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.
27 Related JoVE Articles!
Fabricating Nanogaps by Nanoskiving
Institutions: University of Groningen.
There are several methods of fabricating nanogaps with controlled spacings, but the precise control over the sub-nanometer spacing between two electrodes-and generating them in practical quantities-is still challenging. The preparation of nanogap electrodes using nanoskiving, which is a form of edge lithography, is a fast, simple and powerful technique. This method is an entirely mechanical process which does not include any photo- or electron-beam lithographic steps and does not require any special equipment or infrastructure such as clean rooms. Nanoskiving is used to fabricate electrically addressable nanogaps with control over all three dimensions; the smallest dimension of these structures is defined by the thickness of the sacrificial layer (Al or Ag) or self-assembled monolayers. These wires can be manually positioned by transporting them on drops of water and are directly electrically-addressable; no further lithography is required to connect them to an electrometer.
Chemistry, Issue 75, Materials Science, Chemical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Physics, Nanotechnology, nanodevices (electronic), Nanoskiving, nanogaps, nanofabrication, molecular electronics, nanowires, fabrication, etching, ultramicrotome, scanning electron microscopy, SEM
Mass Cytometry: Protocol for Daily Tuning and Running Cell Samples on a CyTOF Mass Cytometer
Institutions: Stanford University .
In recent years, the rapid analysis of single cells has commonly been performed using flow cytometry and fluorescently-labeled antibodies. However, the issue of spectral overlap of fluorophore emissions has limited the number of simultaneous probes. In contrast, the new CyTOF mass cytometer by DVS Sciences couples a liquid single-cell introduction system to an ICP-MS.1
Rather than fluorophores, chelating polymers containing highly-enriched metal isotopes are coupled to antibodies or other specific probes.2-5
Because of the metal purity and mass resolution of the mass cytometer, there is no "spectral overlap" from neighboring isotopes, and therefore no need for compensation matrices. Additionally, due to the use of lanthanide metals, there is no biological background and therefore no equivalent of autofluorescence. With a mass window spanning atomic mass 103-203, theoretically up to 100 labels could be distinguished simultaneously. Currently, more than 35 channels are available using the chelating reagents available from DVS Sciences, allowing unprecedented dissection of the immunological profile of samples.6-7
Disadvantages to mass cytometry include the strict requirement for a separate metal isotope per probe (no equivalent of forward or side scatter), and the fact that it is a destructive technique (no possibility of sorting recovery). The current configuration of the mass cytometer also has a cell transmission rate of only ~25%, thus requiring a higher input number of cells.
Optimal daily performance of the mass cytometer requires several steps. The basic goal of the optimization is to maximize the measured signal intensity of the desired metal isotopes (M) while minimizing the formation of oxides (M+16) that will decrease the M signal intensity and interfere with any desired signal at M+16. The first step is to warm up the machine so a hot, stable ICP plasma has been established. Second, the settings for current and make-up gas flow rate must be optimized on a daily basis. During sample collection, the maximum cell event rate is limited by detector efficiency and processing speed to 1000 cells/sec. However, depending on the sample quality, a slower cell event rate (300-500 cells/sec) is usually desirable to allow better resolution between cells events and thus maximize intact singlets over doublets and debris. Finally, adequate cleaning of the machine at the end of the day helps minimize background signal due to free metal.
Bioengineering, Issue 69, CyTOF, mass cytometry, PBMCs, ICP-MS, multiparametric
Laboratory-determined Phosphorus Flux from Lake Sediments as a Measure of Internal Phosphorus Loading
Institutions: Grand Valley State University.
Eutrophication is a water quality issue in lakes worldwide, and there is a critical need to identify and control nutrient sources. Internal phosphorus (P) loading from lake sediments can account for a substantial portion of the total P load in eutrophic, and some mesotrophic, lakes. Laboratory determination of P release rates from sediment cores is one approach for determining the role of internal P loading and guiding management decisions. Two principal alternatives to experimental determination of sediment P release exist for estimating internal load: in situ
measurements of changes in hypolimnetic P over time and P mass balance. The experimental approach using laboratory-based sediment incubations to quantify internal P load is a direct method, making it a valuable tool for lake management and restoration.
Laboratory incubations of sediment cores can help determine the relative importance of internal vs. external P loads, as well as be used to answer a variety of lake management and research questions. We illustrate the use of sediment core incubations to assess the effectiveness of an aluminum sulfate (alum) treatment for reducing sediment P release. Other research questions that can be investigated using this approach include the effects of sediment resuspension and bioturbation on P release.
The approach also has limitations. Assumptions must be made with respect to: extrapolating results from sediment cores to the entire lake; deciding over what time periods to measure nutrient release; and addressing possible core tube artifacts. A comprehensive dissolved oxygen monitoring strategy to assess temporal and spatial redox status in the lake provides greater confidence in annual P loads estimated from sediment core incubations.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Limnology, internal loading, eutrophication, nutrient flux, sediment coring, phosphorus, lakes
Comprehensive Analysis of Transcription Dynamics from Brain Samples Following Behavioral Experience
Institutions: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The encoding of experiences in the brain and the consolidation of long-term memories depend on gene transcription. Identifying the function of specific genes in encoding experience is one of the main objectives of molecular neuroscience. Furthermore, the functional association of defined genes with specific behaviors has implications for understanding the basis of neuropsychiatric disorders. Induction of robust transcription programs has been observed in the brains of mice following various behavioral manipulations. While some genetic elements are utilized recurrently following different behavioral manipulations and in different brain nuclei, transcriptional programs are overall unique to the inducing stimuli and the structure in which they are studied1,2
In this publication, a protocol is described for robust and comprehensive transcriptional profiling from brain nuclei of mice in response to behavioral manipulation. The protocol is demonstrated in the context of analysis of gene expression dynamics in the nucleus accumbens following acute cocaine experience. Subsequent to a defined in vivo
experience, the target neural tissue is dissected; followed by RNA purification, reverse transcription and utilization of microfluidic arrays for comprehensive qPCR analysis of multiple target genes. This protocol is geared towards comprehensive analysis (addressing 50-500 genes) of limiting quantities of starting material, such as small brain samples or even single cells.
The protocol is most advantageous for parallel analysis of multiple samples (e.g.
single cells, dynamic analysis following pharmaceutical, viral or behavioral perturbations). However, the protocol could also serve for the characterization and quality assurance of samples prior to whole-genome studies by microarrays or RNAseq, as well as validation of data obtained from whole-genome studies.
Behavior, Issue 90,
Brain, behavior, RNA, transcription, nucleus accumbens, cocaine, high-throughput qPCR, experience-dependent plasticity, gene regulatory networks, microdissection
Training Synesthetic Letter-color Associations by Reading in Color
Institutions: University of Amsterdam.
Synesthesia is a rare condition in which a stimulus from one modality automatically and consistently triggers unusual sensations in the same and/or other modalities. A relatively common and well-studied type is grapheme-color synesthesia, defined as the consistent experience of color when viewing, hearing and thinking about letters, words and numbers. We describe our method for investigating to what extent synesthetic associations between letters and colors can be learned by reading in color in nonsynesthetes. Reading in color is a special method for training associations in the sense that the associations are learned implicitly while the reader reads text as he or she normally would and it does not require explicit computer-directed training methods. In this protocol, participants are given specially prepared books to read in which four high-frequency letters are paired with four high-frequency colors. Participants receive unique sets of letter-color pairs based on their pre-existing preferences for colored letters. A modified Stroop task is administered before and after reading in order to test for learned letter-color associations and changes in brain activation. In addition to objective testing, a reading experience questionnaire is administered that is designed to probe for differences in subjective experience. A subset of questions may predict how well an individual learned the associations from reading in color. Importantly, we are not claiming that this method will cause each individual to develop grapheme-color synesthesia, only that it is possible for certain individuals to form letter-color associations by reading in color and these associations are similar in some aspects to those seen in developmental grapheme-color synesthetes. The method is quite flexible and can be used to investigate different aspects and outcomes of training synesthetic associations, including learning-induced changes in brain function and structure.
Behavior, Issue 84, synesthesia, training, learning, reading, vision, memory, cognition
A Method for Screening and Validation of Resistant Mutations Against Kinase Inhibitors
Institutions: Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
The discovery of BCR/ABL as a driver oncogene in chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) resulted in the development of Imatinib, which, in fact, demonstrated the potential of targeting the kinase in cancers by effectively treating the CML patients. This observation revolutionized drug development to target the oncogenic kinases implicated in various other malignancies, such as, EGFR, B-RAF, KIT and PDGFRs. However, one major drawback of anti-kinase therapies is the emergence of drug resistance mutations rendering the target to have reduced or lost affinity for the drug. Understanding the mechanisms employed by resistant variants not only helps in developing the next generation inhibitors but also gives impetus to clinical management using personalized medicine. We reported a retroviral vector based screening strategy to identify the spectrum of resistance conferring mutations in BCR/ABL, which has helped in developing the next generation BCR/ABL inhibitors. Using Ruxolitinib and JAK2 as a drug target pair, here we describe in vitro
screening methods that utilizes the mouse BAF3 cells expressing the random mutation library of JAK2 kinase.
Genetics, Issue 94, JAK2, BCR/ABL, TKI, random mutagenesis, drug resistance, kinase inhibitors, in-vivo resistance,
Staining Protocols for Human Pancreatic Islets
Institutions: University of Florida .
Estimates of islet area and numbers and endocrine cell composition in the adult human pancreas vary from several hundred thousand to several million and beta mass ranges from 500 to 1500 mg 1-3
. With this known heterogeneity, a standard processing and staining procedure was developed so that pancreatic regions were clearly defined and islets characterized using rigorous histopathology and immunolocalization examinations.
Standardized procedures for processing human pancreas recovered from organ donors are described in part 1 of this series. The pancreas is processed into 3 main regions (head, body, tail) followed by transverse sections. Transverse sections from the pancreas head are further divided, as indicated based on size, and numbered alphabetically to denote subsections. This standardization allows for a complete cross sectional analysis of the head region including the uncinate region which contains islets composed primarily of pancreatic polypeptide cells to the tail region.
The current report comprises part 2 of this series and describes the procedures used for serial sectioning and histopathological characterization of the pancreatic paraffin sections with an emphasis on islet endocrine cells, replication, and T-cell infiltrates. Pathology of pancreatic sections is intended to characterize both exocrine, ductular, and endocrine components. The exocrine compartment is evaluated for the presence of pancreatitis (active or chronic), atrophy, fibrosis, and fat, as well as the duct system, particularly in relationship to the presence of pancreatic intraductal neoplasia4
. Islets are evaluated for morphology, size, and density, endocrine cells, inflammation, fibrosis, amyloid, and the presence of replicating or apoptotic cells using H&E and IHC stains.
The final component described in part 2 is the provision of the stained slides as digitized whole slide images. The digitized slides are organized by case and pancreas region in an online pathology database creating a virtual biobank. Access to this online collection is currently provided to over 200 clinicians and scientists involved in type 1 diabetes research. The online database provides a means for rapid and complete data sharing and for investigators to select blocks for paraffin or frozen serial sections.
Medicine, Issue 63, Physiology, type 1 diabetes, histology, H&E, immunohistochemistry, insulin, beta-cells, glucagon, alpha-cells, pancreatic polypeptide, islet, pancreas, spleen, organ donor
The Crossmodal Congruency Task as a Means to Obtain an Objective Behavioral Measure in the Rubber Hand Illusion Paradigm
Institutions: Macquarie University, Macquarie University, Macquarie University.
The rubber hand illusion (RHI) is a popular experimental paradigm. Participants view touch on an artificial rubber hand while the participants' own hidden hand is touched. If the viewed and felt touches are given at the same time then this is sufficient to induce the compelling experience that the rubber hand is one's own hand. The RHI can be used to investigate exactly how the brain constructs distinct body representations for one's own body. Such representations are crucial for successful interactions with the external world. To obtain a subjective measure of the RHI, researchers typically ask participants to rate statements such as "I felt as if the rubber hand were my hand". Here we demonstrate how the crossmodal congruency task can be used to obtain an objective behavioral measure within this paradigm.
The variant of the crossmodal congruency task we employ involves the presentation of tactile targets and visual distractors. Targets and distractors are spatially congruent (i.e.
same finger) on some trials and incongruent (i.e.
different finger) on others. The difference in performance between incongruent and congruent trials - the crossmodal congruency effect (CCE) - indexes multisensory interactions. Importantly, the CCE is modulated both by viewing a hand as well as the synchrony of viewed and felt touch which are both crucial factors for the RHI.
The use of the crossmodal congruency task within the RHI paradigm has several advantages. It is a simple behavioral measure which can be repeated many times and which can be obtained during the illusion while participants view the artificial hand. Furthermore, this measure is not susceptible to observer and experimenter biases. The combination of the RHI paradigm with the crossmodal congruency task allows in particular for the investigation of multisensory processes which are critical for modulations of body representations as in the RHI.
Behavior, Issue 77, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Psychology, Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms, Psychological Phenomena and Processes, Behavioral Sciences, rubber hand illusion, crossmodal congruency task, crossmodal congruency effect, multisensory processing, body ownership, peripersonal space, clinical techniques
The Use of the Ex Vivo Chandler Loop Apparatus to Assess the Biocompatibility of Modified Polymeric Blood Conduits
Institutions: The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.
The foreign body reaction occurs when a synthetic surface is introduced to the body. It is characterized by adsorption of blood proteins and the subsequent attachment and activation of platelets, monocyte/macrophage adhesion, and inflammatory cell signaling events, leading to post-procedural complications. The Chandler Loop Apparatus is an experimental system that allows researchers to study the molecular and cellular interactions that occur when large volumes of blood are perfused over polymeric conduits. To that end, this apparatus has been used as an ex vivo
model allowing the assessment of the anti-inflammatory properties of various polymer surface modifications. Our laboratory has shown that blood conduits, covalently modified via photoactivation chemistry with recombinant CD47, can confer biocompatibility to polymeric surfaces. Appending CD47 to polymeric surfaces could be an effective means to promote the efficacy of polymeric blood conduits. Herein is the methodology detailing the photoactivation chemistry used to append recombinant CD47 to clinically relevant polymeric blood conduits and the use of the Chandler Loop as an ex vivo
experimental model to examine blood interactions with the CD47 modified and control conduits.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, Chandler loop apparatus, blood perfusion, biocompatibility, CD47, foreign body reaction, polymeric blood conduits
Measuring Oral Fatty Acid Thresholds, Fat Perception, Fatty Food Liking, and Papillae Density in Humans
Institutions: Deakin University.
Emerging evidence from a number of laboratories indicates that humans have the ability to identify fatty acids in the oral cavity, presumably via fatty acid receptors housed on taste cells. Previous research has shown that an individual's oral sensitivity to fatty acid, specifically oleic acid (C18:1) is associated with body mass index (BMI), dietary fat consumption, and the ability to identify fat in foods. We have developed a reliable and reproducible method to assess oral chemoreception of fatty acids, using a milk and C18:1 emulsion, together with an ascending forced choice triangle procedure. In parallel, a food matrix has been developed to assess an individual's ability to perceive fat, in addition to a simple method to assess fatty food liking. As an added measure tongue photography is used to assess papillae density, with higher density often being associated with increased taste sensitivity.
Neuroscience, Issue 88, taste, overweight and obesity, dietary fat, fatty acid, diet, fatty food liking, detection threshold
Forebrain Electrophysiological Recording in Larval Zebrafish
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco .
Epilepsy affects nearly 3 million people in the United States and up to 50 million people worldwide. Defined as the occurrence of spontaneous unprovoked seizures, epilepsy can be acquired as a result of an insult to the brain or a genetic mutation. Efforts to model seizures in animals have primarily utilized acquired insults (convulsant drugs, stimulation or brain injury) and genetic manipulations (antisense knockdown, homologous recombination or transgenesis) in rodents. Zebrafish are a vertebrate model system1-3
that could provide a valuable alternative to rodent-based epilepsy research. Zebrafish are used extensively in the study of vertebrate genetics or development, exhibit a high degree of genetic similarity to mammals and express homologs for ~85% of known human single-gene epilepsy mutations. Because of their small size (4-6 mm in length), zebrafish larvae can be maintained in fluid volumes as low as 100 μl during early development and arrayed in multi-well plates. Reagents can be added directly to the solution in which embryos develop, simplifying drug administration and enabling rapid in vivo
screening of test compounds4
. Synthetic oligonucleotides (morpholinos), mutagenesis, zinc finger nuclease and transgenic approaches can be used to rapidly generate gene knockdown or mutation in zebrafish5-7
. These properties afford zebrafish studies an unprecedented statistical power analysis advantage over rodents in the study of neurological disorders such as epilepsy. Because the "gold standard" for epilepsy research is to monitor and analyze the abnormal electrical discharges that originate in a central brain structure (i.e.
, seizures), a method to efficiently record brain activity in larval zebrafish is described here. This method is an adaptation of conventional extracellular recording techniques and allows for stable long-term monitoring of brain activity in intact zebrafish larvae. Sample recordings are shown for acute seizures induced by bath application of convulsant drugs and spontaneous seizures recorded in a genetically modified fish.
Developmental Biology, Issue 71, Neuroscience, Anatomy, Physiology, Neurobiology, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Surgery, Seizure, development, telencephalon, electrographic, extracellular, field recording, in vivo, electrophysiology, neuron, activity, microsurgery, micropipette, epilepsy, Danio rerio, zebrafish, zebrafish larvae
Protein Purification-free Method of Binding Affinity Determination by Microscale Thermophoresis
Institutions: National Cancer Institute, SAIC-Frederick, Inc., Georgetown University Medical Center, National Cancer Institute.
Quantitative characterization of protein interactions is essential in practically any field of life sciences, particularly drug discovery. Most of currently available methods of KD
determination require access to purified protein of interest, generation of which can be time-consuming and expensive. We have developed a protocol that allows for determination of binding affinity by microscale thermophoresis (MST) without purification of the target protein from cell lysates. The method involves overexpression of the GFP-fused protein and cell lysis in non-denaturing conditions. Application of the method to STAT3-GFP transiently expressed in HEK293 cells allowed to determine for the first time the affinity of the well-studied transcription factor to oligonucleotides with different sequences. The protocol is straightforward and can have a variety of application for studying interactions of proteins with small molecules, peptides, DNA, RNA, and proteins.
Molecular Biology, Issue 78, Biochemistry, Cellular Biology, Genetics, Chemistry, Pharmacology, Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins, Proteins, protein-inhibitor interaction, KD, transcription factor, ligand binding, binding affinity, thermophoresis, fluorescence, microscopy
Tissue Triage and Freezing for Models of Skeletal Muscle Disease
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin, The Ohio State University, Virginia Tech, University of Kentucky, Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Cure Congenital Muscular Dystrophy, Joshua Frase Foundation, University of Washington, University of Arizona.
Skeletal muscle is a unique tissue because of its structure and function, which requires specific protocols for tissue collection to obtain optimal results from functional, cellular, molecular, and pathological evaluations. Due to the subtlety of some pathological abnormalities seen in congenital muscle disorders and the potential for fixation to interfere with the recognition of these features, pathological evaluation of frozen muscle is preferable to fixed muscle when evaluating skeletal muscle for congenital muscle disease. Additionally, the potential to produce severe freezing artifacts in muscle requires specific precautions when freezing skeletal muscle for histological examination that are not commonly used when freezing other tissues. This manuscript describes a protocol for rapid freezing of skeletal muscle using isopentane (2-methylbutane) cooled with liquid nitrogen to preserve optimal skeletal muscle morphology. This procedure is also effective for freezing tissue intended for genetic or protein expression studies. Furthermore, we have integrated our freezing protocol into a broader procedure that also describes preferred methods for the short term triage of tissue for (1) single fiber functional studies and (2) myoblast cell culture, with a focus on the minimum effort necessary to collect tissue and transport it to specialized research or reference labs to complete these studies. Overall, this manuscript provides an outline of how fresh tissue can be effectively distributed for a variety of phenotypic studies and thereby provides standard operating procedures (SOPs) for pathological studies related to congenital muscle disease.
Basic Protocol, Issue 89,
Tissue, Freezing, Muscle, Isopentane, Pathology, Functional Testing, Cell Culture
High Efficiency Differentiation of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells to Cardiomyocytes and Characterization by Flow Cytometry
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin, Stanford University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin, Hong Kong University, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin.
There is an urgent need to develop approaches for repairing the damaged heart, discovering new therapeutic drugs that do not have toxic effects on the heart, and improving strategies to accurately model heart disease. The potential of exploiting human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) technology to generate cardiac muscle “in a dish” for these applications continues to generate high enthusiasm. In recent years, the ability to efficiently generate cardiomyogenic cells from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) has greatly improved, offering us new opportunities to model very early stages of human cardiac development not otherwise accessible. In contrast to many previous methods, the cardiomyocyte differentiation protocol described here does not require cell aggregation or the addition of Activin A or BMP4 and robustly generates cultures of cells that are highly positive for cardiac troponin I and T (TNNI3, TNNT2), iroquois-class homeodomain protein IRX-4 (IRX4), myosin regulatory light chain 2, ventricular/cardiac muscle isoform (MLC2v) and myosin regulatory light chain 2, atrial isoform (MLC2a) by day 10 across all human embryonic stem cell (hESC) and hiPSC lines tested to date. Cells can be passaged and maintained for more than 90 days in culture. The strategy is technically simple to implement and cost-effective. Characterization of cardiomyocytes derived from pluripotent cells often includes the analysis of reference markers, both at the mRNA and protein level. For protein analysis, flow cytometry is a powerful analytical tool for assessing quality of cells in culture and determining subpopulation homogeneity. However, technical variation in sample preparation can significantly affect quality of flow cytometry data. Thus, standardization of staining protocols should facilitate comparisons among various differentiation strategies. Accordingly, optimized staining protocols for the analysis of IRX4, MLC2v, MLC2a, TNNI3, and TNNT2 by flow cytometry are described.
Cellular Biology, Issue 91, human induced pluripotent stem cell, flow cytometry, directed differentiation, cardiomyocyte, IRX4, TNNI3, TNNT2, MCL2v, MLC2a
Real-Time DC-dynamic Biasing Method for Switching Time Improvement in Severely Underdamped Fringing-field Electrostatic MEMS Actuators
Institutions: University of California, Davis, Texas Instruments, Purdue University.
Mechanically underdamped electrostatic fringing-field MEMS actuators are well known for their fast switching operation in response to a unit step input bias voltage. However, the tradeoff for the improved switching performance is a relatively long settling time to reach each gap height in response to various applied voltages. Transient applied bias waveforms are employed to facilitate reduced switching times for electrostatic fringing-field MEMS actuators with high mechanical quality factors. Removing the underlying substrate of the fringing-field actuator creates the low mechanical damping environment necessary to effectively test the concept. The removal of the underlying substrate also a has substantial improvement on the reliability performance of the device in regards to failure due to stiction. Although DC-dynamic biasing is useful in improving settling time, the required slew rates for typical MEMS devices may place aggressive requirements on the charge pumps for fully-integrated on-chip designs. Additionally, there may be challenges integrating the substrate removal step into the back-end-of-line commercial CMOS processing steps. Experimental validation of fabricated actuators demonstrates an improvement of 50x in switching time when compared to conventional step biasing results. Compared to theoretical calculations, the experimental results are in good agreement.
Physics, Issue 90, microelectromechanical systems, actuators, switching time, settling time, electrostatic devices, micromachining, thin film devices
Mechanical Stimulation-induced Calcium Wave Propagation in Cell Monolayers: The Example of Bovine Corneal Endothelial Cells
Institutions: KU Leuven.
Intercellular communication is essential for the coordination of physiological processes between cells in a variety of organs and tissues, including the brain, liver, retina, cochlea and vasculature. In experimental settings, intercellular Ca2+
-waves can be elicited by applying a mechanical stimulus to a single cell. This leads to the release of the intracellular signaling molecules IP3
that initiate the propagation of the Ca2+
-wave concentrically from the mechanically stimulated cell to the neighboring cells. The main molecular pathways that control intercellular Ca2+
-wave propagation are provided by gap junction channels through the direct transfer of IP3
and by hemichannels through the release of ATP. Identification and characterization of the properties and regulation of different connexin and pannexin isoforms as gap junction channels and hemichannels are allowed by the quantification of the spread of the intercellular Ca2+
-wave, siRNA, and the use of inhibitors of gap junction channels and hemichannels. Here, we describe a method to measure intercellular Ca2+
-wave in monolayers of primary corneal endothelial cells loaded with Fluo4-AM in response to a controlled and localized mechanical stimulus provoked by an acute, short-lasting deformation of the cell as a result of touching the cell membrane with a micromanipulator-controlled glass micropipette with a tip diameter of less than 1 μm. We also describe the isolation of primary bovine corneal endothelial cells and its use as model system to assess Cx43-hemichannel activity as the driven force for intercellular Ca2+
-waves through the release of ATP. Finally, we discuss the use, advantages, limitations and alternatives of this method in the context of gap junction channel and hemichannel research.
Cellular Biology, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Biophysics, Immunology, Ophthalmology, Gap Junctions, Connexins, Connexin 43, Calcium Signaling, Ca2+, Cell Communication, Paracrine Communication, Intercellular communication, calcium wave propagation, gap junctions, hemichannels, endothelial cells, cell signaling, cell, isolation, cell culture
Physical, Chemical and Biological Characterization of Six Biochars Produced for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites
Institutions: Royal Military College of Canada, Queen's University.
The physical and chemical properties of biochar vary based on feedstock sources and production conditions, making it possible to engineer biochars with specific functions (e.g.
carbon sequestration, soil quality improvements, or contaminant sorption). In 2013, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) made publically available their Standardized Product Definition and Product Testing Guidelines (Version 1.1) which set standards for physical and chemical characteristics for biochar. Six biochars made from three different feedstocks and at two temperatures were analyzed for characteristics related to their use as a soil amendment. The protocol describes analyses of the feedstocks and biochars and includes: cation exchange capacity (CEC), specific surface area (SSA), organic carbon (OC) and moisture percentage, pH, particle size distribution, and proximate and ultimate analysis. Also described in the protocol are the analyses of the feedstocks and biochars for contaminants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals and mercury as well as nutrients (phosphorous, nitrite and nitrate and ammonium as nitrogen). The protocol also includes the biological testing procedures, earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on the quality assurance / quality control (QA/QC) results of blanks, duplicates, standards and reference materials, all methods were determined adequate for use with biochar and feedstock materials. All biochars and feedstocks were well within the criterion set by the IBI and there were little differences among biochars, except in the case of the biochar produced from construction waste materials. This biochar (referred to as Old biochar) was determined to have elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead, and failed the earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on these results, Old biochar would not be appropriate for use as a soil amendment for carbon sequestration, substrate quality improvements or remediation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, biochar, characterization, carbon sequestration, remediation, International Biochar Initiative (IBI), soil amendment
Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1
. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2
, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3
In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis.
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials
Analysis of Tubular Membrane Networks in Cardiac Myocytes from Atria and Ventricles
Institutions: Heart Research Center Goettingen, University Medical Center Goettingen, German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) partner site Goettingen, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
In cardiac myocytes a complex network of membrane tubules - the transverse-axial tubule system (TATS) - controls deep intracellular signaling functions. While the outer surface membrane and associated TATS membrane components appear to be continuous, there are substantial differences in lipid and protein content. In ventricular myocytes (VMs), certain TATS components are highly abundant contributing to rectilinear tubule networks and regular branching 3D architectures. It is thought that peripheral TATS components propagate action potentials from the cell surface to thousands of remote intracellular sarcoendoplasmic reticulum (SER) membrane contact domains, thereby activating intracellular Ca2+
release units (CRUs). In contrast to VMs, the organization and functional role of TATS membranes in atrial myocytes (AMs) is significantly different and much less understood. Taken together, quantitative structural characterization of TATS membrane networks in healthy and diseased myocytes is an essential prerequisite towards better understanding of functional plasticity and pathophysiological reorganization. Here, we present a strategic combination of protocols for direct quantitative analysis of TATS membrane networks in living VMs and AMs. For this, we accompany primary cell isolations of mouse VMs and/or AMs with critical quality control steps and direct membrane staining protocols for fluorescence imaging of TATS membranes. Using an optimized workflow for confocal or superresolution TATS image processing, binarized and skeletonized data are generated for quantitative analysis of the TATS network and its components. Unlike previously published indirect regional aggregate image analysis strategies, our protocols enable direct characterization of specific components and derive complex physiological properties of TATS membrane networks in living myocytes with high throughput and open access software tools. In summary, the combined protocol strategy can be readily applied for quantitative TATS network studies during physiological myocyte adaptation or disease changes, comparison of different cardiac or skeletal muscle cell types, phenotyping of transgenic models, and pharmacological or therapeutic interventions.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cardiac myocyte, atria, ventricle, heart, primary cell isolation, fluorescence microscopy, membrane tubule, transverse-axial tubule system, image analysis, image processing, T-tubule, collagenase
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
A Method for Mouse Pancreatic Islet Isolation and Intracellular cAMP Determination
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Waterloo.
Uncontrolled glycemia is a hallmark of diabetes mellitus and promotes morbidities like neuropathy, nephropathy, and retinopathy. With the increasing prevalence of diabetes, both immune-mediated type 1 and obesity-linked type 2, studies aimed at delineating diabetes pathophysiology and therapeutic mechanisms are of critical importance. The β-cells of the pancreatic islets of Langerhans are responsible for appropriately secreting insulin in response to elevated blood glucose concentrations. In addition to glucose and other nutrients, the β-cells are also stimulated by specific hormones, termed incretins, which are secreted from the gut in response to a meal and act on β-cell receptors that increase the production of intracellular cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP). Decreased β-cell function, mass, and incretin responsiveness are well-understood to contribute to the pathophysiology of type 2 diabetes, and are also being increasingly linked with type 1 diabetes. The present mouse islet isolation and cAMP determination protocol can be a tool to help delineate mechanisms promoting disease progression and therapeutic interventions, particularly those that are mediated by the incretin receptors or related receptors that act through modulation of intracellular cAMP production. While only cAMP measurements will be described, the described islet isolation protocol creates a clean preparation that also allows for many other downstream applications, including glucose stimulated insulin secretion, [3H
]-thymidine incorporation, protein abundance, and mRNA expression.
Physiology, Issue 88, islet, isolation, insulin secretion, β-cell, diabetes, cAMP production, mouse
Silicon Microchips for Manipulating Cell-cell Interaction
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The role of the cellular microenvironment is recognized as crucial in determining cell fate and function in virtually all mammalian tissues from development to malignant transformation. In particular, interaction with neighboring stroma has been implicated in a plethora of biological phenomena; however, conventional techniques limit the ability to interrogate the spatial and dynamic elements of such interactions.
In Micromechanical Reconfigurable Culture (RC), we employ a micromachined silicon substrate with moving parts to dynamically control cell-cell interactions through mechanical repositioning. Previously, this method has been applied to investigate intercellular communication in co-cultures of hepatocytes and non-parenchymal cells, demonstrating time-dependent interactions and a limited range for soluble signaling 1
Here, we describe in detail the preparation and use of the RC system. We begin by demonstrating the handling of the device parts using tweezers, including actuating between the gap and contact configurations (cell populations separated by a narrow 80-µm gap, or in direct intimate contact). Next, we detail the process of preparing the substrates for culture, and the multi-step cell seeding process required for obtaining confluent cell monolayers. Using live microscopy, we then illustrate real-time manipulation of cells between the different possible experimental configurations. Finally, we demonstrate the steps required in order to regenerate the device surface for reuse: toluene and piranha cleaning, polystyrene coating, and oxygen plasma treatment.
Issue 7, tissue engineering, MEMS, microfabrication, microenvironment, Bioengineering
Functional Mapping with Simultaneous MEG and EEG
Institutions: MGH - Massachusetts General Hospital.
We use magnetoencephalography (MEG) and electroencephalography (EEG) to locate and determine the temporal evolution in brain areas involved in the processing of simple sensory stimuli. We will use somatosensory stimuli to locate the hand somatosensory areas, auditory stimuli to locate the auditory cortices, visual stimuli in four quadrants of the visual field to locate the early visual areas. These type of experiments are used for functional mapping in epileptic and brain tumor patients to locate eloquent cortices. In basic neuroscience similar experimental protocols are used to study the orchestration of cortical activity. The acquisition protocol includes quality assurance procedures, subject preparation for the combined MEG/EEG study, and acquisition of evoked-response data with somatosensory, auditory, and visual stimuli. We also demonstrate analysis of the data using the equivalent current dipole model and cortically-constrained minimum-norm estimates. Anatomical MRI data are employed in the analysis for visualization and for deriving boundaries of tissue boundaries for forward modeling and cortical location and orientation constraints for the minimum-norm estimates.
JoVE neuroscience, Issue 40, neuroscience, brain, MEG, EEG, functional imaging
Preparation of 2-dGuo-Treated Thymus Organ Cultures
Institutions: University of Birmingham .
In the thymus, interactions between developing T-cell precursors and stromal cells that include cortical and medullary epithelial cells are known to play a key role in the development of a functionally competent T-cell pool. However, the complexity of T-cell development in the thymus in vivo
can limit analysis of individual cellular components and particular stages of development. In vitro
culture systems provide a readily accessible means to study multiple complex cellular processes. Thymus organ culture systems represent a widely used approach to study intrathymic development of T-cells under defined conditions in vitro
. Here we describe a system in which mouse embryonic thymus lobes can be depleted of endogenous haemopoeitic elements by prior organ culture in 2-deoxyguanosine, a compound that is selectively toxic to haemopoeitic cells. As well as providing a readily accessible source of thymic stromal cells to investigate the role of thymic microenvironments in the development and selection of T-cells, this technique also underpins further experimental approaches that include the reconstitution of alymphoid thymus lobes in vitro
with defined haemopoietic elements, the transplantation of alymphoid thymuses into recipient mice, and the formation of reaggregate thymus organ cultures. (This article is based on work first reported Methods in Molecular Biology 2007, Vol. 380 pages 185-196).
Immunology, Issue 18, Springer Protocols, Thymus, 2-dGuo, Thymus Organ Cultures, Immune Tolerance, Positive and Negative Selection, Lymphoid Development
Interview: Glycolipid Antigen Presentation by CD1d and the Therapeutic Potential of NKT cell Activation
Institutions: La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology.
Natural Killer T cells (NKT) are critical determinants of the immune response to cancer, regulation of autioimmune disease, clearance of infectious agents, and the development of artheriosclerotic plaques. In this interview, Mitch Kronenberg discusses his laboratory's efforts to understand the mechanism through which NKT cells are activated by glycolipid antigens. Central to these studies is CD1d - the antigen presenting molecule that presents glycolipids to NKT cells. The advent of CD1d tetramer technology, a technique developed by the Kronenberg lab, is critical for the sorting and identification of subsets of specific glycolipid-reactive T cells. Mitch explains how glycolipid agonists are being used as therapeutic agents to activate NKT cells in cancer patients and how CD1d tetramers can be used to assess the state of the NKT cell population in vivo following glycolipid agonist therapy. Current status of ongoing clinical trials using these agonists are discussed as well as Mitch's prediction for areas in the field of immunology that will have emerging importance in the near future.
Immunology, Issue 10, Natural Killer T cells, NKT cells, CD1 Tetramers, antigen presentation, glycolipid antigens, CD1d, Mucosal Immunity, Translational Research
Institutions: UVP, LLC, Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences.
Immunoblotting (western blotting) is a rapid and sensitive assay for the detection and characterization of proteins that works by exploiting the specificity inherent in antigen-antibody recognition. It involves the solubilization and electrophoretic separation of proteins, glycoproteins, or lipopolysaccharides by gel electrophoresis, followed by quantitative transfer and irreversible binding to nitrocellulose, PVDF, or nylon. The immunoblotting technique has been useful in identifying specific antigens recognized by polyclonal or monoclonal antibodies and is highly sensitive (1 ng of antigen can be detected). This unit provides protocols for protein separation, blotting proteins onto membranes, immunoprobing, and visualization using chromogenic or chemiluminescent substrates.
Basic Protocols, Issue 16, Current Protocols Wiley, Immunoblotting, Biochemistry, Western Blotting, chromogenic substrates, chemiluminescent substrates, protein detection.
BioMEMS and Cellular Biology: Perspectives and Applications
Institutions: University of Washington.
The ability to culture cells has revolutionized hypothesis testing in basic cell and molecular biology research. It has become a standard methodology in drug screening, toxicology, and clinical assays, and is increasingly used in regenerative medicine. However, the traditional cell culture methodology essentially consisting of the immersion of a large population of cells in a homogeneous fluid medium and on a homogeneous flat substrate has become increasingly limiting both from a fundamental and practical perspective. Microfabrication technologies have enabled researchers to design, with micrometer control, the biochemical composition and topology of the substrate, and the medium composition, as well as the neighboring cell type in the surrounding cellular microenvironment. Additionally, microtechnology is conceptually well-suited for the development of fast, low-cost in vitro systems that allow for high-throughput culturing and analysis of cells under large numbers of conditions. In this interview, Albert Folch explains these limitations, how they can be overcome with soft lithography and microfluidics, and describes some relevant examples of research in his lab and future directions.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 8, BioMEMS, Soft Lithography, Microfluidics, Agrin, Axon Guidance, Olfaction, Interview