In the heart, activation of the GIRK channel inhibits pacemaker activity thereby slowing the heart rate. GIRK channels represent novel targets for the development of new therapeutic agents for the treatment neuropathic pain, drug addiction, cardiac arrhythmias and other disorders3. However, the pharmacology of these channels remains largely unexplored. Although a number of drugs including anti-arrhythmic agents, antipsychotic drugs and antidepressants block the GIRK channel, this inhibition is not selective and occurs at relatively high drug concentrations3. Here, we describe a real-time screening assay for identifying new modulators of GIRK channels. In this assay, neuronal AtT20 cells, expressing GIRK channels, are loaded with membrane potential-sensitive fluorescent dyes such as bis-(1,3-dibutylbarbituric acid) trimethine oxonol [DiBAC4(3)] or HLB 021-152 (Figure 1). The dye molecules become strongly fluorescent following uptake into the cells (Figure 1). Treatment of the cells with GPCR ligands stimulates the GIRK channels to open. The resulting K+ efflux out of the cell causes the membrane potential to become more negative and the fluorescent signal to decrease (Figure 1). Thus, drugs that modulate K+ efflux through the GIRK channel can be assayed using a fluorescent plate reader. Unlike other ion channel screening assays, such atomic absorption spectrometry4 or radiotracer analysis5, the GIRK channel fluorescent assay provides a fast, real-time and inexpensive screening procedure.
Medicine, Issue 62, G protein-gated inward rectifier K+ (GIRK) channels, clonal cell lines, drug screening, fluorescent dyes, K+ channel modulators, Pharmacology
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Imaging G-protein Coupled Receptor (GPCR)-mediated Signaling Events that Control Chemotaxis of Dictyostelium Discoideum
Authors: Xuehua Xu, Tian Jin.
Institutions: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health.
Many eukaryotic cells can detect gradients of chemical signals in their environments and migrate accordingly 1. This guided cell migration is referred as chemotaxis, which is essential for various cells to carry out their functions such as trafficking of immune cells and patterning of neuronal cells 2, 3. A large family of G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) detects variable small peptides, known as chemokines, to direct cell migration in vivo 4. The final goal of chemotaxis research is to understand how a GPCR machinery senses chemokine gradients and controls signaling events leading to chemotaxis. To this end, we use imaging techniques to monitor, in real time, spatiotemporal concentrations of chemoattractants, cell movement in a gradient of chemoattractant, GPCR mediated activation of heterotrimeric G-protein, and intracellular signaling events involved in chemotaxis of eukaryotic cells 5-8. The simple eukaryotic organism, Dictyostelium discoideum, displays chemotaxic behaviors that are similar to those of leukocytes, and D. discoideum is a key model system for studying eukaryotic chemotaxis. As free-living amoebae, D. discoideum cells divide in rich medium. Upon starvation, cells enter a developmental program in which they aggregate through cAMP-mediated chemotaxis to form multicullular structures. Many components involved in chemotaxis to cAMP have been identified in D. discoideum. The binding of cAMP to a GPCR (cAR1) induces dissociation of heterotrimeric G-proteins into Gγ and Gβγ subunits 7, 9, 10. Gβγ subunits activate Ras, which in turn activates PI3K, converting PIP2 into PIP3 on the cell membrane 11-13. PIP3 serve as binding sites for proteins with pleckstrin Homology (PH) domains, thus recruiting these proteins to the membrane 14, 15. Activation of cAR1 receptors also controls the membrane associations of PTEN, which dephosphorylates PIP3 to PIP2 16, 17. The molecular mechanisms are evolutionarily conserved in chemokine GPCR-mediated chemotaxis of human cells such as neutrophils 18. We present following methods for studying chemotaxis of D. discoideum cells. 1. Preparation of chemotactic component cells. 2. Imaging chemotaxis of cells in a cAMP gradient. 3. Monitoring a GPCR induced activation of heterotrimeric G-protein in single live cells. 4. Imaging chemoattractant-triggered dynamic PIP3 responses in single live cells in real time. Our developed imaging methods can be applied to study chemotaxis of human leukocytes.
Molecular Biology, Issue 55, Chemotaxis, directional sensing, GPCR, PCR, G-proteins, signal transduction, Dictyostelium discoideum
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An Analytical Tool that Quantifies Cellular Morphology Changes from Three-dimensional Fluorescence Images
Authors: Carolina L. Haass-Koffler, Mohammad Naeemuddin, Selena E. Bartlett.
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco , University of California, San Francisco , Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia.
The most common software analysis tools available for measuring fluorescence images are for two-dimensional (2D) data that rely on manual settings for inclusion and exclusion of data points, and computer-aided pattern recognition to support the interpretation and findings of the analysis. It has become increasingly important to be able to measure fluorescence images constructed from three-dimensional (3D) datasets in order to be able to capture the complexity of cellular dynamics and understand the basis of cellular plasticity within biological systems. Sophisticated microscopy instruments have permitted the visualization of 3D fluorescence images through the acquisition of multispectral fluorescence images and powerful analytical software that reconstructs the images from confocal stacks that then provide a 3D representation of the collected 2D images. Advanced design-based stereology methods have progressed from the approximation and assumptions of the original model-based stereology1 even in complex tissue sections2. Despite these scientific advances in microscopy, a need remains for an automated analytic method that fully exploits the intrinsic 3D data to allow for the analysis and quantification of the complex changes in cell morphology, protein localization and receptor trafficking. Current techniques available to quantify fluorescence images include Meta-Morph (Molecular Devices, Sunnyvale, CA) and Image J (NIH) which provide manual analysis. Imaris (Andor Technology, Belfast, Northern Ireland) software provides the feature MeasurementPro, which allows the manual creation of measurement points that can be placed in a volume image or drawn on a series of 2D slices to create a 3D object. This method is useful for single-click point measurements to measure a line distance between two objects or to create a polygon that encloses a region of interest, but it is difficult to apply to complex cellular network structures. Filament Tracer (Andor) allows automatic detection of the 3D neuronal filament-like however, this module has been developed to measure defined structures such as neurons, which are comprised of dendrites, axons and spines (tree-like structure). This module has been ingeniously utilized to make morphological measurements to non-neuronal cells3, however, the output data provide information of an extended cellular network by using a software that depends on a defined cell shape rather than being an amorphous-shaped cellular model. To overcome the issue of analyzing amorphous-shaped cells and making the software more suitable to a biological application, Imaris developed Imaris Cell. This was a scientific project with the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, which has been developed to calculate the relationship between cells and organelles. While the software enables the detection of biological constraints, by forcing one nucleus per cell and using cell membranes to segment cells, it cannot be utilized to analyze fluorescence data that are not continuous because ideally it builds cell surface without void spaces. To our knowledge, at present no user-modifiable automated approach that provides morphometric information from 3D fluorescence images has been developed that achieves cellular spatial information of an undefined shape (Figure 1). We have developed an analytical platform using the Imaris core software module and Imaris XT interfaced to MATLAB (Mat Works, Inc.). These tools allow the 3D measurement of cells without a pre-defined shape and with inconsistent fluorescence network components. Furthermore, this method will allow researchers who have extended expertise in biological systems, but not familiarity to computer applications, to perform quantification of morphological changes in cell dynamics.
Cellular Biology, Issue 66, 3-dimensional, microscopy, quantification, morphometric, single-cell, cell dynamics
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Synthesis of an Intein-mediated Artificial Protein Hydrogel
Authors: Miguel A. Ramirez, Zhilei Chen.
Institutions: Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas A&M University, College Station.
We present the synthesis of a highly stable protein hydrogel mediated by a split-intein-catalyzed protein trans-splicing reaction. The building blocks of this hydrogel are two protein block-copolymers each containing a subunit of a trimeric protein that serves as a crosslinker and one half of a split intein. A highly hydrophilic random coil is inserted into one of the block-copolymers for water retention. Mixing of the two protein block copolymers triggers an intein trans-splicing reaction, yielding a polypeptide unit with crosslinkers at either end that rapidly self-assembles into a hydrogel. This hydrogel is very stable under both acidic and basic conditions, at temperatures up to 50 °C, and in organic solvents. The hydrogel rapidly reforms after shear-induced rupture. Incorporation of a "docking station peptide" into the hydrogel building block enables convenient incorporation of "docking protein"-tagged target proteins. The hydrogel is compatible with tissue culture growth media, supports the diffusion of 20 kDa molecules, and enables the immobilization of bioactive globular proteins. The application of the intein-mediated protein hydrogel as an organic-solvent-compatible biocatalyst was demonstrated by encapsulating the horseradish peroxidase enzyme and corroborating its activity.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, split-intein, self-assembly, shear-thinning, enzyme, immobilization, organic synthesis
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Super-resolution Imaging of Neuronal Dense-core Vesicles
Authors: Bethe A. Scalettar, Daniel Shaver, Stefanie Kaech, Janis E. Lochner.
Institutions: Lewis & Clark College, Lewis & Clark College, Oregon Health & Science University, Lewis & Clark College.
Detection of fluorescence provides the foundation for many widely utilized and rapidly advancing microscopy techniques employed in modern biological and medical applications. Strengths of fluorescence include its sensitivity, specificity, and compatibility with live imaging. Unfortunately, conventional forms of fluorescence microscopy suffer from one major weakness, diffraction-limited resolution in the imaging plane, which hampers studies of structures with dimensions smaller than ~250 nm. Recently, this limitation has been overcome with the introduction of super-resolution fluorescence microscopy techniques, such as photoactivated localization microscopy (PALM). Unlike its conventional counterparts, PALM can produce images with a lateral resolution of tens of nanometers. It is thus now possible to use fluorescence, with its myriad strengths, to elucidate a spectrum of previously inaccessible attributes of cellular structure and organization. Unfortunately, PALM is not trivial to implement, and successful strategies often must be tailored to the type of system under study. In this article, we show how to implement single-color PALM studies of vesicular structures in fixed, cultured neurons. PALM is ideally suited to the study of vesicles, which have dimensions that typically range from ~50-250 nm. Key steps in our approach include labeling neurons with photoconvertible (green to red) chimeras of vesicle cargo, collecting sparsely sampled raw images with a super-resolution microscopy system, and processing the raw images to produce a high-resolution PALM image. We also demonstrate the efficacy of our approach by presenting exceptionally well-resolved images of dense-core vesicles (DCVs) in cultured hippocampal neurons, which refute the hypothesis that extrasynaptic trafficking of DCVs is mediated largely by DCV clusters.
Neuroscience, Issue 89, photoactivated localization microscopy, Dendra2, dense-core vesicle, synapse, hippocampal neuron, cluster
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Optimized Negative Staining: a High-throughput Protocol for Examining Small and Asymmetric Protein Structure by Electron Microscopy
Authors: Matthew Rames, Yadong Yu, Gang Ren.
Institutions: The Molecular Foundry.
Structural determination of proteins is rather challenging for proteins with molecular masses between 40 - 200 kDa. Considering that more than half of natural proteins have a molecular mass between 40 - 200 kDa1,2, a robust and high-throughput method with a nanometer resolution capability is needed. Negative staining (NS) electron microscopy (EM) is an easy, rapid, and qualitative approach which has frequently been used in research laboratories to examine protein structure and protein-protein interactions. Unfortunately, conventional NS protocols often generate structural artifacts on proteins, especially with lipoproteins that usually form presenting rouleaux artifacts. By using images of lipoproteins from cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) as a standard, the key parameters in NS specimen preparation conditions were recently screened and reported as the optimized NS protocol (OpNS), a modified conventional NS protocol 3 . Artifacts like rouleaux can be greatly limited by OpNS, additionally providing high contrast along with reasonably high‐resolution (near 1 nm) images of small and asymmetric proteins. These high-resolution and high contrast images are even favorable for an individual protein (a single object, no average) 3D reconstruction, such as a 160 kDa antibody, through the method of electron tomography4,5. Moreover, OpNS can be a high‐throughput tool to examine hundreds of samples of small proteins. For example, the previously published mechanism of 53 kDa cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) involved the screening and imaging of hundreds of samples 6. Considering cryo-EM rarely successfully images proteins less than 200 kDa has yet to publish any study involving screening over one hundred sample conditions, it is fair to call OpNS a high-throughput method for studying small proteins. Hopefully the OpNS protocol presented here can be a useful tool to push the boundaries of EM and accelerate EM studies into small protein structure, dynamics and mechanisms.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, small and asymmetric protein structure, electron microscopy, optimized negative staining
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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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The ITS2 Database
Authors: Benjamin Merget, Christian Koetschan, Thomas Hackl, Frank Förster, Thomas Dandekar, Tobias Müller, Jörg Schultz, Matthias Wolf.
Institutions: University of Würzburg, University of Würzburg.
The internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS2) has been used as a phylogenetic marker for more than two decades. As ITS2 research mainly focused on the very variable ITS2 sequence, it confined this marker to low-level phylogenetics only. However, the combination of the ITS2 sequence and its highly conserved secondary structure improves the phylogenetic resolution1 and allows phylogenetic inference at multiple taxonomic ranks, including species delimitation2-8. The ITS2 Database9 presents an exhaustive dataset of internal transcribed spacer 2 sequences from NCBI GenBank11 accurately reannotated10. Following an annotation by profile Hidden Markov Models (HMMs), the secondary structure of each sequence is predicted. First, it is tested whether a minimum energy based fold12 (direct fold) results in a correct, four helix conformation. If this is not the case, the structure is predicted by homology modeling13. In homology modeling, an already known secondary structure is transferred to another ITS2 sequence, whose secondary structure was not able to fold correctly in a direct fold. The ITS2 Database is not only a database for storage and retrieval of ITS2 sequence-structures. It also provides several tools to process your own ITS2 sequences, including annotation, structural prediction, motif detection and BLAST14 search on the combined sequence-structure information. Moreover, it integrates trimmed versions of 4SALE15,16 and ProfDistS17 for multiple sequence-structure alignment calculation and Neighbor Joining18 tree reconstruction. Together they form a coherent analysis pipeline from an initial set of sequences to a phylogeny based on sequence and secondary structure. In a nutshell, this workbench simplifies first phylogenetic analyses to only a few mouse-clicks, while additionally providing tools and data for comprehensive large-scale analyses.
Genetics, Issue 61, alignment, internal transcribed spacer 2, molecular systematics, secondary structure, ribosomal RNA, phylogenetic tree, homology modeling, phylogeny
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Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Authors: Johannes Felix Buyel, Rainer Fischer.
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
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From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Authors: Wen-Ting Tsai, Ahmed Hassan, Purbasha Sarkar, Joaquin Correa, Zoltan Metlagel, Danielle M. Jorgens, Manfred Auer.
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g., signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation. The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
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High-resolution Spatiotemporal Analysis of Receptor Dynamics by Single-molecule Fluorescence Microscopy
Authors: Titiwat Sungkaworn, Finn Rieken, Martin J. Lohse, Davide Calebiro.
Institutions: University of Würzburg, Germany.
Single-molecule microscopy is emerging as a powerful approach to analyze the behavior of signaling molecules, in particular concerning those aspect (e.g., kinetics, coexistence of different states and populations, transient interactions), which are typically hidden in ensemble measurements, such as those obtained with standard biochemical or microscopy methods. Thus, dynamic events, such as receptor-receptor interactions, can be followed in real time in a living cell with high spatiotemporal resolution. This protocol describes a method based on labeling with small and bright organic fluorophores and total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) microscopy to directly visualize single receptors on the surface of living cells. This approach allows one to precisely localize receptors, measure the size of receptor complexes, and capture dynamic events such as transient receptor-receptor interactions. The protocol provides a detailed description of how to perform a single-molecule experiment, including sample preparation, image acquisition and image analysis. As an example, the application of this method to analyze two G-protein-coupled receptors, i.e., β2-adrenergic and γ-aminobutyric acid type B (GABAB) receptor, is reported. The protocol can be adapted to other membrane proteins and different cell models, transfection methods and labeling strategies.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, pharmacology, microscopy, receptor, live-cell imaging, single-molecule, total internal reflection fluorescence, tracking, dimerization, protein-protein interactions
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Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Authors: C. R. Gallistel, Fuat Balci, David Freestone, Aaron Kheifets, Adam King.
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
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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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Inducing Plasticity of Astrocytic Receptors by Manipulation of Neuronal Firing Rates
Authors: Alison X. Xie, Kelli Lauderdale, Thomas Murphy, Timothy L. Myers, Todd A. Fiacco.
Institutions: University of California Riverside, University of California Riverside, University of California Riverside.
Close to two decades of research has established that astrocytes in situ and in vivo express numerous G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) that can be stimulated by neuronally-released transmitter. However, the ability of astrocytic receptors to exhibit plasticity in response to changes in neuronal activity has received little attention. Here we describe a model system that can be used to globally scale up or down astrocytic group I metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) in acute brain slices. Included are methods on how to prepare parasagittal hippocampal slices, construct chambers suitable for long-term slice incubation, bidirectionally manipulate neuronal action potential frequency, load astrocytes and astrocyte processes with fluorescent Ca2+ indicator, and measure changes in astrocytic Gq GPCR activity by recording spontaneous and evoked astrocyte Ca2+ events using confocal microscopy. In essence, a “calcium roadmap” is provided for how to measure plasticity of astrocytic Gq GPCRs. Applications of the technique for study of astrocytes are discussed. Having an understanding of how astrocytic receptor signaling is affected by changes in neuronal activity has important implications for both normal synaptic function as well as processes underlying neurological disorders and neurodegenerative disease.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, astrocyte, plasticity, mGluRs, neuronal Firing, electrophysiology, Gq GPCRs, Bolus-loading, calcium, microdomains, acute slices, Hippocampus, mouse
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Determination of Protein-ligand Interactions Using Differential Scanning Fluorimetry
Authors: Mirella Vivoli, Halina R. Novak, Jennifer A. Littlechild, Nicholas J. Harmer.
Institutions: University of Exeter.
A wide range of methods are currently available for determining the dissociation constant between a protein and interacting small molecules. However, most of these require access to specialist equipment, and often require a degree of expertise to effectively establish reliable experiments and analyze data. Differential scanning fluorimetry (DSF) is being increasingly used as a robust method for initial screening of proteins for interacting small molecules, either for identifying physiological partners or for hit discovery. This technique has the advantage that it requires only a PCR machine suitable for quantitative PCR, and so suitable instrumentation is available in most institutions; an excellent range of protocols are already available; and there are strong precedents in the literature for multiple uses of the method. Past work has proposed several means of calculating dissociation constants from DSF data, but these are mathematically demanding. Here, we demonstrate a method for estimating dissociation constants from a moderate amount of DSF experimental data. These data can typically be collected and analyzed within a single day. We demonstrate how different models can be used to fit data collected from simple binding events, and where cooperative binding or independent binding sites are present. Finally, we present an example of data analysis in a case where standard models do not apply. These methods are illustrated with data collected on commercially available control proteins, and two proteins from our research program. Overall, our method provides a straightforward way for researchers to rapidly gain further insight into protein-ligand interactions using DSF.
Biophysics, Issue 91, differential scanning fluorimetry, dissociation constant, protein-ligand interactions, StepOne, cooperativity, WcbI.
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A Practical Guide to Phylogenetics for Nonexperts
Authors: Damien O'Halloran.
Institutions: The George Washington University.
Many researchers, across incredibly diverse foci, are applying phylogenetics to their research question(s). However, many researchers are new to this topic and so it presents inherent problems. Here we compile a practical introduction to phylogenetics for nonexperts. We outline in a step-by-step manner, a pipeline for generating reliable phylogenies from gene sequence datasets. We begin with a user-guide for similarity search tools via online interfaces as well as local executables. Next, we explore programs for generating multiple sequence alignments followed by protocols for using software to determine best-fit models of evolution. We then outline protocols for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships via maximum likelihood and Bayesian criteria and finally describe tools for visualizing phylogenetic trees. While this is not by any means an exhaustive description of phylogenetic approaches, it does provide the reader with practical starting information on key software applications commonly utilized by phylogeneticists. The vision for this article would be that it could serve as a practical training tool for researchers embarking on phylogenetic studies and also serve as an educational resource that could be incorporated into a classroom or teaching-lab.
Basic Protocol, Issue 84, phylogenetics, multiple sequence alignments, phylogenetic tree, BLAST executables, basic local alignment search tool, Bayesian models
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Predicting the Effectiveness of Population Replacement Strategy Using Mathematical Modeling
Authors: John Marshall, Koji Morikawa, Nicholas Manoukis, Charles Taylor.
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles.
Charles Taylor and John Marshall explain the utility of mathematical modeling for evaluating the effectiveness of population replacement strategy. Insight is given into how computational models can provide information on the population dynamics of mosquitoes and the spread of transposable elements through A. gambiae subspecies. The ethical considerations of releasing genetically modified mosquitoes into the wild are discussed.
Cellular Biology, Issue 5, mosquito, malaria, popuulation, replacement, modeling, infectious disease
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Quantifying Agonist Activity at G Protein-coupled Receptors
Authors: Frederick J. Ehlert, Hinako Suga, Michael T. Griffin.
Institutions: University of California, Irvine, University of California, Chapman University.
When an agonist activates a population of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), it elicits a signaling pathway that culminates in the response of the cell or tissue. This process can be analyzed at the level of a single receptor, a population of receptors, or a downstream response. Here we describe how to analyze the downstream response to obtain an estimate of the agonist affinity constant for the active state of single receptors. Receptors behave as quantal switches that alternate between active and inactive states (Figure 1). The active state interacts with specific G proteins or other signaling partners. In the absence of ligands, the inactive state predominates. The binding of agonist increases the probability that the receptor will switch into the active state because its affinity constant for the active state (Kb) is much greater than that for the inactive state (Ka). The summation of the random outputs of all of the receptors in the population yields a constant level of receptor activation in time. The reciprocal of the concentration of agonist eliciting half-maximal receptor activation is equivalent to the observed affinity constant (Kobs), and the fraction of agonist-receptor complexes in the active state is defined as efficacy (ε) (Figure 2). Methods for analyzing the downstream responses of GPCRs have been developed that enable the estimation of the Kobs and relative efficacy of an agonist 1,2. In this report, we show how to modify this analysis to estimate the agonist Kb value relative to that of another agonist. For assays that exhibit constitutive activity, we show how to estimate Kb in absolute units of M-1. Our method of analyzing agonist concentration-response curves 3,4 consists of global nonlinear regression using the operational model 5. We describe a procedure using the software application, Prism (GraphPad Software, Inc., San Diego, CA). The analysis yields an estimate of the product of Kobs and a parameter proportional to efficacy (τ). The estimate of τKobs of one agonist, divided by that of another, is a relative measure of Kb (RAi) 6. For any receptor exhibiting constitutive activity, it is possible to estimate a parameter proportional to the efficacy of the free receptor complex (τsys). In this case, the Kb value of an agonist is equivalent to τKobssys 3. Our method is useful for determining the selectivity of an agonist for receptor subtypes and for quantifying agonist-receptor signaling through different G proteins.
Molecular Biology, Issue 58, agonist activity, active state, ligand bias, constitutive activity, G protein-coupled receptor
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Analyzing and Building Nucleic Acid Structures with 3DNA
Authors: Andrew V. Colasanti, Xiang-Jun Lu, Wilma K. Olson.
Institutions: Rutgers - The State University of New Jersey, Columbia University .
The 3DNA software package is a popular and versatile bioinformatics tool with capabilities to analyze, construct, and visualize three-dimensional nucleic acid structures. This article presents detailed protocols for a subset of new and popular features available in 3DNA, applicable to both individual structures and ensembles of related structures. Protocol 1 lists the set of instructions needed to download and install the software. This is followed, in Protocol 2, by the analysis of a nucleic acid structure, including the assignment of base pairs and the determination of rigid-body parameters that describe the structure and, in Protocol 3, by a description of the reconstruction of an atomic model of a structure from its rigid-body parameters. The most recent version of 3DNA, version 2.1, has new features for the analysis and manipulation of ensembles of structures, such as those deduced from nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) measurements and molecular dynamic (MD) simulations; these features are presented in Protocols 4 and 5. In addition to the 3DNA stand-alone software package, the w3DNA web server, located at, provides a user-friendly interface to selected features of the software. Protocol 6 demonstrates a novel feature of the site for building models of long DNA molecules decorated with bound proteins at user-specified locations.
Genetics, Issue 74, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Bioengineering, Biophysics, Genomics, Chemical Biology, Quantitative Biology, conformational analysis, DNA, high-resolution structures, model building, molecular dynamics, nucleic acid structure, RNA, visualization, bioinformatics, three-dimensional, 3DNA, software
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