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.
23 Related JoVE Articles!
Examining the Conformational Dynamics of Membrane Proteins in situ with Site-directed Fluorescence Labeling
Institutions: Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Two electrode voltage clamp electrophysiology (TEVC) is a powerful tool to investigate the mechanism of ion transport1 for a wide variety of membrane proteins including ion channels2
, ion pumps3
, and transporters4
. Recent developments have combined site-specific fluorophore labeling alongside TEVC to
concurrently examine the conformational dynamics at specific residues and function of these proteins on the surface of single cells.
We will describe a method to study the conformational dynamics of membrane proteins by simultaneously monitoring fluorescence and current changes using voltage-clamp fluorometry. This approach can be used to examine the molecular motion of membrane proteins site-specifically following cysteine replacement and site-directed fluorophore labeling5,6
. Furthermore, this method provides an approach to determine distance constraints between specific residues7,8
This is achieved by selectively attaching donor and acceptor fluorophores to two mutated cysteine residues of interest.
In brief, these experiments are performed following functional expression of the desired protein on the surface of Xenopus leavis
oocytes. The large surface area of these oocytes enables facile functional measurements and a robust fluorescence signal5
. It is also possible to readily change the extracellular conditions such as pH, ligand or cations/anions, which can provide further information on the mechanism of membrane proteins4
. Finally, recent developments
have also enabled the manipulation of select internal ions following co-expression with a second protein9
Our protocol is described in multiple parts. First, cysteine scanning mutagenesis proceeded by fluorophore labeling is completed at residues located at the interface of the transmembrane and extracellular domains. Subsequent experiments are designed to identify residues which demonstrate large changes in fluorescence intensity (<5%)3
upon a conformational change of the protein. Second, these changes in fluorescence intensity are compared to the kinetic parameters of
the membrane protein in order to correlate the conformational dynamics to the function of the protein10
. This enables a rigorous biophysical analysis of the molecular motion of the target protein. Lastly, two residues of the holoenzyme can be labeled with a donor and acceptor fluorophore in order to determine distance constraints using donor photodestruction methods. It is also possible to monitor the relative movement of protein subunits following labeling with a donor and acceptor fluorophore.
Cellular Biology, Issue 51, membrane protein, two electrode voltage-clamp, biophysics, site-specific fluorophore labeling, microscopy, conformational dynamics
Bimolecular Fluorescence Complementation
Institutions: University of Illinois at Chicago.
Defining the subcellular distribution of signaling complexes is imperative to understanding the output from that complex.
Conventional methods such as immunoprecipitation do not provide information on the spatial localization of complexes. In contrast, BiFC monitors the interaction and subcellular compartmentalization of protein complexes. In this method, a fluororescent protein is split into amino- and carboxy-terminal non-fluorescent fragments which are then fused to two proteins of interest. Interaction of the proteins results in reconstitution of the fluorophore (Figure 1)1,2
. A limitation of BiFC is that once the fragmented fluorophore is reconstituted the complex is irreversible3
. This limitation is advantageous in detecting transient or weak interactions, but precludes a kinetic analysis of complex dynamics. An additional caveat is that the reconstituted flourophore requires 30min to mature and fluoresce, again precluding the observation of real time interactions4
. BiFC is a specific example of the protein fragment complementation assay (PCA) which employs reporter proteins such as green fluorescent protein variants (BiFC), dihydrofolate reductase, b-lactamase, and luciferase to measure protein:protein interactions5,6
. Alternative methods to study protein:protein interactions in cells include fluorescence co-localization and Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET)7
. For co-localization, two proteins are individually tagged either directly with a fluorophore or by indirect immunofluorescence. However, this approach leads to high background of non-interacting proteins making it difficult to interpret co-localization data. In addition, due to the limits of resolution of confocal microscopy, two proteins may appear co-localized without necessarily interacting. With BiFC, fluorescence is only observed when the two proteins of interest interact. FRET is another excellent method for studying protein:protein interactions, but can be technically challenging. FRET experiments require the donor and acceptor to be of similar brightness and stoichiometry in the cell. In addition, one must account for bleed through of the donor into the acceptor channel and vice versa. Unlike FRET, BiFC has little background fluorescence, little post processing of image data, does not require high overexpression, and can detect weak or transient interactions. Bioluminescence resonance energy transfer (BRET) is a method similar to FRET except the donor is an enzyme (e.g. luciferase) that catalyzes a substrate to become bioluminescent thereby exciting an acceptor. BRET lacks the technical problems of bleed through and high background fluorescence but lacks the ability to provide spatial information due to the lack of substrate localization to specific compartments8
. Overall, BiFC is an excellent method for visualizing subcellular localization of protein complexes to gain insight into compartmentalized signaling.
Cellular Biology, Issue 50, Fluorescence, imaging, compartmentalized signaling, subcellular localization, signal transduction
Annotation of Plant Gene Function via Combined Genomics, Metabolomics and Informatics
Given the ever expanding number of model plant species for which complete genome sequences are available and the abundance of bio-resources such as knockout mutants, wild accessions and advanced breeding populations, there is a rising burden for gene functional annotation. In this protocol, annotation of plant gene function using combined co-expression gene analysis, metabolomics and informatics is provided (Figure 1
). This approach is based on the theory of using target genes of known function to allow the identification of non-annotated genes likely to be involved in a certain metabolic process, with the identification of target compounds via metabolomics. Strategies are put forward for applying this information on populations generated by both forward and reverse genetics approaches in spite of none of these are effortless. By corollary this approach can also be used as an approach to characterise unknown peaks representing new or specific secondary metabolites in the limited tissues, plant species or stress treatment, which is currently the important trial to understanding plant metabolism.
Plant Biology, Issue 64, Genetics, Bioinformatics, Metabolomics, Plant metabolism, Transcriptome analysis, Functional annotation, Computational biology, Plant biology, Theoretical biology, Spectroscopy and structural analysis
High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e.
C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample).
Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e.
colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ
soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
Designing Silk-silk Protein Alloy Materials for Biomedical Applications
Institutions: Rowan University, Rowan University, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, Rowan University.
Fibrous proteins display different sequences and structures that have been used for various applications in biomedical fields such as biosensors, nanomedicine, tissue regeneration, and drug delivery. Designing materials based on the molecular-scale interactions between these proteins will help generate new multifunctional protein alloy biomaterials with tunable properties. Such alloy material systems also provide advantages in comparison to traditional synthetic polymers due to the materials biodegradability, biocompatibility, and tenability in the body. This article used the protein blends of wild tussah silk (Antheraea pernyi
) and domestic mulberry silk (Bombyx mori
) as an example to provide useful protocols regarding these topics, including how to predict protein-protein interactions by computational methods, how to produce protein alloy solutions, how to verify alloy systems by thermal analysis, and how to fabricate variable alloy materials including optical materials with diffraction gratings, electric materials with circuits coatings, and pharmaceutical materials for drug release and delivery. These methods can provide important information for designing the next generation multifunctional biomaterials based on different protein alloys.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, protein alloys, biomaterials, biomedical, silk blends, computational simulation, implantable electronic devices
In Vitro Reconstitution of Light-harvesting Complexes of Plants and Green Algae
Institutions: VU University Amsterdam.
In plants and green algae, light is captured by the light-harvesting complexes (LHCs), a family of integral membrane proteins that coordinate chlorophylls and carotenoids. In vivo
, these proteins are folded with pigments to form complexes which are inserted in the thylakoid membrane of the chloroplast. The high similarity in the chemical and physical properties of the members of the family, together with the fact that they can easily lose pigments during isolation, makes their purification in a native state challenging. An alternative approach to obtain homogeneous preparations of LHCs was developed by Plumley and Schmidt in 19871
, who showed that it was possible to reconstitute these complexes in vitro
starting from purified pigments and unfolded apoproteins, resulting in complexes with properties very similar to that of native complexes. This opened the way to the use of bacterial expressed recombinant proteins for in vitro
reconstitution. The reconstitution method is powerful for various reasons: (1) pure preparations of individual complexes can be obtained, (2) pigment composition can be controlled to assess their contribution to structure and function, (3) recombinant proteins can be mutated to study the functional role of the individual residues (e.g.,
pigment binding sites) or protein domain (e.g.,
protein-protein interaction, folding). This method has been optimized in several laboratories and applied to most of the light-harvesting complexes. The protocol described here details the method of reconstituting light-harvesting complexes in vitro
currently used in our laboratory,
and examples describing applications of the method are provided.
Biochemistry, Issue 92, Reconstitution, Photosynthesis, Chlorophyll, Carotenoids, Light Harvesting Protein, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, Arabidopsis thaliana
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
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
In Situ SIMS and IR Spectroscopy of Well-defined Surfaces Prepared by Soft Landing of Mass-selected Ions
Institutions: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
Soft landing of mass-selected ions onto surfaces is a powerful approach for the highly-controlled preparation of materials that are inaccessible using conventional synthesis techniques. Coupling soft landing with in situ
characterization using secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) and infrared reflection absorption spectroscopy (IRRAS) enables analysis of well-defined surfaces under clean vacuum conditions. The capabilities of three soft-landing instruments constructed in our laboratory are illustrated for the representative system of surface-bound organometallics prepared by soft landing of mass-selected ruthenium tris(bipyridine) dications, [Ru(bpy)3
(bpy = bipyridine), onto carboxylic acid terminated self-assembled monolayer surfaces on gold (COOH-SAMs). In situ
time-of-flight (TOF)-SIMS provides insight into the reactivity of the soft-landed ions. In addition, the kinetics of charge reduction, neutralization and desorption occurring on the COOH-SAM both during and after ion soft landing are studied using in situ
Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance (FT-ICR)-SIMS measurements. In situ
IRRAS experiments provide insight into how the structure of organic ligands surrounding metal centers is perturbed through immobilization of organometallic ions on COOH-SAM surfaces by soft landing. Collectively, the three instruments provide complementary information about the chemical composition, reactivity and structure of well-defined species supported on surfaces.
Chemistry, Issue 88, soft landing, mass selected ions, electrospray, secondary ion mass spectrometry, infrared spectroscopy, organometallic, catalysis
Optimized Negative Staining: a High-throughput Protocol for Examining Small and Asymmetric Protein Structure by Electron Microscopy
Institutions: The Molecular Foundry.
Structural determination of proteins is rather challenging for proteins with molecular masses between 40 - 200 kDa. Considering that more than half of natural proteins have a molecular mass between 40 - 200 kDa1,2
, a robust and high-throughput method with a nanometer resolution capability is needed. Negative staining (NS) electron microscopy (EM) is an easy, rapid, and qualitative approach which has frequently been used in research laboratories to examine protein structure and protein-protein interactions. Unfortunately, conventional NS protocols often generate structural artifacts on proteins, especially with lipoproteins that usually form presenting rouleaux artifacts. By using images of lipoproteins from cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) as a standard, the key parameters in NS specimen preparation conditions were recently screened and reported as the optimized NS protocol (OpNS), a modified conventional NS protocol 3
. Artifacts like rouleaux can be greatly limited by OpNS, additionally providing high contrast along with reasonably high‐resolution (near 1 nm) images of small and asymmetric proteins. These high-resolution and high contrast images are even favorable for an individual protein (a single object, no average) 3D reconstruction, such as a 160 kDa antibody, through the method of electron tomography4,5
. Moreover, OpNS can be a high‐throughput tool to examine hundreds of samples of small proteins. For example, the previously published mechanism of 53 kDa cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) involved the screening and imaging of hundreds of samples 6
. Considering cryo-EM rarely successfully images proteins less than 200 kDa has yet to publish any study involving screening over one hundred sample conditions, it is fair to call OpNS a high-throughput method for studying small proteins. Hopefully the OpNS protocol presented here can be a useful tool to push the boundaries of EM and accelerate EM studies into small protein structure, dynamics and mechanisms.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, small and asymmetric protein structure, electron microscopy, optimized negative staining
High-throughput Synthesis of Carbohydrates and Functionalization of Polyanhydride Nanoparticles
Institutions: Iowa State University, Iowa State University.
Transdisciplinary approaches involving areas such as material design, nanotechnology, chemistry, and immunology have to be utilized to rationally design efficacious vaccines carriers. Nanoparticle-based platforms can prolong the persistence of vaccine antigens, which could improve vaccine immunogenicity1
. Several biodegradable polymers have been studied as vaccine delivery vehicles1
; in particular, polyanhydride particles have demonstrated the ability to provide sustained release of stable protein antigens and to activate antigen presenting cells and modulate immune responses2-12
The molecular design of these vaccine carriers needs to integrate the rational selection of polymer properties as well as the incorporation of appropriate targeting agents. High throughput automated fabrication of targeting ligands and functionalized particles is a powerful tool that will enhance the ability to study a wide range of properties and will lead to the design of reproducible vaccine delivery devices.
The addition of targeting ligands capable of being recognized by specific receptors on immune cells has been shown to modulate and tailor immune responses10,11,13
C-type lectin receptors (CLRs) are pattern recognition receptors (PRRs) that recognize carbohydrates present on the surface of pathogens. The stimulation of immune cells via CLRs allows for enhanced internalization of antigen and subsequent presentation for further T cell activation14,15
. Therefore, carbohydrate molecules play an important role in the study of immune responses; however, the use of these biomolecules often suffers from the lack of availability of structurally well-defined and pure carbohydrates. An automation platform based on iterative solution-phase reactions can enable rapid and controlled synthesis of these synthetically challenging molecules using significantly lower building block quantities than traditional solid-phase methods16,17
Herein we report a protocol for the automated solution-phase synthesis of oligosaccharides such as mannose-based targeting ligands with fluorous solid-phase extraction for intermediate purification. After development of automated methods to make the carbohydrate-based targeting agent, we describe methods for their attachment on the surface of polyanhydride nanoparticles employing an automated robotic set up operated by LabVIEW as previously described10
. Surface functionalization with carbohydrates has shown efficacy in targeting CLRs10,11
and increasing the throughput of the fabrication method to unearth the complexities associated with a multi-parametric system will be of great value (Figure 1a
Bioengineering, Issue 65, Chemical Engineering, High-throughput, Automation, Carbohydrates, Synthesis, Polyanhydrides, Nanoparticles, Functionalization, Targeting, Fluorous Solid Phase Extraction
Real-time Monitoring of Ligand-receptor Interactions with Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer
Institutions: Southern Illinois University.
FRET is a process whereby energy is non-radiatively transferred from an excited donor molecule to a ground-state acceptor molecule through long-range dipole-dipole interactions1
. In the present sensing assay, we utilize an interesting property of PDA: blue-shift in the UV-Vis electronic absorption spectrum of PDA (Figure 1
) after an analyte interacts with receptors attached to PDA2,3,4,7
. This shift in the PDA absorption spectrum provides changes in the spectral overlap (J
) between PDA (acceptor) and rhodamine (donor) that leads to changes in the FRET efficiency. Thus, the interactions between analyte (ligand) and receptors are detected through FRET between donor fluorophores and PDA. In particular, we show the sensing of a model protein molecule streptavidin. We also demonstrate the covalent-binding of bovine serum albumin (BSA) to the liposome surface with FRET mechanism. These interactions between the bilayer liposomes and protein molecules can be sensed in real-time. The proposed method is a general method for sensing small chemical and large biochemical molecules. Since fluorescence is intrinsically more sensitive than colorimetry, the detection limit of the assay can be in sub-nanomolar range or lower8
. Further, PDA can act as a universal acceptor in FRET, which means that multiple sensors can be developed with PDA (acceptor) functionalized with donors and different receptors attached on the surface of PDA liposomes.
Biochemistry, Issue 66, Molecular Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET), Polydiacetylene (PDA), Biosensor, Liposome, Sensing
Quantitative FRET (Förster Resonance Energy Transfer) Analysis for SENP1 Protease Kinetics Determination
Institutions: University of California, Riverside .
Reversible posttranslational modifications of proteins with ubiquitin or ubiquitin-like proteins (Ubls) are widely used to dynamically regulate protein activity and have diverse roles in many biological processes. For example, SUMO covalently modifies a large number or proteins with important roles in many cellular processes, including cell-cycle regulation, cell survival and death, DNA damage response, and stress response 1-5. SENP, as SUMO-specific protease, functions as an endopeptidase in the maturation of SUMO precursors or as an isopeptidase to remove SUMO from its target proteins and refresh the SUMOylation cycle 1,3,6,7
The catalytic efficiency or specificity of an enzyme is best characterized by the ratio of the kinetic constants, kcat
. In several studies, the kinetic parameters of SUMO-SENP pairs have been determined by various methods, including polyacrylamide gel-based western-blot, radioactive-labeled substrate, fluorescent compound or protein labeled substrate 8-13
. However, the polyacrylamide-gel-based techniques, which used the "native" proteins but are laborious and technically demanding, that do not readily lend themselves to detailed quantitative analysis. The obtained kcat
from studies using tetrapeptides or proteins with an ACC (7-amino-4-carbamoylmetylcoumarin) or AMC (7-amino-4-methylcoumarin) fluorophore were either up to two orders of magnitude lower than the natural substrates or cannot clearly differentiate the iso- and endopeptidase activities of SENPs.
Recently, FRET-based protease assays were used to study the deubiquitinating enzymes (DUBs) or SENPs with the FRET pair of cyan fluorescent protein (CFP) and yellow fluorescent protein (YFP) 9,10,14,15
. The ratio of acceptor emission to donor emission was used as the quantitative parameter for FRET signal monitor for protease activity determination. However, this method ignored signal cross-contaminations at the acceptor and donor emission wavelengths by acceptor and donor self-fluorescence and thus was not accurate.
We developed a novel highly sensitive and quantitative FRET-based protease assay for determining the kinetic parameters of pre-SUMO1 maturation by SENP1. An engineered FRET pair CyPet and YPet with significantly improved FRET efficiency and fluorescence quantum yield, were used to generate the CyPet-(pre-SUMO1)-YPet substrate 16
. We differentiated and quantified absolute fluorescence signals contributed by the donor and acceptor and FRET at the acceptor and emission wavelengths, respectively. The value of kcat
was obtained as (3.2 ± 0.55) x107
of SENP1 toward pre-SUMO1, which is in agreement with general enzymatic kinetic parameters. Therefore, this methodology is valid and can be used as a general approach to characterize other proteases as well.
Bioengineering, Issue 72, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Proteins, Quantitative FRET analysis, QFRET, enzyme kinetics analysis, SENP, SUMO, plasmid, protein expression, protein purification, protease assay, quantitative analysis
Luminescence Resonance Energy Transfer to Study Conformational Changes in Membrane Proteins Expressed in Mammalian Cells
Institutions: University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
Luminescence Resonance Energy Transfer, or LRET, is a powerful technique used to measure distances between two sites in proteins within the distance range of 10-100 Å. By measuring the distances under various ligated conditions, conformational changes of the protein can be easily assessed. With LRET, a lanthanide, most often chelated terbium, is used as the donor fluorophore, affording advantages such as a longer donor-only emission lifetime, the flexibility to use multiple acceptor fluorophores, and the opportunity to detect sensitized acceptor emission as an easy way to measure energy transfer without the risk of also detecting donor-only signal. Here, we describe a method to use LRET on membrane proteins expressed and assayed on the surface of intact mammalian cells. We introduce a protease cleavage site between the LRET fluorophore pair. After obtaining the original LRET signal, cleavage at that site removes the specific LRET signal from the protein of interest allowing us to quantitatively subtract the background signal that remains after cleavage. This method allows for more physiologically relevant measurements to be made without the need for purification of protein.
Bioengineering, Issue 91, LRET, FRET, Luminescence Resonance Energy Transfer, Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer, glutamate receptors, acid sensing ion channel, protein conformation, protein dynamics, fluorescence, protein-protein interactions
Glutamine Flux Imaging Using Genetically Encoded Sensors
Institutions: Virginia Tech.
Genetically encoded sensors allow real-time monitoring of biological molecules at a subcellular resolution. A tremendous variety of such sensors for biological molecules became available in the past 15 years, some of which became indispensable tools that are used routinely in many laboratories.
One of the exciting applications of genetically encoded sensors is the use of these sensors in investigating cellular transport processes. Properties of transporters such as kinetics and substrate specificities can be investigated at a cellular level, providing possibilities for cell-type specific analyses of transport activities. In this article, we will demonstrate how transporter dynamics can be observed using genetically encoded glutamine sensor as an example. Experimental design, technical details of the experimental settings, and considerations for post-experimental analyses will be discussed.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, glutamine sensors, FRET, metabolites, in vivo imaging, cellular transport, genetically encoded sensors
Investigating Protein-protein Interactions in Live Cells Using Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour.
Assays based on Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer (BRET) provide a sensitive and reliable means to monitor protein-protein interactions in live cells. BRET is the non-radiative transfer of energy from a 'donor' luciferase enzyme to an 'acceptor' fluorescent protein. In the most common configuration of this assay, the donor is Renilla reniformis
luciferase and the acceptor is Yellow Fluorescent Protein (YFP). Because the efficiency of energy transfer is strongly distance-dependent, observation of the BRET phenomenon requires that the donor and acceptor be in close proximity. To test for an interaction between two proteins of interest in cultured mammalian cells, one protein is expressed as a fusion with luciferase and the second as a fusion with YFP. An interaction between the two proteins of interest may bring the donor and acceptor sufficiently close for energy transfer to occur. Compared to other techniques for investigating protein-protein interactions, the BRET assay is sensitive, requires little hands-on time and few reagents, and is able to detect interactions which are weak, transient, or dependent on the biochemical environment found within a live cell. It is therefore an ideal approach for confirming putative interactions suggested by yeast two-hybrid or mass spectrometry proteomics studies, and in addition it is well-suited for mapping interacting regions, assessing the effect of post-translational modifications on protein-protein interactions, and evaluating the impact of mutations identified in patient DNA.
Cellular Biology, Issue 87, Protein-protein interactions, Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer, Live cell, Transfection, Luciferase, Yellow Fluorescent Protein, Mutations
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (http://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli
and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9
addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments.
A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli
to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2
) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia
were transformed into E. coli
. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA
gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans
was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH
and ALDH (
originating from G. thermodenitrificans
) were introduced10,11
. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed.
To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli
K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources.
The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii
OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g.
under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n
-hexane in the culture medium were observed.
Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli
to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
Analysis of Nephron Composition and Function in the Adult Zebrafish Kidney
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish model has emerged as a relevant system to study kidney development, regeneration and disease. Both the embryonic and adult zebrafish kidneys are composed of functional units known as nephrons, which are highly conserved with other vertebrates, including mammals. Research in zebrafish has recently demonstrated that two distinctive phenomena transpire after adult nephrons incur damage: first, there is robust regeneration within existing nephrons that replaces the destroyed tubule epithelial cells; second, entirely new nephrons are produced from renal progenitors in a process known as neonephrogenesis. In contrast, humans and other mammals seem to have only a limited ability for nephron epithelial regeneration. To date, the mechanisms responsible for these kidney regeneration phenomena remain poorly understood. Since adult zebrafish kidneys undergo both nephron epithelial regeneration and neonephrogenesis, they provide an outstanding experimental paradigm to study these events. Further, there is a wide range of genetic and pharmacological tools available in the zebrafish model that can be used to delineate the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate renal regeneration. One essential aspect of such research is the evaluation of nephron structure and function. This protocol describes a set of labeling techniques that can be used to gauge renal composition and test nephron functionality in the adult zebrafish kidney. Thus, these methods are widely applicable to the future phenotypic characterization of adult zebrafish kidney injury paradigms, which include but are not limited to, nephrotoxicant exposure regimes or genetic methods of targeted cell death such as the nitroreductase mediated cell ablation technique. Further, these methods could be used to study genetic perturbations in adult kidney formation and could also be applied to assess renal status during chronic disease modeling.
Cellular Biology, Issue 90,
zebrafish; kidney; nephron; nephrology; renal; regeneration; proximal tubule; distal tubule; segment; mesonephros; physiology; acute kidney injury (AKI)
Identification of Post-translational Modifications of Plant Protein Complexes
Institutions: University of Warwick, Norwich Research Park, The Australian National University.
Plants adapt quickly to changing environments due to elaborate perception and signaling systems. During pathogen attack, plants rapidly respond to infection via
the recruitment and activation of immune complexes. Activation of immune complexes is associated with post-translational modifications (PTMs) of proteins, such as phosphorylation, glycosylation, or ubiquitination. Understanding how these PTMs are choreographed will lead to a better understanding of how resistance is achieved.
Here we describe a protein purification method for nucleotide-binding leucine-rich repeat (NB-LRR)-interacting proteins and the subsequent identification of their post-translational modifications (PTMs). With small modifications, the protocol can be applied for the purification of other plant protein complexes. The method is based on the expression of an epitope-tagged version of the protein of interest, which is subsequently partially purified by immunoprecipitation and subjected to mass spectrometry for identification of interacting proteins and PTMs.
This protocol demonstrates that: i). Dynamic changes in PTMs such as phosphorylation can be detected by mass spectrometry; ii). It is important to have sufficient quantities of the protein of interest, and this can compensate for the lack of purity of the immunoprecipitate; iii). In order to detect PTMs of a protein of interest, this protein has to be immunoprecipitated to get a sufficient quantity of protein.
Plant Biology, Issue 84, plant-microbe interactions, protein complex purification, mass spectrometry, protein phosphorylation, Prf, Pto, AvrPto, AvrPtoB
Studying DNA Looping by Single-Molecule FRET
Institutions: Georgia Institute of Technology.
Bending of double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) is associated with many important biological processes such as DNA-protein recognition and DNA packaging into nucleosomes. Thermodynamics of dsDNA bending has been studied by a method called cyclization which relies on DNA ligase to covalently join short sticky ends of a dsDNA. However, ligation efficiency can be affected by many factors that are not related to dsDNA looping such as the DNA structure surrounding the joined sticky ends, and ligase can also affect the apparent looping rate through mechanisms such as nonspecific binding. Here, we show how to measure dsDNA looping kinetics without ligase by detecting transient DNA loop formation by FRET (Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer). dsDNA molecules are constructed using a simple PCR-based protocol with a FRET pair and a biotin linker. The looping probability density known as the J factor is extracted from the looping rate and the annealing rate between two disconnected sticky ends. By testing two dsDNAs with different intrinsic curvatures, we show that the J factor is sensitive to the intrinsic shape of the dsDNA.
Molecular Biology, Issue 88, DNA looping, J factor, Single molecule, FRET, Gel mobility shift, DNA curvature, Worm-like chain
Ratiometric Biosensors that Measure Mitochondrial Redox State and ATP in Living Yeast Cells
Institutions: Columbia University, Columbia University.
Mitochondria have roles in many cellular processes, from energy metabolism and calcium homeostasis to control of cellular lifespan and programmed cell death. These processes affect and are affected by the redox status of and ATP production by mitochondria. Here, we describe the use of two ratiometric, genetically encoded biosensors that can detect mitochondrial redox state and ATP levels at subcellular resolution in living yeast cells. Mitochondrial redox state is measured using redox-sensitive Green Fluorescent Protein (roGFP) that is targeted to the mitochondrial matrix. Mito-roGFP contains cysteines at positions 147 and 204 of GFP, which undergo reversible and environment-dependent oxidation and reduction, which in turn alter the excitation spectrum of the protein. MitGO-ATeam is a Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) probe in which the ε subunit of the Fo
-ATP synthase is sandwiched between FRET donor and acceptor fluorescent proteins. Binding of ATP to the ε subunit results in conformation changes in the protein that bring the FRET donor and acceptor in close proximity and allow for fluorescence resonance energy transfer from the donor to acceptor.
Bioengineering, Issue 77, Microbiology, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, life sciences, roGFP, redox-sensitive green fluorescent protein, GO-ATeam, ATP, FRET, ROS, mitochondria, biosensors, GFP, ImageJ, microscopy, confocal microscopy, cell, imaging
Profiling of Methyltransferases and Other S-adenosyl-L-homocysteine-binding Proteins by Capture Compound Mass Spectrometry (CCMS)
Institutions: caprotec bioanalytics GmbH, RWTH Aachen University.
There is a variety of approaches to reduce the complexity of the proteome on the basis of functional small molecule-protein interactions such as affinity chromatography 1
or Activity Based Protein Profiling 2
. Trifunctional Capture Compounds (CCs, Figure 1A) 3
are the basis for a generic approach, in which the initial equilibrium-driven interaction between a small molecule probe (the selectivity function, here S
-homocysteine, SAH, Figure 1A) and target proteins is irreversibly fixed upon photo-crosslinking between an independent photo-activable reactivity function (here a phenylazide) of the CC and the surface of the target proteins. The sorting function (here biotin) serves to isolate the CC - protein conjugates from complex biological mixtures with the help of a solid phase (here streptavidin magnetic beads). Two configurations of the experiments are possible: "off-bead" 4
or the presently described "on-bead" configuration (Figure 1B). The selectivity function may be virtually any small molecule of interest (substrates, inhibitors, drug molecules).
-methionine (SAM, Figure 1A) is probably, second to ATP, the most widely used cofactor in nature 5, 6
. It is used as the major methyl group donor in all living organisms with the chemical reaction being catalyzed by SAM-dependent methyltransferases (MTases), which methylate DNA 7
, RNA 8
, proteins 9
, or small molecules 10
. Given the crucial role of methylation reactions in diverse physiological scenarios (gene regulation, epigenetics, metabolism), the profiling of MTases can be expected to become of similar importance in functional proteomics as the profiling of kinases. Analytical tools for their profiling, however, have not been available. We recently introduced a CC with SAH as selectivity group to fill this technological gap (Figure 1A).
SAH, the product of SAM after methyl transfer, is a known general MTase product inhibitor 11
. For this reason and because the natural cofactor SAM is used by further enzymes transferring other parts of the cofactor or initiating radical reactions as well as because of its chemical instability 12
, SAH is an ideal selectivity function for a CC to target MTases. Here, we report the utility of the SAH-CC and CCMS by profiling MTases and other SAH-binding proteins from the strain DH5α of Escherichia coli
), one of the best-characterized prokaryotes, which has served as the preferred model organism in countless biochemical, biological, and biotechnological studies. Photo-activated crosslinking enhances yield and sensitivity of the experiment, and the specificity can be readily tested for in competition experiments using an excess of free SAH.
Biochemistry, Issue 46, Capture Compound, photo-crosslink, small molecule-protein interaction, methyltransferase, S-adenosyl-l-homocysteine, SAH, S-adenosyl-l-methionine, SAM, functional proteomics, LC-MS/MS
Imaging Protein-protein Interactions in vivo
Institutions: Virginia Commonwealth University.
Protein-protein interactions are a hallmark of all essential cellular processes. However, many of these interactions are transient, or energetically weak, preventing their identification and analysis through traditional biochemical methods such as co-immunoprecipitation. In this regard, the genetically encodable fluorescent proteins (GFP, RFP, etc.) and their associated overlapping fluorescence spectrum have revolutionized our ability to monitor weak interactions in vivo
using Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET)1-3
. Here, we detail our use of a FRET-based proximity assay for monitoring receptor-receptor interactions on the endothelial cell surface.
Cellular Biology, Issue 44, Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET), confocal microscopy, angiogenesis, fluorescent proteins, protein interactions, receptors