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Liposome-based liquid handling platform featuring addition, mixing, and aliquoting of femtoliter volumes.
PUBLISHED: 01-01-2014
This paper describes the utilization of giant unilamellar vesicles (GUVs) as a platform for handling chemical and biochemical reagents. GUVs with diameters of 5 to 10 µm and containing chemical/biochemical reagents together with inert polymers were fused with electric pulses (electrofusion). After reagent mixing, the fused GUVs spontaneously deformed to a budding shape, separating the mixed solution into sub-volumes. We utilized a microfluidic channel and optical tweezers to select GUVs of interest, bring them into contact, and fuse them together to mix and aliquot the reaction product. We also show that, by lowering the ambient temperature close to the phase transition temperature Tm of the lipid used, daughter GUVs completely detached (fission). This process performs all the liquid-handing features used in bench-top biochemistry using the GUV, which could be advantageous for the membrane-related biochemical assays.
Authors: Marcus D. Collins, Sharona E. Gordon.
Published: 06-21-2013
The reconstitution of ion channels into chemically defined lipid membranes for electrophysiological recording has been a powerful technique to identify and explore the function of these important proteins. However, classical preparations, such as planar bilayers, limit the manipulations and experiments that can be performed on the reconstituted channel and its membrane environment. The more cell-like structure of giant liposomes permits traditional patch-clamp experiments without sacrificing control of the lipid environment. Electroformation is an efficient mean to produce giant liposomes >10 μm in diameter which relies on the application of alternating voltage to a thin, ordered lipid film deposited on an electrode surface. However, since the classical protocol calls for the lipids to be deposited from organic solvents, it is not compatible with less robust membrane proteins like ion channels and must be modified. Recently, protocols have been developed to electroform giant liposomes from partially dehydrated small liposomes, which we have adapted to protein-containing liposomes in our laboratory. We present here the background, equipment, techniques, and pitfalls of electroformation of giant liposomes from small liposome dispersions. We begin with the classic protocol, which should be mastered first before attempting the more challenging protocols that follow. We demonstrate the process of controlled partial dehydration of small liposomes using vapor equilibrium with saturated salt solutions. Finally, we demonstrate the process of electroformation itself. We will describe simple, inexpensive equipment that can be made in-house to produce high-quality liposomes, and describe visual inspection of the preparation at each stage to ensure the best results.
23 Related JoVE Articles!
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Reconstitution of a Kv Channel into Lipid Membranes for Structural and Functional Studies
Authors: Sungsoo Lee, Hui Zheng, Liang Shi, Qiu-Xing Jiang.
Institutions: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.
To study the lipid-protein interaction in a reductionistic fashion, it is necessary to incorporate the membrane proteins into membranes of well-defined lipid composition. We are studying the lipid-dependent gating effects in a prototype voltage-gated potassium (Kv) channel, and have worked out detailed procedures to reconstitute the channels into different membrane systems. Our reconstitution procedures take consideration of both detergent-induced fusion of vesicles and the fusion of protein/detergent micelles with the lipid/detergent mixed micelles as well as the importance of reaching an equilibrium distribution of lipids among the protein/detergent/lipid and the detergent/lipid mixed micelles. Our data suggested that the insertion of the channels in the lipid vesicles is relatively random in orientations, and the reconstitution efficiency is so high that no detectable protein aggregates were seen in fractionation experiments. We have utilized the reconstituted channels to determine the conformational states of the channels in different lipids, record electrical activities of a small number of channels incorporated in planar lipid bilayers, screen for conformation-specific ligands from a phage-displayed peptide library, and support the growth of 2D crystals of the channels in membranes. The reconstitution procedures described here may be adapted for studying other membrane proteins in lipid bilayers, especially for the investigation of the lipid effects on the eukaryotic voltage-gated ion channels.
Molecular Biology, Issue 77, Biochemistry, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Structural Biology, Biophysics, Membrane Lipids, Phospholipids, Carrier Proteins, Membrane Proteins, Micelles, Molecular Motor Proteins, life sciences, biochemistry, Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, lipid-protein interaction, channel reconstitution, lipid-dependent gating, voltage-gated ion channel, conformation-specific ligands, lipids
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High-throughput, Automated Extraction of DNA and RNA from Clinical Samples using TruTip Technology on Common Liquid Handling Robots
Authors: Rebecca C. Holmberg, Alissa Gindlesperger, Tinsley Stokes, Dane Brady, Nitu Thakore, Philip Belgrader, Christopher G. Cooney, Darrell P. Chandler.
Institutions: Akonni Biosystems, Inc., Akonni Biosystems, Inc., Akonni Biosystems, Inc., Akonni Biosystems, Inc..
TruTip is a simple nucleic acid extraction technology whereby a porous, monolithic binding matrix is inserted into a pipette tip. The geometry of the monolith can be adapted for specific pipette tips ranging in volume from 1.0 to 5.0 ml. The large porosity of the monolith enables viscous or complex samples to readily pass through it with minimal fluidic backpressure. Bi-directional flow maximizes residence time between the monolith and sample, and enables large sample volumes to be processed within a single TruTip. The fundamental steps, irrespective of sample volume or TruTip geometry, include cell lysis, nucleic acid binding to the inner pores of the TruTip monolith, washing away unbound sample components and lysis buffers, and eluting purified and concentrated nucleic acids into an appropriate buffer. The attributes and adaptability of TruTip are demonstrated in three automated clinical sample processing protocols using an Eppendorf epMotion 5070, Hamilton STAR and STARplus liquid handling robots, including RNA isolation from nasopharyngeal aspirate, genomic DNA isolation from whole blood, and fetal DNA extraction and enrichment from large volumes of maternal plasma (respectively).
Genetics, Issue 76, Bioengineering, Biomedical Engineering, Molecular Biology, Automation, Laboratory, Clinical Laboratory Techniques, Molecular Diagnostic Techniques, Analytic Sample Preparation Methods, Clinical Laboratory Techniques, Molecular Diagnostic Techniques, Genetic Techniques, Molecular Diagnostic Techniques, Automation, Laboratory, Chemistry, Clinical, DNA/RNA extraction, automation, nucleic acid isolation, sample preparation, nasopharyngeal aspirate, blood, plasma, high-throughput, sequencing
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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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Optimized Negative Staining: a High-throughput Protocol for Examining Small and Asymmetric Protein Structure by Electron Microscopy
Authors: Matthew Rames, Yadong Yu, Gang Ren.
Institutions: The Molecular Foundry.
Structural determination of proteins is rather challenging for proteins with molecular masses between 40 - 200 kDa. Considering that more than half of natural proteins have a molecular mass between 40 - 200 kDa1,2, a robust and high-throughput method with a nanometer resolution capability is needed. Negative staining (NS) electron microscopy (EM) is an easy, rapid, and qualitative approach which has frequently been used in research laboratories to examine protein structure and protein-protein interactions. Unfortunately, conventional NS protocols often generate structural artifacts on proteins, especially with lipoproteins that usually form presenting rouleaux artifacts. By using images of lipoproteins from cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) as a standard, the key parameters in NS specimen preparation conditions were recently screened and reported as the optimized NS protocol (OpNS), a modified conventional NS protocol 3 . Artifacts like rouleaux can be greatly limited by OpNS, additionally providing high contrast along with reasonably high‐resolution (near 1 nm) images of small and asymmetric proteins. These high-resolution and high contrast images are even favorable for an individual protein (a single object, no average) 3D reconstruction, such as a 160 kDa antibody, through the method of electron tomography4,5. Moreover, OpNS can be a high‐throughput tool to examine hundreds of samples of small proteins. For example, the previously published mechanism of 53 kDa cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) involved the screening and imaging of hundreds of samples 6. Considering cryo-EM rarely successfully images proteins less than 200 kDa has yet to publish any study involving screening over one hundred sample conditions, it is fair to call OpNS a high-throughput method for studying small proteins. Hopefully the OpNS protocol presented here can be a useful tool to push the boundaries of EM and accelerate EM studies into small protein structure, dynamics and mechanisms.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, small and asymmetric protein structure, electron microscopy, optimized negative staining
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Preparation of Segmented Microtubules to Study Motions Driven by the Disassembling Microtubule Ends
Authors: Vladimir A. Volkov, Anatoly V. Zaytsev, Ekaterina L. Grishchuk.
Institutions: Russian Academy of Sciences, Federal Research Center of Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Immunology, Moscow, Russia, University of Pennsylvania.
Microtubule depolymerization can provide force to transport different protein complexes and protein-coated beads in vitro. The underlying mechanisms are thought to play a vital role in the microtubule-dependent chromosome motions during cell division, but the relevant proteins and their exact roles are ill-defined. Thus, there is a growing need to develop assays with which to study such motility in vitro using purified components and defined biochemical milieu. Microtubules, however, are inherently unstable polymers; their switching between growth and shortening is stochastic and difficult to control. The protocols we describe here take advantage of the segmented microtubules that are made with the photoablatable stabilizing caps. Depolymerization of such segmented microtubules can be triggered with high temporal and spatial resolution, thereby assisting studies of motility at the disassembling microtubule ends. This technique can be used to carry out a quantitative analysis of the number of molecules in the fluorescently-labeled protein complexes, which move processively with dynamic microtubule ends. To optimize a signal-to-noise ratio in this and other quantitative fluorescent assays, coverslips should be treated to reduce nonspecific absorption of soluble fluorescently-labeled proteins. Detailed protocols are provided to take into account the unevenness of fluorescent illumination, and determine the intensity of a single fluorophore using equidistant Gaussian fit. Finally, we describe the use of segmented microtubules to study microtubule-dependent motions of the protein-coated microbeads, providing insights into the ability of different motor and nonmotor proteins to couple microtubule depolymerization to processive cargo motion.
Basic Protocol, Issue 85, microscopy flow chamber, single-molecule fluorescence, laser trap, microtubule-binding protein, microtubule-dependent motor, microtubule tip-tracking
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Isolation and Quantification of Botulinum Neurotoxin From Complex Matrices Using the BoTest Matrix Assays
Authors: F. Mark Dunning, Timothy M. Piazza, Füsûn N. Zeytin, Ward C. Tucker.
Institutions: BioSentinel Inc., Madison, WI.
Accurate detection and quantification of botulinum neurotoxin (BoNT) in complex matrices is required for pharmaceutical, environmental, and food sample testing. Rapid BoNT testing of foodstuffs is needed during outbreak forensics, patient diagnosis, and food safety testing while accurate potency testing is required for BoNT-based drug product manufacturing and patient safety. The widely used mouse bioassay for BoNT testing is highly sensitive but lacks the precision and throughput needed for rapid and routine BoNT testing. Furthermore, the bioassay's use of animals has resulted in calls by drug product regulatory authorities and animal-rights proponents in the US and abroad to replace the mouse bioassay for BoNT testing. Several in vitro replacement assays have been developed that work well with purified BoNT in simple buffers, but most have not been shown to be applicable to testing in highly complex matrices. Here, a protocol for the detection of BoNT in complex matrices using the BoTest Matrix assays is presented. The assay consists of three parts: The first part involves preparation of the samples for testing, the second part is an immunoprecipitation step using anti-BoNT antibody-coated paramagnetic beads to purify BoNT from the matrix, and the third part quantifies the isolated BoNT's proteolytic activity using a fluorogenic reporter. The protocol is written for high throughput testing in 96-well plates using both liquid and solid matrices and requires about 2 hr of manual preparation with total assay times of 4-26 hr depending on the sample type, toxin load, and desired sensitivity. Data are presented for BoNT/A testing with phosphate-buffered saline, a drug product, culture supernatant, 2% milk, and fresh tomatoes and includes discussion of critical parameters for assay success.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, Botulinum, food testing, detection, quantification, complex matrices, BoTest Matrix, Clostridium, potency testing
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In Situ SIMS and IR Spectroscopy of Well-defined Surfaces Prepared by Soft Landing of Mass-selected Ions
Authors: Grant E. Johnson, K. Don Dasitha Gunaratne, Julia Laskin.
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]2+ (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
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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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Lipid Bilayer Vesicle Generation Using Microfluidic Jetting
Authors: Christopher W. Coyne, Karan Patel, Johanna Heureaux, Jeanne Stachowiak, Daniel A. Fletcher, Allen P. Liu.
Institutions: University of Michigan, University of Michigan, The University of Texas at Austin, University of California, Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Bottom-up synthetic biology presents a novel approach for investigating and reconstituting biochemical systems and, potentially, minimal organisms. This emerging field engages engineers, chemists, biologists, and physicists to design and assemble basic biological components into complex, functioning systems from the bottom up. Such bottom-up systems could lead to the development of artificial cells for fundamental biological inquiries and innovative therapies1,2. Giant unilamellar vesicles (GUVs) can serve as a model platform for synthetic biology due to their cell-like membrane structure and size. Microfluidic jetting, or microjetting, is a technique that allows for the generation of GUVs with controlled size, membrane composition, transmembrane protein incorporation, and encapsulation3. The basic principle of this method is the use of multiple, high-frequency fluid pulses generated by a piezo-actuated inkjet device to deform a suspended lipid bilayer into a GUV. The process is akin to blowing soap bubbles from a soap film. By varying the composition of the jetted solution, the composition of the encompassing solution, and/or the components included in the bilayer, researchers can apply this technique to create customized vesicles. This paper describes the procedure to generate simple vesicles from a droplet interface bilayer by microjetting.
Bioengineering, Issue 84, Microfluidic jetting, synthetic biology, vesicle encapsulation, lipid bilayer, biochemical reconstitution, giant unilamellar vesicles
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Rapid and Low-cost Prototyping of Medical Devices Using 3D Printed Molds for Liquid Injection Molding
Authors: Philip Chung, J. Alex Heller, Mozziyar Etemadi, Paige E. Ottoson, Jonathan A. Liu, Larry Rand, Shuvo Roy.
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco, University of California, San Francisco, University of Southern California.
Biologically inert elastomers such as silicone are favorable materials for medical device fabrication, but forming and curing these elastomers using traditional liquid injection molding processes can be an expensive process due to tooling and equipment costs. As a result, it has traditionally been impractical to use liquid injection molding for low-cost, rapid prototyping applications. We have devised a method for rapid and low-cost production of liquid elastomer injection molded devices that utilizes fused deposition modeling 3D printers for mold design and a modified desiccator as an injection system. Low costs and rapid turnaround time in this technique lower the barrier to iteratively designing and prototyping complex elastomer devices. Furthermore, CAD models developed in this process can be later adapted for metal mold tooling design, enabling an easy transition to a traditional injection molding process. We have used this technique to manufacture intravaginal probes involving complex geometries, as well as overmolding over metal parts, using tools commonly available within an academic research laboratory. However, this technique can be easily adapted to create liquid injection molded devices for many other applications.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, liquid injection molding, reaction injection molding, molds, 3D printing, fused deposition modeling, rapid prototyping, medical devices, low cost, low volume, rapid turnaround time.
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Culturing Caenorhabditis elegans in Axenic Liquid Media and Creation of Transgenic Worms by Microparticle Bombardment
Authors: Tamika K. Samuel, Jason W. Sinclair, Katherine L. Pinter, Iqbal Hamza.
Institutions: University of Maryland, University of Maryland.
In this protocol, we present the required materials, and the procedure for making modified C. elegans Habituation and Reproduction media (mCeHR). Additionally, the steps for exposing and acclimatizing C. elegans grown on E. coli to axenic liquid media are described. Finally, downstream experiments that utilize axenic C. elegans illustrate the benefits of this procedure. The ability to analyze and determine C. elegans nutrient requirement was illustrated by growing N2 wild type worms in axenic liquid media with varying heme concentrations. This procedure can be replicated with other nutrients to determine the optimal concentration for worm growth and development or, to determine the toxicological effects of drug treatments. The effects of varied heme concentrations on the growth of wild type worms were determined through qualitative microscopic observation and by quantitating the number of worms that grew in each heme concentration. In addition, the effect of varied nutrient concentrations can be assayed by utilizing worms that express fluorescent sensors that respond to changes in the nutrient of interest. Furthermore, a large number of worms were easily produced for the generation of transgenic C. elegans using microparticle bombardment.
Molecular Biology, Issue 90, C. elegans, axenic media, transgenics, microparticle bombardment, heme, nutrition
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Biochemical and High Throughput Microscopic Assessment of Fat Mass in Caenorhabditis Elegans
Authors: Elizabeth C. Pino, Christopher M. Webster, Christopher E. Carr, Alexander A. Soukas.
Institutions: Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The nematode C. elegans has emerged as an important model for the study of conserved genetic pathways regulating fat metabolism as it relates to human obesity and its associated pathologies. Several previous methodologies developed for the visualization of C. elegans triglyceride-rich fat stores have proven to be erroneous, highlighting cellular compartments other than lipid droplets. Other methods require specialized equipment, are time-consuming, or yield inconsistent results. We introduce a rapid, reproducible, fixative-based Nile red staining method for the accurate and rapid detection of neutral lipid droplets in C. elegans. A short fixation step in 40% isopropanol makes animals completely permeable to Nile red, which is then used to stain animals. Spectral properties of this lipophilic dye allow it to strongly and selectively fluoresce in the yellow-green spectrum only when in a lipid-rich environment, but not in more polar environments. Thus, lipid droplets can be visualized on a fluorescent microscope equipped with simple GFP imaging capability after only a brief Nile red staining step in isopropanol. The speed, affordability, and reproducibility of this protocol make it ideally suited for high throughput screens. We also demonstrate a paired method for the biochemical determination of triglycerides and phospholipids using gas chromatography mass-spectrometry. This more rigorous protocol should be used as confirmation of results obtained from the Nile red microscopic lipid determination. We anticipate that these techniques will become new standards in the field of C. elegans metabolic research.
Genetics, Issue 73, Biochemistry, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Developmental Biology, Physiology, Anatomy, Caenorhabditis elegans, Obesity, Energy Metabolism, Lipid Metabolism, C. elegans, fluorescent lipid staining, lipids, Nile red, fat, high throughput screening, obesity, gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, GC/MS, animal model
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Direct Analysis of Single Cells by Mass Spectrometry at Atmospheric Pressure
Authors: Bindesh Shrestha, Akos Vertes.
Institutions: George Washington University.
Analysis of biochemicals in single cells is important for understanding cell metabolism, cell cycle, adaptation, disease states, etc. Even the same cell types exhibit heterogeneous biochemical makeup depending on their physiological conditions and interactions with the environment. Conventional methods of mass spectrometry (MS) used for the analysis of biomolecules in single cells rely on extensive sample preparation. Removing the cells from their natural environment and extensive sample processing could lead to changes in the cellular composition. Ambient ionization methods enable the analysis of samples in their native environment and without extensive sample preparation.1 The techniques based on the mid infrared (mid-IR) laser ablation of biological materials at 2.94 μm wavelength utilize the sudden excitation of water that results in phase explosion.2 Ambient ionization techniques based on mid-IR laser radiation, such as laser ablation electrospray ionization (LAESI) and atmospheric pressure infrared matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization (AP IR-MALDI), have successfully demonstrated the ability to directly analyze water-rich tissues and biofluids at atmospheric pressure.3-11 In LAESI the mid-IR laser ablation plume that mostly consists of neutral particulate matter from the sample coalesces with highly charged electrospray droplets to produce ions. Recently, mid-IR ablation of single cells was performed by delivering the mid-IR radiation through an etched fiber. The plume generated from this ablation was postionized by an electrospray enabling the analysis of diverse metabolites in single cells by LAESI-MS.12 This article describes the detailed protocol for single cell analysis using LAESI-MS. The presented video demonstrates the analysis of a single epidermal cell from the skin of an Allium cepa bulb. The schematic of the system is shown in Figure 1. A representative example of single cell ablation and a LAESI mass spectrum from the cell are provided in Figure 2.
Cellular Biology, Issue 43, single cell analysis, mass spectrometry, laser ablation electrospray ionization, LAESI, metabolomics, direct analysis
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Thermodynamics of Membrane Protein Folding Measured by Fluorescence Spectroscopy
Authors: Diana E. Schlamadinger, Judy E. Kim.
Institutions: University of California San Diego - UCSD.
Membrane protein folding is an emerging topic with both fundamental and health-related significance. The abundance of membrane proteins in cells underlies the need for comprehensive study of the folding of this ubiquitous family of proteins. Additionally, advances in our ability to characterize diseases associated with misfolded proteins have motivated significant experimental and theoretical efforts in the field of protein folding. Rapid progress in this important field is unfortunately hindered by the inherent challenges associated with membrane proteins and the complexity of the folding mechanism. Here, we outline an experimental procedure for measuring the thermodynamic property of the Gibbs free energy of unfolding in the absence of denaturant, ΔH2O, for a representative integral membrane protein from E. coli. This protocol focuses on the application of fluorescence spectroscopy to determine equilibrium populations of folded and unfolded states as a function of denaturant concentration. Experimental considerations for the preparation of synthetic lipid vesicles as well as key steps in the data analysis procedure are highlighted. This technique is versatile and may be pursued with different types of denaturant, including temperature and pH, as well as in various folding environments of lipids and micelles. The current protocol is one that can be generalized to any membrane or soluble protein that meets the set of criteria discussed below.
Bioengineering, Issue 50, tryptophan, peptides, Gibbs free energy, protein stability, vesicles
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Determination of Molecular Structures of HIV Envelope Glycoproteins using Cryo-Electron Tomography and Automated Sub-tomogram Averaging
Authors: Joel R. Meyerson, Tommi A. White, Donald Bliss, Amy Moran, Alberto Bartesaghi, Mario J. Borgnia, M. Jason V. de la Cruz, David Schauder, Lisa M. Hartnell, Rachna Nandwani, Moez Dawood, Brianna Kim, Jun Hong Kim, John Sununu, Lisa Yang, Siddhant Bhatia, Carolyn Subramaniam, Darrell E. Hurt, Laurent Gaudreault, Sriram Subramaniam.
Institutions: National Institutes of Health, University of Cambridge , National Institutes of Health, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, William Fremd High School, University of Virginia , Duke University , Yale University, University of Notre Dame , Washington University in St. Louis , National Institutes of Health, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.
Since its discovery nearly 30 years ago, more than 60 million people have been infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) ( The virus infects and destroys CD4+ T-cells thereby crippling the immune system, and causing an acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) 2. Infection begins when the HIV Envelope glycoprotein "spike" makes contact with the CD4 receptor on the surface of the CD4+ T-cell. This interaction induces a conformational change in the spike, which promotes interaction with a second cell surface co-receptor 5,9. The significance of these protein interactions in the HIV infection pathway makes them of profound importance in fundamental HIV research, and in the pursuit of an HIV vaccine. The need to better understand the molecular-scale interactions of HIV cell contact and neutralization motivated the development of a technique to determine the structures of the HIV spike interacting with cell surface receptor proteins and molecules that block infection. Using cryo-electron tomography and 3D image processing, we recently demonstrated the ability to determine such structures on the surface of native virus, at ˜20 Å resolution 9,14. This approach is not limited to resolving HIV Envelope structures, and can be extended to other viral membrane proteins and proteins reconstituted on a liposome. In this protocol, we describe how to obtain structures of HIV envelope glycoproteins starting from purified HIV virions and proceeding stepwise through preparing vitrified samples, collecting, cryo-electron microscopy data, reconstituting and processing 3D data volumes, averaging and classifying 3D protein subvolumes, and interpreting results to produce a protein model. The computational aspects of our approach were adapted into modules that can be accessed and executed remotely using the Biowulf GNU/Linux parallel processing cluster at the NIH ( This remote access, combined with low-cost computer hardware and high-speed network access, has made possible the involvement of researchers and students working from school or home.
Immunology, Issue 58, HIV, Envelope glycoprotein, membrane protein, vaccine design, cryo-electron tomography, transmission electron microscopy, structural biology, high school science, scientific outreach, scientific visualization, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, National Library of Medicine
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Aseptic Laboratory Techniques: Plating Methods
Authors: Erin R. Sanders.
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Microorganisms are present on all inanimate surfaces creating ubiquitous sources of possible contamination in the laboratory. Experimental success relies on the ability of a scientist to sterilize work surfaces and equipment as well as prevent contact of sterile instruments and solutions with non-sterile surfaces. Here we present the steps for several plating methods routinely used in the laboratory to isolate, propagate, or enumerate microorganisms such as bacteria and phage. All five methods incorporate aseptic technique, or procedures that maintain the sterility of experimental materials. Procedures described include (1) streak-plating bacterial cultures to isolate single colonies, (2) pour-plating and (3) spread-plating to enumerate viable bacterial colonies, (4) soft agar overlays to isolate phage and enumerate plaques, and (5) replica-plating to transfer cells from one plate to another in an identical spatial pattern. These procedures can be performed at the laboratory bench, provided they involve non-pathogenic strains of microorganisms (Biosafety Level 1, BSL-1). If working with BSL-2 organisms, then these manipulations must take place in a biosafety cabinet. Consult the most current edition of the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL) as well as Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for Infectious Substances to determine the biohazard classification as well as the safety precautions and containment facilities required for the microorganism in question. Bacterial strains and phage stocks can be obtained from research investigators, companies, and collections maintained by particular organizations such as the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC). It is recommended that non-pathogenic strains be used when learning the various plating methods. By following the procedures described in this protocol, students should be able to: ● Perform plating procedures without contaminating media. ● Isolate single bacterial colonies by the streak-plating method. ● Use pour-plating and spread-plating methods to determine the concentration of bacteria. ● Perform soft agar overlays when working with phage. ● Transfer bacterial cells from one plate to another using the replica-plating procedure. ● Given an experimental task, select the appropriate plating method.
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, Streak plates, pour plates, soft agar overlays, spread plates, replica plates, bacteria, colonies, phage, plaques, dilutions
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Polymerase Chain Reaction: Basic Protocol Plus Troubleshooting and Optimization Strategies
Authors: Todd C. Lorenz.
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
In the biological sciences there have been technological advances that catapult the discipline into golden ages of discovery. For example, the field of microbiology was transformed with the advent of Anton van Leeuwenhoek's microscope, which allowed scientists to visualize prokaryotes for the first time. The development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is one of those innovations that changed the course of molecular science with its impact spanning countless subdisciplines in biology. The theoretical process was outlined by Keppe and coworkers in 1971; however, it was another 14 years until the complete PCR procedure was described and experimentally applied by Kary Mullis while at Cetus Corporation in 1985. Automation and refinement of this technique progressed with the introduction of a thermal stable DNA polymerase from the bacterium Thermus aquaticus, consequently the name Taq DNA polymerase. PCR is a powerful amplification technique that can generate an ample supply of a specific segment of DNA (i.e., an amplicon) from only a small amount of starting material (i.e., DNA template or target sequence). While straightforward and generally trouble-free, there are pitfalls that complicate the reaction producing spurious results. When PCR fails it can lead to many non-specific DNA products of varying sizes that appear as a ladder or smear of bands on agarose gels. Sometimes no products form at all. Another potential problem occurs when mutations are unintentionally introduced in the amplicons, resulting in a heterogeneous population of PCR products. PCR failures can become frustrating unless patience and careful troubleshooting are employed to sort out and solve the problem(s). This protocol outlines the basic principles of PCR, provides a methodology that will result in amplification of most target sequences, and presents strategies for optimizing a reaction. By following this PCR guide, students should be able to: ● Set up reactions and thermal cycling conditions for a conventional PCR experiment ● Understand the function of various reaction components and their overall effect on a PCR experiment ● Design and optimize a PCR experiment for any DNA template ● Troubleshoot failed PCR experiments
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, PCR, optimization, primer design, melting temperature, Tm, troubleshooting, additives, enhancers, template DNA quantification, thermal cycler, molecular biology, genetics
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Constant Pressure-controlled Extrusion Method for the Preparation of Nano-sized Lipid Vesicles
Authors: Leslie A. Morton, Jonel P. Saludes, Hang Yin.
Institutions: University of Colorado Boulder, University of Colorado Boulder.
Liposomes are artificially prepared vesicles consisting of natural and synthetic phospholipids that are widely used as a cell membrane mimicking platform to study protein-protein and protein-lipid interactions3, monitor drug delivery4,5, and encapsulation4. Phospholipids naturally create curved lipid bilayers, distinguishing itself from a micelle.6 Liposomes are traditionally classified by size and number of bilayers, i.e. large unilamellar vesicles (LUVs), small unilamellar vesicles (SUVs) and multilamellar vesicles (MLVs)7. In particular, the preparation of homogeneous liposomes of various sizes is important for studying membrane curvature that plays a vital role in cell signaling, endo- and exocytosis, membrane fusion, and protein trafficking8. Several groups analyze how proteins are used to modulate processes that involve membrane curvature and thus prepare liposomes of diameters <100 - 400 nm to study their behavior on cell functions3. Others focus on liposome-drug encapsulation, studying liposomes as vehicles to carry and deliver a drug of interest9. Drug encapsulation can be achieved as reported during liposome formation9. Our extrusion step should not affect the encapsulated drug for two reasons, i.e. (1) drug encapsulation should be achieved prior to this step and (2) liposomes should retain their natural biophysical stability, securely carrying the drug in the aqueous core. These research goals further suggest the need for an optimized method to design stable sub-micron lipid vesicles. Nonetheless, the current liposome preparation technologies (sonication10, freeze-and-thaw10, sedimentation) do not allow preparation of liposomes with highly curved surface (i.e. diameter <100 nm) with high consistency and efficiency10,5, which limits the biophysical studies of an emerging field of membrane curvature sensing. Herein, we present a robust preparation method for a variety of biologically relevant liposomes. Manual extrusion using gas-tight syringes and polycarbonate membranes10,5 is a common practice but heterogeneity is often observed when using pore sizes <100 nm due to due to variability of manual pressure applied. We employed a constant pressure-controlled extrusion apparatus to prepare synthetic liposomes whose diameters range between 30 and 400 nm. Dynamic light scattering (DLS)10, electron microscopy11 and nanoparticle tracking analysis (NTA)12 were used to quantify the liposome sizes as described in our protocol, with commercial polystyrene (PS) beads used as a calibration standard. A near linear correlation was observed between the employed pore sizes and the experimentally determined liposomes, indicating high fidelity of our pressure-controlled liposome preparation method. Further, we have shown that this lipid vesicle preparation method is generally applicable, independent of various liposome sizes. Lastly, we have also demonstrated in a time course study that these prepared liposomes were stable for up to 16 hours. A representative nano-sized liposome preparation protocol is demonstrated below.
Bioengineering, Issue 64, Biomedical Engineering, Liposomes, particle extrusion, nano-sized vesicles, dynamic light scattering (DLS), nanoparticle tracking analysis (NTA)
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Production of Disulfide-stabilized Transmembrane Peptide Complexes for Structural Studies
Authors: Pooja Sharma, Mariam Kaywan-Lutfi, Logesvaran Krshnan, Eamon F. X. Byrne, Melissa Joy Call, Matthew Edwin Call.
Institutions: The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, The University of Melbourne.
Physical interactions among the lipid-embedded alpha-helical domains of membrane proteins play a crucial role in folding and assembly of membrane protein complexes and in dynamic processes such as transmembrane (TM) signaling and regulation of cell-surface protein levels. Understanding the structural features driving the association of particular sequences requires sophisticated biophysical and biochemical analyses of TM peptide complexes. However, the extreme hydrophobicity of TM domains makes them very difficult to manipulate using standard peptide chemistry techniques, and production of suitable study material often proves prohibitively challenging. Identifying conditions under which peptides can adopt stable helical conformations and form complexes spontaneously adds a further level of difficulty. Here we present a procedure for the production of homo- or hetero-dimeric TM peptide complexes from materials that are expressed in E. coli, thus allowing incorporation of stable isotope labels for nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) or non-natural amino acids for other applications relatively inexpensively. The key innovation in this method is that TM complexes are produced and purified as covalently associated (disulfide-crosslinked) assemblies that can form stable, stoichiometric and homogeneous structures when reconstituted into detergent, lipid or other membrane-mimetic materials. We also present carefully optimized procedures for expression and purification that are equally applicable whether producing single TM domains or crosslinked complexes and provide advice for adapting these methods to new TM sequences.
Biochemistry, Issue 73, Structural Biology, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Biophysics, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Membrane Proteins, Proteins, Molecular Structure, transmembrane domain, peptide chemistry, membrane protein structure, immune receptors, reversed-phase HPLC, HPLC, peptides, lipids, protein, cloning, TFA Elution, CNBr Digestion, NMR, expression, cell culture
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Cell Electrofusion Visualized with Fluorescence Microscopy
Authors: Katja Trontelj, Marko Ušaj, Damijan Miklavčič.
Institutions: University of Ljubljana.
Cell electrofusion is a safe, non-viral and non-chemical method that can be used for preparing hybrid cells for human therapy. Electrofusion involves application of short high-voltage electric pulses to cells that are in close contact. Application of short, high-voltage electric pulses causes destabilization of cell plasma membranes. Destabilized membranes are more permeable for different molecules and also prone to fusion with any neighboring destabilized membranes. Electrofusion is thus a convenient method to achieve a non-specific fusion of very different cells in vitro. In order to obtain fusion, cell membranes, destabilized by electric field, must be in a close contact to allow merging of their lipid bilayers and consequently their cytoplasm. In this video, we demonstrate efficient electrofusion of cells in vitro by means of modified adherence method. In this method, cells are allowed to attach only slightly to the surface of the well, so that medium can be exchanged and cells still preserve their spherical shape. Fusion visualization is assessed by pre-labeling of the cytoplasm of cells with different fluorescent cell tracker dyes; half of the cells are labeled with orange CMRA and the other half with green CMFDA. Fusion yield is determined as the number of dually fluorescent cells divided with the number of all cells multiplied by two.
Cellular Biology, Issue 41, cell fusion, electrofusion, modified adherence method, CMFDA, CMRA, hypoosmolar treatment
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Digital Microfluidics for Automated Proteomic Processing
Authors: Mais J. Jebrail, Vivienne N. Luk, Steve C. C. Shih, Ryan Fobel, Alphonsus H. C. Ng, Hao Yang, Sergio L. S. Freire, Aaron R. Wheeler.
Institutions: University of Toronto, Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research, University of Toronto.
Clinical proteomics has emerged as an important new discipline, promising the discovery of biomarkers that will be useful for early diagnosis and prognosis of disease. While clinical proteomic methods vary widely, a common characteristic is the need for (i) extraction of proteins from extremely heterogeneous fluids (i.e. serum, whole blood, etc.) and (ii) extensive biochemical processing prior to analysis. Here, we report a new digital microfluidics (DMF) based method integrating several processing steps used in clinical proteomics. This includes protein extraction, resolubilization, reduction, alkylation and enzymatic digestion. Digital microfluidics is a microscale fluid-handling technique in which nanoliter-microliter sized droplets are manipulated on an open surface. Droplets are positioned on top of an array of electrodes that are coated by a dielectric layer - when an electrical potential is applied to the droplet, charges accumulate on either side of the dielectric. The charges serve as electrostatic handles that can be used to control droplet position, and by biasing a sequence of electrodes in series, droplets can be made to dispense, move, merge, mix, and split on the surface. Therefore, DMF is a natural fit for carrying rapid, sequential, multistep, miniaturized automated biochemical assays. This represents a significant advance over conventional methods (relying on manual pipetting or robots), and has the potential to be a useful new tool in clinical proteomics. Mais J. Jebrail, Vivienne N. Luk, and Steve C. C. Shih contributed equally to this work. Sergio L. S. Freire's current address is at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia located at 600 South 43rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104.
Bioengineering, Issue 33, digital microfluidics, protein processing, protein extraction, protein precipitation, biochemical assays, reduction, alkylation, digestion, automation, feedback
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Interview: Protein Folding and Studies of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Authors: Susan Lindquist.
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In this interview, Dr. Lindquist describes relationships between protein folding, prion diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. The problem of the protein folding is at the core of the modern biology. In addition to their traditional biochemical functions, proteins can mediate transfer of biological information and therefore can be considered a genetic material. This recently discovered function of proteins has important implications for studies of human disorders. Dr. Lindquist also describes current experimental approaches to investigate the mechanism of neurodegenerative diseases based on genetic studies in model organisms.
Neuroscience, issue 17, protein folding, brain, neuron, prion, neurodegenerative disease, yeast, screen, Translational Research
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BioMEMS: Forging New Collaborations Between Biologists and Engineers
Authors: Noo Li Jeon.
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
This video describes the fabrication and use of a microfluidic device to culture central nervous system (CNS) neurons. This device is compatible with live-cell optical microscopy (DIC and phase contrast), as well as confocal and two photon microscopy approaches. This method uses precision-molded polymer parts to create miniature multi-compartment cell culture with fluidic isolation. The compartments are made of tiny channels with dimensions that are large enough to culture neurons in well-controlled fluidic microenvironments. Neurons can be cultured for 2-3 weeks within the device, after which they can be fixed and stained for immunocytochemistry. Axonal and somal compartments can be maintained fluidically isolated from each other by using a small hydrostatic pressure difference; this feature can be used to localize soluble insults to one compartment for up to 20 h after each medium change. Fluidic isolation enables collection of pure axonal fraction and biochemical analysis by PCR. The microfluidic device provides a highly adaptable platform for neuroscience research and may find applications in modeling CNS injury and neurodegeneration.
Neuroscience, Issue 9, Microfluidics, Bioengineering, Neuron
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