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Expressed Repeat Elements Improve RT-qPCR Normalization across a Wide Range of Zebrafish Gene Expression Studies.
PUBLISHED: 01-01-2014
The selection and validation of stably expressed reference genes is a critical issue for proper RT-qPCR data normalization. In zebrafish expression studies, many commonly used reference genes are not generally applicable given their variability in expression levels under a variety of experimental conditions. Inappropriate use of these reference genes may lead to false interpretation of expression data and unreliable conclusions. In this study, we evaluated a novel normalization method in zebrafish using expressed repetitive elements (ERE) as reference targets, instead of specific protein coding mRNA targets. We assessed and compared the expression stability of a number of EREs to that of commonly used zebrafish reference genes in a diverse set of experimental conditions including a developmental time series, a set of different organs from adult fish and different treatments of zebrafish embryos including morpholino injections and administration of chemicals. Using geNorm and rank aggregation analysis we demonstrated that EREs have a higher overall expression stability compared to the commonly used reference genes. Moreover, we propose a limited set of ERE reference targets (hatn10, dna15ta1 and loopern4), that show stable expression throughout the wide range of experiments in this study, as strong candidates for inclusion as reference targets for qPCR normalization in future zebrafish expression studies. Our applied strategy to find and evaluate candidate expressed repeat elements for RT-qPCR data normalization has high potential to be used also for other species.
Authors: Geoffrey Berguet, Jan Hendrickx, Celine Sabatel, Miklos Laczik, Sharon Squazzo, Ignacio Mazon Pelaez, Rini Saxena, Helene Pendeville, Dominique Poncelet.
Published: 12-10-2014
Chromatin immunoprecipitation followed by next generation sequencing (ChIP-seq) is a technique of choice for studying protein-DNA interactions. ChIP-seq has been used for mapping protein-DNA interactions and allocating histones modifications. The procedure is tedious and time consuming, and one of the major limitations is the requirement for high amounts of starting material, usually millions of cells. Automation of chromatin immunoprecipitation assays is possible when the procedure is based on the use of magnetic beads. Successful automated protocols of chromatin immunoprecipitation and library preparation have been specifically designed on a commercially available robotic liquid handling system dedicated mainly to automate epigenetic assays. First, validation of automated ChIP-seq assays using antibodies directed against various histone modifications was shown, followed by optimization of the automated protocols to perform chromatin immunoprecipitation and library preparation starting with low cell numbers. The goal of these experiments is to provide a valuable tool for future epigenetic analysis of specific cell types, sub-populations, and biopsy samples.
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High-throughput Functional Screening using a Homemade Dual-glow Luciferase Assay
Authors: Jessica M. Baker, Frederick M. Boyce.
Institutions: Massachusetts General Hospital.
We present a rapid and inexpensive high-throughput screening protocol to identify transcriptional regulators of alpha-synuclein, a gene associated with Parkinson's disease. 293T cells are transiently transfected with plasmids from an arrayed ORF expression library, together with luciferase reporter plasmids, in a one-gene-per-well microplate format. Firefly luciferase activity is assayed after 48 hr to determine the effects of each library gene upon alpha-synuclein transcription, normalized to expression from an internal control construct (a hCMV promoter directing Renilla luciferase). This protocol is facilitated by a bench-top robot enclosed in a biosafety cabinet, which performs aseptic liquid handling in 96-well format. Our automated transfection protocol is readily adaptable to high-throughput lentiviral library production or other functional screening protocols requiring triple-transfections of large numbers of unique library plasmids in conjunction with a common set of helper plasmids. We also present an inexpensive and validated alternative to commercially-available, dual luciferase reagents which employs PTC124, EDTA, and pyrophosphate to suppress firefly luciferase activity prior to measurement of Renilla luciferase. Using these methods, we screened 7,670 human genes and identified 68 regulators of alpha-synuclein. This protocol is easily modifiable to target other genes of interest.
Cellular Biology, Issue 88, Luciferases, Gene Transfer Techniques, Transfection, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Transfections, Robotics
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In Vivo Modeling of the Morbid Human Genome using Danio rerio
Authors: Adrienne R. Niederriter, Erica E. Davis, Christelle Golzio, Edwin C. Oh, I-Chun Tsai, Nicholas Katsanis.
Institutions: Duke University Medical Center, Duke University, Duke University Medical Center.
Here, we present methods for the development of assays to query potentially clinically significant nonsynonymous changes using in vivo complementation in zebrafish. Zebrafish (Danio rerio) are a useful animal system due to their experimental tractability; embryos are transparent to enable facile viewing, undergo rapid development ex vivo, and can be genetically manipulated.1 These aspects have allowed for significant advances in the analysis of embryogenesis, molecular processes, and morphogenetic signaling. Taken together, the advantages of this vertebrate model make zebrafish highly amenable to modeling the developmental defects in pediatric disease, and in some cases, adult-onset disorders. Because the zebrafish genome is highly conserved with that of humans (~70% orthologous), it is possible to recapitulate human disease states in zebrafish. This is accomplished either through the injection of mutant human mRNA to induce dominant negative or gain of function alleles, or utilization of morpholino (MO) antisense oligonucleotides to suppress genes to mimic loss of function variants. Through complementation of MO-induced phenotypes with capped human mRNA, our approach enables the interpretation of the deleterious effect of mutations on human protein sequence based on the ability of mutant mRNA to rescue a measurable, physiologically relevant phenotype. Modeling of the human disease alleles occurs through microinjection of zebrafish embryos with MO and/or human mRNA at the 1-4 cell stage, and phenotyping up to seven days post fertilization (dpf). This general strategy can be extended to a wide range of disease phenotypes, as demonstrated in the following protocol. We present our established models for morphogenetic signaling, craniofacial, cardiac, vascular integrity, renal function, and skeletal muscle disorder phenotypes, as well as others.
Molecular Biology, Issue 78, Genetics, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Developmental Biology, Biochemistry, Anatomy, Physiology, Bioengineering, Genomics, Medical, zebrafish, in vivo, morpholino, human disease modeling, transcription, PCR, mRNA, DNA, Danio rerio, animal model
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Profiling of Estrogen-regulated MicroRNAs in Breast Cancer Cells
Authors: Anne Katchy, Cecilia Williams.
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
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Analysis of Oxidative Stress in Zebrafish Embryos
Authors: Vera Mugoni, Annalisa Camporeale, Massimo M. Santoro.
Institutions: University of Torino, Vesalius Research Center, VIB.
High levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) may cause a change of cellular redox state towards oxidative stress condition. This situation causes oxidation of molecules (lipid, DNA, protein) and leads to cell death. Oxidative stress also impacts the progression of several pathological conditions such as diabetes, retinopathies, neurodegeneration, and cancer. Thus, it is important to define tools to investigate oxidative stress conditions not only at the level of single cells but also in the context of whole organisms. Here, we consider the zebrafish embryo as a useful in vivo system to perform such studies and present a protocol to measure in vivo oxidative stress. Taking advantage of fluorescent ROS probes and zebrafish transgenic fluorescent lines, we develop two different methods to measure oxidative stress in vivo: i) a “whole embryo ROS-detection method” for qualitative measurement of oxidative stress and ii) a “single-cell ROS detection method” for quantitative measurements of oxidative stress. Herein, we demonstrate the efficacy of these procedures by increasing oxidative stress in tissues by oxidant agents and physiological or genetic methods. This protocol is amenable for forward genetic screens and it will help address cause-effect relationships of ROS in animal models of oxidative stress-related pathologies such as neurological disorders and cancer.
Developmental Biology, Issue 89, Danio rerio, zebrafish embryos, endothelial cells, redox state analysis, oxidative stress detection, in vivo ROS measurements, FACS (fluorescence activated cell sorter), molecular probes
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High Throughput Quantitative Expression Screening and Purification Applied to Recombinant Disulfide-rich Venom Proteins Produced in E. coli
Authors: Natalie J. Saez, Hervé Nozach, Marilyne Blemont, Renaud Vincentelli.
Institutions: Aix-Marseille Université, Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA) Saclay, France.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) is the most widely used expression system for the production of recombinant proteins for structural and functional studies. However, purifying proteins is sometimes challenging since many proteins are expressed in an insoluble form. When working with difficult or multiple targets it is therefore recommended to use high throughput (HTP) protein expression screening on a small scale (1-4 ml cultures) to quickly identify conditions for soluble expression. To cope with the various structural genomics programs of the lab, a quantitative (within a range of 0.1-100 mg/L culture of recombinant protein) and HTP protein expression screening protocol was implemented and validated on thousands of proteins. The protocols were automated with the use of a liquid handling robot but can also be performed manually without specialized equipment. Disulfide-rich venom proteins are gaining increasing recognition for their potential as therapeutic drug leads. They can be highly potent and selective, but their complex disulfide bond networks make them challenging to produce. As a member of the FP7 European Venomics project (, our challenge is to develop successful production strategies with the aim of producing thousands of novel venom proteins for functional characterization. Aided by the redox properties of disulfide bond isomerase DsbC, we adapted our HTP production pipeline for the expression of oxidized, functional venom peptides in the E. coli cytoplasm. The protocols are also applicable to the production of diverse disulfide-rich proteins. Here we demonstrate our pipeline applied to the production of animal venom proteins. With the protocols described herein it is likely that soluble disulfide-rich proteins will be obtained in as little as a week. Even from a small scale, there is the potential to use the purified proteins for validating the oxidation state by mass spectrometry, for characterization in pilot studies, or for sensitive micro-assays.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, E. coli, expression, recombinant, high throughput (HTP), purification, auto-induction, immobilized metal affinity chromatography (IMAC), tobacco etch virus protease (TEV) cleavage, disulfide bond isomerase C (DsbC) fusion, disulfide bonds, animal venom proteins/peptides
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Flat Mount Preparation for Observation and Analysis of Zebrafish Embryo Specimens Stained by Whole Mount In situ Hybridization
Authors: Christina N. Cheng, Yue Li, Amanda N. Marra, Valerie Verdun, Rebecca A. Wingert.
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish embryo is now commonly used for basic and biomedical research to investigate the genetic control of developmental processes and to model congenital abnormalities. During the first day of life, the zebrafish embryo progresses through many developmental stages including fertilization, cleavage, gastrulation, segmentation, and the organogenesis of structures such as the kidney, heart, and central nervous system. The anatomy of a young zebrafish embryo presents several challenges for the visualization and analysis of the tissues involved in many of these events because the embryo develops in association with a round yolk mass. Thus, for accurate analysis and imaging of experimental phenotypes in fixed embryonic specimens between the tailbud and 20 somite stage (10 and 19 hours post fertilization (hpf), respectively), such as those stained using whole mount in situ hybridization (WISH), it is often desirable to remove the embryo from the yolk ball and to position it flat on a glass slide. However, performing a flat mount procedure can be tedious. Therefore, successful and efficient flat mount preparation is greatly facilitated through the visual demonstration of the dissection technique, and also helped by using reagents that assist in optimal tissue handling. Here, we provide our WISH protocol for one or two-color detection of gene expression in the zebrafish embryo, and demonstrate how the flat mounting procedure can be performed on this example of a stained fixed specimen. This flat mounting protocol is broadly applicable to the study of many embryonic structures that emerge during early zebrafish development, and can be implemented in conjunction with other staining methods performed on fixed embryo samples.
Developmental Biology, Issue 89, animals, vertebrates, fishes, zebrafish, growth and development, morphogenesis, embryonic and fetal development, organogenesis, natural science disciplines, embryo, whole mount in situ hybridization, flat mount, deyolking, imaging
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Comprehensive Analysis of Transcription Dynamics from Brain Samples Following Behavioral Experience
Authors: Hagit Turm, Diptendu Mukherjee, Doron Haritan, Maayan Tahor, Ami Citri.
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
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Analysis of Nephron Composition and Function in the Adult Zebrafish Kidney
Authors: Kristen K. McCampbell, Kristin N. Springer, Rebecca A. Wingert.
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish model has emerged as a relevant system to study kidney development, regeneration and disease. Both the embryonic and adult zebrafish kidneys are composed of functional units known as nephrons, which are highly conserved with other vertebrates, including mammals. Research in zebrafish has recently demonstrated that two distinctive phenomena transpire after adult nephrons incur damage: first, there is robust regeneration within existing nephrons that replaces the destroyed tubule epithelial cells; second, entirely new nephrons are produced from renal progenitors in a process known as neonephrogenesis. In contrast, humans and other mammals seem to have only a limited ability for nephron epithelial regeneration. To date, the mechanisms responsible for these kidney regeneration phenomena remain poorly understood. Since adult zebrafish kidneys undergo both nephron epithelial regeneration and neonephrogenesis, they provide an outstanding experimental paradigm to study these events. Further, there is a wide range of genetic and pharmacological tools available in the zebrafish model that can be used to delineate the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate renal regeneration. One essential aspect of such research is the evaluation of nephron structure and function. This protocol describes a set of labeling techniques that can be used to gauge renal composition and test nephron functionality in the adult zebrafish kidney. Thus, these methods are widely applicable to the future phenotypic characterization of adult zebrafish kidney injury paradigms, which include but are not limited to, nephrotoxicant exposure regimes or genetic methods of targeted cell death such as the nitroreductase mediated cell ablation technique. Further, these methods could be used to study genetic perturbations in adult kidney formation and could also be applied to assess renal status during chronic disease modeling.
Cellular Biology, Issue 90, zebrafish; kidney; nephron; nephrology; renal; regeneration; proximal tubule; distal tubule; segment; mesonephros; physiology; acute kidney injury (AKI)
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High Efficiency Differentiation of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells to Cardiomyocytes and Characterization by Flow Cytometry
Authors: Subarna Bhattacharya, Paul W. Burridge, Erin M. Kropp, Sandra L. Chuppa, Wai-Meng Kwok, Joseph C. Wu, Kenneth R. Boheler, Rebekah L. Gundry.
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
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A Manual Small Molecule Screen Approaching High-throughput Using Zebrafish Embryos
Authors: Shahram Jevin Poureetezadi, Eric K. Donahue, Rebecca A. Wingert.
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)
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RNA-seq Analysis of Transcriptomes in Thrombin-treated and Control Human Pulmonary Microvascular Endothelial Cells
Authors: Dilyara Cheranova, Margaret Gibson, Suman Chaudhary, Li Qin Zhang, Daniel P. Heruth, Dmitry N. Grigoryev, Shui Qing Ye.
Institutions: Children's Mercy Hospital and Clinics, School of Medicine, University of Missouri-Kansas City.
The characterization of gene expression in cells via measurement of mRNA levels is a useful tool in determining how the transcriptional machinery of the cell is affected by external signals (e.g. drug treatment), or how cells differ between a healthy state and a diseased state. With the advent and continuous refinement of next-generation DNA sequencing technology, RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq) has become an increasingly popular method of transcriptome analysis to catalog all species of transcripts, to determine the transcriptional structure of all expressed genes and to quantify the changing expression levels of the total set of transcripts in a given cell, tissue or organism1,2 . RNA-seq is gradually replacing DNA microarrays as a preferred method for transcriptome analysis because it has the advantages of profiling a complete transcriptome, providing a digital type datum (copy number of any transcript) and not relying on any known genomic sequence3. Here, we present a complete and detailed protocol to apply RNA-seq to profile transcriptomes in human pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells with or without thrombin treatment. This protocol is based on our recent published study entitled "RNA-seq Reveals Novel Transcriptome of Genes and Their Isoforms in Human Pulmonary Microvascular Endothelial Cells Treated with Thrombin,"4 in which we successfully performed the first complete transcriptome analysis of human pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells treated with thrombin using RNA-seq. It yielded unprecedented resources for further experimentation to gain insights into molecular mechanisms underlying thrombin-mediated endothelial dysfunction in the pathogenesis of inflammatory conditions, cancer, diabetes, and coronary heart disease, and provides potential new leads for therapeutic targets to those diseases. The descriptive text of this protocol is divided into four parts. The first part describes the treatment of human pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells with thrombin and RNA isolation, quality analysis and quantification. The second part describes library construction and sequencing. The third part describes the data analysis. The fourth part describes an RT-PCR validation assay. Representative results of several key steps are displayed. Useful tips or precautions to boost success in key steps are provided in the Discussion section. Although this protocol uses human pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells treated with thrombin, it can be generalized to profile transcriptomes in both mammalian and non-mammalian cells and in tissues treated with different stimuli or inhibitors, or to compare transcriptomes in cells or tissues between a healthy state and a disease state.
Genetics, Issue 72, Molecular Biology, Immunology, Medicine, Genomics, Proteins, RNA-seq, Next Generation DNA Sequencing, Transcriptome, Transcription, Thrombin, Endothelial cells, high-throughput, DNA, genomic DNA, RT-PCR, PCR
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MicroRNA Detection in Prostate Tumors by Quantitative Real-time PCR (qPCR)
Authors: Aida Gordanpour, Robert K. Nam, Linda Sugar, Stephanie Bacopulos, Arun Seth.
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, apoptosis2, 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
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Global Gene Expression Analysis Using a Zebrafish Oligonucleotide Microarray Platform
Authors: Samuel M. Peterson, Jennifer L. Freeman.
Institutions: Purdue University.
Gene microarray technology permits quantitative measurement and gene expression profiling of transcript levels on a genome-wide basis. Gene microarray technology is used in numerous biological disciplines in a variety of applications including global gene expression analysis in relation to developmental stage, to a disease state, and in toxic responses. Herein, we include a demonstration of global gene expression analysis using a comprehensive zebrafish-specific oligonucleotide microarray platform. The zebrafish expression microarray platform contains 385,000 probes, 60 base pairs in length, interrogating 37,157 targets with up to 12 probes per target. For this platform, all cDNA and genomic information available for the zebrafish was collected from various genomic databases including Ensembl (, VEGA (, UCSC (, and ZFIN ( As a result this expression array provides complete coverage of the current zebrafish transcriptome. The zebrafish expression microarray was printed by Roche NimbleGen (Madison, WI). This technical demonstration includes the fluorescent labeling of a cDNA product, hybridization of the labeled cDNA product to the microarray platform, and array scanning for signal acquisition using the one color analysis strategy.
Developmental Biology, Issue 30, zebrafish, microarray, genomics, gene expression, RNA, oligonucleotide
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Mosaic Zebrafish Transgenesis for Evaluating Enhancer Sequences
Authors: Erika Kague, Christopher Weber, Shannon Fisher.
Institutions: University of Pennsylvania .
The completion of the human genome sequence, along with that of many other species, has highlighted the challenge of ascribing specific function to non coding sequences. One prominent function carried out by the non coding fraction of the genome is to regulate gene transcription; however, there are no effective methods to broadly predict cis-regulatory elements from primary DNA sequence. We have developed an efficient protocol to functionally evaluate potential cis-regulatory elements through zebrafish transgenesis. Our approach offers significant advantages over cell-culture based techniques for developmentally important genes, since it provides information on spatial and temporal gene regulation. Conversely, it is faster and less expensive than similar experiments in transgenic mice, and we routinely apply it to sequences isolated from the human genome. Here we demonstrate our approach to selecting elements for testing based on sequence conservation and our protocol for cloning sequences and microinjecting them into zebrafish embryos.
Cellular Biology, Issue 41, zebrafish, transgenesis, microinjection, GFP, enhancers, transposon
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A Reverse Genetic Approach to Test Functional Redundancy During Embryogenesis
Authors: Amir Rikin, Gabriel E. Rosenfeld, Kellie McCartin, Todd Evans.
Institutions: Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University.
Gene function during embryogenesis is typically defined by loss-of-function experiments, for example by targeted mutagenesis (knockout) in the mouse. In the zebrafish model, effective reverse genetic techniques have been developed using microinjection of gene-specific antisense morpholinos. Morpholinos target an mRNA through specific base-pairing and block gene function transiently by inhibiting translation or splicing for several days during embryogenesis (knockdown). However, in vertebrates such as mouse or zebrafish, some gene functions can be obscured by these approaches due to the presence of another gene that compensates for the loss. This is especially true for gene families containing sister genes that are co-expressed in the same developing tissues. In zebrafish, functional compensation can be tested in a relatively high-throughput manner, by co-injection of morpholinos that target knockdown of both genes simultaneously. Likewise, using morpholinos, a genetic interaction between any two genes can be demonstrated by knockdown of both genes together at sub-threshold levels. For example, morpholinos can be titrated such that neither individual knockdown generates a phenotype. If, under these conditions, co-injection of both morpholinos causes a phenotype, a genetic interaction is shown. Here we demonstrate how to show functional redundancy in the context of two related GATA transcription factors. GATA factors are essential for specification of cardiac progenitors, but this is revealed only by the loss of both Gata5 and Gata6. We show how to carry out microinjection experiments, validate the morpholinos, and evaluate the compensated phenotype for cardiogenesis.
Developmental Biology, Issue 42, protocol, zebrafish, morpholinos, cardiogenesis,
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Profiling of Pre-micro RNAs and microRNAs using Quantitative Real-time PCR (qPCR) Arrays
Authors: Pauline Chugh, Kristen Tamburro, Dirk P Dittmer.
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
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Modeling Neural Immune Signaling of Episodic and Chronic Migraine Using Spreading Depression In Vitro
Authors: Aya D. Pusic, Yelena Y. Grinberg, Heidi M. Mitchell, Richard P. Kraig.
Institutions: The University of Chicago Medical Center, The University of Chicago Medical Center.
Migraine and its transformation to chronic migraine are healthcare burdens in need of improved treatment options. We seek to define how neural immune signaling modulates the susceptibility to migraine, modeled in vitro using spreading depression (SD), as a means to develop novel therapeutic targets for episodic and chronic migraine. SD is the likely cause of migraine aura and migraine pain. It is a paroxysmal loss of neuronal function triggered by initially increased neuronal activity, which slowly propagates within susceptible brain regions. Normal brain function is exquisitely sensitive to, and relies on, coincident low-level immune signaling. Thus, neural immune signaling likely affects electrical activity of SD, and therefore migraine. Pain perception studies of SD in whole animals are fraught with difficulties, but whole animals are well suited to examine systems biology aspects of migraine since SD activates trigeminal nociceptive pathways. However, whole animal studies alone cannot be used to decipher the cellular and neural circuit mechanisms of SD. Instead, in vitro preparations where environmental conditions can be controlled are necessary. Here, it is important to recognize limitations of acute slices and distinct advantages of hippocampal slice cultures. Acute brain slices cannot reveal subtle changes in immune signaling since preparing the slices alone triggers: pro-inflammatory changes that last days, epileptiform behavior due to high levels of oxygen tension needed to vitalize the slices, and irreversible cell injury at anoxic slice centers. In contrast, we examine immune signaling in mature hippocampal slice cultures since the cultures closely parallel their in vivo counterpart with mature trisynaptic function; show quiescent astrocytes, microglia, and cytokine levels; and SD is easily induced in an unanesthetized preparation. Furthermore, the slices are long-lived and SD can be induced on consecutive days without injury, making this preparation the sole means to-date capable of modeling the neuroimmune consequences of chronic SD, and thus perhaps chronic migraine. We use electrophysiological techniques and non-invasive imaging to measure neuronal cell and circuit functions coincident with SD. Neural immune gene expression variables are measured with qPCR screening, qPCR arrays, and, importantly, use of cDNA preamplification for detection of ultra-low level targets such as interferon-gamma using whole, regional, or specific cell enhanced (via laser dissection microscopy) sampling. Cytokine cascade signaling is further assessed with multiplexed phosphoprotein related targets with gene expression and phosphoprotein changes confirmed via cell-specific immunostaining. Pharmacological and siRNA strategies are used to mimic and modulate SD immune signaling.
Neuroscience, Issue 52, innate immunity, hormesis, microglia, T-cells, hippocampus, slice culture, gene expression, laser dissection microscopy, real-time qPCR, interferon-gamma
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Performing Custom MicroRNA Microarray Experiments
Authors: Xiaoxiao Zhang, Yan Zeng.
Institutions: University of Minnesota , University of Minnesota .
microRNAs (miRNAs) are a large family of ˜ 22 nucleotides (nt) long RNA molecules that are widely expressed in eukaryotes 1. Complex genomes encode at least hundreds of miRNAs, which primarily inhibit the expression of a vast number of target genes post-transcriptionally 2, 3. miRNAs control a broad range of biological processes 1. In addition, altered miRNA expression has been associated with human diseases such as cancers, and miRNAs may serve as biomarkers for diseases and prognosis 4, 5. It is important, therefore, to understand the expression and functions of miRNAs under many different conditions. Three major approaches have been employed to profile miRNA expression: real-time PCR, microarray, and deep sequencing. The technique of miRNA microarray has the advantage of being high-throughput, generally less expensive, and most of the experimental and analysis steps can be carried out in a molecular biology laboratory at most universities, medical schools and associated hospitals. Here, we describe a method for performing custom miRNA microarray experiments. A miRNA probe set will be printed on glass slides to produce miRNA microarrays. RNA is isolated using a method or reagent that preserves small RNA species, and then labeled with a fluorescence dye. As a control, reference DNA oligonucleotides corresponding to a subset of miRNAs are also labeled with a different fluorescence dye. The reference DNA will serve to demonstrate the quality of the slide and hybridization and will also be used for data normalization. The RNA and DNA are mixed and hybridized to a microarray slide containing probes for most of the miRNAs in the database. After washing, the slide is scanned to obtain images, and intensities of the individual spots quantified. These raw signals will be further processed and analyzed as the expression data of the corresponding miRNAs. Microarray slides can be stripped and regenerated to reduce the cost of microarrays and to enhance the consistency of microarray experiments. The same principles and procedures are applicable to other types of custom microarray experiments.
Molecular Biology, Issue 56, Genetics, microRNA, custom microarray, oligonucleotide probes, RNA labeling
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Expression Analysis of Mammalian Linker-histone Subtypes
Authors: Magdalena Medrzycki, Yunzhe Zhang, Kaixiang Cao, Yuhong Fan.
Institutions: Georgia Institute of Technology .
Linker histone H1 binds to the nucleosome core particle and linker DNA, facilitating folding of chromatin into higher order structure. H1 is essential for mammalian development1 and regulates specific gene expression in vivo2-4. Among the highly conserved histone proteins, the family of H1 linker histones is the most heterogeneous group. There are 11 H1 subtypes in mammals that are differentially regulated during development and in different cell types. These H1 subtypes include 5 somatic H1s (H1a-e), the replacement H10, 4 germ cell specific H1 subtypes, and H1x5. The presence of multiple H1 subtypes that differ in DNA binding affinity and chromatin compaction ability6-9 provides an additional level of modulation of chromatin function. Thus, quantitative expression analysis of individual H1 subtypes, both of mRNA and proteins, is necessary for better understanding of the regulation of higher order chromatin structure and function. Here we describe a set of assays designed for analyzing the expression levels of individual H1 subtypes (Figure 1). mRNA expression of various H1 variant genes is measured by a set of highly sensitive and quantitative reverse transcription-PCR (qRT-PCR) assays, which are faster, more accurate and require much less samples compared with the alternative approach of Northern blot analysis. Unlike most other cellular mRNA messages, mRNAs for most histone genes, including the majority of H1 genes, lack a long polyA tail, but contain a stem-loop structure at the 3' untranslated region (UTR)10. Therefore, cDNAs are prepared from total RNA by reverse transcription using random primers instead of oligo-dT primers. Realtime PCR assays with primers specific to each H1 subtypes (Table 1) are performed to obtain highly quantitative measurement of mRNA levels of individual H1 subtypes. Expression of housekeeping genes are analyzed as controls for normalization. The relative abundance of proteins of each H1 subtype and core histones is obtained through reverse phase high-performance liquid chromatography (RP-HPLC) analysis of total histones extracted from mammalian cells11-13. The HPLC method and elution conditions described here give optimum separations of mouse H1 subtypes. By quantifying the HPLC profile, we calculate the relative proportion of individual H1 subtypes within H1 family, as well as determine the H1 to nucleosome ratio in the cells.
Genetics, Issue 61, H1 linker histones, histone H1 subtypes, chromatin, RT-PCR, HPLC, gene expression
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Assessing Teratogenic Changes in a Zebrafish Model of Fetal Alcohol Exposure
Authors: Evyn Loucks, Sara Ahlgren.
Institutions: Children's Memorial Research Center, Northwestern University.
Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a severe manifestation of embryonic exposure to ethanol. It presents with characteristic defects to the face and organs, including mental retardation due to disordered and damaged brain development. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a term used to cover a continuum of birth defects that occur due to maternal alcohol consumption, and occurs in approximately 4% of children born in the United States. With 50% of child-bearing age women reporting consumption of alcohol, and half of all pregnancies being unplanned, unintentional exposure is a continuing issue2. In order to best understand the damage produced by ethanol, plus produce a model with which to test potential interventions, we developed a model of developmental ethanol exposure using the zebrafish embryo. Zebrafish are ideal for this kind of teratogen study3-8. Each pair lays hundreds of eggs, which can then be collected without harming the adult fish. The zebrafish embryo is transparent and can be readily imaged with any number of stains. Analysis of these embryos after exposure to ethanol at different doses and times of duration and application shows that the gross developmental defects produced by ethanol are consistent with the human birth defect. Described here are the basic techniques used to study and manipulate the zebrafish FAS model.
Medicine, Issue 61, Zebrafish, fetal alcohol exposure, Danio rerio, development, mRNA expression, morpholino, ethanol exposure
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Using an Automated Cell Counter to Simplify Gene Expression Studies: siRNA Knockdown of IL-4 Dependent Gene Expression in Namalwa Cells
Authors: Adam M. McCoy, Claudia Litterst, Michelle L. Collins, Luis A. Ugozzoli.
Institutions: Bio-Rad Laboratories.
The use of siRNA mediated gene knockdown is continuing to be an important tool in studies of gene expression. siRNA studies are being conducted not only to study the effects of downregulating single genes, but also to interrogate signaling pathways and other complex interaction networks. These pathway analyses require both the use of relevant cellular models and methods that cause less perturbation to the cellular physiology. Electroporation is increasingly being used as an effective way to introduce siRNA and other nucleic acids into difficult to transfect cell lines and primary cells without altering the signaling pathway under investigation. There are multiple critical steps to a successful siRNA experiment, and there are ways to simplify the work while improving the data quality at several experimental stages. To help you get started with your siRNA mediated gene knockdown project, we will demonstrate how to perform a pathway study complete from collecting and counting the cells prior to electroporation through post transfection real-time PCR gene expression analysis. The following study investigates the role of the transcriptional activator STAT6 in IL-4 dependent gene expression of CCL17 in a Burkitt lymphoma cell line (Namalwa). The techniques demonstrated are useful for a wide range of siRNA-based experiments on both adherent and suspension cells. We will also show how to streamline cell counting with the TC10 automated cell counter, how to electroporate multiple samples simultaneously using the MXcell electroporation system, and how to simultaneously assess RNA quality and quantity with the Experion automated electrophoresis system.
Cellular Biology, Issue 38, Cell Counting, Gene Silencing, siRNA, Namalwa Cells, IL4, Gene Expression, Electroporation, Real Time PCR
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Quantitative Real-Time PCR using the Thermo Scientific Solaris qPCR Assay
Authors: Christy Ogrean, Ben Jackson, James Covino.
Institutions: Thermo Scientific Solaris qPCR Products.
The Solaris qPCR Gene Expression Assay is a novel type of primer/probe set, designed to simplify the qPCR process while maintaining the sensitivity and accuracy of the assay. These primer/probe sets are pre-designed to >98% of the human and mouse genomes and feature significant improvements from previously available technologies. These improvements were made possible by virtue of a novel design algorithm, developed by Thermo Scientific bioinformatics experts. Several convenient features have been incorporated into the Solaris qPCR Assay to streamline the process of performing quantitative real-time PCR. First, the protocol is similar to commonly employed alternatives, so the methods used during qPCR are likely to be familiar. Second, the master mix is blue, which makes setting the qPCR reactions easier to track. Third, the thermal cycling conditions are the same for all assays (genes), making it possible to run many samples at a time and reducing the potential for error. Finally, the probe and primer sequence information are provided, simplifying the publication process. Here, we demonstrate how to obtain the appropriate Solaris reagents using the GENEius product search feature found on the ordering web site ( and how to use the Solaris reagents for performing qPCR using the standard curve method.
Cellular Biology, Issue 40, qPCR, probe, real-time PCR, molecular biology, Solaris, primer, gene expression assays
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Transplantation of Whole Kidney Marrow in Adult Zebrafish
Authors: Jocelyn LeBlanc, Teresa Venezia Bowman, Leonard Zon.
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
Hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) are a rare population of pluripotent cells that maintain all the differentiated blood lineages throughout the life of an organism. The functional definition of a HSC is a transplanted cell that has the ability to reconstitute all the blood lineages of an irradiated recipient long term. This designation was established by decades of seminal work in mammalian systems. Using hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) and reverse genetic manipulations in the mouse, the underlying regulatory factors of HSC biology are beginning to be unveiled, but are still largely under-explored. Recently, the zebrafish has emerged as a powerful genetic model to study vertebrate hematopoiesis. Establishing HCT in zebrafish will allow scientists to utilize the large-scale genetic and chemical screening methodologies available in zebrafish to reveal novel mechanisms underlying HSC regulation. In this article, we demonstrate a method to perform HCT in adult zebrafish. We show the dissection and preparation of zebrafish whole kidney marrow, the site of adult hematopoiesis in the zebrafish, and the introduction of these donor cells into the circulation of irradiated recipient fish via intracardiac injection. Additionally, we describe the post-transplant care of fish in an "ICU" to increase their long-term health. In general, gentle care of the fish before, during, and after the transplant is critical to increase the number of fish that will survive more than one month following the procedure, which is essential for assessment of long term (<3 month) engraftment. The experimental data used to establish this protocol will be published elsewhere. The establishment of this protocol will allow for the merger of large-scale zebrafish genetics and transplant biology.
Developmental Biology, Issue 2, zebrafish, HSC, stem cells, transplant
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