Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
23 Related JoVE Articles!
Methods for Studying the Mechanisms of Action of Antipsychotic Drugs in Caenorhabditis elegans
Institutions: Harvard Medical School, McLean Hospital.
is a simple genetic organism amenable to large-scale forward and reverse genetic screens and chemical genetic screens. The C. elegans
genome includes potential antipsychotic drug (APD) targets conserved in humans, including genes encoding proteins required for neurotransmitter synthesis and for synaptic structure and function. APD exposure produces developmental delay and/or lethality in nematodes in a concentration-dependent manner. These phenotypes are caused, in part, by APD-induced inhibition of pharyngeal pumping1,2
. Thus, the developmental phenotype has a neuromuscular basis, making it useful for pharmacogenetic studies of neuroleptics. Here we demonstrate detailed procedures for testing APD effects on nematode development and pharyngeal pumping. For the developmental assay, synchronized embryos are placed on nematode growth medium (NGM) plates containing APDs, and the stages of developing animals are then scored daily. For the pharyngeal pumping rate assay, staged young adult animals are tested on NGM plates containing APDs. The number of pharyngeal pumps per unit time is recorded, and the pumping rate is calculated. These assays can be used for studying many other types of small molecules or even large molecules.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, antipsychotic drug, Caenorhabditis elegans, clozapine, developmental delay, lethality, nematode, pharmacogenetics, pharyngeal pumping, schizophrenia
Changes in Mammary Gland Morphology and Breast Cancer Risk in Rats
Institutions: Georgetown University, University of Turku Medical Faculty.
Studies in rodent models of breast cancer show that exposures to dietary/hormonal factors during the in utero
and pubertal periods, when the mammary gland undergoes extensive modeling and re-modeling, alter susceptibility to carcinogen-induced mammary tumors. Similar findings have been described in humans: for example, high birthweight increases later risk of developing breast cancer, and dietary intake of soy during childhood decreases breast cancer risk. It is thought that these prenatal and postnatal dietary modifications induce persistent morphological changes in the mammary gland that in turn modify breast cancer risk later in life. These morphological changes likely reflect epigenetic modifications, such as changes in DNA methylation, histones and miRNA expression that then affect gene transcription . In this article we describe how changes in mammary gland morphology can predict mammary cancer risk in rats. Our protocol specifically describes how to dissect and remove the rat abdominal mammary gland and how to prepare mammary gland whole mounts. It also describes how to analyze mammary gland morphology according to three end-points (number of terminal end buds, epithelial elongation and differentiation) and to use the data to predict risk of developing mammary cancer.
Medicine, Issue 44, mammary gland morphology, terminal end buds, mammary cancer, maternal dietary exposures, pregnancy, prepubertal dietay exposures
Facilitating Drug Discovery: An Automated High-content Inflammation Assay in Zebrafish
Institutions: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Karlsruhe, Germany, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Karlsruhe, Germany.
Zebrafish larvae are particularly amenable to whole animal small molecule screens1,2
due to their small size and relative ease of manipulation and observation, as well as the fact that compounds can simply be added to the bathing water and are readily absorbed when administered in a <1% DMSO solution. Due to the optical clarity of zebrafish larvae and the availability of transgenic lines expressing fluorescent proteins in leukocytes, zebrafish offer the unique advantage of monitoring an acute inflammatory response in vivo
. Consequently, utilizing the zebrafish for high-content small molecule screens aiming at the identification of immune-modulatory compounds with high throughput has been proposed3-6
, suggesting inflammation induction scenarios e.g. localized nicks in fin tissue, laser damage directed to the yolk surface of embryos7
or tailfin amputation3,5,6
. The major drawback of these methods however was the requirement of manual larva manipulation to induce wounding, thus preventing high-throughput screening. Introduction of the chemically induced inflammation (ChIn) assay8
eliminated these obstacles. Since wounding is inflicted chemically the number of embryos that can be treated simultaneously is virtually unlimited. Temporary treatment of zebrafish larvae with copper sulfate selectively induces cell death in hair cells of the lateral line system and results in rapid granulocyte recruitment to injured neuromasts. The inflammatory response can be followed in real-time by using compound transgenic cldnB::GFP/lysC::DsRED26,9
zebrafish larvae that express a green fluorescent protein in neuromast cells, as well as a red fluorescent protein labeling granulocytes.
In order to devise a screening strategy that would allow both high-content and high-throughput analyses we introduced robotic liquid handling and combined automated microscopy with a custom developed software script. This script enables automated quantification of the inflammatory response by scoring the percent area occupied by red fluorescent leukocytes within an empirically defined area surrounding injured green fluorescent neuromasts. Furthermore, we automated data processing, handling, visualization, and storage all based on custom developed MATLAB and Python scripts.
In brief, we introduce an automated HC/HT screen that allows testing of chemical compounds for their effect on initiation, progression or resolution of a granulocytic inflammatory response. This protocol serves a good starting point for more in-depth analyses of drug mechanisms and pathways involved in the orchestration of an innate immune response. In the future, it may help identifying intolerable toxic or off-target effects at earlier phases of drug discovery and thereby reduce procedural risks and costs for drug development.
Immunology, Issue 65, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Zebrafish, Inflammation, Drug discovery, HCS, High Content Screening, Automated Microscopy, high throughput
Annotation of Plant Gene Function via Combined Genomics, Metabolomics and Informatics
Given the ever expanding number of model plant species for which complete genome sequences are available and the abundance of bio-resources such as knockout mutants, wild accessions and advanced breeding populations, there is a rising burden for gene functional annotation. In this protocol, annotation of plant gene function using combined co-expression gene analysis, metabolomics and informatics is provided (Figure 1
). This approach is based on the theory of using target genes of known function to allow the identification of non-annotated genes likely to be involved in a certain metabolic process, with the identification of target compounds via metabolomics. Strategies are put forward for applying this information on populations generated by both forward and reverse genetics approaches in spite of none of these are effortless. By corollary this approach can also be used as an approach to characterise unknown peaks representing new or specific secondary metabolites in the limited tissues, plant species or stress treatment, which is currently the important trial to understanding plant metabolism.
Plant Biology, Issue 64, Genetics, Bioinformatics, Metabolomics, Plant metabolism, Transcriptome analysis, Functional annotation, Computational biology, Plant biology, Theoretical biology, Spectroscopy and structural analysis
Operant Sensation Seeking in the Mouse
Institutions: Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Operant methods are powerful behavioral tools for the study of motivated behavior. These 'self-administration' methods have been used extensively in drug addiction research due to their high construct validity. Operant studies provide researchers a tool for preclinical investigation of several aspects of the addiction process. For example, mechanisms of acute reinforcement (both drug and non-drug) can be tested using pharmacological or genetic tools to determine the ability of a molecular target to influence self-administration behavior1-6
. Additionally, drug or food seeking behaviors can be studied in the absence of the primary reinforcer, and the ability of pharmacological compounds to disrupt this process is a preclinical model for discovery of molecular targets and compounds that may be useful for the treatment of addiction3,7-9
. One problem with performing intravenous drug self-administration studies in the mouse is the technical difficulty of maintaining catheter patency. Attrition rates in these experiments are high and can reach 40% or higher10-15
. Another general problem with drug self-administration is discerning which pharmacologically-induced effects of the reinforcer produce specific behaviors. For example, measurement of the reinforcing and neurological effects of psychostimulants can be confounded by their psychomotor effects. Operant methods using food reinforcement can avoid these pitfalls, although their utility in studying drug addiction is limited by the fact that some manipulations that alter drug self-administration have a minimal impact on food self-administration. For example, mesolimbic dopamine lesion or knockout of the D1 dopamine receptor reduce cocaine self-administration without having a significant impact on food self-administration 12,16
Sensory stimuli have been described for their ability to support operant responding as primary reinforcers (i.e. not conditioned reinforcers)17-22
. Auditory and visual stimuli are self-administered by several species18,21,23
, although surprisingly little is known about the neural mechanisms underlying this reinforcement. The operant sensation seeking (OSS) model is a robust model for obtaining sensory self-administration in the mouse, allowing the study of neural mechanisms important in sensory reinforcement24
. An additional advantage of OSS is the ability to screen mutant mice for differences in operant behavior that may be relevant to addiction. We have reported that dopamine D1 receptor knockout mice, previously shown to be deficient in psychostimulant self-administration, also fail to acquire OSS24
. This is a unique finding in that these mice are capable of learning an operant task when food is used as a reinforcer. While operant studies using food reinforcement can be useful in the study of general motivated behavior and the mechanisms underlying food reinforcement, as mentioned above, these studies are limited in their application to studying molecular mechanisms of drug addiction. Thus, there may be similar neural substrates mediating sensory and psychostimulant reinforcement that are distinct from food reinforcement, which would make OSS a particularly attractive model for the study of drug addiction processes. The degree of overlap between other molecular targets of OSS and drug reinforcers is unclear, but is a topic that we are currently pursuing. While some aspects of addiction such as resistance to extinction may be observed with OSS, we have found that escalation 25
is not observed in this model24
. Interestingly, escalation of intake and some other aspects of addiction are observed with self-administration of sucrose26
. Thus, when non-drug operant procedures are desired to study addiction-related processes, food or sensory reinforcers can be chosen to best fit the particular question being asked.
In conclusion, both food self-administration and OSS in the mouse have the advantage of not requiring an intravenous catheter, which allows a higher throughput means to study the effects of pharmacological or genetic manipulation of neural targets involved in motivation. While operant testing using food as a reinforcer is particularly useful in the study of the regulation of food intake, OSS is particularly apt for studying reinforcement mechanisms of sensory stimuli and may have broad applicability to novelty seeking and addiction.
Neuroscience, Issue 45, novelty seeking, self-administration, addiction, motivation, reinforcement
Comprehensive Analysis of Transcription Dynamics from Brain Samples Following Behavioral Experience
Institutions: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The encoding of experiences in the brain and the consolidation of long-term memories depend on gene transcription. Identifying the function of specific genes in encoding experience is one of the main objectives of molecular neuroscience. Furthermore, the functional association of defined genes with specific behaviors has implications for understanding the basis of neuropsychiatric disorders. Induction of robust transcription programs has been observed in the brains of mice following various behavioral manipulations. While some genetic elements are utilized recurrently following different behavioral manipulations and in different brain nuclei, transcriptional programs are overall unique to the inducing stimuli and the structure in which they are studied1,2
In this publication, a protocol is described for robust and comprehensive transcriptional profiling from brain nuclei of mice in response to behavioral manipulation. The protocol is demonstrated in the context of analysis of gene expression dynamics in the nucleus accumbens following acute cocaine experience. Subsequent to a defined in vivo
experience, the target neural tissue is dissected; followed by RNA purification, reverse transcription and utilization of microfluidic arrays for comprehensive qPCR analysis of multiple target genes. This protocol is geared towards comprehensive analysis (addressing 50-500 genes) of limiting quantities of starting material, such as small brain samples or even single cells.
The protocol is most advantageous for parallel analysis of multiple samples (e.g.
single cells, dynamic analysis following pharmaceutical, viral or behavioral perturbations). However, the protocol could also serve for the characterization and quality assurance of samples prior to whole-genome studies by microarrays or RNAseq, as well as validation of data obtained from whole-genome studies.
Behavior, Issue 90,
Brain, behavior, RNA, transcription, nucleus accumbens, cocaine, high-throughput qPCR, experience-dependent plasticity, gene regulatory networks, microdissection
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
The Use of Pharmacological-challenge fMRI in Pre-clinical Research: Application to the 5-HT System
Institutions: Academic Medical Center Amsterdam, Imperial College London .
Pharmacological MRI (phMRI) is a new and promising method to study the effects of substances on brain function that can ultimately be used to unravel underlying neurobiological mechanisms behind drug action and neurotransmitter-related disorders, such as depression and ADHD. Like most of the imaging methods (PET, SPECT, CT) it represents a progress in the investigation of brain disorders and the related function of neurotransmitter pathways in a non-invasive way with respect of the overall neuronal connectivity. Moreover it also provides the ideal tool for translation to clinical investigations. MRI, while still behind in molecular imaging strategies compared to PET and SPECT, has the great advantage to have a high spatial resolution and no need for the injection of a contrast-agent or radio-labeled molecules, thereby avoiding the repetitive exposure to ionizing radiations. Functional MRI (fMRI) is extensively used in research and clinical setting, where it is generally combined with a psycho-motor task. phMRI is an adaptation of fMRI enabling the investigation of a specific neurotransmitter system, such as serotonin (5-HT), under physiological or pathological conditions following activation via administration of a specific challenging drug.
The aim of the method described here is to assess brain 5-HT function in free-breathing animals. By challenging the 5-HT system while simultaneously acquiring functional MR images over time, the response of the brain to this challenge can be visualized. Several studies in animals have already demonstrated that drug-induced increases in extracellular levels of e.g. 5-HT (releasing agents, selective re-uptake blockers, etc) evoke region-specific changes in blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) MRI signals (signal due to a change of the oxygenated/deoxygenated hemoglobin levels occurring during brain activation through an increase of the blood supply to supply the oxygen and glucose to the demanding neurons) providing an index of neurotransmitter function. It has also been shown that these effects can be reversed by treatments that decrease 5-HT availability16,13,18,7
. In adult rats, BOLD signal changes following acute SSRI administration have been described in several 5-HT related brain regions, i.e. cortical areas, hippocampus, hypothalamus and thalamus9,16,15
. Stimulation of the 5-HT system and its response to this challenge can be thus used as a measure of its function in both animals and humans2,11
Medicine, Issue 62, Pharmacological MRI, Neuroscience, rat, 5-HT, BOLD, translational imaging, brain, fMRI
A Technique to Screen American Beech for Resistance to the Beech Scale Insect (Cryptococcus fagisuga Lind.)
Institutions: US Forest Service.
Beech bark disease (BBD) results in high levels of initial mortality, leaving behind survivor trees that are greatly weakened and deformed. The disease is initiated by feeding activities of the invasive beech scale insect, Cryptococcus fagisuga
, which creates entry points for infection by one of the Neonectria
species of fungus. Without scale infestation, there is little opportunity for fungal infection. Using scale eggs to artificially infest healthy trees in heavily BBD impacted stands demonstrated that these trees were resistant to the scale insect portion of the disease complex1
. Here we present a protocol that we have developed, based on the artificial infestation technique by Houston2
, which can be used to screen for scale-resistant trees in the field and in smaller potted seedlings and grafts. The identification of scale-resistant trees is an important component of management of BBD through tree improvement programs and silvicultural manipulation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 87, Forestry, Insects, Disease Resistance, American beech, Fagus grandifolia, beech scale, Cryptococcus fagisuga, resistance, screen, bioassay
Intraductal Injection for Localized Drug Delivery to the Mouse Mammary Gland
Institutions: Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Harvard University, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Herein we describe a protocol to deliver various reagents to the mouse mammary gland via intraductal injections. Localized drug delivery and knock-down of genes within the mammary epithelium has been difficult to achieve due to the lack of appropriate targeting molecules that are independent of developmental stages such as pregnancy and lactation. Herein, we describe a technique for localized delivery of reagents to the mammary gland at any stage in adulthood via intraductal injection into the nipples of mice. The injections can be performed on live mice, under anesthesia, and allow for a non-invasive and localized drug delivery to the mammary gland. Furthermore, the injections can be repeated over several months without damaging the nipple. Vital dyes such as Evans Blue are very helpful to learn the technique. Upon intraductal injection of the blue dye, the entire ductal tree becomes visible to the eye. Furthermore, fluorescently labeled reagents also allow for visualization and distribution within the mammary gland. This technique is adaptable for a variety of compounds including siRNA, chemotherapeutic agents, and small molecules.
Developmental Biology, Issue 80, Mammary Glands, Animal, Drug Administration Routes, intraductal injection, local drug delivery, siRNA
The ITS2 Database
Institutions: University of Würzburg, University of Würzburg.
The internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS2) has been used as a phylogenetic marker for more than two decades. As ITS2 research mainly focused on the very variable ITS2 sequence, it confined this marker to low-level phylogenetics only. However, the combination of the ITS2 sequence and its highly conserved secondary structure improves the phylogenetic resolution1
and allows phylogenetic inference at multiple taxonomic ranks, including species delimitation2-8
The ITS2 Database9
presents an exhaustive dataset of internal transcribed spacer 2 sequences from NCBI GenBank11
. Following an annotation by profile Hidden Markov Models (HMMs), the secondary structure of each sequence is predicted. First, it is tested whether a minimum energy based fold12
(direct fold) results in a correct, four helix conformation. If this is not the case, the structure is predicted by homology modeling13
. In homology modeling, an already known secondary structure is transferred to another ITS2 sequence, whose secondary structure was not able to fold correctly in a direct fold.
The ITS2 Database is not only a database for storage and retrieval of ITS2 sequence-structures. It also provides several tools to process your own ITS2 sequences, including annotation, structural prediction, motif detection and BLAST14
search on the combined sequence-structure information. Moreover, it integrates trimmed versions of 4SALE15,16
for multiple sequence-structure alignment calculation and Neighbor Joining18
tree reconstruction. Together they form a coherent analysis pipeline from an initial set of sequences to a phylogeny based on sequence and secondary structure.
In a nutshell, this workbench simplifies first phylogenetic analyses to only a few mouse-clicks, while additionally providing tools and data for comprehensive large-scale analyses.
Genetics, Issue 61, alignment, internal transcribed spacer 2, molecular systematics, secondary structure, ribosomal RNA, phylogenetic tree, homology modeling, phylogeny
DNA-affinity-purified Chip (DAP-chip) Method to Determine Gene Targets for Bacterial Two component Regulatory Systems
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
methods such as ChIP-chip are well-established techniques used to determine global gene targets for transcription factors. However, they are of limited use in exploring bacterial two component regulatory systems with uncharacterized activation conditions. Such systems regulate transcription only when activated in the presence of unique signals. Since these signals are often unknown, the in vitro
microarray based method described in this video article can be used to determine gene targets and binding sites for response regulators. This DNA-affinity-purified-chip method may be used for any purified regulator in any organism with a sequenced genome. The protocol involves allowing the purified tagged protein to bind to sheared genomic DNA and then affinity purifying the protein-bound DNA, followed by fluorescent labeling of the DNA and hybridization to a custom tiling array. Preceding steps that may be used to optimize the assay for specific regulators are also described. The peaks generated by the array data analysis are used to predict binding site motifs, which are then experimentally validated. The motif predictions can be further used to determine gene targets of orthologous response regulators in closely related species. We demonstrate the applicability of this method by determining the gene targets and binding site motifs and thus predicting the function for a sigma54-dependent response regulator DVU3023 in the environmental bacterium Desulfovibrio vulgaris
Genetics, Issue 89, DNA-Affinity-Purified-chip, response regulator, transcription factor binding site, two component system, signal transduction, Desulfovibrio, lactate utilization regulator, ChIP-chip
An Affordable HIV-1 Drug Resistance Monitoring Method for Resource Limited Settings
Institutions: University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa, Jembi Health Systems, University of Amsterdam, Stanford Medical School.
HIV-1 drug resistance has the potential to seriously compromise the effectiveness and impact of antiretroviral therapy (ART). As ART programs in sub-Saharan Africa continue to expand, individuals on ART should be closely monitored for the emergence of drug resistance. Surveillance of transmitted drug resistance to track transmission of viral strains already resistant to ART is also critical. Unfortunately, drug resistance testing is still not readily accessible in resource limited settings, because genotyping is expensive and requires sophisticated laboratory and data management infrastructure. An open access genotypic drug resistance monitoring method to manage individuals and assess transmitted drug resistance is described. The method uses free open source software for the interpretation of drug resistance patterns and the generation of individual patient reports. The genotyping protocol has an amplification rate of greater than 95% for plasma samples with a viral load >1,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml. The sensitivity decreases significantly for viral loads <1,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml. The method described here was validated against a method of HIV-1 drug resistance testing approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Viroseq genotyping method. Limitations of the method described here include the fact that it is not automated and that it also failed to amplify the circulating recombinant form CRF02_AG from a validation panel of samples, although it amplified subtypes A and B from the same panel.
Medicine, Issue 85, Biomedical Technology, HIV-1, HIV Infections, Viremia, Nucleic Acids, genetics, antiretroviral therapy, drug resistance, genotyping, affordable
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)
Bladder Smooth Muscle Strip Contractility as a Method to Evaluate Lower Urinary Tract Pharmacology
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
We describe an in vitro
method to measure bladder smooth muscle contractility, and its use for investigating physiological and pharmacological properties of the smooth muscle as well as changes induced by pathology. This method provides critical information for understanding bladder function while overcoming major methodological difficulties encountered in in vivo
experiments, such as surgical and pharmacological manipulations that affect stability and survival of the preparations, the use of human tissue, and/or the use of expensive chemicals. It also provides a way to investigate the properties of each bladder component (i.e.
smooth muscle, mucosa, nerves) in healthy and pathological conditions.
The urinary bladder is removed from an anesthetized animal, placed in Krebs solution and cut into strips. Strips are placed into a chamber filled with warm Krebs solution. One end is attached to an isometric tension transducer to measure contraction force, the other end is attached to a fixed rod. Tissue is stimulated by directly adding compounds to the bath or by electric field stimulation electrodes that activate nerves, similar to triggering bladder contractions in vivo
. We demonstrate the use of this method to evaluate spontaneous smooth muscle contractility during development and after an experimental spinal cord injury, the nature of neurotransmission (transmitters and receptors involved), factors involved in modulation of smooth muscle activity, the role of individual bladder components, and species and organ differences in response to pharmacological agents. Additionally, it could be used for investigating intracellular pathways involved in contraction and/or relaxation of the smooth muscle, drug structure-activity relationships and evaluation of transmitter release.
The in vitro
smooth muscle contractility method has been used extensively for over 50 years, and has provided data that significantly contributed to our understanding of bladder function as well as to pharmaceutical development of compounds currently used clinically for bladder management.
Medicine, Issue 90, Krebs, species differences, in vitro, smooth muscle contractility, neural stimulation
A Practical Guide to Phylogenetics for Nonexperts
Institutions: The George Washington University.
Many researchers, across incredibly diverse foci, are applying phylogenetics to their research question(s). However, many researchers are new to this topic and so it presents inherent problems. Here we compile a practical introduction to phylogenetics for nonexperts. We outline in a step-by-step manner, a pipeline for generating reliable phylogenies from gene sequence datasets. We begin with a user-guide for similarity search tools via online interfaces as well as local executables. Next, we explore programs for generating multiple sequence alignments followed by protocols for using software to determine best-fit models of evolution. We then outline protocols for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships via maximum likelihood and Bayesian criteria and finally describe tools for visualizing phylogenetic trees. While this is not by any means an exhaustive description of phylogenetic approaches, it does provide the reader with practical starting information on key software applications commonly utilized by phylogeneticists. The vision for this article would be that it could serve as a practical training tool for researchers embarking on phylogenetic studies and also serve as an educational resource that could be incorporated into a classroom or teaching-lab.
Basic Protocol, Issue 84, phylogenetics, multiple sequence alignments, phylogenetic tree, BLAST executables, basic local alignment search tool, Bayesian models
The Analysis of Purkinje Cell Dendritic Morphology in Organotypic Slice Cultures
Institutions: University of Basel.
Purkinje cells are an attractive model system for studying dendritic development, because they have an impressive dendritic tree which is strictly oriented in the sagittal plane and develops mostly in the postnatal period in small rodents 3
. Furthermore, several antibodies are available which selectively and intensively label Purkinje cells including all processes, with anti-Calbindin D28K being the most widely used. For viewing of dendrites in living cells, mice expressing EGFP selectively in Purkinje cells 11
are available through Jackson labs. Organotypic cerebellar slice cultures cells allow easy experimental manipulation of Purkinje cell dendritic development because most of the dendritic expansion of the Purkinje cell dendritic tree is actually taking place during the culture period 4
. We present here a short, reliable and easy protocol for viewing and analyzing the dendritic morphology of Purkinje cells grown in organotypic cerebellar slice cultures. For many purposes, a quantitative evaluation of the Purkinje cell dendritic tree is desirable. We focus here on two parameters, dendritic tree size and branch point numbers, which can be rapidly and easily determined from anti-calbindin stained cerebellar slice cultures. These two parameters yield a reliable and sensitive measure of changes of the Purkinje cell dendritic tree. Using the example of treatments with the protein kinase C (PKC) activator PMA and the metabotropic glutamate receptor 1 (mGluR1) we demonstrate how differences in the dendritic development are visualized and quantitatively assessed. The combination of the presence of an extensive dendritic tree, selective and intense immunostaining methods, organotypic slice cultures which cover the period of dendritic growth and a mouse model with Purkinje cell specific EGFP expression make Purkinje cells a powerful model system for revealing the mechanisms of dendritic development.
Neuroscience, Issue 61, dendritic development, dendritic branching, cerebellum, Purkinje cells
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (http://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
Setting-up an In Vitro Model of Rat Blood-brain Barrier (BBB): A Focus on BBB Impermeability and Receptor-mediated Transport
Institutions: VECT-HORUS SAS, CNRS, NICN UMR 7259.
The blood brain barrier (BBB) specifically regulates molecular and cellular flux between the blood and the nervous tissue. Our aim was to develop and characterize a highly reproducible rat syngeneic in vitro
model of the BBB using co-cultures of primary rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC) and astrocytes to study receptors involved in transcytosis across the endothelial cell monolayer. Astrocytes were isolated by mechanical dissection following trypsin digestion and were frozen for later co-culture. RBEC were isolated from 5-week-old rat cortices. The brains were cleaned of meninges and white matter, and mechanically dissociated following enzymatic digestion. Thereafter, the tissue homogenate was centrifuged in bovine serum albumin to separate vessel fragments from nervous tissue. The vessel fragments underwent a second enzymatic digestion to free endothelial cells from their extracellular matrix. The remaining contaminating cells such as pericytes were further eliminated by plating the microvessel fragments in puromycin-containing medium. They were then passaged onto filters for co-culture with astrocytes grown on the bottom of the wells. RBEC expressed high levels of tight junction (TJ) proteins such as occludin, claudin-5 and ZO-1 with a typical localization at the cell borders. The transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER) of brain endothelial monolayers, indicating the tightness of TJs reached 300 ohm·cm2
on average. The endothelial permeability coefficients (Pe) for lucifer yellow (LY) was highly reproducible with an average of 0.26 ± 0.11 x 10-3
cm/min. Brain endothelial cells organized in monolayers expressed the efflux transporter P-glycoprotein (P-gp), showed a polarized transport of rhodamine 123, a ligand for P-gp, and showed specific transport of transferrin-Cy3 and DiILDL across the endothelial cell monolayer. In conclusion, we provide a protocol for setting up an in vitro
BBB model that is highly reproducible due to the quality assurance methods, and that is suitable for research on BBB transporters and receptors.
Medicine, Issue 88, rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC), mouse, spinal cord, tight junction (TJ), receptor-mediated transport (RMT), low density lipoprotein (LDL), LDLR, transferrin, TfR, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER),
High Throughput Quantitative Expression Screening and Purification Applied to Recombinant Disulfide-rich Venom Proteins Produced in E. coli
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 (www.venomics.eu), 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
High Efficiency Differentiation of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells to Cardiomyocytes and Characterization by Flow Cytometry
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin, Stanford University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin, Hong Kong University, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin.
There is an urgent need to develop approaches for repairing the damaged heart, discovering new therapeutic drugs that do not have toxic effects on the heart, and improving strategies to accurately model heart disease. The potential of exploiting human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) technology to generate cardiac muscle “in a dish” for these applications continues to generate high enthusiasm. In recent years, the ability to efficiently generate cardiomyogenic cells from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) has greatly improved, offering us new opportunities to model very early stages of human cardiac development not otherwise accessible. In contrast to many previous methods, the cardiomyocyte differentiation protocol described here does not require cell aggregation or the addition of Activin A or BMP4 and robustly generates cultures of cells that are highly positive for cardiac troponin I and T (TNNI3, TNNT2), iroquois-class homeodomain protein IRX-4 (IRX4), myosin regulatory light chain 2, ventricular/cardiac muscle isoform (MLC2v) and myosin regulatory light chain 2, atrial isoform (MLC2a) by day 10 across all human embryonic stem cell (hESC) and hiPSC lines tested to date. Cells can be passaged and maintained for more than 90 days in culture. The strategy is technically simple to implement and cost-effective. Characterization of cardiomyocytes derived from pluripotent cells often includes the analysis of reference markers, both at the mRNA and protein level. For protein analysis, flow cytometry is a powerful analytical tool for assessing quality of cells in culture and determining subpopulation homogeneity. However, technical variation in sample preparation can significantly affect quality of flow cytometry data. Thus, standardization of staining protocols should facilitate comparisons among various differentiation strategies. Accordingly, optimized staining protocols for the analysis of IRX4, MLC2v, MLC2a, TNNI3, and TNNT2 by flow cytometry are described.
Cellular Biology, Issue 91, human induced pluripotent stem cell, flow cytometry, directed differentiation, cardiomyocyte, IRX4, TNNI3, TNNT2, MCL2v, MLC2a
A Novel Method of Drug Administration to Multiple Zebrafish (Danio rerio) and the Quantification of Withdrawal
Institutions: MacEwan University.
Anxiety testing in zebrafish is often studied in combination with the application of pharmacological substances. In these studies, fish are routinely netted and transported between home aquaria and dosing tanks. In order to enhance the ease of compound administration, a novel method for transferring fish between tanks for drug administration was developed. Inserts that are designed for spawning were used to transfer groups of fish into the drug solution, allowing accurate dosing of all fish in the group. This increases the precision and efficiency of dosing, which becomes very important in long schedules of repeated drug administration. We implemented this procedure for use in a study examining the behavior of zebrafish in the light/dark test after administering ethanol with differing 21 day schedules. In fish exposed to daily-moderate amounts of alcohol there was a significant difference in location preference after 2 days of withdrawal when compared to the control group. However, a significant difference in location preference in a group exposed to weekly-binge administration was not observed.
This protocol can be generalized for use with all types of compounds that are water-soluble and may be used in any situation when the behavior of fish during or after long schedules of drug administration is being examined. The light/dark test is also a valuable method of assessing withdrawal-induced changes in anxiety.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, Zebrafish, Ethanol, Behavior, Anxiety, Pharmacology, Fish, Neuroscience, Drug administration, Scototaxis
A Strategy to Identify de Novo Mutations in Common Disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia
Institutions: Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal.
There are several lines of evidence supporting the role of de novo
mutations as a mechanism for common disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. First, the de novo
mutation rate in humans is relatively high, so new mutations are generated at a high frequency in the population. However, de novo
mutations have not been reported in most common diseases. Mutations in genes leading to severe diseases where there is a strong negative selection against the phenotype, such as lethality in embryonic stages or reduced reproductive fitness, will not be transmitted to multiple family members, and therefore will not be detected by linkage gene mapping or association studies. The observation of very high concordance in monozygotic twins and very low concordance in dizygotic twins also strongly supports the hypothesis that a significant fraction of cases may result from new mutations. Such is the case for diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. Second, despite reduced reproductive fitness1
and extremely variable environmental factors, the incidence of some diseases is maintained worldwide at a relatively high and constant rate. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia, with an incidence of approximately 1% worldwide. Mutational load can be thought of as a balance between selection for or against a deleterious mutation and its production by de novo
mutation. Lower rates of reproduction constitute a negative selection factor that should reduce the number of mutant alleles in the population, ultimately leading to decreased disease prevalence. These selective pressures tend to be of different intensity in different environments. Nonetheless, these severe mental disorders have been maintained at a constant relatively high prevalence in the worldwide population across a wide range of cultures and countries despite a strong negative selection against them2
. This is not what one would predict in diseases with reduced reproductive fitness, unless there was a high new mutation rate. Finally, the effects of paternal age: there is a significantly increased risk of the disease with increasing paternal age, which could result from the age related increase in paternal de novo
mutations. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia3
. The male-to-female ratio of mutation rate is estimated at about 4–6:1, presumably due to a higher number of germ-cell divisions with age in males. Therefore, one would predict that de novo
mutations would more frequently come from males, particularly older males4
. A high rate of new mutations may in part explain why genetic studies have so far failed to identify many genes predisposing to complexes diseases genes, such as autism and schizophrenia, and why diseases have been identified for a mere 3% of genes in the human genome. Identification for de novo
mutations as a cause of a disease requires a targeted molecular approach, which includes studying parents and affected subjects. The process for determining if the genetic basis of a disease may result in part from de novo
mutations and the molecular approach to establish this link will be illustrated, using autism and schizophrenia as examples.
Medicine, Issue 52, de novo mutation, complex diseases, schizophrenia, autism, rare variations, DNA sequencing