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.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
MicroRNA In situ Hybridization for Formalin Fixed Kidney Tissues
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin.
In this article we describe a method for colorimetric detection of miRNA in the kidney through in situ
hybridization with digoxigenin tagged microRNA probes. This protocol, originally developed by Kloosterman and colleagues for broad use with Exiqon miRNA probes1
, has been modified to overcome challenges inherent in miRNA analysis in kidney tissues. These include issues such as structure identification and hard to remove residual probe and antibody. Use of relatively thin, 5 mm thick, tissue sections allowed for clear visualization of kidney structures, while a strong probe signal was retained in cells. Additionally, probe concentration and incubation conditions were optimized to facilitate visualization of microRNA expression with low background and nonspecific signal. Here, the optimized protocol is described, covering the initial tissue collection and preparation through the mounting of slides at the end of the procedure. The basic components of this protocol can be altered for application to other tissues and cell culture models.
Basic Protocol, Issue 81, microRNA, in situ hybridization, kidney, renal tubules, microRNA probe
Identifying Targets of Human microRNAs with the LightSwitch Luciferase Assay System using 3'UTR-reporter Constructs and a microRNA Mimic in Adherent Cells
Institutions: SwitchGear Genomics.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are important regulators of gene expression and play a role in many biological processes. More than 700 human miRNAs have been identified so far with each having up to hundreds of unique target mRNAs. Computational tools, expression and proteomics assays, and chromatin-immunoprecipitation-based techniques provide important clues for identifying mRNAs that are direct targets of a particular miRNA. In addition, 3'UTR-reporter assays have become an important component of thorough miRNA target studies because they provide functional evidence for and quantitate the effects of specific miRNA-3'UTR interactions in a cell-based system. To enable more researchers to leverage 3'UTR-reporter assays and to support the scale-up of such assays to high-throughput levels, we have created a genome-wide collection of human 3'UTR luciferase reporters in the highly-optimized LightSwitch Luciferase Assay System. The system also includes synthetic miRNA target reporter constructs for use as positive controls, various endogenous 3'UTR reporter constructs, and a series of standardized experimental protocols.
Here we describe a method for co-transfection of individual 3'UTR-reporter constructs along with a miRNA mimic that is efficient, reproducible, and amenable to high-throughput analysis.
Genetics, Issue 55, MicroRNA, miRNA, mimic, Clone, 3' UTR, Assay, vector, LightSwitch, luciferase, co-transfection, 3'UTR REPORTER, mirna target, microrna target, reporter, GoClone, Reporter construct
Profiling of Pre-micro RNAs and microRNAs using Quantitative Real-time PCR (qPCR) Arrays
Institutions: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Quantitative real-time PCR (QPCR) has emerged as an accurate and valuable tool in profiling gene expression levels. One of its many advantages is a lower detection limit compared to other methods of gene expression profiling while using smaller amounts of input for each assay. Automated qPCR setup has improved this field by allowing for greater reproducibility. Its convenient and rapid setup allows for high-throughput experiments, enabling the profiling of many different genes simultaneously in each experiment. This method along with internal plate controls also reduces experimental variables common to other techniques.
We recently developed a qPCR assay for profiling of pre-microRNAs (pre-miRNAs) using a set of 186 primer pairs. MicroRNAs have emerged as a novel class of small, non-coding RNAs with the ability to regulate many mRNA targets at the post-transcriptional level. These small RNAs are first transcribed by RNA polymerase II as a primary miRNA (pri-miRNA) transcript, which is then cleaved into the precursor miRNA (pre-miRNA). Pre-miRNAs are exported to the cytoplasm where Dicer cleaves the hairpin loop to yield mature miRNAs. Increases in miRNA levels can be observed at both the precursor and mature miRNA levels and profiling of both of these forms can be useful. There are several commercially available assays for mature miRNAs; however, their high cost may deter researchers from this profiling technique. Here, we discuss a cost-effective, reliable, SYBR-based qPCR method of profiling pre-miRNAs. Changes in pre-miRNA levels often reflect mature miRNA changes and can be a useful indicator of mature miRNA expression. However, simultaneous profiling of both pre-miRNAs and mature miRNAs may be optimal as they can contribute nonredundant information and provide insight into microRNA processing. Furthermore, the technique described here can be expanded to encompass the profiling of other library sets for specific pathways or pathogens.
Biochemistry, Issue 46, pre-microRNAs, qPCR, profiling, Tecan Freedom Evo, robot
Highly Efficient Ligation of Small RNA Molecules for MicroRNA Quantitation by High-Throughput Sequencing
Institutions: University of Colorado, Boulder, University of Colorado, Denver.
MiRNA cloning and high-throughput sequencing, termed miR-Seq, stands alone as a transcriptome-wide approach to quantify miRNAs with single nucleotide resolution. This technique captures miRNAs by attaching 3’ and 5’ oligonucleotide adapters to miRNA molecules and allows de novo
miRNA discovery. Coupling with powerful next-generation sequencing platforms, miR-Seq has been instrumental in the study of miRNA biology. However, significant biases introduced by oligonucleotide ligation steps have prevented miR-Seq from being employed as an accurate quantitation tool. Previous studies demonstrate that biases in current miR-Seq methods often lead to inaccurate miRNA quantification with errors up to 1,000-fold for some miRNAs1,2
. To resolve these biases imparted by RNA ligation, we have developed a small RNA ligation method that results in ligation efficiencies of over 95% for both 3’ and 5′ ligation steps. Benchmarking this improved library construction method using equimolar or differentially mixed synthetic miRNAs, consistently yields reads numbers with less than two-fold deviation from the expected value. Furthermore, this high-efficiency miR-Seq method permits accurate genome-wide miRNA profiling from in vivo
total RNA samples2
Molecular Biology, Issue 93, RNA, ligation, miRNA, miR-Seq, linker, oligonucleotide, high-throughput sequencing
Doppler Optical Coherence Tomography of Retinal Circulation
Institutions: Oregon Health and Science University , University of Southern California.
Noncontact retinal blood flow measurements are performed with a Fourier domain optical coherence tomography (OCT) system using a circumpapillary double circular scan (CDCS) that scans around the optic nerve head at 3.40 mm and 3.75 mm diameters. The double concentric circles are performed 6 times consecutively over 2 sec. The CDCS scan is saved with Doppler shift information from which flow can be calculated. The standard clinical protocol calls for 3 CDCS scans made with the OCT beam passing through the superonasal edge of the pupil and 3 CDCS scan through the inferonal pupil. This double-angle protocol ensures that acceptable Doppler angle is obtained on each retinal branch vessel in at least 1 scan. The CDCS scan data, a 3-dimensional volumetric OCT scan of the optic disc scan, and a color photograph of the optic disc are used together to obtain retinal blood flow measurement on an eye. We have developed a blood flow measurement software called "Doppler optical coherence tomography of retinal circulation" (DOCTORC). This semi-automated software is used to measure total retinal blood flow, vessel cross section area, and average blood velocity. The flow of each vessel is calculated from the Doppler shift in the vessel cross-sectional area and the Doppler angle between the vessel and the OCT beam. Total retinal blood flow measurement is summed from the veins around the optic disc. The results obtained at our Doppler OCT reading center showed good reproducibility between graders and methods (<10%). Total retinal blood flow could be useful in the management of glaucoma, other retinal diseases, and retinal diseases. In glaucoma patients, OCT retinal blood flow measurement was highly correlated with visual field loss (R2
>0.57 with visual field pattern deviation). Doppler OCT is a new method to perform rapid, noncontact, and repeatable measurement of total retinal blood flow using widely available Fourier-domain OCT instrumentation. This new technology may improve the practicality of making these measurements in clinical studies and routine clinical practice.
Medicine, Issue 67, Ophthalmology, Physics, Doppler optical coherence tomography, total retinal blood flow, dual circular scan pattern, image analysis, semi-automated grading software, optic disc
Using an Automated 3D-tracking System to Record Individual and Shoals of Adult Zebrafish
Like many aquatic animals, zebrafish (Danio rerio
) moves in a 3D space. It is thus preferable to use a 3D recording system to study its behavior. The presented automatic video tracking system accomplishes this by using a mirror system and a calibration procedure that corrects for the considerable error introduced by the transition of light from water to air. With this system it is possible to record both single and groups of adult zebrafish. Before use, the system has to be calibrated. The system consists of three modules: Recording, Path Reconstruction, and Data Processing. The step-by-step protocols for calibration and using the three modules are presented. Depending on the experimental setup, the system can be used for testing neophobia, white aversion, social cohesion, motor impairments, novel object exploration etc
. It is especially promising as a first-step tool to study the effects of drugs or mutations on basic behavioral patterns. The system provides information about vertical and horizontal distribution of the zebrafish, about the xyz-components of kinematic parameters (such as locomotion, velocity, acceleration, and turning angle) and it provides the data necessary to calculate parameters for social cohesions when testing shoals.
Behavior, Issue 82, neuroscience, Zebrafish, Danio rerio, anxiety, Shoaling, Pharmacology, 3D-tracking, MK801
Alternative Cultures for Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Production, Maintenance, and Genetic Analysis
Institutions: National Institutes of Health, National Institutes of Health.
Human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) hold great promise for regenerative medicine and biopharmaceutical applications. Currently, optimal culture and efficient expansion of large amounts of clinical-grade hPSCs are critical issues in hPSC-based therapies. Conventionally, hPSCs are propagated as colonies on both feeder and feeder-free culture systems. However, these methods have several major limitations, including low cell yields and generation of heterogeneously differentiated cells. To improve current hPSC culture methods, we have recently developed a new method, which is based on non-colony type monolayer (NCM) culture of dissociated single cells. Here, we present detailed NCM protocols based on the Rho-associated kinase (ROCK) inhibitor Y-27632. We also provide new information regarding NCM culture with different small molecules such as Y-39983 (ROCK I inhibitor), phenylbenzodioxane (ROCK II inhibitor), and thiazovivin (a novel ROCK inhibitor). We further extend our basic protocol to cultivate hPSCs on defined extracellular proteins such as the laminin isoform 521 (LN-521) without the use of ROCK inhibitors. Moreover, based on NCM, we have demonstrated efficient transfection or transduction of plasmid DNAs, lentiviral particles, and oligonucleotide-based microRNAs into hPSCs in order to genetically modify these cells for molecular analyses and drug discovery. The NCM-based methods overcome the major shortcomings of colony-type culture, and thus may be suitable for producing large amounts of homogeneous hPSCs for future clinical therapies, stem cell research, and drug discovery.
Stem Cell Biology, Issue 89, Pluripotent stem cells, human embryonic stem cells, induced pluripotent stem cells, cell culture, non-colony type monolayer, single cell, plating efficiency, Rho-associated kinase, Y-27632, transfection, transduction
Adenoviral Transduction of Naive CD4 T Cells to Study Treg Differentiation
Institutions: Helmholtz Zentrum München.
Regulatory T cells (Tregs) are essential to provide immune tolerance to self as well as to certain foreign antigens. Tregs can be generated from naive CD4 T cells in vitro
with TCR- and co-stimulation in the presence of TGFβ and IL-2. This bears enormous potential for future therapies, however, the molecules and signaling pathways that control differentiation are largely unknown.
Primary T cells can be manipulated through ectopic gene expression, but common methods fail to target the most important naive state of the T cell prior to primary antigen recognition. Here, we provide a protocol to express ectopic genes in naive CD4 T cells in vitro
before inducing Treg differentiation. It applies transduction with the replication-deficient adenovirus and explains its generation and production. The adenovirus can take up large inserts (up to 7 kb) and can be equipped with promoters to achieve high and transient overexpression in T cells. It effectively transduces naive mouse T cells if they express a transgenic Coxsackie adenovirus receptor (CAR). Importantly, after infection the T cells remain naive (CD44low
) and resting (CD25-
) and can be activated and differentiated into Tregs similar to non-infected cells. Thus, this method enables manipulation of CD4 T cell differentiation from its very beginning. It ensures that ectopic gene expression is already in place when early signaling events of the initial TCR stimulation induces cellular changes that eventually lead into Treg differentiation.
Immunology, Issue 78, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Bioengineering, Infection, Genetics, Microbiology, Virology, T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory, CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory, Adenoviruses, Human, MicroRNAs, Antigens, Differentiation, T-Lymphocyte, Gene Transfer Techniques, Transduction, Genetic, Transfection, Adenovirus, gene transfer, microRNA, overexpression, knock down, CD4 T cells, in vitro differentiation, regulatory T cell, virus, cell, flow cytometry
The Cell-based L-Glutathione Protection Assays to Study Endocytosis and Recycling of Plasma Membrane Proteins
Institutions: Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Membrane trafficking involves transport of proteins from the plasma membrane to the cell interior (i.e.
endocytosis) followed by trafficking to lysosomes for degradation or to the plasma membrane for recycling. The cell based L-glutathione protection assays can be used to study endocytosis and recycling of protein receptors, channels, transporters, and adhesion molecules localized at the cell surface. The endocytic assay requires labeling of cell surface proteins with a cell membrane impermeable biotin containing a disulfide bond and the N-hydroxysuccinimide (NHS) ester at 4 ºC - a temperature at which membrane trafficking does not occur. Endocytosis of biotinylated plasma membrane proteins is induced by incubation at 37 ºC. Next, the temperature is decreased again to 4 ºC to stop endocytic trafficking and the disulfide bond in biotin covalently attached to proteins that have remained at the plasma membrane is reduced with L-glutathione. At this point, only proteins that were endocytosed remain protected from L-glutathione and thus remain biotinylated. After cell lysis, biotinylated proteins are isolated with streptavidin agarose, eluted from agarose, and the biotinylated protein of interest is detected by western blotting. During the recycling assay, after biotinylation cells are incubated at 37 °C to load endocytic vesicles with biotinylated proteins and the disulfide bond in biotin covalently attached to proteins remaining at the plasma membrane is reduced with L-glutathione at 4 ºC as in the endocytic assay. Next, cells are incubated again at 37 °C to allow biotinylated proteins from endocytic vesicles to recycle to the plasma membrane. Cells are then incubated at 4 ºC, and the disulfide bond in biotin attached to proteins that recycled to the plasma membranes is reduced with L-glutathione. The biotinylated proteins protected from L-glutathione are those that did not recycle to the plasma membrane.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Endocytosis, recycling, plasma membrane, cell surface, EZLink, Sulfo-NHS-SS-Biotin, L-Glutathione, GSH, thiol group, disulfide bond, epithelial cells, cell polarization
In ovo Expression of MicroRNA in Ventral Chick Midbrain
Institutions: University of Tübingen.
Non-coding RNAs are additional players in regulating gene expression. Targeted in ovo
electroporation of specific areas provides a unique tool for spatial and temporal control of ectopic microRNA expression. However, ventral brain structures like ventral midbrain are rather difficult to reach for any manipulations. Here, we demonstrate an efficient way to electroporate miRNA into ventral midbrain using thin platinum electrodes. This method offers a reliable way to transfect specific areas of the midbrain and a useful tool for in vivo
Neuroscience, Issue 79, Central Nervous System, neural development, chick embryo, microRNA, electroporation
MicroRNA Detection in Prostate Tumors by Quantitative Real-time PCR (qPCR)
Institutions: University of Toronto, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, Canada, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, Canada, Sunnybrook Research Institute.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are single-stranded, 18–24 nucleotide long, non-coding RNA molecules. They are involved in virtually every cellular process including development1
, and cell cycle regulation3
. MiRNAs are estimated to regulate the expression of 30% to 90% of human genes4
by binding to their target messenger RNAs (mRNAs)5
. Widespread dysregulation of miRNAs has been reported in various diseases and cancer subtypes6
. Due to their prevalence and unique structure, these small molecules are likely to be the next generation of biomarkers, therapeutic agents and/or targets.
Methods used to investigate miRNA expression include SYBR green I dye- based as well as Taqman-probe based qPCR. If miRNAs are to be effectively used in the clinical setting, it is imperative that their detection in fresh and/or archived clinical samples be accurate, reproducible, and specific. qPCR has been widely used for validating expression of miRNAs in whole genome analyses such as microarray studies7
. The samples used in this protocol were from patients who underwent radical prostatectomy for clinically localized prostate cancer; however other tissues and cell lines can be substituted in. Prostate specimens were snap-frozen in liquid nitrogen after resection. Clinical variables and follow-up information for each patient were collected for subsequent analysis8
Quantification of miRNA levels in prostate tumor samples
. The main steps in qPCR analysis of tumors are: Total RNA extraction, cDNA synthesis, and detection of qPCR products using miRNA-specific primers. Total RNA, which includes mRNA, miRNA, and other small RNAs were extracted from specimens using TRIzol reagent. Qiagen's miScript System was used to synthesize cDNA and perform qPCR (Figure 1
). Endogenous miRNAs are not polyadenylated, therefore during the reverse transcription process, a poly(A) polymerase polyadenylates the miRNA. The miRNA is used as a template to synthesize cDNA using oligo-dT and Reverse Transcriptase. A universal tag sequence on the 5' end of oligo-dT primers facilitates the amplification of cDNA in the PCR step. PCR product amplification is detected by the level of fluorescence emitted by SYBR Green, a dye which intercalates into double stranded DNA. Specific miRNA primers, along with a Universal Primer that binds to the universal tag sequence will amplify specific miRNA sequences.
The miScript Primer Assays are available for over a thousand human-specific miRNAs, and hundreds of murine-specific miRNAs. Relative quantification method was used here to quantify the expression of miRNAs. To correct for variability amongst different samples, expression levels of a target miRNA is normalized to the expression levels of a reference gene. The choice of a gene on which to normalize the expression of targets is critical in relative quantification method of analysis. Examples of reference genes typically used in this capacity are the small RNAs RNU6B, RNU44, and RNU48 as they are considered to be stably expressed across most samples. In this protocol, RNU6B is used as the reference gene.
Cancer Biology, Issue 63, Medicine, cancer, primer assay, Prostate, microRNA, tumor, qPCR
Isolation of Small Noncoding RNAs from Human Serum
Institutions: University of Technology, Sydney, University of Technology, Sydney, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.
The analysis of RNA and its expression is a common feature in many laboratories. Of significance is the emergence of small RNAs like microRNAs, which are found in mammalian cells. These small RNAs are potent gene regulators controlling vital pathways such as growth, development and death and much interest has been directed at their expression in bodily fluids. This is due to their dysregulation in human diseases such as cancer and their potential application as serum biomarkers. However, the analysis of miRNA expression in serum may be problematic. In most cases the amount of serum is limiting and serum contains low amounts of total RNA, of which small RNAs only constitute 0.4-0.5%1
. Thus the isolation of sufficient amounts of quality RNA from serum is a major challenge to researchers today. In this technical paper, we demonstrate a method which uses only 400 µl of human serum to obtain sufficient RNA for either DNA arrays or qPCR analysis. The advantages of this method are its simplicity and ability to yield high quality RNA. It requires no specialized columns for purification of small RNAs and utilizes general reagents and hardware found in common laboratories. Our method utilizes a Phase Lock Gel to eliminate phenol contamination while at the same time yielding high quality RNA. We also introduce an additional step to further remove all contaminants during the isolation step. This protocol is very effective in isolating yields of total RNA of up to 100 ng/µl from serum but can also be adapted for other biological tissues.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, small noncoding RNA isolation, microRNAs, human serum, qPCR, guanidinium thiocyanate , Phase Lock Gels, arrays
Detection of MicroRNAs in Microglia by Real-time PCR in Normal CNS and During Neuroinflammation
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
Microglia are cells of the myeloid lineage that reside in the central nervous system (CNS)1
. These cells play an important role in pathologies of many diseases associated with neuroinflammation such as multiple sclerosis (MS)2
. Microglia in a normal CNS express macrophage marker CD11b and exhibit a resting phenotype by expressing low levels of activation markers such as CD45. During pathological events in the CNS, microglia become activated as determined by upregulation of CD45 and other markers3
. The factors that affect microglia phenotype and functions in the CNS are not well studied. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a growing family of conserved molecules (~22 nucleotides long) that are involved in many normal physiological processes such as cell growth and differentiation4
and pathologies such as inflammation5
. MiRNAs downregulate the expression of certain target genes by binding complementary sequences of their mRNAs and play an important role in the activation of innate immune cells including macrophages6
. In order to investigate miRNA-mediated pathways that define the microglial phenotype, biological function, and to distinguish microglia from other types of macrophages, it is important to quantitatively assess the expression of particular microRNAs in distinct subsets of CNS-resident microglia. Common methods for measuring the expression of miRNAs in the CNS include quantitative PCR from whole neuronal tissue and in situ
hybridization. However, quantitative PCR from whole tissue homogenate does not allow the assessment of the expression of miRNA in microglia, which represent only 5-15% of the cells of neuronal tissue. Hybridization in situ
allows the assessment of the expression of microRNA in specific cell types in the tissue sections, but this method is not entirely quantitative. In this report we describe a quantitative and sensitive method for the detection of miRNA by real-time PCR in microglia isolated from normal CNS or during neuroinflammation using experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), a mouse model for MS. The described method will be useful to measure the level of expression of microRNAs in microglia in normal CNS or during neuroinflammation associated with various pathologies including MS, stroke, traumatic injury, Alzheimer's disease and brain tumors.
Immunology, Issue 65, Neuroscience, Genetics, microglia, macrophages, microRNA, brain, mouse, real-time PCR, neuroinflammation
Genome-wide Screen for miRNA Targets Using the MISSION Target ID Library
The Target ID Library is designed to assist in discovery and identification of microRNA (miRNA) targets. The Target ID Library is a plasmid-based, genome-wide cDNA library cloned into the 3'UTR downstream from the dual-selection fusion protein, thymidine kinase-zeocin (TKzeo). The first round of selection is for stable transformants, followed with introduction of a miRNA of interest, and finally, selecting for cDNAs containing the miRNA's target. Selected cDNAs are identified by sequencing (see Figure 1-3 for Target ID Library Workflow and details).
To ensure broad coverage of the human transcriptome, Target ID Library cDNAs were generated via oligo-dT priming using a pool of total RNA prepared from multiple human tissues and cell lines. Resulting cDNA range from 0.5 to 4 kb, with an average size of 1.2 kb, and were cloned into the p3΄TKzeo dual-selection plasmid (see Figure 4 for plasmid map). The gene targets represented in the library can be found on the Sigma-Aldrich webpage. Results from Illumina sequencing (Table 3
), show that the library includes 16,922 of the 21,518 unique genes in UCSC RefGene (79%), or 14,000 genes with 10 or more reads (66%).
Genetics, Issue 62, Target ID, miRNA, ncRNA, RNAi, genomics
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
Profiling of Estrogen-regulated MicroRNAs in Breast Cancer Cells
Institutions: University of Houston.
Estrogen plays vital roles in mammary gland development and breast cancer progression. It mediates its function by binding to and activating the estrogen receptors (ERs), ERα, and ERβ. ERα is frequently upregulated in breast cancer and drives the proliferation of breast cancer cells. The ERs function as transcription factors and regulate gene expression. Whereas ERα's regulation of protein-coding genes is well established, its regulation of noncoding microRNA (miRNA) is less explored. miRNAs play a major role in the post-transcriptional regulation of genes, inhibiting their translation or degrading their mRNA. miRNAs can function as oncogenes or tumor suppressors and are also promising biomarkers. Among the miRNA assays available, microarray and quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) have been extensively used to detect and quantify miRNA levels. To identify miRNAs regulated by estrogen signaling in breast cancer, their expression in ERα-positive breast cancer cell lines were compared before and after estrogen-activation using both the µParaflo-microfluidic microarrays and Dual Labeled Probes-low density arrays. Results were validated using specific qPCR assays, applying both Cyanine dye-based and Dual Labeled Probes-based chemistry. Furthermore, a time-point assay was used to identify regulations over time. Advantages of the miRNA assay approach used in this study is that it enables a fast screening of mature miRNA regulations in numerous samples, even with limited sample amounts. The layout, including the specific conditions for cell culture and estrogen treatment, biological and technical replicates, and large-scale screening followed by in-depth confirmations using separate techniques, ensures a robust detection of miRNA regulations, and eliminates false positives and other artifacts. However, mutated or unknown miRNAs, or regulations at the primary and precursor transcript level, will not be detected. The method presented here represents a thorough investigation of estrogen-mediated miRNA regulation.
Medicine, Issue 84, breast cancer, microRNA, estrogen, estrogen receptor, microarray, qPCR
Enhanced Northern Blot Detection of Small RNA Species in Drosophila Melanogaster
Institutions: Institut de Génétique et de Biologie Moléculaire et Cellulaire, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia.
The last decades have witnessed the explosion of scientific interest around gene expression control mechanisms at the RNA level. This branch of molecular biology has been greatly fueled by the discovery of noncoding RNAs as major players in post-transcriptional regulation. Such a revolutionary perspective has been accompanied and triggered by the development of powerful technologies for profiling short RNAs expression, both at the high-throughput level (genome-wide identification) or as single-candidate analysis (steady state accumulation of specific species). Although several state-of-art strategies are currently available for dosing or visualizing such fleeing molecules, Northern Blot assay remains the eligible approach in molecular biology for immediate and accurate evaluation of RNA expression. It represents a first step toward the application of more sophisticated, costly technologies and, in many cases, remains a preferential method to easily gain insights into RNA biology. Here we overview an efficient protocol (Enhanced Northern Blot) for detecting weakly expressed microRNAs (or other small regulatory RNA species) from Drosophila melanogaster
whole embryos, manually dissected larval/adult tissues or in vitro
cultured cells. A very limited amount of RNA is required and the use of material from flow cytometry-isolated cells can be also envisaged.
Molecular Biology, Issue 90, Northern blotting, Noncoding RNAs, microRNAs, rasiRNA, Gene expression, Gcm/Glide, Drosophila melanogaster
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
A Manual Small Molecule Screen Approaching High-throughput Using Zebrafish Embryos
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
Zebrafish have become a widely used model organism to investigate the mechanisms that underlie developmental biology and to study human disease pathology due to their considerable degree of genetic conservation with humans. Chemical genetics entails testing the effect that small molecules have on a biological process and is becoming a popular translational research method to identify therapeutic compounds. Zebrafish are specifically appealing to use for chemical genetics because of their ability to produce large clutches of transparent embryos, which are externally fertilized. Furthermore, zebrafish embryos can be easily drug treated by the simple addition of a compound to the embryo media. Using whole-mount in situ
hybridization (WISH), mRNA expression can be clearly visualized within zebrafish embryos. Together, using chemical genetics and WISH, the zebrafish becomes a potent whole organism context in which to determine the cellular and physiological effects of small molecules. Innovative advances have been made in technologies that utilize machine-based screening procedures, however for many labs such options are not accessible or remain cost-prohibitive. The protocol described here explains how to execute a manual high-throughput chemical genetic screen that requires basic resources and can be accomplished by a single individual or small team in an efficient period of time. Thus, this protocol provides a feasible strategy that can be implemented by research groups to perform chemical genetics in zebrafish, which can be useful for gaining fundamental insights into developmental processes, disease mechanisms, and to identify novel compounds and signaling pathways that have medically relevant applications.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, zebrafish, chemical genetics, chemical screen, in vivo small molecule screen, drug discovery, whole mount in situ hybridization (WISH), high-throughput screening (HTS), high-content screening (HCS)
Cerebrospinal Fluid MicroRNA Profiling Using Quantitative Real Time PCR
Institutions: LSU Health Sciences Center, University of Milan.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) constitute a potent layer of gene regulation by guiding RISC to target sites located on mRNAs and, consequently, by modulating their translational repression. Changes in miRNA expression have been shown to be involved in the development of all major complex diseases. Furthermore, recent findings showed that miRNAs can be secreted to the extracellular environment and enter the bloodstream and other body fluids where they can circulate with high stability. The function of such circulating miRNAs remains largely elusive, but systematic high throughput approaches, such as miRNA profiling arrays, have lead to the identification of miRNA signatures in several pathological conditions, including neurodegenerative disorders and several types of cancers. In this context, the identification of miRNA expression profile in the cerebrospinal fluid, as reported in our recent study, makes miRNAs attractive candidates for biomarker analysis.
There are several tools available for profiling microRNAs, such as microarrays, quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR), and deep sequencing. Here, we describe a sensitive method to profile microRNAs in cerebrospinal fluids by quantitative real-time PCR. We used the Exiqon microRNA ready-to-use PCR human panels I and II V2.R, which allows detection of 742 unique human microRNAs. We performed the arrays in triplicate runs and we processed and analyzed data using the GenEx Professional 5 software.
Using this protocol, we have successfully profiled microRNAs in various types of cell lines and primary cells, CSF, plasma, and formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissues.
Medicine, Issue 83, microRNAs, biomarkers, miRNA profiling, qPCR, cerebrospinal fluid, RNA, DNA
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
In vivo Clonal Tracking of Hematopoietic Stem and Progenitor Cells Marked by Five Fluorescent Proteins using Confocal and Multiphoton Microscopy
Institutions: NHLBI/NIH, NHLBI/NIH.
We developed and validated a fluorescent marking methodology for clonal tracking of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs) with high spatial and temporal resolution to study in vivo
hematopoiesis using the murine bone marrow transplant experimental model. Genetic combinatorial marking using lentiviral vectors encoding fluorescent proteins (FPs) enabled cell fate mapping through advanced microscopy imaging. Vectors encoding five different FPs: Cerulean, EGFP, Venus, tdTomato, and mCherry were used to concurrently transduce HSPCs, creating a diverse palette of color marked cells. Imaging using confocal/two-photon hybrid microscopy enables simultaneous high resolution assessment of uniquely marked cells and their progeny in conjunction with structural components of the tissues. Volumetric analyses over large areas reveal that spectrally coded HSPC-derived cells can be detected non-invasively in various intact tissues, including the bone marrow (BM), for extensive periods of time following transplantation. Live studies combining video-rate multiphoton and confocal time-lapse imaging in 4D demonstrate the possibility of dynamic cellular and clonal tracking in a quantitative manner.
Stem Cell Biology, Issue 90, LeGO imaging, clonal tracking, fluorescent proteins, confocal microscopy, multiphoton microscopy, hematopoiesis, lentiviral vectors, hematopoietic stem cells