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Rheostats and Toggle Switches for Modulating Protein Function.
PUBLISHED: 01-01-2013
The millions of protein sequences generated by genomics are expected to transform protein engineering and personalized medicine. To achieve these goals, tools for predicting outcomes of amino acid changes must be improved. Currently, advances are hampered by insufficient experimental data about nonconserved amino acid positions. Since the property "nonconserved" is identified using a sequence alignment, we designed experiments to recapitulate that context: Mutagenesis and functional characterization was carried out in 15 LacI/GalR homologs (rows) at 12 nonconserved positions (columns). Multiple substitutions were made at each position, to reveal how various amino acids of a nonconserved column were tolerated in each protein row. Results showed that amino acid preferences of nonconserved positions were highly context-dependent, had few correlations with physico-chemical similarities, and were not predictable from their occurrence in natural LacI/GalR sequences. Further, unlike the "toggle switch" behaviors of conserved positions, substitutions at nonconserved positions could be rank-ordered to show a "rheostatic", progressive effect on function that spanned several orders of magnitude. Comparisons to various sequence analyses suggested that conserved and strongly co-evolving positions act as functional toggles, whereas other important, nonconserved positions serve as rheostats for modifying protein function. Both the presence of rheostat positions and the sequence analysis strategy appear to be generalizable to other protein families and should be considered when engineering protein modifications or predicting the impact of protein polymorphisms.
Authors: Srikanth Kudithipudi, Denis Kusevic, Sara Weirich, Albert Jeltsch.
Published: 11-29-2014
Lysine methylation is an emerging post-translation modification and it has been identified on several histone and non-histone proteins, where it plays crucial roles in cell development and many diseases. Approximately 5,000 lysine methylation sites were identified on different proteins, which are set by few dozens of protein lysine methyltransferases. This suggests that each PKMT methylates multiple proteins, however till now only one or two substrates have been identified for several of these enzymes. To approach this problem, we have introduced peptide array based substrate specificity analyses of PKMTs. Peptide arrays are powerful tools to characterize the specificity of PKMTs because methylation of several substrates with different sequences can be tested on one array. We synthesized peptide arrays on cellulose membrane using an Intavis SPOT synthesizer and analyzed the specificity of various PKMTs. Based on the results, for several of these enzymes, novel substrates could be identified. For example, for NSD1 by employing peptide arrays, we showed that it methylates K44 of H4 instead of the reported H4K20 and in addition H1.5K168 is the highly preferred substrate over the previously known H3K36. Hence, peptide arrays are powerful tools to biochemically characterize the PKMTs.
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Lesion Explorer: A Video-guided, Standardized Protocol for Accurate and Reliable MRI-derived Volumetrics in Alzheimer's Disease and Normal Elderly
Authors: Joel Ramirez, Christopher J.M. Scott, Alicia A. McNeely, Courtney Berezuk, Fuqiang Gao, Gregory M. Szilagyi, Sandra E. Black.
Institutions: Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, University of Toronto.
Obtaining in vivo human brain tissue volumetrics from MRI is often complicated by various technical and biological issues. These challenges are exacerbated when significant brain atrophy and age-related white matter changes (e.g. Leukoaraiosis) are present. Lesion Explorer (LE) is an accurate and reliable neuroimaging pipeline specifically developed to address such issues commonly observed on MRI of Alzheimer's disease and normal elderly. The pipeline is a complex set of semi-automatic procedures which has been previously validated in a series of internal and external reliability tests1,2. However, LE's accuracy and reliability is highly dependent on properly trained manual operators to execute commands, identify distinct anatomical landmarks, and manually edit/verify various computer-generated segmentation outputs. LE can be divided into 3 main components, each requiring a set of commands and manual operations: 1) Brain-Sizer, 2) SABRE, and 3) Lesion-Seg. Brain-Sizer's manual operations involve editing of the automatic skull-stripped total intracranial vault (TIV) extraction mask, designation of ventricular cerebrospinal fluid (vCSF), and removal of subtentorial structures. The SABRE component requires checking of image alignment along the anterior and posterior commissure (ACPC) plane, and identification of several anatomical landmarks required for regional parcellation. Finally, the Lesion-Seg component involves manual checking of the automatic lesion segmentation of subcortical hyperintensities (SH) for false positive errors. While on-site training of the LE pipeline is preferable, readily available visual teaching tools with interactive training images are a viable alternative. Developed to ensure a high degree of accuracy and reliability, the following is a step-by-step, video-guided, standardized protocol for LE's manual procedures.
Medicine, Issue 86, Brain, Vascular Diseases, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Neuroimaging, Alzheimer Disease, Aging, Neuroanatomy, brain extraction, ventricles, white matter hyperintensities, cerebrovascular disease, Alzheimer disease
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Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Authors: C. R. Gallistel, Fuat Balci, David Freestone, Aaron Kheifets, Adam King.
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
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Rapid Synthesis and Screening of Chemically Activated Transcription Factors with GFP-based Reporters
Authors: R. Scott McIsaac, Benjamin L. Oakes, David Botstein, Marcus B. Noyes.
Institutions: Princeton University, Princeton University, California Institute of Technology.
Synthetic biology aims to rationally design and build synthetic circuits with desired quantitative properties, as well as provide tools to interrogate the structure of native control circuits. In both cases, the ability to program gene expression in a rapid and tunable fashion, with no off-target effects, can be useful. We have constructed yeast strains containing the ACT1 promoter upstream of a URA3 cassette followed by the ligand-binding domain of the human estrogen receptor and VP16. By transforming this strain with a linear PCR product containing a DNA binding domain and selecting against the presence of URA3, a constitutively expressed artificial transcription factor (ATF) can be generated by homologous recombination. ATFs engineered in this fashion can activate a unique target gene in the presence of inducer, thereby eliminating both the off-target activation and nonphysiological growth conditions found with commonly used conditional gene expression systems. A simple method for the rapid construction of GFP reporter plasmids that respond specifically to a native or artificial transcription factor of interest is also provided.
Genetics, Issue 81, transcription, transcription factors, artificial transcription factors, zinc fingers, Zif268, synthetic biology
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Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Authors: Johannes Felix Buyel, Rainer Fischer.
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
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Monitoring the Assembly of a Secreted Bacterial Virulence Factor Using Site-specific Crosslinking
Authors: Olga Pavlova, Raffaele Ieva, Harris D Bernstein.
Institutions: National Institutes of Health.
This article describes a method to detect and analyze dynamic interactions between a protein of interest and other factors in vivo. Our method is based on the amber suppression technology that was originally developed by Peter Schultz and colleagues1. An amber mutation is first introduced at a specific codon of the gene encoding the protein of interest. The amber mutant is then expressed in E. coli together with genes encoding an amber suppressor tRNA and an amino acyl-tRNA synthetase derived from Methanococcus jannaschii. Using this system, the photo activatable amino acid analog p-benzoylphenylalanine (Bpa) is incorporated at the amber codon. Cells are then irradiated with ultraviolet light to covalently link the Bpa residue to proteins that are located within 3-8 Å. Photocrosslinking is performed in combination with pulse-chase labeling and immunoprecipitation of the protein of interest in order to monitor changes in protein-protein interactions that occur over a time scale of seconds to minutes. We optimized the procedure to study the assembly of a bacterial virulence factor that consists of two independent domains, a domain that is integrated into the outer membrane and a domain that is translocated into the extracellular space, but the method can be used to study many different assembly processes and biological pathways in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. In principle interacting factors and even specific residues of interacting factors that bind to a protein of interest can be identified by mass spectrometry.
Immunology, Issue 82, Autotransporters, Bam complex, Molecular chaperones, protein-protein interactions, Site-specific photocrosslinking
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High Throughput Quantitative Expression Screening and Purification Applied to Recombinant Disulfide-rich Venom Proteins Produced in E. coli
Authors: Natalie J. Saez, Hervé Nozach, Marilyne Blemont, Renaud Vincentelli.
Institutions: Aix-Marseille Université, Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA) Saclay, France.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) is the most widely used expression system for the production of recombinant proteins for structural and functional studies. However, purifying proteins is sometimes challenging since many proteins are expressed in an insoluble form. When working with difficult or multiple targets it is therefore recommended to use high throughput (HTP) protein expression screening on a small scale (1-4 ml cultures) to quickly identify conditions for soluble expression. To cope with the various structural genomics programs of the lab, a quantitative (within a range of 0.1-100 mg/L culture of recombinant protein) and HTP protein expression screening protocol was implemented and validated on thousands of proteins. The protocols were automated with the use of a liquid handling robot but can also be performed manually without specialized equipment. Disulfide-rich venom proteins are gaining increasing recognition for their potential as therapeutic drug leads. They can be highly potent and selective, but their complex disulfide bond networks make them challenging to produce. As a member of the FP7 European Venomics project (, our challenge is to develop successful production strategies with the aim of producing thousands of novel venom proteins for functional characterization. Aided by the redox properties of disulfide bond isomerase DsbC, we adapted our HTP production pipeline for the expression of oxidized, functional venom peptides in the E. coli cytoplasm. The protocols are also applicable to the production of diverse disulfide-rich proteins. Here we demonstrate our pipeline applied to the production of animal venom proteins. With the protocols described herein it is likely that soluble disulfide-rich proteins will be obtained in as little as a week. Even from a small scale, there is the potential to use the purified proteins for validating the oxidation state by mass spectrometry, for characterization in pilot studies, or for sensitive micro-assays.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, E. coli, expression, recombinant, high throughput (HTP), purification, auto-induction, immobilized metal affinity chromatography (IMAC), tobacco etch virus protease (TEV) cleavage, disulfide bond isomerase C (DsbC) fusion, disulfide bonds, animal venom proteins/peptides
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Magnetic Tweezers for the Measurement of Twist and Torque
Authors: Jan Lipfert, Mina Lee, Orkide Ordu, Jacob W. J. Kerssemakers, Nynke H. Dekker.
Institutions: Delft University of Technology.
Single-molecule techniques make it possible to investigate the behavior of individual biological molecules in solution in real time. These techniques include so-called force spectroscopy approaches such as atomic force microscopy, optical tweezers, flow stretching, and magnetic tweezers. Amongst these approaches, magnetic tweezers have distinguished themselves by their ability to apply torque while maintaining a constant stretching force. Here, it is illustrated how such a “conventional” magnetic tweezers experimental configuration can, through a straightforward modification of its field configuration to minimize the magnitude of the transverse field, be adapted to measure the degree of twist in a biological molecule. The resulting configuration is termed the freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers. Additionally, it is shown how further modification of the field configuration can yield a transverse field with a magnitude intermediate between that of the “conventional” magnetic tweezers and the freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers, which makes it possible to directly measure the torque stored in a biological molecule. This configuration is termed the magnetic torque tweezers. The accompanying video explains in detail how the conversion of conventional magnetic tweezers into freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers and magnetic torque tweezers can be accomplished, and demonstrates the use of these techniques. These adaptations maintain all the strengths of conventional magnetic tweezers while greatly expanding the versatility of this powerful instrument.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, magnetic tweezers, magnetic torque tweezers, freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers, twist, torque, DNA, single-molecule techniques
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A Restriction Enzyme Based Cloning Method to Assess the In vitro Replication Capacity of HIV-1 Subtype C Gag-MJ4 Chimeric Viruses
Authors: Daniel T. Claiborne, Jessica L. Prince, Eric Hunter.
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University.
The protective effect of many HLA class I alleles on HIV-1 pathogenesis and disease progression is, in part, attributed to their ability to target conserved portions of the HIV-1 genome that escape with difficulty. Sequence changes attributed to cellular immune pressure arise across the genome during infection, and if found within conserved regions of the genome such as Gag, can affect the ability of the virus to replicate in vitro. Transmission of HLA-linked polymorphisms in Gag to HLA-mismatched recipients has been associated with reduced set point viral loads. We hypothesized this may be due to a reduced replication capacity of the virus. Here we present a novel method for assessing the in vitro replication of HIV-1 as influenced by the gag gene isolated from acute time points from subtype C infected Zambians. This method uses restriction enzyme based cloning to insert the gag gene into a common subtype C HIV-1 proviral backbone, MJ4. This makes it more appropriate to the study of subtype C sequences than previous recombination based methods that have assessed the in vitro replication of chronically derived gag-pro sequences. Nevertheless, the protocol could be readily modified for studies of viruses from other subtypes. Moreover, this protocol details a robust and reproducible method for assessing the replication capacity of the Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses on a CEM-based T cell line. This method was utilized for the study of Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses derived from 149 subtype C acutely infected Zambians, and has allowed for the identification of residues in Gag that affect replication. More importantly, the implementation of this technique has facilitated a deeper understanding of how viral replication defines parameters of early HIV-1 pathogenesis such as set point viral load and longitudinal CD4+ T cell decline.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, HIV-1, Gag, viral replication, replication capacity, viral fitness, MJ4, CEM, GXR25
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From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Authors: Wen-Ting Tsai, Ahmed Hassan, Purbasha Sarkar, Joaquin Correa, Zoltan Metlagel, Danielle M. Jorgens, Manfred Auer.
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g., signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation. The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
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Construction of Vapor Chambers Used to Expose Mice to Alcohol During the Equivalent of all Three Trimesters of Human Development
Authors: Russell A. Morton, Marvin R. Diaz, Lauren A. Topper, C. Fernando Valenzuela.
Institutions: University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center.
Exposure to alcohol during development can result in a constellation of morphological and behavioral abnormalities that are collectively known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs). At the most severe end of the spectrum is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), characterized by growth retardation, craniofacial dysmorphology, and neurobehavioral deficits. Studies with animal models, including rodents, have elucidated many molecular and cellular mechanisms involved in the pathophysiology of FASDs. Ethanol administration to pregnant rodents has been used to model human exposure during the first and second trimesters of pregnancy. Third trimester ethanol consumption in humans has been modeled using neonatal rodents. However, few rodent studies have characterized the effect of ethanol exposure during the equivalent to all three trimesters of human pregnancy, a pattern of exposure that is common in pregnant women. Here, we show how to build vapor chambers from readily obtainable materials that can each accommodate up to six standard mouse cages. We describe a vapor chamber paradigm that can be used to model exposure to ethanol, with minimal handling, during all three trimesters. Our studies demonstrate that pregnant dams developed significant metabolic tolerance to ethanol. However, neonatal mice did not develop metabolic tolerance and the number of fetuses, fetus weight, placenta weight, number of pups/litter, number of dead pups/litter, and pup weight were not significantly affected by ethanol exposure. An important advantage of this paradigm is its applicability to studies with genetically-modified mice. Additionally, this paradigm minimizes handling of animals, a major confound in fetal alcohol research.
Medicine, Issue 89, fetal, ethanol, exposure, paradigm, vapor, development, alcoholism, teratogenic, animal, mouse, model
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Sequence-specific Labeling of Nucleic Acids and Proteins with Methyltransferases and Cofactor Analogues
Authors: Gisela Maria Hanz, Britta Jung, Anna Giesbertz, Matyas Juhasz, Elmar Weinhold.
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University.
S-Adenosyl-l-methionine (AdoMet or SAM)-dependent methyltransferases (MTase) catalyze the transfer of the activated methyl group from AdoMet to specific positions in DNA, RNA, proteins and small biomolecules. This natural methylation reaction can be expanded to a wide variety of alkylation reactions using synthetic cofactor analogues. Replacement of the reactive sulfonium center of AdoMet with an aziridine ring leads to cofactors which can be coupled with DNA by various DNA MTases. These aziridine cofactors can be equipped with reporter groups at different positions of the adenine moiety and used for Sequence-specific Methyltransferase-Induced Labeling of DNA (SMILing DNA). As a typical example we give a protocol for biotinylation of pBR322 plasmid DNA at the 5’-ATCGAT-3’ sequence with the DNA MTase M.BseCI and the aziridine cofactor 6BAz in one step. Extension of the activated methyl group with unsaturated alkyl groups results in another class of AdoMet analogues which are used for methyltransferase-directed Transfer of Activated Groups (mTAG). Since the extended side chains are activated by the sulfonium center and the unsaturated bond, these cofactors are called double-activated AdoMet analogues. These analogues not only function as cofactors for DNA MTases, like the aziridine cofactors, but also for RNA, protein and small molecule MTases. They are typically used for enzymatic modification of MTase substrates with unique functional groups which are labeled with reporter groups in a second chemical step. This is exemplified in a protocol for fluorescence labeling of histone H3 protein. A small propargyl group is transferred from the cofactor analogue SeAdoYn to the protein by the histone H3 lysine 4 (H3K4) MTase Set7/9 followed by click labeling of the alkynylated histone H3 with TAMRA azide. MTase-mediated labeling with cofactor analogues is an enabling technology for many exciting applications including identification and functional study of MTase substrates as well as DNA genotyping and methylation detection.
Biochemistry, Issue 93, S-adenosyl-l-methionine, AdoMet, SAM, aziridine cofactor, double activated cofactor, methyltransferase, DNA methylation, protein methylation, biotin labeling, fluorescence labeling, SMILing, mTAG
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Culturing and Maintaining Clostridium difficile in an Anaerobic Environment
Authors: Adrianne N. Edwards, Jose M. Suárez, Shonna M. McBride.
Institutions: Emory University School of Medicine.
Clostridium difficile is a Gram-positive, anaerobic, sporogenic bacterium that is primarily responsible for antibiotic associated diarrhea (AAD) and is a significant nosocomial pathogen. C. difficile is notoriously difficult to isolate and cultivate and is extremely sensitive to even low levels of oxygen in the environment. Here, methods for isolating C. difficile from fecal samples and subsequently culturing C. difficile for preparation of glycerol stocks for long-term storage are presented. Techniques for preparing and enumerating spore stocks in the laboratory for a variety of downstream applications including microscopy and animal studies are also described. These techniques necessitate an anaerobic chamber, which maintains a consistent anaerobic environment to ensure proper conditions for optimal C. difficile growth. We provide protocols for transferring materials in and out of the chamber without causing significant oxygen contamination along with suggestions for regular maintenance required to sustain the appropriate anaerobic environment for efficient and consistent C. difficile cultivation.
Immunology, Issue 79, Genetics, Bacteria, Anaerobic, Gram-Positive Endospore-Forming Rods, Spores, Bacterial, Gram-Positive Bacterial Infections, Clostridium Infections, Bacteriology, Clostridium difficile, Gram-positive, anaerobic chamber, spore, culturing, maintenance, cell culture
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Protocols for Implementing an Escherichia coli Based TX-TL Cell-Free Expression System for Synthetic Biology
Authors: Zachary Z. Sun, Clarmyra A. Hayes, Jonghyeon Shin, Filippo Caschera, Richard M. Murray, Vincent Noireaux.
Institutions: California Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Minnesota.
Ideal cell-free expression systems can theoretically emulate an in vivo cellular environment in a controlled in vitro platform.1 This is useful for expressing proteins and genetic circuits in a controlled manner as well as for providing a prototyping environment for synthetic biology.2,3 To achieve the latter goal, cell-free expression systems that preserve endogenous Escherichia coli transcription-translation mechanisms are able to more accurately reflect in vivo cellular dynamics than those based on T7 RNA polymerase transcription. We describe the preparation and execution of an efficient endogenous E. coli based transcription-translation (TX-TL) cell-free expression system that can produce equivalent amounts of protein as T7-based systems at a 98% cost reduction to similar commercial systems.4,5 The preparation of buffers and crude cell extract are described, as well as the execution of a three tube TX-TL reaction. The entire protocol takes five days to prepare and yields enough material for up to 3000 single reactions in one preparation. Once prepared, each reaction takes under 8 hr from setup to data collection and analysis. Mechanisms of regulation and transcription exogenous to E. coli, such as lac/tet repressors and T7 RNA polymerase, can be supplemented.6 Endogenous properties, such as mRNA and DNA degradation rates, can also be adjusted.7 The TX-TL cell-free expression system has been demonstrated for large-scale circuit assembly, exploring biological phenomena, and expression of proteins under both T7- and endogenous promoters.6,8 Accompanying mathematical models are available.9,10 The resulting system has unique applications in synthetic biology as a prototyping environment, or "TX-TL biomolecular breadboard."
Cellular Biology, Issue 79, Bioengineering, Synthetic Biology, Chemistry Techniques, Synthetic, Molecular Biology, control theory, TX-TL, cell-free expression, in vitro, transcription-translation, cell-free protein synthesis, synthetic biology, systems biology, Escherichia coli cell extract, biological circuits, biomolecular breadboard
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Assessment of Immunologically Relevant Dynamic Tertiary Structural Features of the HIV-1 V3 Loop Crown R2 Sequence by ab initio Folding
Authors: David Almond, Timothy Cardozo.
Institutions: School of Medicine, New York University.
The antigenic diversity of HIV-1 has long been an obstacle to vaccine design, and this variability is especially pronounced in the V3 loop of the virus' surface envelope glycoprotein. We previously proposed that the crown of the V3 loop, although dynamic and sequence variable, is constrained throughout the population of HIV-1 viruses to an immunologically relevant β-hairpin tertiary structure. Importantly, there are thousands of different V3 loop crown sequences in circulating HIV-1 viruses, making 3D structural characterization of trends across the diversity of viruses difficult or impossible by crystallography or NMR. Our previous successful studies with folding of the V3 crown1, 2 used the ab initio algorithm 3 accessible in the ICM-Pro molecular modeling software package (Molsoft LLC, La Jolla, CA) and suggested that the crown of the V3 loop, specifically from positions 10 to 22, benefits sufficiently from the flexibility and length of its flanking stems to behave to a large degree as if it were an unconstrained peptide freely folding in solution. As such, rapid ab initio folding of just this portion of the V3 loop of any individual strain of the 60,000+ circulating HIV-1 strains can be informative. Here, we folded the V3 loop of the R2 strain to gain insight into the structural basis of its unique properties. R2 bears a rare V3 loop sequence thought to be responsible for the exquisite sensitivity of this strain to neutralization by patient sera and monoclonal antibodies4, 5. The strain mediates CD4-independent infection and appears to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies. We demonstrate how evaluation of the results of the folding can be informative for associating observed structures in the folding with the immunological activities observed for R2.
Infection, Issue 43, HIV-1, structure-activity relationships, ab initio simulations, antibody-mediated neutralization, vaccine design
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Membrane Potentials, Synaptic Responses, Neuronal Circuitry, Neuromodulation and Muscle Histology Using the Crayfish: Student Laboratory Exercises
Authors: Brittany Baierlein, Alison L. Thurow, Harold L. Atwood, Robin L. Cooper.
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
The purpose of this report is to help develop an understanding of the effects caused by ion gradients across a biological membrane. Two aspects that influence a cell's membrane potential and which we address in these experiments are: (1) Ion concentration of K+ on the outside of the membrane, and (2) the permeability of the membrane to specific ions. The crayfish abdominal extensor muscles are in groupings with some being tonic (slow) and others phasic (fast) in their biochemical and physiological phenotypes, as well as in their structure; the motor neurons that innervate these muscles are correspondingly different in functional characteristics. We use these muscles as well as the superficial, tonic abdominal flexor muscle to demonstrate properties in synaptic transmission. In addition, we introduce a sensory-CNS-motor neuron-muscle circuit to demonstrate the effect of cuticular sensory stimulation as well as the influence of neuromodulators on certain aspects of the circuit. With the techniques obtained in this exercise, one can begin to answer many questions remaining in other experimental preparations as well as in physiological applications related to medicine and health. We have demonstrated the usefulness of model invertebrate preparations to address fundamental questions pertinent to all animals.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, neurophysiology, muscle, anatomy, electrophysiology
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Genomic MRI - a Public Resource for Studying Sequence Patterns within Genomic DNA
Authors: Ashwin Prakash, Jason Bechtel, Alexei Fedorov.
Institutions: University of Toledo Health Science Campus.
Non-coding genomic regions in complex eukaryotes, including intergenic areas, introns, and untranslated segments of exons, are profoundly non-random in their nucleotide composition and consist of a complex mosaic of sequence patterns. These patterns include so-called Mid-Range Inhomogeneity (MRI) regions -- sequences 30-10000 nucleotides in length that are enriched by a particular base or combination of bases (e.g. (G+T)-rich, purine-rich, etc.). MRI regions are associated with unusual (non-B-form) DNA structures that are often involved in regulation of gene expression, recombination, and other genetic processes (Fedorova & Fedorov 2010). The existence of a strong fixation bias within MRI regions against mutations that tend to reduce their sequence inhomogeneity additionally supports the functionality and importance of these genomic sequences (Prakash et al. 2009). Here we demonstrate a freely available Internet resource -- the Genomic MRI program package -- designed for computational analysis of genomic sequences in order to find and characterize various MRI patterns within them (Bechtel et al. 2008). This package also allows generation of randomized sequences with various properties and level of correspondence to the natural input DNA sequences. The main goal of this resource is to facilitate examination of vast regions of non-coding DNA that are still scarcely investigated and await thorough exploration and recognition.
Genetics, Issue 51, bioinformatics, computational biology, genomics, non-randomness, signals, gene regulation, DNA conformation
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Isolation of Fidelity Variants of RNA Viruses and Characterization of Virus Mutation Frequency
Authors: Stéphanie Beaucourt, Antonio V. Bordería, Lark L. Coffey, Nina F. Gnädig, Marta Sanz-Ramos, Yasnee Beeharry, Marco Vignuzzi.
Institutions: Institut Pasteur .
RNA viruses use RNA dependent RNA polymerases to replicate their genomes. The intrinsically high error rate of these enzymes is a large contributor to the generation of extreme population diversity that facilitates virus adaptation and evolution. Increasing evidence shows that the intrinsic error rates, and the resulting mutation frequencies, of RNA viruses can be modulated by subtle amino acid changes to the viral polymerase. Although biochemical assays exist for some viral RNA polymerases that permit quantitative measure of incorporation fidelity, here we describe a simple method of measuring mutation frequencies of RNA viruses that has proven to be as accurate as biochemical approaches in identifying fidelity altering mutations. The approach uses conventional virological and sequencing techniques that can be performed in most biology laboratories. Based on our experience with a number of different viruses, we have identified the key steps that must be optimized to increase the likelihood of isolating fidelity variants and generating data of statistical significance. The isolation and characterization of fidelity altering mutations can provide new insights into polymerase structure and function1-3. Furthermore, these fidelity variants can be useful tools in characterizing mechanisms of virus adaptation and evolution4-7.
Immunology, Issue 52, Polymerase fidelity, RNA virus, mutation frequency, mutagen, RNA polymerase, viral evolution
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A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Authors: Ambrish Roy, Dong Xu, Jonathan Poisson, Yang Zhang.
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
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Introduction to Solid Supported Membrane Based Electrophysiology
Authors: Andre Bazzone, Wagner Steuer Costa, Markus Braner, Octavian Călinescu, Lina Hatahet, Klaus Fendler.
Institutions: Max Planck Institute of Biophysics, Goethe University Frankfurt.
The electrophysiological method we present is based on a solid supported membrane (SSM) composed of an octadecanethiol layer chemisorbed on a gold coated sensor chip and a phosphatidylcholine monolayer on top. This assembly is mounted into a cuvette system containing the reference electrode, a chlorinated silver wire. After adsorption of membrane fragments or proteoliposomes containing the membrane protein of interest, a fast solution exchange is used to induce the transport activity of the membrane protein. In the single solution exchange protocol two solutions, one non-activating and one activating solution, are needed. The flow is controlled by pressurized air and a valve and tubing system within a faraday cage. The kinetics of the electrogenic transport activity is obtained via capacitive coupling between the SSM and the proteoliposomes or membrane fragments. The method, therefore, yields only transient currents. The peak current represents the stationary transport activity. The time dependent transporter currents can be reconstructed by circuit analysis. This method is especially suited for prokaryotic transporters or eukaryotic transporters from intracellular membranes, which cannot be investigated by patch clamp or voltage clamp methods.
Biochemistry, Issue 75, Biophysics, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Physiology, Proteins, Membrane Lipids, Membrane Transport Proteins, Kinetics, Electrophysiology, solid supported membrane, SSM, membrane transporter, lactose permease, lacY, capacitive coupling, solution exchange, model membrane, membrane protein, transporter, kinetics, transport mechanism
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Technique and Considerations in the Use of 4x1 Ring High-definition Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (HD-tDCS)
Authors: Mauricio F. Villamar, Magdalena Sarah Volz, Marom Bikson, Abhishek Datta, Alexandre F. DaSilva, Felipe Fregni.
Institutions: Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador, Charité University Medicine Berlin, The City College of The City University of New York, University of Michigan.
High-definition transcranial direct current stimulation (HD-tDCS) has recently been developed as a noninvasive brain stimulation approach that increases the accuracy of current delivery to the brain by using arrays of smaller "high-definition" electrodes, instead of the larger pad-electrodes of conventional tDCS. Targeting is achieved by energizing electrodes placed in predetermined configurations. One of these is the 4x1-ring configuration. In this approach, a center ring electrode (anode or cathode) overlying the target cortical region is surrounded by four return electrodes, which help circumscribe the area of stimulation. Delivery of 4x1-ring HD-tDCS is capable of inducing significant neurophysiological and clinical effects in both healthy subjects and patients. Furthermore, its tolerability is supported by studies using intensities as high as 2.0 milliamperes for up to twenty minutes. Even though 4x1 HD-tDCS is simple to perform, correct electrode positioning is important in order to accurately stimulate target cortical regions and exert its neuromodulatory effects. The use of electrodes and hardware that have specifically been tested for HD-tDCS is critical for safety and tolerability. Given that most published studies on 4x1 HD-tDCS have targeted the primary motor cortex (M1), particularly for pain-related outcomes, the purpose of this article is to systematically describe its use for M1 stimulation, as well as the considerations to be taken for safe and effective stimulation. However, the methods outlined here can be adapted for other HD-tDCS configurations and cortical targets.
Medicine, Issue 77, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Physiology, Anatomy, Biomedical Engineering, Biophysics, Neurophysiology, Nervous System Diseases, Diagnosis, Therapeutics, Anesthesia and Analgesia, Investigative Techniques, Equipment and Supplies, Mental Disorders, Transcranial direct current stimulation, tDCS, High-definition transcranial direct current stimulation, HD-tDCS, Electrical brain stimulation, Transcranial electrical stimulation (tES), Noninvasive Brain Stimulation, Neuromodulation, non-invasive, brain, stimulation, clinical techniques
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Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Authors: James Smadbeck, Meghan B. Peterson, George A. Khoury, Martin S. Taylor, Christodoulos A. Floudas.
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity. To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (, a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
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Genetically-encoded Molecular Probes to Study G Protein-coupled Receptors
Authors: Saranga Naganathan, Amy Grunbeck, He Tian, Thomas Huber, Thomas P. Sakmar.
Institutions: The Rockefeller University.
To facilitate structural and dynamic studies of G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) signaling complexes, new approaches are required to introduce informative probes or labels into expressed receptors that do not perturb receptor function. We used amber codon suppression technology to genetically-encode the unnatural amino acid, p-azido-L-phenylalanine (azF) at various targeted positions in GPCRs heterologously expressed in mammalian cells. The versatility of the azido group is illustrated here in different applications to study GPCRs in their native cellular environment or under detergent solubilized conditions. First, we demonstrate a cell-based targeted photocrosslinking technology to identify the residues in the ligand-binding pocket of GPCR where a tritium-labeled small-molecule ligand is crosslinked to a genetically-encoded azido amino acid. We then demonstrate site-specific modification of GPCRs by the bioorthogonal Staudinger-Bertozzi ligation reaction that targets the azido group using phosphine derivatives. We discuss a general strategy for targeted peptide-epitope tagging of expressed membrane proteins in-culture and its detection using a whole-cell-based ELISA approach. Finally, we show that azF-GPCRs can be selectively tagged with fluorescent probes. The methodologies discussed are general, in that they can in principle be applied to any amino acid position in any expressed GPCR to interrogate active signaling complexes.
Genetics, Issue 79, Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled, Protein Engineering, Signal Transduction, Biochemistry, Unnatural amino acid, site-directed mutagenesis, G protein-coupled receptor, targeted photocrosslinking, bioorthogonal labeling, targeted epitope tagging
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Orthogonal Protein Purification Facilitated by a Small Bispecific Affinity Tag
Authors: Johan Nilvebrant, Tove Alm, Sophia Hober.
Institutions: Royal Institute of Technology.
Due to the high costs associated with purification of recombinant proteins the protocols need to be rationalized. For high-throughput efforts there is a demand for general methods that do not require target protein specific optimization1 . To achieve this, purification tags that genetically can be fused to the gene of interest are commonly used2 . The most widely used affinity handle is the hexa-histidine tag, which is suitable for purification under both native and denaturing conditions3 . The metabolic burden for producing the tag is low, but it does not provide as high specificity as competing affinity chromatography based strategies1,2. Here, a bispecific purification tag with two different binding sites on a 46 amino acid, small protein domain has been developed. The albumin-binding domain is derived from Streptococcal protein G and has a strong inherent affinity to human serum albumin (HSA). Eleven surface-exposed amino acids, not involved in albumin-binding4 , were genetically randomized to produce a combinatorial library. The protein library with the novel randomly arranged binding surface (Figure 1) was expressed on phage particles to facilitate selection of binders by phage display technology. Through several rounds of biopanning against a dimeric Z-domain derived from Staphylococcal protein A5, a small, bispecific molecule with affinity for both HSA and the novel target was identified6 . The novel protein domain, referred to as ABDz1, was evaluated as a purification tag for a selection of target proteins with different molecular weight, solubility and isoelectric point. Three target proteins were expressed in Escherishia coli with the novel tag fused to their N-termini and thereafter affinity purified. Initial purification on either a column with immobilized HSA or Z-domain resulted in relatively pure products. Two-step affinity purification with the bispecific tag resulted in substantial improvement of protein purity. Chromatographic media with the Z-domain immobilized, for example MabSelect SuRe, are readily available for purification of antibodies and HSA can easily be chemically coupled to media to provide the second matrix. This method is especially advantageous when there is a high demand on purity of the recovered target protein. The bifunctionality of the tag allows two different chromatographic steps to be used while the metabolic burden on the expression host is limited due to the small size of the tag. It provides a competitive alternative to so called combinatorial tagging where multiple tags are used in combination1,7.
Molecular Biology, Issue 59, Affinity chromatography, albumin-binding domain, human serum albumin, Z-domain
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Using SCOPE to Identify Potential Regulatory Motifs in Coregulated Genes
Authors: Viktor Martyanov, Robert H. Gross.
Institutions: Dartmouth College.
SCOPE is an ensemble motif finder that uses three component algorithms in parallel to identify potential regulatory motifs by over-representation and motif position preference1. Each component algorithm is optimized to find a different kind of motif. By taking the best of these three approaches, SCOPE performs better than any single algorithm, even in the presence of noisy data1. In this article, we utilize a web version of SCOPE2 to examine genes that are involved in telomere maintenance. SCOPE has been incorporated into at least two other motif finding programs3,4 and has been used in other studies5-8. The three algorithms that comprise SCOPE are BEAM9, which finds non-degenerate motifs (ACCGGT), PRISM10, which finds degenerate motifs (ASCGWT), and SPACER11, which finds longer bipartite motifs (ACCnnnnnnnnGGT). These three algorithms have been optimized to find their corresponding type of motif. Together, they allow SCOPE to perform extremely well. Once a gene set has been analyzed and candidate motifs identified, SCOPE can look for other genes that contain the motif which, when added to the original set, will improve the motif score. This can occur through over-representation or motif position preference. Working with partial gene sets that have biologically verified transcription factor binding sites, SCOPE was able to identify most of the rest of the genes also regulated by the given transcription factor. Output from SCOPE shows candidate motifs, their significance, and other information both as a table and as a graphical motif map. FAQs and video tutorials are available at the SCOPE web site which also includes a "Sample Search" button that allows the user to perform a trial run. Scope has a very friendly user interface that enables novice users to access the algorithm's full power without having to become an expert in the bioinformatics of motif finding. As input, SCOPE can take a list of genes, or FASTA sequences. These can be entered in browser text fields, or read from a file. The output from SCOPE contains a list of all identified motifs with their scores, number of occurrences, fraction of genes containing the motif, and the algorithm used to identify the motif. For each motif, result details include a consensus representation of the motif, a sequence logo, a position weight matrix, and a list of instances for every motif occurrence (with exact positions and "strand" indicated). Results are returned in a browser window and also optionally by email. Previous papers describe the SCOPE algorithms in detail1,2,9-11.
Genetics, Issue 51, gene regulation, computational biology, algorithm, promoter sequence motif
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Molecular Evolution of the Tre Recombinase
Authors: Frank Buchholz.
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Here we report the generation of Tre recombinase through directed, molecular evolution. Tre recombinase recognizes a pre-defined target sequence within the LTR sequences of the HIV-1 provirus, resulting in the excision and eradication of the provirus from infected human cells. We started with Cre, a 38-kDa recombinase, that recognizes a 34-bp double-stranded DNA sequence known as loxP. Because Cre can effectively eliminate genomic sequences, we set out to tailor a recombinase that could remove the sequence between the 5'-LTR and 3'-LTR of an integrated HIV-1 provirus. As a first step we identified sequences within the LTR sites that were similar to loxP and tested for recombination activity. Initially Cre and mutagenized Cre libraries failed to recombine the chosen loxLTR sites of the HIV-1 provirus. As the start of any directed molecular evolution process requires at least residual activity, the original asymmetric loxLTR sequences were split into subsets and tested again for recombination activity. Acting as intermediates, recombination activity was shown with the subsets. Next, recombinase libraries were enriched through reiterative evolution cycles. Subsequently, enriched libraries were shuffled and recombined. The combination of different mutations proved synergistic and recombinases were created that were able to recombine loxLTR1 and loxLTR2. This was evidence that an evolutionary strategy through intermediates can be successful. After a total of 126 evolution cycles individual recombinases were functionally and structurally analyzed. The most active recombinase -- Tre -- had 19 amino acid changes as compared to Cre. Tre recombinase was able to excise the HIV-1 provirus from the genome HIV-1 infected HeLa cells (see "HIV-1 Proviral DNA Excision Using an Evolved Recombinase", Hauber J., Heinrich-Pette-Institute for Experimental Virology and Immunology, Hamburg, Germany). While still in its infancy, directed molecular evolution will allow the creation of custom enzymes that will serve as tools of "molecular surgery" and molecular medicine.
Cell Biology, Issue 15, HIV-1, Tre recombinase, Site-specific recombination, molecular evolution
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