Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers amongst women in North America. Many current anti-cancer treatments, including ionizing radiation, induce apoptosis via DNA damage. Unfortunately, such treatments are non-selective to cancer cells and produce similar toxicity in normal cells. We have reported selective induction of apoptosis in cancer cells by the natural compound pancratistatin (PST). Recently, a novel PST analogue, a C-1 acetoxymethyl derivative of 7-deoxypancratistatin (JCTH-4), was produced by de novo synthesis and it exhibits comparable selective apoptosis inducing activity in several cancer cell lines. Recently, autophagy has been implicated in malignancies as both pro-survival and pro-death mechanisms in response to chemotherapy. Tamoxifen (TAM) has invariably demonstrated induction of pro-survival autophagy in numerous cancers. In this study, the efficacy of JCTH-4 alone and in combination with TAM to induce cell death in human breast cancer (MCF7) and neuroblastoma (SH-SY5Y) cells was evaluated. TAM alone induced autophagy, but insignificant cell death whereas JCTH-4 alone caused significant induction of apoptosis with some induction of autophagy. Interestingly, the combinatory treatment yielded a drastic increase in apoptotic and autophagic induction. We monitored time-dependent morphological changes in MCF7 cells undergoing TAM-induced autophagy, JCTH-4-induced apoptosis and autophagy, and accelerated cell death with combinatorial treatment using time-lapse microscopy. We have demonstrated these compounds to induce apoptosis/autophagy by mitochondrial targeting in these cancer cells. Importantly, these treatments did not affect the survival of noncancerous human fibroblasts. Thus, these results indicate that JCTH-4 in combination with TAM could be used as a safe and very potent anti-cancer therapy against breast cancer and neuroblastoma cells.
23 Related JoVE Articles!
Production and Detection of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) in Cancers
Institutions: Baylor College of Medicine.
Reactive oxygen species include a number of molecules that damage DNA and RNA and oxidize proteins and lipids (lipid peroxydation). These reactive molecules contain an oxygen and include H2
(hydrogen peroxide), NO (nitric oxide), O2-
(oxide anion), peroxynitrite (ONOO-
), hydrochlorous acid (HOCl), and hydroxyl radical (OH-
Oxidative species are produced not only under pathological situations (cancers, ischemic/reperfusion, neurologic and cardiovascular pathologies, infectious diseases, inflammatory diseases 1
, autoimmune diseases 2
, etc…) but also during physiological (non-pathological) situations such as cellular metabolism 3, 4
. Indeed, ROS play important roles in many cellular signaling pathways (proliferation, cell activation 5, 6
, migration 7
etc..). ROS can be detrimental (it is then referred to as "oxidative and nitrosative stress") when produced in high amounts in the intracellular compartments and cells generally respond to ROS by upregulating antioxidants such as superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase (CAT), glutathione peroxidase (GPx) and glutathione (GSH) that protects them by converting dangerous free radicals to harmless molecules (i.e. water). Vitamins C and E have also been described as ROS scavengers (antioxidants).
Free radicals are beneficial in low amounts 3
. Macrophage and neutrophils-mediated immune responses involve the production and release of NO, which inhibits viruses, pathogens and tumor proliferation 8
. NO also reacts with other ROS and thus, also has a role as a detoxifier (ROS scavenger). Finally NO acts on vessels to regulate blood flow which is important for the adaptation of muscle to prolonged exercise 9, 10
. Several publications have also demonstrated that ROS are involved in insulin sensitivity 11, 12
Numerous methods to evaluate ROS production are available. In this article we propose several simple, fast, and affordable assays; these assays have been validated by many publications and are routinely used to detect ROS or its effects in mammalian cells. While some of these assays detect multiple ROS, others detect only a single ROS.
Medicine, Issue 57, reactive oxygen species (ROS), stress, ischemia, cancer, chemotherapy, immune response
Bioluminescence Imaging of NADPH Oxidase Activity in Different Animal Models
Institutions: Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, University at Buffalo School of Medicine.
NADPH oxidase is a critical enzyme that mediates antibacterial and antifungal host defense. In addition to its role in antimicrobial host defense, NADPH oxidase has critical signaling functions that modulate the inflammatory response 1
. Thus, the development of a method to measure in "real-time" the kinetics of NADPH oxidase-derived ROS generation is expected to be a valuable research tool to understand mechanisms relevant to host defense, inflammation, and injury.
Chronic granulomatous disease (CGD) is an inherited disorder of the NADPH oxidase characterized by severe infections and excessive inflammation. Activation of the phagocyte NADPH oxidase requires translocation of its cytosolic subunits (p47phox
, and p40phox
) and Rac to a membrane-bound flavocytochrome (composed of a gp91phox
heterodimer). Loss of function mutations in any of these NADPH oxidase components result in CGD. Similar to patients with CGD, gp91phox
-deficient mice and p47phox
-deficient mice have defective phagocyte NADPH oxidase activity and impaired host defense 2, 13
. In addition to phagocytes, which contain the NADPH oxidase components described above, a variety of other cell types express different isoforms of NADPH oxidase.
Here, we describe a method to quantify ROS production in living mice and to delineate the contribution of NADPH oxidase to ROS generation in models of inflammation and injury. This method is based on ROS reacting with L-012 (an analogue of luminol) to emit luminescence that is recorded by a charge-coupled device (CCD). In the original description of the L-012 probe, L-012-dependent chemiluminescence was completely abolished by superoxide dismutase, indicating that the main ROS detected in this reaction was superoxide anion 14
. Subsequent studies have shown that L-012 can detect other free radicals, including reactive nitrogen species 15, 16
. Kielland et al. 16
showed that topical application of phorbol
myristate acetate, a potent activator of NADPH oxidase, led to NADPH oxidase-dependent ROS generation that could be detected in mice using the luminescent probe L-012. In this model, they showed that L-012-dependent luminescence was abolished in p47phox
We compared ROS generation in wildtype mice and NADPH oxidase-deficient p47phox-/-
in the following three models: 1) intratracheal administration of zymosan, a pro-inflammatory fungal cell wall-derived product that can activate NADPH oxidase; 2) cecal ligation and puncture (CLP), a model of intra-abdominal sepsis with secondary acute lung inflammation and injury; and 3) oral carbon tetrachloride (CCl4
), a model of ROS-dependent hepatic injury. These models were specifically selected to evaluate NADPH oxidase-dependent ROS generation in the context of non-infectious inflammation, polymicrobial sepsis, and toxin-induced organ injury, respectively. Comparing bioluminescence in wildtype mice to p47phox-/-
mice enables us to delineate the specific contribution of ROS generated by p47phox
-containing NADPH oxidase to the bioluminescent signal in these models.
Bioluminescence imaging results that demonstrated increased ROS levels in wildtype mice compared to p47phox-/-
mice indicated that NADPH oxidase is the major source of ROS generation in response to inflammatory stimuli. This method provides a minimally invasive approach for "real-time" monitoring of ROS generation during inflammation in vivo.
Immunology, Issue 68, Molecular Biology, NADPH oxidase, reactive oxygen species, bioluminescence imaging
Use of a Caspase Multiplexing Assay to Determine Apoptosis in a Hypothalamic Cell Model
Institutions: Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System, University of Minnesota, University of Minnesota, University of Minnesota.
The ability to multiplex assays in studies of complex cellular mechanisms eliminates the need for repetitive experiments, provides internal controls, and decreases waste in costs and reagents. Here we describe optimization of a multiplex assay to assess apoptosis following a palmitic acid (PA) challenge in an in vitro
hypothalamic model, using both fluorescent and luminescent based assays to measure viable cell counts and caspase-3/7 activity in a 96-well microtiter plate format. Following PA challenge, viable cells were determined by a resazurin-based fluorescent assay. Caspase-3/7 activity was then determined using a luminogenic substrate, DEVD, and normalized to cell number. This multiplexing assay is a useful technique for determining change in caspase activity following an apoptotic stimulus, such as saturated fatty acid challenge. The saturated fatty acid PA can increase hypothalamic oxidative stress and apoptosis, indicating the potential importance of assays such as that described here in studying the relationship between saturated fatty acids and neuronal function.
Neuroscience, Issue 86, apoptosis, obesity, caspase, resazurin, DEVD, palmitic acid, hypothalamic model
Detection of Invasive Pulmonary Aspergillosis in Haematological Malignancy Patients by using Lateral-flow Technology
Institutions: University of Exeter, Queen Mary University of London, St. Bartholomew's Hospital and The London NHS Trust.
Invasive pulmonary aspergillosis (IPA) is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in haematological malignancy patients and hematopoietic stem cell transplant recipients1
. Detection of IPA represents a formidable diagnostic challenge and, in the absence of a 'gold standard', relies on a combination of clinical data and microbiology and histopathology where feasible. Diagnosis of IPA must conform to the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Mycology Study Group (EORTC/MSG) consensus defining "proven", "probable", and "possible" invasive fungal diseases2
. Currently, no nucleic acid-based tests have been externally validated for IPA detection and so polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is not included in current EORTC/MSG diagnostic criteria.
Identification of Aspergillus
in histological sections is problematic because of similarities in hyphal morphologies with other invasive fungal pathogens3
, and proven identification requires isolation of the etiologic agent in pure culture. Culture-based approaches rely on the availability of biopsy samples, but these are not always accessible in sick patients, and do not always yield viable propagules for culture when obtained.
An important feature in the pathogenesis of Aspergillus
is angio-invasion, a trait that provides opportunities to track the fungus immunologically using tests that detect characteristic antigenic signatures molecules in serum and bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluids. This has led to the development of the Platelia enzyme immunoassay (GM-EIA) that detects Aspergillus
galactomannan and a 'pan-fungal' assay (Fungitell test) that detects the conserved fungal cell wall component (1 →3)-β-D-glucan, but not in the mucorales that lack this component in their cell walls1,4
. Issues surrounding the accuracy of these tests1,4-6
has led to the recent development of next-generation monoclonal antibody (MAb)-based assays that detect surrogate markers of infection1,5
recently described the generation of an Aspergillus
-specific MAb (JF5) using hybridoma technology and its use to develop an immuno-chromatographic lateral-flow device (LFD) for the point-of-care (POC) diagnosis of IPA. A major advantage of the LFD is its ability to detect activity since MAb JF5 binds to an extracellular glycoprotein antigen that is secreted during active growth of the fungus only5
. This is an important consideration when using fluids such as lung BAL for diagnosing IPA since Aspergillus
spores are a common component of inhaled air. The utility of the device in diagnosing IPA has been demonstrated using an animal model of infection, where the LFD displayed improved sensitivity and specificity compared to the Platelia GM and Fungitell (1 → 3)-β-D-glucan assays7
Here, we present a simple LFD procedure to detect Aspergillus
antigen in human serum and BAL fluids. Its speed and accuracy provides a novel adjunct point-of-care test for diagnosis of IPA in haematological malignancy patients.
Immunology, Issue 61, Invasive pulmonary aspergillosis, acute myeloid leukemia, bone marrow transplant, diagnosis, monoclonal antibody, lateral-flow technology
Multi-parameter Measurement of the Permeability Transition Pore Opening in Isolated Mouse Heart Mitochondria
Institutions: University of Washington, Seattle.
The mitochondrial permeability transition pore (mtPTP) is a non specific channel that forms in the inner mitochondrial membrane to transport solutes with a molecular mass smaller than 1.5 kDa. Although the definitive molecular identity of the pore is still under debate, proteins such as cyclophilin D, VDAC and ANT contribute to mtPTP formation. While the involvement of mtPTP opening in cell death is well established1
, accumulating evidence indicates that the mtPTP serves a physiologic role during mitochondrial Ca2+
, bioenergetics and redox signaling 3
mtPTP opening is triggered by matrix Ca2+
but its activity can be modulated by several other factors such as oxidative stress, adenine nucleotide depletion, high concentrations of Pi, mitochondrial membrane depolarization or uncoupling, and long chain fatty acids4
. In vitro
, mtPTP opening can be achieved by increasing Ca2+
concentration inside the mitochondrial matrix through exogenous additions of Ca2+
(calcium retention capacity). When Ca2+
levels inside mitochondria reach a certain threshold, the mtPTP opens and facilitates Ca2+
release, dissipation of the proton motive force, membrane potential collapse and an increase in mitochondrial matrix volume (swelling) that ultimately leads to the rupture of the outer mitochondrial membrane and irreversible loss of organelle function.
Here we describe a fluorometric assay that allows for a comprehensive characterization of mtPTP opening in isolated mouse heart mitochondria. The assay involves the simultaneous measurement of 3 mitochondrial parameters that are altered when mtPTP opening occurs: mitochondrial Ca2+
handling (uptake and release, as measured by Ca2+
concentration in the assay medium), mitochondrial membrane potential, and mitochondrial volume. The dyes employed for Ca2+
measurement in the assay medium and mitochondrial membrane potential are Fura FF, a membrane impermeant, ratiometric indicator which undergoes a shift in the excitation wavelength in the presence of Ca2+
, and JC-1, a cationic, ratiometric indicator which forms green monomers or red aggregates at low and high membrane potential, respectively. Changes in mitochondrial volume are measured by recording light scattering by the mitochondrial suspension. Since high-quality, functional mitochondria are required for the mtPTP opening assay, we also describe the steps necessary to obtain intact, highly coupled and functional isolated heart mitochondria.
Cellular Biology, Issue 67, Mitochondria, respiration, mitochondrial permeability transition pore (mPTP), membrane potential, swelling, calcium, spectrofluorometer
Visualization of Vascular Ca2+ Signaling Triggered by Paracrine Derived ROS
Institutions: Temple University , University of Washington.
Oxidative stress has been implicated in a number of pathologic conditions including ischemia/reperfusion damage and sepsis. The concept of oxidative stress refers to the aberrant formation of ROS (reactive oxygen species), which include O2•-
, and hydroxyl radicals. Reactive oxygen species influences a multitude of cellular processes including signal transduction, cell proliferation and cell death1-6
. ROS have the potential to damage vascular and organ cells directly, and can initiate secondary chemical reactions and genetic alterations that ultimately result in an amplification of the initial ROS-mediated tissue damage. A key component of the amplification cascade that exacerbates irreversible tissue damage is the recruitment and activation of circulating inflammatory cells. During inflammation, inflammatory cells produce cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor-α (TNFα) and IL-1 that activate endothelial cells (EC) and epithelial cells and further augment the inflammatory response7
. Vascular endothelial dysfunction is an established feature of acute inflammation. Macrophages contribute to endothelial dysfunction during inflammation by mechanisms that remain unclear. Activation of macrophages results in the extracellular release of O2•-
and various pro-inflammatory cytokines, which triggers pathologic signaling in adjacent cells8
. NADPH oxidases are the major and primary source of ROS in most of the cell types. Recently, it is shown by us and others9,10
that ROS produced by NADPH oxidases induce the mitochondrial ROS production during many pathophysiological conditions. Hence measuring the mitochondrial ROS production is equally important in addition to measuring cytosolic ROS. Macrophages produce ROS by the flavoprotein enzyme NADPH oxidase which plays a primary role in inflammation. Once activated, phagocytic NADPH oxidase produces copious amounts of O2•-
that are important in the host defense mechanism11,12
. Although paracrine-derived O2•-
plays an important role in the pathogenesis of vascular diseases, visualization of paracrine ROS-induced intracellular signaling including Ca2+
mobilization is still hypothesis. We have developed a model in which activated macrophages are used as a source of O2•-
to transduce a signal to adjacent endothelial cells. Using this model we demonstrate that macrophage-derived O2•-
lead to calcium signaling in adjacent endothelial cells.
Molecular Biology, Issue 58, Reactive oxygen species, Calcium, paracrine superoxide, endothelial cells, confocal microscopy
Analysis of Apoptosis in Zebrafish Embryos by Whole-mount Immunofluorescence to Detect Activated Caspase 3
Institutions: University of Utah.
Whole-mount immunofluorescence to detect activated Caspase 3 (Casp3 assay) is useful to identify cells undergoing either intrinsic or extrinsic apoptosis in zebrafish embryos. The whole-mount analysis provides spatial information in regard to tissue specificity of apoptosing cells, although sectioning and/or colabeling is ultimately required to pinpoint the exact cell types undergoing apoptosis. The whole-mount Casp3 assay is optimized for analysis of fixed embryos between the 4-cell stage and 32 hr-post-fertilization and is useful for a number of applications, including analysis of zebrafish mutants and morphants, overexpression of mutant and wild-type mRNAs, and exposure to chemicals. Compared to acridine orange staining, which can identify apoptotic cells in live embryos in a matter of hours, Casp3 and TUNEL assays take considerably longer to complete (2-4 days). However, because of the dynamic nature of apoptotic cell formation and clearance, analysis of fixed embryos ensures accurate comparison of apoptotic cells across multiple samples at specific time points. We have also found the Casp3 assay to be superior to analysis of apoptotic cells by the whole-mount TUNEL assay in regard to cost and reliability. Overall, the Casp3 assay represents a robust, highly reproducible assay in which to analyze apoptotic cells in early zebrafish embryos.
Developmental Biology, Issue 82, zebrafish, embryo, apoptosis, Caspase 3, Immunofluorescence, whole-mount, cell death
Monitoring Changes in Membrane Polarity, Membrane Integrity, and Intracellular Ion Concentrations in Streptococcus pneumoniae Using Fluorescent Dyes
Institutions: University at Buffalo, State University of New York, University at Buffalo, State University of New York, University at Buffalo, State University of New York.
Membrane depolarization and ion fluxes are events that have been studied extensively in biological systems due to their ability to profoundly impact cellular functions, including energetics and signal transductions. While both fluorescent and electrophysiological methods, including electrode usage and patch-clamping, have been well developed for measuring these events in eukaryotic cells, methodology for measuring similar events in microorganisms have proven more challenging to develop given their small size in combination with the more complex outer surface of bacteria shielding the membrane. During our studies of death-initiation in Streptococcus pneumoniae
(pneumococcus), we wanted to elucidate the role of membrane events, including changes in polarity, integrity, and intracellular ion concentrations. Searching the literature, we found that very few studies exist. Other investigators had monitored radioisotope uptake or equilibrium to measure ion fluxes and membrane potential and a limited number of studies, mostly in Gram-negative organisms, had seen some success using carbocyanine or oxonol fluorescent dyes to measure membrane potential, or loading bacteria with cell-permeant acetoxymethyl (AM) ester versions of ion-sensitive fluorescent indicator dyes. We therefore established and optimized protocols for measuring membrane potential, rupture, and ion-transport in the Gram-positive organism S. pneumoniae.
We developed protocols using the bis-oxonol dye DiBAC4
(3) and the cell-impermeant dye propidium iodide to measure membrane depolarization and rupture, respectively, as well as methods to optimally load the pneumococci with the AM esters of the ratiometric dyes Fura-2, PBFI, and BCECF to detect changes in intracellular concentrations of Ca2+
, and H+
, respectively, using a fluorescence-detection plate reader. These protocols are the first of their kind for the pneumococcus and the majority of these dyes have not been used in any other bacterial species. Though our protocols have been optimized for S. pneumoniae
, we believe these approaches should form an excellent starting-point for similar studies in other bacterial species.
Immunology, Issue 84, Streptococcus pneumoniae, pneumococcus, potential-sensitive dyes, DiBAC, Propidium Iodide, acetoxymethyl (AM) ester, membrane rupture, Ion transport, bacterial ion concentrations, ion-sensitive fluorescence
Use of LysoTracker to Detect Programmed Cell Death in Embryos and Differentiating Embryonic Stem Cells
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
Preparation of Cell-lines for Conditional Knockdown of Gene Expression and Measurement of the Knockdown Effects on E4orf4-Induced Cell Death
Institutions: Technion - Israel Institute of Technology.
Functional inactivation of gene expression in mammalian cells is crucial for the study of the contribution of a protein of interest to various pathways1,2
. However, conditional knockdown of gene expression is required in cases when constitutive knockdown is not tolerated by cells for a long period of time3-5
. Here we describe a protocol for preparation of cell lines allowing conditional knockdown of subunits of the ACF chromatin remodeling factor. These cell lines facilitate the determination of the contribution of ACF to induction of cell death by the adenovirus E4orf4 protein6
. Sequences encoding short hairpin RNAs for the Acf1 and SNF2h subunits of the ACF chromatin remodeling factor were cloned next to a doxycycline-inducible promoter in a plasmid also containing a gene for the neomycin resistance gene. Neomycin-resistant cell clones were selected in the presence of G418 and isolated. The resulting cell lines were induced by doxycycline treatment, and once Acf1 or SNF2h expression levels were reduced, the cells were transfected with a plasmid encoding E4orf4 or an empty vector. To confirm the specific effect of the shRNA constructs, Acf1 or SNF2h protein levels were restored to WT levels by cotransfection with a plasmid expressing Acf1 or SNF2h which were rendered resistant to the shRNA by introduction of silent mutations. The ability of E4orf4 to induce cell death in the various samples was determined by a DAPI assay, in which the frequency of appearance of nuclei with apoptotic morphologies in the transfected cell population was measured7-9
The protocol described here can be utilized for determination of the functional contribution of various proteins to induction of cell death by their protein partners in cases when constitutive knockdown may be cell lethal.
Genetics, Issue 68, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Microbiology, Medicine, Cell death, adenovirus, E4orf4, DAPI assay, conditional knockdown, shRNA
Monitoring Dynamic Changes In Mitochondrial Calcium Levels During Apoptosis Using A Genetically Encoded Calcium Sensor
Institutions: University of Texas Medical Branch.
Dynamic changes in intracellular calcium concentration in response to various stimuli regulates many cellular processes such as proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis1
. During apoptosis, calcium accumulation in mitochondria promotes the release of pro-apoptotic factors from the mitochondria into the cytosol2
. It is therefore of interest to directly measure mitochondrial calcium in living cells in situ
during apoptosis. High-resolution fluorescent imaging of cells loaded with dual-excitation ratiometric and non-ratiometric synthetic calcium indicator dyes has been proven to be a reliable and versatile tool to study various aspects of intracellular calcium signaling. Measuring cytosolic calcium fluxes using these techniques is relatively straightforward. However, measuring intramitochondrial calcium levels in intact cells using synthetic calcium indicators such as rhod-2 and rhod-FF is more challenging. Synthetic indicators targeted to mitochondria have blunted responses to repetitive increases in mitochondrial calcium, and disrupt mitochondrial morphology3
. Additionally, synthetic indicators tend to leak out of mitochondria over several hours which makes them unsuitable for long-term experiments. Thus, genetically encoded calcium indicators based upon green fluorescent protein (GFP)4
targeted to mitochondria have greatly facilitated measurement of mitochondrial calcium dynamics. Here, we describe a simple method for real-time measurement of mitochondrial calcium fluxes in response to different stimuli. The method is based on fluorescence microscopy of 'ratiometric-pericam' which is selectively targeted to mitochondria. Ratiometric pericam is a calcium indicator based on a fusion of circularly permuted yellow fluorescent protein and calmodulin4
. Binding of calcium to ratiometric pericam causes a shift of its excitation peak from 415 nm to 494 nm, while the emission spectrum, which peaks around 515 nm, remains unchanged. Ratiometric pericam binds a single calcium ion with a dissociation constant in vitro
of ~1.7 μM4
. These properties of ratiometric pericam allow the quantification of rapid and long-term changes in mitochondrial calcium concentration. Furthermore, we describe adaptation of this methodology to a standard wide-field calcium imaging microscope with commonly available filter sets. Using two distinct agonists, the purinergic agonist ATP and apoptosis-inducing drug staurosporine, we demonstrate that this method is appropriate for monitoring changes in mitochondrial calcium concentration with a temporal resolution of seconds to hours. Furthermore, we also demonstrate that ratiometric pericam is also useful for measuring mitochondrial fission/fragmentation during apoptosis. Thus, ratiometric pericam is particularly well suited for continuous long-term measurement of mitochondrial calcium dynamics during apoptosis.
Cellular Biology, Issue 50, Ratiometric pericam, mitochondria, calcium, apoptosis, staurosporine, live cell imaging
Determination of Mitochondrial Membrane Potential and Reactive Oxygen Species in Live Rat Cortical Neurons
Institutions: Loyola University Chicago.
Mitochondrial membrane potential (ΔΨm) is critical for maintaining the physiological function of the respiratory chain to generate ATP. A significant loss of ΔΨm renders cells depleted of energy with subsequent death. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are important signaling molecules, but their accumulation in pathological conditions leads to oxidative stress. The two major sources of ROS in cells are environmental toxins and the process of oxidative phosphorylation. Mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress have been implicated in the pathophysiology of many diseases; therefore, the ability to determine ΔΨm and ROS can provide important clues about the physiological status of the cell and the function of the mitochondria.
Several fluorescent probes (Rhodamine 123, TMRM, TMRE, JC-1) can be used to determine Δψm in a variety of cell types, and many fluorescence indicators (Dihydroethidium, Dihydrorhodamine 123, H2
DCF-DA) can be used to determine ROS. Nearly all of the available fluorescence probes used to assess ΔΨm or ROS are single-wavelength indicators, which increase or decrease their fluorescence intensity proportional to a stimulus that increases or decreases the levels of ΔΨm or ROS. Thus, it is imperative to measure the fluorescence intensity of these probes at the baseline level and after the application of a specific stimulus. This allows one to determine the percentage of change in fluorescence intensity between the baseline level and a stimulus. This change in fluorescence intensity reflects the change in relative levels of ΔΨm or ROS. In this video, we demonstrate how to apply the fluorescence indicator, TMRM, in rat cortical neurons to determine the percentage change in TMRM fluorescence intensity between the baseline level and after applying FCCP, a mitochondrial uncoupler. The lower levels of TMRM fluorescence resulting from FCCP treatment reflect the depolarization of mitochondrial membrane potential. We also show how to apply the fluorescence probe H2
DCF-DA to assess the level of ROS in cortical neurons, first at baseline and then after application of H2
. This protocol (with minor modifications) can be also used to determine changes in ∆Ψm and ROS in different cell types and in neurons isolated from other brain regions.
Neuroscience, Issue 51, Mitochondrial membrane potential, reactive oxygen species, neuroscience, cortical neurons
Assessment of Mitochondrial Functions and Cell Viability in Renal Cells Overexpressing Protein Kinase C Isozymes
Institutions: University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences .
The protein kinase C (PKC) family of isozymes is involved in numerous physiological and pathological processes. Our recent data demonstrate that PKC regulates mitochondrial function and cellular energy status. Numerous reports demonstrated that the activation of PKC-a and PKC-ε improves mitochondrial function in the ischemic heart and mediates cardioprotection. In contrast, we have demonstrated that PKC-α and PKC-ε are involved in nephrotoxicant-induced mitochondrial dysfunction and cell death in kidney cells. Therefore, the goal of this study was to develop an in vitro
model of renal cells maintaining active mitochondrial functions in which PKC isozymes could be selectively activated or inhibited to determine their role in regulation of oxidative phosphorylation and cell survival. Primary cultures of renal proximal tubular cells (RPTC) were cultured in improved conditions resulting in mitochondrial respiration and activity of mitochondrial enzymes similar to those in RPTC in vivo
. Because traditional transfection techniques (Lipofectamine, electroporation) are inefficient in primary cultures and have adverse effects on mitochondrial function, PKC-ε mutant cDNAs were delivered to RPTC through adenoviral vectors. This approach results in transfection of over 90% cultured RPTC.
Here, we present methods for assessing the role of PKC-ε in: 1. regulation of mitochondrial morphology and functions associated with ATP synthesis, and 2. survival of RPTC in primary culture. PKC-ε is activated by overexpressing the constitutively active PKC-ε mutant. PKC-ε is inhibited by overexpressing the inactive mutant of PKC-ε. Mitochondrial function is assessed by examining respiration, integrity of the respiratory chain, activities of respiratory complexes and F0
-ATPase, ATP production rate, and ATP content. Respiration is assessed in digitonin-permeabilized RPTC as state 3 (maximum respiration in the presence of excess substrates and ADP) and uncoupled respirations. Integrity of the respiratory chain is assessed by measuring activities of all four complexes of the respiratory chain in isolated mitochondria. Capacity of oxidative phosphorylation is evaluated by measuring the mitochondrial membrane potential, ATP production rate, and activity of F0
-ATPase. Energy status of RPTC is assessed by determining the intracellular ATP content. Mitochondrial morphology in live cells is visualized using MitoTracker Red 580, a fluorescent dye that specifically accumulates in mitochondria, and live monolayers are examined under a fluorescent microscope. RPTC viability is assessed using annexin V/propidium iodide staining followed by flow cytometry to determine apoptosis and oncosis.
These methods allow for a selective activation/inhibition of individual PKC isozymes to assess their role in cellular functions in a variety of physiological and pathological conditions that can be reproduced in in vitro
Cellular Biology, Issue 71, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Pharmacology, Physiology, Medicine, Protein, Mitochondrial dysfunction, mitochondria, protein kinase C, renal proximal tubular cells, reactive oxygen species, oxygen consumption, electron transport chain, respiratory complexes, ATP, adenovirus, primary culture, ischemia, cells, flow cytometry
Ratiometric Biosensors that Measure Mitochondrial Redox State and ATP in Living Yeast Cells
Institutions: Columbia University, Columbia University.
Mitochondria have roles in many cellular processes, from energy metabolism and calcium homeostasis to control of cellular lifespan and programmed cell death. These processes affect and are affected by the redox status of and ATP production by mitochondria. Here, we describe the use of two ratiometric, genetically encoded biosensors that can detect mitochondrial redox state and ATP levels at subcellular resolution in living yeast cells. Mitochondrial redox state is measured using redox-sensitive Green Fluorescent Protein (roGFP) that is targeted to the mitochondrial matrix. Mito-roGFP contains cysteines at positions 147 and 204 of GFP, which undergo reversible and environment-dependent oxidation and reduction, which in turn alter the excitation spectrum of the protein. MitGO-ATeam is a Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) probe in which the ε subunit of the Fo
-ATP synthase is sandwiched between FRET donor and acceptor fluorescent proteins. Binding of ATP to the ε subunit results in conformation changes in the protein that bring the FRET donor and acceptor in close proximity and allow for fluorescence resonance energy transfer from the donor to acceptor.
Bioengineering, Issue 77, Microbiology, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, life sciences, roGFP, redox-sensitive green fluorescent protein, GO-ATeam, ATP, FRET, ROS, mitochondria, biosensors, GFP, ImageJ, microscopy, confocal microscopy, cell, imaging
Methods to Assess Subcellular Compartments of Muscle in C. elegans
Institutions: University of Nottingham.
Muscle is a dynamic tissue that responds to changes in nutrition, exercise, and disease state. The loss of muscle mass and function with disease and age are significant public health burdens. We currently understand little about the genetic regulation of muscle health with disease or age. The nematode C. elegans
is an established model for understanding the genomic regulation of biological processes of interest. This worm’s body wall muscles display a large degree of homology with the muscles of higher metazoan species. Since C. elegans
is a transparent organism, the localization of GFP to mitochondria and sarcomeres allows visualization of these structures in vivo
. Similarly, feeding animals cationic dyes, which accumulate based on the existence of a mitochondrial membrane potential, allows the assessment of mitochondrial function in vivo
. These methods, as well as assessment of muscle protein homeostasis, are combined with assessment of whole animal muscle function, in the form of movement assays, to allow correlation of sub-cellular defects with functional measures of muscle performance. Thus, C. elegans
provides a powerful platform with which to assess the impact of mutations, gene knockdown, and/or chemical compounds upon muscle structure and function. Lastly, as GFP, cationic dyes, and movement assays are assessed non-invasively, prospective studies of muscle structure and function can be conducted across the whole life course and this at present cannot be easily investigated in vivo
in any other organism.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, Physiology, C. elegans, muscle, mitochondria, sarcomeres, ageing
Activation of Apoptosis by Cytoplasmic Microinjection of Cytochrome c
Institutions: University of North Carolina , University of North Carolina .
Apoptosis, or programmed cell death, is a conserved and highly regulated pathway by which cells die1
. Apoptosis can be triggered when cells encounter a wide range of cytotoxic stresses. These insults initiate signaling cascades that ultimately cause the release of cytochrome c
from the mitochondrial intermembrane space to the cytoplasm2
. The release of cytochrome c
from mitochondria is a key event that triggers the rapid activation of caspases, the key cellular proteases which ultimately execute cell death3-4
The pathway of apoptosis is regulated at points upstream and downstream of cytochrome c
release from mitochondria5
. In order to study the post-mitochondrial regulation of caspase activation, many investigators have turned to direct cytoplasmic microinjection of holocytochrome c
(heme-attached) protein into cells6-9
. Cytochrome c
is normally localized to the mitochondria where attachment of a heme group is necessary to enable it to activate apoptosis10-11
. Therefore, to directly activate caspases, it is necessary to inject the holocytochrome c
protein instead of its cDNA, because while the expression of cytochrome c
from cDNA constructs will result in mitochondrial targeting and heme attachment, it will be sequestered from cytosolic caspases. Thus, the direct cytosolic microinjection of purified heme-attached cytochrome c
protein is a useful tool to mimic mitochondrial cytochrome c
release and apoptosis without the use of toxic insults which cause cellular and mitochondrial damage.
In this article, we describe a method for the microinjection of cytochrome c
protein into cells, using mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) and primary sympathetic neurons as examples. While this protocol focuses on the injection of cytochrome c
for investigations of apoptosis, the techniques shown here can also be easily adapted for microinjection of other proteins of interest.
Cellular Biology, Issue 52, Microinjection, apoptosis, cytochrome c, fibroblasts, neurons
Analysis of Oxidative Stress in Zebrafish Embryos
Institutions: University of Torino, Vesalius Research Center, VIB.
High levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) may cause a change of cellular redox state towards oxidative stress condition. This situation causes oxidation of molecules (lipid, DNA, protein) and leads to cell death. Oxidative stress also impacts the progression of several pathological conditions such as diabetes, retinopathies, neurodegeneration, and cancer. Thus, it is important to define tools to investigate oxidative stress conditions not only at the level of single cells but also in the context of whole organisms. Here, we consider the zebrafish embryo as a useful in vivo
system to perform such studies and present a protocol to measure in vivo
oxidative stress. Taking advantage of fluorescent ROS probes and zebrafish transgenic fluorescent lines, we develop two different methods to measure oxidative stress in vivo
: i) a “whole embryo ROS-detection method” for qualitative measurement of oxidative stress and ii) a “single-cell ROS detection method” for quantitative measurements of oxidative stress. Herein, we demonstrate the efficacy of these procedures by increasing oxidative stress in tissues by oxidant agents and physiological or genetic methods. This protocol is amenable for forward genetic screens and it will help address cause-effect relationships of ROS in animal models of oxidative stress-related pathologies such as neurological disorders and cancer.
Developmental Biology, Issue 89, Danio rerio, zebrafish embryos, endothelial cells, redox state analysis, oxidative stress detection, in vivo ROS measurements, FACS (fluorescence activated cell sorter), molecular probes
Viability Assays for Cells in Culture
Institutions: Duquesne University.
Manual cell counts on a microscope are a sensitive means of assessing cellular viability but are time-consuming and therefore expensive. Computerized viability assays are expensive in terms of equipment but can be faster and more objective than manual cell counts. The present report describes the use of three such viability assays. Two of these assays are infrared and one is luminescent. Both infrared assays rely on a 16 bit Odyssey Imager. One infrared assay uses the DRAQ5 stain for nuclei combined with the Sapphire stain for cytosol and is visualized in the 700 nm channel. The other infrared assay, an In-Cell Western, uses antibodies against cytoskeletal proteins (α-tubulin or microtubule associated protein 2) and labels them in the 800 nm channel. The third viability assay is a commonly used luminescent assay for ATP, but we use a quarter of the recommended volume to save on cost. These measurements are all linear and correlate with the number of cells plated, but vary in sensitivity. All three assays circumvent time-consuming microscopy and sample the entire well, thereby reducing sampling error. Finally, all of the assays can easily be completed within one day of the end of the experiment, allowing greater numbers of experiments to be performed within short timeframes. However, they all rely on the assumption that cell numbers remain in proportion to signal strength after treatments, an assumption that is sometimes not met, especially for cellular ATP. Furthermore, if cells increase or decrease in size after treatment, this might affect signal strength without affecting cell number. We conclude that all viability assays, including manual counts, suffer from a number of caveats, but that computerized viability assays are well worth the initial investment. Using all three assays together yields a comprehensive view of cellular structure and function.
Cellular Biology, Issue 83, In-cell Western, DRAQ5, Sapphire, Cell Titer Glo, ATP, primary cortical neurons, toxicity, protection, N-acetyl cysteine, hormesis
Peptide-based Identification of Functional Motifs and their Binding Partners
Institutions: Morehouse School of Medicine, Institute for Systems Biology, Universiti Sains Malaysia.
Specific short peptides derived from motifs found in full-length proteins, in our case HIV-1 Nef, not only retain their biological function, but can also competitively inhibit the function of the full-length protein. A set of 20 Nef scanning peptides, 20 amino acids in length with each overlapping 10 amino acids of its neighbor, were used to identify motifs in Nef responsible for its induction of apoptosis. Peptides containing these apoptotic motifs induced apoptosis at levels comparable to the full-length Nef protein. A second peptide, derived from the Secretion Modification Region (SMR) of Nef, retained the ability to interact with cellular proteins involved in Nef's secretion in exosomes (exNef). This SMRwt peptide was used as the "bait" protein in co-immunoprecipitation experiments to isolate cellular proteins that bind specifically to Nef's SMR motif. Protein transfection and antibody inhibition was used to physically disrupt the interaction between Nef and mortalin, one of the isolated SMR-binding proteins, and the effect was measured with a fluorescent-based exNef secretion assay. The SMRwt peptide's ability to outcompete full-length Nef for cellular proteins that bind the SMR motif, make it the first inhibitor of exNef secretion. Thus, by employing the techniques described here, which utilize the unique properties of specific short peptides derived from motifs found in full-length proteins, one may accelerate the identification of functional motifs in proteins and the development of peptide-based inhibitors of pathogenic functions.
Virology, Issue 76, Biochemistry, Immunology, Infection, Infectious Diseases, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Genetics, Microbiology, Genomics, Proteins, Exosomes, HIV, Peptides, Exocytosis, protein trafficking, secretion, HIV-1, Nef, Secretion Modification Region, SMR, peptide, AIDS, assay
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
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 (http://www.proteinwisdom.org), 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
Bladder Smooth Muscle Strip Contractility as a Method to Evaluate Lower Urinary Tract Pharmacology
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
We describe an in vitro
method to measure bladder smooth muscle contractility, and its use for investigating physiological and pharmacological properties of the smooth muscle as well as changes induced by pathology. This method provides critical information for understanding bladder function while overcoming major methodological difficulties encountered in in vivo
experiments, such as surgical and pharmacological manipulations that affect stability and survival of the preparations, the use of human tissue, and/or the use of expensive chemicals. It also provides a way to investigate the properties of each bladder component (i.e.
smooth muscle, mucosa, nerves) in healthy and pathological conditions.
The urinary bladder is removed from an anesthetized animal, placed in Krebs solution and cut into strips. Strips are placed into a chamber filled with warm Krebs solution. One end is attached to an isometric tension transducer to measure contraction force, the other end is attached to a fixed rod. Tissue is stimulated by directly adding compounds to the bath or by electric field stimulation electrodes that activate nerves, similar to triggering bladder contractions in vivo
. We demonstrate the use of this method to evaluate spontaneous smooth muscle contractility during development and after an experimental spinal cord injury, the nature of neurotransmission (transmitters and receptors involved), factors involved in modulation of smooth muscle activity, the role of individual bladder components, and species and organ differences in response to pharmacological agents. Additionally, it could be used for investigating intracellular pathways involved in contraction and/or relaxation of the smooth muscle, drug structure-activity relationships and evaluation of transmitter release.
The in vitro
smooth muscle contractility method has been used extensively for over 50 years, and has provided data that significantly contributed to our understanding of bladder function as well as to pharmaceutical development of compounds currently used clinically for bladder management.
Medicine, Issue 90, Krebs, species differences, in vitro, smooth muscle contractility, neural stimulation
Direct Imaging of ER Calcium with Targeted-Esterase Induced Dye Loading (TED)
Institutions: University of Wuerzburg, Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology, Martinsried, Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich.
Visualization of calcium dynamics is important to understand the role of calcium in cell physiology. To examine calcium dynamics, synthetic fluorescent Ca2+
indictors have become popular. Here we demonstrate TED (= targeted-esterase induced dye loading), a method to improve the release of Ca2+
indicator dyes in the ER lumen of different cell types. To date, TED was used in cell lines, glial cells, and neurons in vitro
. TED bases on efficient, recombinant targeting of a high carboxylesterase activity to the ER lumen using vector-constructs that express Carboxylesterases (CES). The latest TED vectors contain a core element of CES2 fused to a red fluorescent protein, thus enabling simultaneous two-color imaging. The dynamics of free calcium in the ER are imaged in one color, while the corresponding ER structure appears in red. At the beginning of the procedure, cells are transduced with a lentivirus. Subsequently, the infected cells are seeded on coverslips to finally enable live cell imaging. Then, living cells are incubated with the acetoxymethyl ester (AM-ester) form of low-affinity Ca2+
indicators, for instance Fluo5N-AM, Mag-Fluo4-AM, or Mag-Fura2-AM. The esterase activity in the ER cleaves off hydrophobic side chains from the AM form of the Ca2+
indicator and a hydrophilic fluorescent dye/Ca2+
complex is formed and trapped in the ER lumen. After dye loading, the cells are analyzed at an inverted confocal laser scanning microscope. Cells are continuously perfused with Ringer-like solutions and the ER calcium dynamics are directly visualized by time-lapse imaging. Calcium release from the ER is identified by a decrease in fluorescence intensity in regions of interest, whereas the refilling of the ER calcium store produces an increase in fluorescence intensity. Finally, the change in fluorescent intensity over time is determined by calculation of ΔF/F0
Cellular Biology, Issue 75, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Bioengineering, Virology, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Surgery, Endoplasmic Reticulum, ER, Calcium Signaling, calcium store, calcium imaging, calcium indicator, metabotropic signaling, Ca2+, neurons, cells, mouse, animal model, cell culture, targeted esterase induced dye loading, imaging
A Faster, High Resolution, mtPA-GFP-based Mitochondrial Fusion Assay Acquiring Kinetic Data of Multiple Cells in Parallel Using Confocal Microscopy
Institutions: Tufts School of Medicine, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, Boston University Medical Center.
Mitochondrial fusion plays an essential role in mitochondrial calcium homeostasis, bioenergetics, autophagy and quality control. Fusion is quantified in living cells by photo-conversion of matrix targeted photoactivatable GFP (mtPAGFP) in a subset of mitochondria. The rate at which the photoconverted molecules equilibrate across the entire mitochondrial population is used as a measure of fusion activity. Thus far measurements were performed using a single cell time lapse approach, quantifying the equilibration in one cell over an hour. Here, we scale up and automate a previously published live cell method based on using mtPAGFP and a low concentration of TMRE (15 nm). This method involves photoactivating a small portion of the mitochondrial network, collecting highly resolved stacks of confocal sections every 15 min for 1 hour, and quantifying the change in signal intensity. Depending on several factors such as ease of finding PAGFP expressing cells, and the signal of the photoactivated regions, it is possible to collect around 10 cells within the 15 min intervals. This provides a significant improvement in the time efficiency of this assay while maintaining the highly resolved subcellular quantification as well as the kinetic parameters necessary to capture the detail of mitochondrial behavior in its native cytoarchitectural environment.
Mitochondrial dynamics play a role in many cellular processes including respiration, calcium regulation, and apoptosis1,2,3,13
. The structure of the mitochondrial network affects the function of mitochondria, and the way they interact with the rest of the cell. Undergoing constant division and fusion, mitochondrial networks attain various shapes ranging from highly fused networks, to being more fragmented. Interestingly, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Charcot Marie Tooth 2A, and dominant optic atrophy have been correlated with altered mitochondrial morphology, namely fragmented networks4,10,13
. Often times, upon fragmentation, mitochondria become depolarized, and upon accumulation this leads to impaired cell function18
. Mitochondrial fission has been shown to signal a cell to progress toward apoptosis. It can also provide a mechanism by which to separate depolarized and inactive mitochondria to keep the bulk of the network robust14
. Fusion of mitochondria, on the other hand, leads to sharing of matrix proteins, solutes, mtDNA and the electrochemical gradient, and also seems to prevent progression to apoptosis9
. How fission and fusion of mitochondria affects cell homeostasis and ultimately the functioning of the organism needs further understanding, and therefore the continuous development and optimization of how to gather information on these phenomena is necessary.
Existing mitochondrial fusion assays have revealed various insights into mitochondrial physiology, each having its own advantages. The hybrid PEG fusion assay7
, mixes two populations of differently labeled cells (mtRFP and mtYFP), and analyzes the amount of mixing and colocalization of fluorophores in fused, multinucleated, cells. Although this method has yielded valuable information, not all cell types can fuse, and the conditions under which fusion is stimulated involves the use of toxic drugs that likely affect the normal fusion process. More recently, a cell free technique has been devised, using isolated mitochondria to observe fusion events based on a luciferase assay1,5
. Two human cell lines are targeted with either the amino or a carboxy terminal part of Renilla luciferase along with a leucine zipper to ensure dimerization upon mixing. Mitochondria are isolated from each cell line, and fused. The fusion reaction can occur without the cytosol under physiological conditions in the presence of energy, appropriate temperature and inner mitochondrial membrane potential. Interestingly, the cytosol was found to modulate the extent of fusion, demonstrating that cell signaling regulates the fusion process 4,5
. This assay will be very useful for high throughput screening to identify components of the fusion machinery and also pharmacological compounds that may affect mitochondrial dynamics. However, more detailed whole cell mitochondrial assays will be needed to complement this in vitro assay to observe these events within a cellular environment.
A technique for monitoring whole-cell mitochondrial dynamics has been in use for some time and is based on a mitochondrially-targeted photoactivatable GFP (mtPAGFP)6,11
. Upon expression of the mtPAGFP, a small portion of the mitochondrial network is photoactivated (10-20%), and the spread of the signal to the rest of the mitochondrial network is recorded every 15 minutes for 1 hour using time lapse confocal imaging. Each fusion event leads to a dilution of signal intensity, enabling quantification of the fusion rate. Although fusion and fission are continuously occurring in cells, this technique only monitors fusion as fission does not lead to a dilution of the PAGFP signal6
. Co-labeling with low levels of TMRE (7-15 nM in INS1 cells) allows quantification of the membrane potential of mitochondria. When mitochondria are hyperpolarized they uptake more TMRE, and when they depolarize they lose the TMRE dye. Mitochondria that depolarize no longer have a sufficient membrane potential and tend not to fuse as efficiently if at all. Therefore, active fusing mitochondria can be tracked with these low levels of TMRE9,15
. Accumulation of depolarized mitochondria that lack a TMRE signal may be a sign of phototoxicity or cell death. Higher concentrations of TMRE render mitochondria very sensitive to laser light, and therefore great care must be taken to avoid overlabeling with TMRE. If the effect of depolarization of mitochondria is the topic of interest, a technique using slightly higher levels of TMRE and more intense laser light can be used to depolarize mitochondria in a controlled fashion (Mitra and Lippincott-Schwartz, 2010). To ensure that toxicity due to TMRE is not an issue, we suggest exposing loaded cells (3-15 nM TMRE) to the imaging parameters that will be used in the assay (perhaps 7 stacks of 6 optical sections in a row), and assessing cell health after 2 hours. If the mitochondria appear too fragmented and cells are dying, other mitochondrial markers, such as dsRED or Mitotracker red could be used instead of TMRE.
The mtPAGFP method has revealed details about mitochondrial network behavior that could not be visualized using other methods. For example, we now know that mitochondrial fusion can be full or transient, where matrix content can mix without changing the overall network morphology. Additionally, we know that the probability of fusion is independent of contact duration and organelle dimension, is influenced by organelle motility, membrane potential and history of previous fusion activity8,15,16,17
In this manuscript, we describe a methodology for scaling up the previously published protocol using mtPAGFP and 15nM TMRE8
in order to examine multiple cells at a time and improve the time efficiency of data collection without sacrificing the subcellular resolution. This has been made possible by the use of an automated microscope stage, and programmable image acquisition software. Zen software from Zeiss allows the user to mark and track several designated cells expressing mtPAGFP. Each of these cells can be photoactivated in a particular region of interest, and stacks of confocal slices can be monitored for mtPAGFP signal as well as TMRE at specified intervals. Other confocal systems could be used to perform this protocol provided there is an automated stage that is programmable, an incubator with CO2
, and a means by which to photoactivate the PAGFP; either a multiphoton laser, or a 405 nm diode laser.
Molecular Biology, Issue 65, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Physics, confocal microscopy, mitochondria, fusion, TMRE, mtPAGFP, INS1, mitochondrial dynamics, mitochondrial morphology, mitochondrial network