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TALEs from a Spring - Superelasticity of Tal Effector Protein Structures.
PUBLISHED: 01-01-2014
Transcription activator-like effectors (TALEs) are DNA-related proteins that recognise and bind specific target sequences to manipulate gene expression. Recently determined crystal structures show that their common architecture reveals a superhelical overall structure that may undergo drastic conformational changes. To establish a link between structure and dynamics in TALE proteins we have employed coarse-grained elastic-network modelling of currently available structural data and implemented a force-probe setup that allowed us to investigate their mechanical behaviour in computer experiments. Based on the measured force-extension curves we conclude that TALEs exhibit superelastic dynamical properties allowing for large-scale global conformational changes along their helical axis, which represents the soft direction in such proteins. For moderate external forcing the TALE models behave like linear springs, obeying Hooke's law, and the investigated structures can be characterised and compared by a corresponding spring constant. We show that conformational flexibility underlying the large-scale motions is not homogeneously distributed over the TALE structure, but instead soft spot residues around which strain is accumulated and which turn out to represent key agents in the transmission of conformational motions are identified. They correspond to the RVD loop residues that have been experimentally determined to play an eminent role in the binding process of target DNA.
Authors: William Stephenson, Gorby Wan, Scott A. Tenenbaum, Pan T. X. Li.
Published: 08-20-2014
A large portion of the human genome is transcribed but not translated. In this post genomic era, regulatory functions of RNA have been shown to be increasingly important. As RNA function often depends on its ability to adopt alternative structures, it is difficult to predict RNA three-dimensional structures directly from sequence. Single-molecule approaches show potentials to solve the problem of RNA structural polymorphism by monitoring molecular structures one molecule at a time. This work presents a method to precisely manipulate the folding and structure of single RNA molecules using optical tweezers. First, methods to synthesize molecules suitable for single-molecule mechanical work are described. Next, various calibration procedures to ensure the proper operations of the optical tweezers are discussed. Next, various experiments are explained. To demonstrate the utility of the technique, results of mechanically unfolding RNA hairpins and a single RNA kissing complex are used as evidence. In these examples, the nanomanipulation technique was used to study folding of each structural domain, including secondary and tertiary, independently. Lastly, the limitations and future applications of the method are discussed.
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Atomic Force Microscopy of Red-Light Photoreceptors Using PeakForce Quantitative Nanomechanical Property Mapping
Authors: Marie E. Kroeger, Blaire A. Sorenson, J. Santoro Thomas, Emina A. Stojković, Stefan Tsonchev, Kenneth T. Nicholson.
Institutions: Northeastern Illinois University, Northeastern Illinois University.
Atomic force microscopy (AFM) uses a pyramidal tip attached to a cantilever to probe the force response of a surface. The deflections of the tip can be measured to ~10 pN by a laser and sectored detector, which can be converted to image topography. Amplitude modulation or “tapping mode” AFM involves the probe making intermittent contact with the surface while oscillating at its resonant frequency to produce an image. Used in conjunction with a fluid cell, tapping-mode AFM enables the imaging of biological macromolecules such as proteins in physiologically relevant conditions. Tapping-mode AFM requires manual tuning of the probe and frequent adjustments of a multitude of scanning parameters which can be challenging for inexperienced users. To obtain high-quality images, these adjustments are the most time consuming. PeakForce Quantitative Nanomechanical Property Mapping (PF-QNM) produces an image by measuring a force response curve for every point of contact with the sample. With ScanAsyst software, PF-QNM can be automated. This software adjusts the set-point, drive frequency, scan rate, gains, and other important scanning parameters automatically for a given sample. Not only does this process protect both fragile probes and samples, it significantly reduces the time required to obtain high resolution images. PF-QNM is compatible for AFM imaging in fluid; therefore, it has extensive application for imaging biologically relevant materials. The method presented in this paper describes the application of PF-QNM to obtain images of a bacterial red-light photoreceptor, RpBphP3 (P3), from photosynthetic R. palustris in its light-adapted state. Using this method, individual protein dimers of P3 and aggregates of dimers have been observed on a mica surface in the presence of an imaging buffer. With appropriate adjustments to surface and/or solution concentration, this method may be generally applied to other biologically relevant macromolecules and soft materials.
Physics, Issue 92, atomic force microscopy, protein, photoreceptor, surface chemistry, nanoscience, soft materials, macromolecules, AFM
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Analyzing Protein Dynamics Using Hydrogen Exchange Mass Spectrometry
Authors: Nikolai Hentze, Matthias P. Mayer.
Institutions: University of Heidelberg.
All cellular processes depend on the functionality of proteins. Although the functionality of a given protein is the direct consequence of its unique amino acid sequence, it is only realized by the folding of the polypeptide chain into a single defined three-dimensional arrangement or more commonly into an ensemble of interconverting conformations. Investigating the connection between protein conformation and its function is therefore essential for a complete understanding of how proteins are able to fulfill their great variety of tasks. One possibility to study conformational changes a protein undergoes while progressing through its functional cycle is hydrogen-1H/2H-exchange in combination with high-resolution mass spectrometry (HX-MS). HX-MS is a versatile and robust method that adds a new dimension to structural information obtained by e.g. crystallography. It is used to study protein folding and unfolding, binding of small molecule ligands, protein-protein interactions, conformational changes linked to enzyme catalysis, and allostery. In addition, HX-MS is often used when the amount of protein is very limited or crystallization of the protein is not feasible. Here we provide a general protocol for studying protein dynamics with HX-MS and describe as an example how to reveal the interaction interface of two proteins in a complex.   
Chemistry, Issue 81, Molecular Chaperones, mass spectrometers, Amino Acids, Peptides, Proteins, Enzymes, Coenzymes, Protein dynamics, conformational changes, allostery, protein folding, secondary structure, mass spectrometry
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Designing Silk-silk Protein Alloy Materials for Biomedical Applications
Authors: Xiao Hu, Solomon Duki, Joseph Forys, Jeffrey Hettinger, Justin Buchicchio, Tabbetha Dobbins, Catherine Yang.
Institutions: Rowan University, Rowan University, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, Rowan University.
Fibrous proteins display different sequences and structures that have been used for various applications in biomedical fields such as biosensors, nanomedicine, tissue regeneration, and drug delivery. Designing materials based on the molecular-scale interactions between these proteins will help generate new multifunctional protein alloy biomaterials with tunable properties. Such alloy material systems also provide advantages in comparison to traditional synthetic polymers due to the materials biodegradability, biocompatibility, and tenability in the body. This article used the protein blends of wild tussah silk (Antheraea pernyi) and domestic mulberry silk (Bombyx mori) as an example to provide useful protocols regarding these topics, including how to predict protein-protein interactions by computational methods, how to produce protein alloy solutions, how to verify alloy systems by thermal analysis, and how to fabricate variable alloy materials including optical materials with diffraction gratings, electric materials with circuits coatings, and pharmaceutical materials for drug release and delivery. These methods can provide important information for designing the next generation multifunctional biomaterials based on different protein alloys.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, protein alloys, biomaterials, biomedical, silk blends, computational simulation, implantable electronic devices
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Mouse Genome Engineering Using Designer Nucleases
Authors: Mario Hermann, Tomas Cermak, Daniel F. Voytas, Pawel Pelczar.
Institutions: University of Zurich, University of Minnesota.
Transgenic mice carrying site-specific genome modifications (knockout, knock-in) are of vital importance for dissecting complex biological systems as well as for modeling human diseases and testing therapeutic strategies. Recent advances in the use of designer nucleases such as zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs), transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs), and the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)/CRISPR-associated (Cas) 9 system for site-specific genome engineering open the possibility to perform rapid targeted genome modification in virtually any laboratory species without the need to rely on embryonic stem (ES) cell technology. A genome editing experiment typically starts with identification of designer nuclease target sites within a gene of interest followed by construction of custom DNA-binding domains to direct nuclease activity to the investigator-defined genomic locus. Designer nuclease plasmids are in vitro transcribed to generate mRNA for microinjection of fertilized mouse oocytes. Here, we provide a protocol for achieving targeted genome modification by direct injection of TALEN mRNA into fertilized mouse oocytes.
Genetics, Issue 86, Oocyte microinjection, Designer nucleases, ZFN, TALEN, Genome Engineering
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Identification of Post-translational Modifications of Plant Protein Complexes
Authors: Sophie J. M. Piquerez, Alexi L. Balmuth, Jan Sklenář, Alexandra M.E. Jones, John P. Rathjen, Vardis Ntoukakis.
Institutions: University of Warwick, Norwich Research Park, The Australian National University.
Plants adapt quickly to changing environments due to elaborate perception and signaling systems. During pathogen attack, plants rapidly respond to infection via the recruitment and activation of immune complexes. Activation of immune complexes is associated with post-translational modifications (PTMs) of proteins, such as phosphorylation, glycosylation, or ubiquitination. Understanding how these PTMs are choreographed will lead to a better understanding of how resistance is achieved. Here we describe a protein purification method for nucleotide-binding leucine-rich repeat (NB-LRR)-interacting proteins and the subsequent identification of their post-translational modifications (PTMs). With small modifications, the protocol can be applied for the purification of other plant protein complexes. The method is based on the expression of an epitope-tagged version of the protein of interest, which is subsequently partially purified by immunoprecipitation and subjected to mass spectrometry for identification of interacting proteins and PTMs. This protocol demonstrates that: i). Dynamic changes in PTMs such as phosphorylation can be detected by mass spectrometry; ii). It is important to have sufficient quantities of the protein of interest, and this can compensate for the lack of purity of the immunoprecipitate; iii). In order to detect PTMs of a protein of interest, this protein has to be immunoprecipitated to get a sufficient quantity of protein.
Plant Biology, Issue 84, plant-microbe interactions, protein complex purification, mass spectrometry, protein phosphorylation, Prf, Pto, AvrPto, AvrPtoB
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Preparation of Segmented Microtubules to Study Motions Driven by the Disassembling Microtubule Ends
Authors: Vladimir A. Volkov, Anatoly V. Zaytsev, Ekaterina L. Grishchuk.
Institutions: Russian Academy of Sciences, Federal Research Center of Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Immunology, Moscow, Russia, University of Pennsylvania.
Microtubule depolymerization can provide force to transport different protein complexes and protein-coated beads in vitro. The underlying mechanisms are thought to play a vital role in the microtubule-dependent chromosome motions during cell division, but the relevant proteins and their exact roles are ill-defined. Thus, there is a growing need to develop assays with which to study such motility in vitro using purified components and defined biochemical milieu. Microtubules, however, are inherently unstable polymers; their switching between growth and shortening is stochastic and difficult to control. The protocols we describe here take advantage of the segmented microtubules that are made with the photoablatable stabilizing caps. Depolymerization of such segmented microtubules can be triggered with high temporal and spatial resolution, thereby assisting studies of motility at the disassembling microtubule ends. This technique can be used to carry out a quantitative analysis of the number of molecules in the fluorescently-labeled protein complexes, which move processively with dynamic microtubule ends. To optimize a signal-to-noise ratio in this and other quantitative fluorescent assays, coverslips should be treated to reduce nonspecific absorption of soluble fluorescently-labeled proteins. Detailed protocols are provided to take into account the unevenness of fluorescent illumination, and determine the intensity of a single fluorophore using equidistant Gaussian fit. Finally, we describe the use of segmented microtubules to study microtubule-dependent motions of the protein-coated microbeads, providing insights into the ability of different motor and nonmotor proteins to couple microtubule depolymerization to processive cargo motion.
Basic Protocol, Issue 85, microscopy flow chamber, single-molecule fluorescence, laser trap, microtubule-binding protein, microtubule-dependent motor, microtubule tip-tracking
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Magnetic Tweezers for the Measurement of Twist and Torque
Authors: Jan Lipfert, Mina Lee, Orkide Ordu, Jacob W. J. Kerssemakers, Nynke H. Dekker.
Institutions: Delft University of Technology.
Single-molecule techniques make it possible to investigate the behavior of individual biological molecules in solution in real time. These techniques include so-called force spectroscopy approaches such as atomic force microscopy, optical tweezers, flow stretching, and magnetic tweezers. Amongst these approaches, magnetic tweezers have distinguished themselves by their ability to apply torque while maintaining a constant stretching force. Here, it is illustrated how such a “conventional” magnetic tweezers experimental configuration can, through a straightforward modification of its field configuration to minimize the magnitude of the transverse field, be adapted to measure the degree of twist in a biological molecule. The resulting configuration is termed the freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers. Additionally, it is shown how further modification of the field configuration can yield a transverse field with a magnitude intermediate between that of the “conventional” magnetic tweezers and the freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers, which makes it possible to directly measure the torque stored in a biological molecule. This configuration is termed the magnetic torque tweezers. The accompanying video explains in detail how the conversion of conventional magnetic tweezers into freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers and magnetic torque tweezers can be accomplished, and demonstrates the use of these techniques. These adaptations maintain all the strengths of conventional magnetic tweezers while greatly expanding the versatility of this powerful instrument.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, magnetic tweezers, magnetic torque tweezers, freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers, twist, torque, DNA, single-molecule techniques
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Studying DNA Looping by Single-Molecule FRET
Authors: Tung T. Le, Harold D. Kim.
Institutions: Georgia Institute of Technology.
Bending of double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) is associated with many important biological processes such as DNA-protein recognition and DNA packaging into nucleosomes. Thermodynamics of dsDNA bending has been studied by a method called cyclization which relies on DNA ligase to covalently join short sticky ends of a dsDNA. However, ligation efficiency can be affected by many factors that are not related to dsDNA looping such as the DNA structure surrounding the joined sticky ends, and ligase can also affect the apparent looping rate through mechanisms such as nonspecific binding. Here, we show how to measure dsDNA looping kinetics without ligase by detecting transient DNA loop formation by FRET (Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer). dsDNA molecules are constructed using a simple PCR-based protocol with a FRET pair and a biotin linker. The looping probability density known as the J factor is extracted from the looping rate and the annealing rate between two disconnected sticky ends. By testing two dsDNAs with different intrinsic curvatures, we show that the J factor is sensitive to the intrinsic shape of the dsDNA.
Molecular Biology, Issue 88, DNA looping, J factor, Single molecule, FRET, Gel mobility shift, DNA curvature, Worm-like chain
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Analysis of Tubular Membrane Networks in Cardiac Myocytes from Atria and Ventricles
Authors: Eva Wagner, Sören Brandenburg, Tobias Kohl, Stephan E. Lehnart.
Institutions: Heart Research Center Goettingen, University Medical Center Goettingen, German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) partner site Goettingen, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
In cardiac myocytes a complex network of membrane tubules - the transverse-axial tubule system (TATS) - controls deep intracellular signaling functions. While the outer surface membrane and associated TATS membrane components appear to be continuous, there are substantial differences in lipid and protein content. In ventricular myocytes (VMs), certain TATS components are highly abundant contributing to rectilinear tubule networks and regular branching 3D architectures. It is thought that peripheral TATS components propagate action potentials from the cell surface to thousands of remote intracellular sarcoendoplasmic reticulum (SER) membrane contact domains, thereby activating intracellular Ca2+ release units (CRUs). In contrast to VMs, the organization and functional role of TATS membranes in atrial myocytes (AMs) is significantly different and much less understood. Taken together, quantitative structural characterization of TATS membrane networks in healthy and diseased myocytes is an essential prerequisite towards better understanding of functional plasticity and pathophysiological reorganization. Here, we present a strategic combination of protocols for direct quantitative analysis of TATS membrane networks in living VMs and AMs. For this, we accompany primary cell isolations of mouse VMs and/or AMs with critical quality control steps and direct membrane staining protocols for fluorescence imaging of TATS membranes. Using an optimized workflow for confocal or superresolution TATS image processing, binarized and skeletonized data are generated for quantitative analysis of the TATS network and its components. Unlike previously published indirect regional aggregate image analysis strategies, our protocols enable direct characterization of specific components and derive complex physiological properties of TATS membrane networks in living myocytes with high throughput and open access software tools. In summary, the combined protocol strategy can be readily applied for quantitative TATS network studies during physiological myocyte adaptation or disease changes, comparison of different cardiac or skeletal muscle cell types, phenotyping of transgenic models, and pharmacological or therapeutic interventions.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cardiac myocyte, atria, ventricle, heart, primary cell isolation, fluorescence microscopy, membrane tubule, transverse-axial tubule system, image analysis, image processing, T-tubule, collagenase
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Luminescence Resonance Energy Transfer to Study Conformational Changes in Membrane Proteins Expressed in Mammalian Cells
Authors: Drew M. Dolino, Swarna S. Ramaswamy, Vasanthi Jayaraman.
Institutions: University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
Luminescence Resonance Energy Transfer, or LRET, is a powerful technique used to measure distances between two sites in proteins within the distance range of 10-100 Å. By measuring the distances under various ligated conditions, conformational changes of the protein can be easily assessed. With LRET, a lanthanide, most often chelated terbium, is used as the donor fluorophore, affording advantages such as a longer donor-only emission lifetime, the flexibility to use multiple acceptor fluorophores, and the opportunity to detect sensitized acceptor emission as an easy way to measure energy transfer without the risk of also detecting donor-only signal. Here, we describe a method to use LRET on membrane proteins expressed and assayed on the surface of intact mammalian cells. We introduce a protease cleavage site between the LRET fluorophore pair. After obtaining the original LRET signal, cleavage at that site removes the specific LRET signal from the protein of interest allowing us to quantitatively subtract the background signal that remains after cleavage. This method allows for more physiologically relevant measurements to be made without the need for purification of protein.
Bioengineering, Issue 91, LRET, FRET, Luminescence Resonance Energy Transfer, Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer, glutamate receptors, acid sensing ion channel, protein conformation, protein dynamics, fluorescence, protein-protein interactions
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Structure and Coordination Determination of Peptide-metal Complexes Using 1D and 2D 1H NMR
Authors: Michal S. Shoshan, Edit Y. Tshuva, Deborah E. Shalev.
Institutions: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Copper (I) binding by metallochaperone transport proteins prevents copper oxidation and release of the toxic ions that may participate in harmful redox reactions. The Cu (I) complex of the peptide model of a Cu (I) binding metallochaperone protein, which includes the sequence MTCSGCSRPG (underlined is conserved), was determined in solution under inert conditions by NMR spectroscopy. NMR is a widely accepted technique for the determination of solution structures of proteins and peptides. Due to difficulty in crystallization to provide single crystals suitable for X-ray crystallography, the NMR technique is extremely valuable, especially as it provides information on the solution state rather than the solid state. Herein we describe all steps that are required for full three-dimensional structure determinations by NMR. The protocol includes sample preparation in an NMR tube, 1D and 2D data collection and processing, peak assignment and integration, molecular mechanics calculations, and structure analysis. Importantly, the analysis was first conducted without any preset metal-ligand bonds, to assure a reliable structure determination in an unbiased manner.
Chemistry, Issue 82, solution structure determination, NMR, peptide models, copper-binding proteins, copper complexes
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Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Authors: Nikki M. Curthoys, Michael J. Mlodzianoski, Dahan Kim, Samuel T. Hess.
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
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Identification of Growth Inhibition Phenotypes Induced by Expression of Bacterial Type III Effectors in Yeast
Authors: Dor Salomon, Guido Sessa.
Institutions: Tel Aviv University.
Many Gram-negative pathogenic bacteria use a type III secretion system to translocate a suite of effector proteins into the cytosol of host cells. Within the cell, type III effectors subvert host cellular processes to suppress immune responses and promote pathogen growth. Numerous type III effectors of plant and animal bacterial pathogens have been identified to date, yet only a few of them are well characterized. Understanding the functions of these effectors has been undermined by a combination of functional redundancy in the effector repertoire of a given bacterial strain, the subtle effects that they may exert to increase virulence, roles that are possibly specific to certain infection stages, and difficulties in genetically manipulating certain pathogens. Expression of type III effectors in the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae may allow circumventing these limitations and aid to the functional characterization of effector proteins. Because type III effectors often target cellular processes that are conserved between yeast and other eukaryotes, their expression in yeast may result in growth inhibition phenotypes that can be exploited to elucidate effector functions and targets. Additional advantages to using yeast for functional studies of bacterial effectors include their genetic tractability, information on predicted functions of the vast majority of their ORFs, and availability of numerous tools and resources for both genome-wide and small-scale experiments. Here we discuss critical factors for designing a yeast system for the expression of bacterial type III effector proteins. These include an appropriate promoter for driving expression of the effector gene(s) of interest, the copy number of the effector gene, the epitope tag used to verify protein expression, and the yeast strain. We present procedures to induce expression of effectors in yeast and to verify their expression by immunoblotting. In addition, we describe a spotting assay on agar plates for the identification of effector-induced growth inhibition phenotypes. The use of this protocol may be extended to the study of pathogenicity factors delivered into the host cell by any pathogen and translocation mechanism.
Microbiology, Issue 37, type III secretion system, type III effector proteins, Gram-negative bacteria, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, yeast expression system
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Assessment of Immunologically Relevant Dynamic Tertiary Structural Features of the HIV-1 V3 Loop Crown R2 Sequence by ab initio Folding
Authors: David Almond, Timothy Cardozo.
Institutions: School of Medicine, New York University.
The antigenic diversity of HIV-1 has long been an obstacle to vaccine design, and this variability is especially pronounced in the V3 loop of the virus' surface envelope glycoprotein. We previously proposed that the crown of the V3 loop, although dynamic and sequence variable, is constrained throughout the population of HIV-1 viruses to an immunologically relevant β-hairpin tertiary structure. Importantly, there are thousands of different V3 loop crown sequences in circulating HIV-1 viruses, making 3D structural characterization of trends across the diversity of viruses difficult or impossible by crystallography or NMR. Our previous successful studies with folding of the V3 crown1, 2 used the ab initio algorithm 3 accessible in the ICM-Pro molecular modeling software package (Molsoft LLC, La Jolla, CA) and suggested that the crown of the V3 loop, specifically from positions 10 to 22, benefits sufficiently from the flexibility and length of its flanking stems to behave to a large degree as if it were an unconstrained peptide freely folding in solution. As such, rapid ab initio folding of just this portion of the V3 loop of any individual strain of the 60,000+ circulating HIV-1 strains can be informative. Here, we folded the V3 loop of the R2 strain to gain insight into the structural basis of its unique properties. R2 bears a rare V3 loop sequence thought to be responsible for the exquisite sensitivity of this strain to neutralization by patient sera and monoclonal antibodies4, 5. The strain mediates CD4-independent infection and appears to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies. We demonstrate how evaluation of the results of the folding can be informative for associating observed structures in the folding with the immunological activities observed for R2.
Infection, Issue 43, HIV-1, structure-activity relationships, ab initio simulations, antibody-mediated neutralization, vaccine design
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Demonstrating the Uses of the Novel Gravitational Force Spectrometer to Stretch and Measure Fibrous Proteins
Authors: James W. Dunn, Douglas D. Root.
Institutions: University of North Texas.
The study of macromolecular structure has become critical to the elucidation of molecular mechanisms and function. There are several limited, but important bioinstruments capable of testing the force dependence of structural features in proteins. Scale has been a limiting parameter on how accurately researchers can peer into the nanomechanical world of molecules, such as nucleic acids, enzymes, and motor proteins that perform life-sustaining work. Atomic force microscopy (AFM) is well tuned to determine native structures of fibrous proteins with a distance resolution on par with electron microscopy. However, in AFM force studies, the forces are typically much higher than a single molecule might experience 1, 2. Optical traps (OT) are very good at determining the relative distance between the trapped beads and they can impart very small forces 3. However, they do not yield accurate absolute lengths of the molecules under study. Molecular simulations provide supportive information to such experiments, but are limited in the ability to handle the same large molecular sizes, long time frames, and convince some researchers in the absence of other supporting evidence2, 4. The gravitational force spectrometer (GFS) fills a critical niche in the arsenal of an investigator by providing a unique combination of abilities. This instrument is capable of generating forces typically with 98% or better accuracy from the femtonewton range to the nanonewton range. The distance measurements currently are capable of resolving the absolute molecular length down to five nanometers, and relative bead pair separation distances with a precision similar to an optical trap. Also, the GFS can determine stretching or uncoiling where the force is near equilibrium, or provide a graded force to juxtapose against any measured structural changes. It is even possible to determine how many amino acid residues are involved in uncoiling events under physiological force loads 2. Unlike in other methods where there is extensive force calibration that must precede any assay, the GFS requires no such force calibration 5. By complementing the strengths of other methods, the GFS will bridge gaps in understanding the nanomechanics of vital proteins and other macromolecules.
Biophysics, Issue 49, Force Spectroscopy, Single Molecule Assays, Myosin, Antibodies, Digital Image Processing, Microscopy, Education, Microspheres, Coiled Coil, Protein
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Examining the Conformational Dynamics of Membrane Proteins in situ with Site-directed Fluorescence Labeling
Authors: Ryan Richards, Robert E. Dempski.
Institutions: Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Two electrode voltage clamp electrophysiology (TEVC) is a powerful tool to investigate the mechanism of ion transport1 for a wide variety of membrane proteins including ion channels2, ion pumps3, and transporters4. Recent developments have combined site-specific fluorophore labeling alongside TEVC to concurrently examine the conformational dynamics at specific residues and function of these proteins on the surface of single cells. We will describe a method to study the conformational dynamics of membrane proteins by simultaneously monitoring fluorescence and current changes using voltage-clamp fluorometry. This approach can be used to examine the molecular motion of membrane proteins site-specifically following cysteine replacement and site-directed fluorophore labeling5,6. Furthermore, this method provides an approach to determine distance constraints between specific residues7,8. This is achieved by selectively attaching donor and acceptor fluorophores to two mutated cysteine residues of interest. In brief, these experiments are performed following functional expression of the desired protein on the surface of Xenopus leavis oocytes. The large surface area of these oocytes enables facile functional measurements and a robust fluorescence signal5. It is also possible to readily change the extracellular conditions such as pH, ligand or cations/anions, which can provide further information on the mechanism of membrane proteins4. Finally, recent developments have also enabled the manipulation of select internal ions following co-expression with a second protein9. Our protocol is described in multiple parts. First, cysteine scanning mutagenesis proceeded by fluorophore labeling is completed at residues located at the interface of the transmembrane and extracellular domains. Subsequent experiments are designed to identify residues which demonstrate large changes in fluorescence intensity (<5%)3 upon a conformational change of the protein. Second, these changes in fluorescence intensity are compared to the kinetic parameters of the membrane protein in order to correlate the conformational dynamics to the function of the protein10. This enables a rigorous biophysical analysis of the molecular motion of the target protein. Lastly, two residues of the holoenzyme can be labeled with a donor and acceptor fluorophore in order to determine distance constraints using donor photodestruction methods. It is also possible to monitor the relative movement of protein subunits following labeling with a donor and acceptor fluorophore.
Cellular Biology, Issue 51, membrane protein, two electrode voltage-clamp, biophysics, site-specific fluorophore labeling, microscopy, conformational dynamics
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Measuring the Kinetics of mRNA Transcription in Single Living Cells
Authors: Yehuda Brody, Yaron Shav-Tal.
Institutions: Bar-Ilan University.
The transcriptional activity of RNA polymerase II (Pol II) is a dynamic process and therefore measuring the kinetics of the transcriptional process in vivo is of importance. Pol II kinetics have been measured using biochemical or molecular methods.1-3 In recent years, with the development of new visualization methods, it has become possible to follow transcription as it occurs in real time in single living cells.4 Herein we describe how to perform analysis of Pol II elongation kinetics on a specific gene in living cells.5, 6 Using a cell line in which a specific gene locus (DNA), its mRNA product, and the final protein product can be fluorescently labeled and visualized in vivo, it is possible to detect the actual transcription of mRNAs on the gene of interest.7, 8 The mRNA is fluorescently tagged using the MS2 system for tagging mRNAs in vivo, where the 3'UTR of the mRNA transcripts contain 24 MS2 stem-loop repeats, which provide highly specific binding sites for the YFP-MS2 coat protein that labels the mRNA as it is transcribed.9 To monitor the kinetics of transcription we use the Fluorescence Recovery After Photobleaching (FRAP) method. By photobleaching the YFP-MS2-tagged nascent transcripts at the site of transcription and then following the recovery of this signal over time, we obtain the synthesis rate of the newly made mRNAs.5 In other words, YFP-MS2 fluorescence recovery reflects the generation of new MS2 stem-loops in the nascent transcripts and their binding by fluorescent free YFP-MS2 molecules entering from the surrounding nucleoplasm. The FRAP recovery curves are then analyzed using mathematical mechanistic models formalized by a series of differential equations, in order to retrieve the kinetic time parameters of transcription.
Cell Biology, Issue 54, mRNA transcription, nucleus, live-cell imaging, cellular dynamics, FRAP
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A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Authors: Ambrish Roy, Dong Xu, Jonathan Poisson, Yang Zhang.
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
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.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
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Determination of the Gas-phase Acidities of Oligopeptides
Authors: Jianhua Ren, Ashish Sawhney, Yuan Tian, Bhupinder Padda, Patrick Batoon.
Institutions: University of the Pacific.
Amino acid residues located at different positions in folded proteins often exhibit different degrees of acidities. For example, a cysteine residue located at or near the N-terminus of a helix is often more acidic than that at or near the C-terminus 1-6. Although extensive experimental studies on the acid-base properties of peptides have been carried out in the condensed phase, in particular in aqueous solutions 6-8, the results are often complicated by solvent effects 7. In fact, most of the active sites in proteins are located near the interior region where solvent effects have been minimized 9,10. In order to understand intrinsic acid-base properties of peptides and proteins, it is important to perform the studies in a solvent-free environment. We present a method to measure the acidities of oligopeptides in the gas-phase. We use a cysteine-containing oligopeptide, Ala3CysNH2 (A3CH), as the model compound. The measurements are based on the well-established extended Cooks kinetic method (Figure 1) 11-16. The experiments are carried out using a triple-quadrupole mass spectrometer interfaced with an electrospray ionization (ESI) ion source (Figure 2). For each peptide sample, several reference acids are selected. The reference acids are structurally similar organic compounds with known gas-phase acidities. A solution of the mixture of the peptide and a reference acid is introduced into the mass spectrometer, and a gas-phase proton-bound anionic cluster of peptide-reference acid is formed. The proton-bound cluster is mass isolated and subsequently fragmented via collision-induced dissociation (CID) experiments. The resulting fragment ion abundances are analyzed using a relationship between the acidities and the cluster ion dissociation kinetics. The gas-phase acidity of the peptide is then obtained by linear regression of the thermo-kinetic plots 17,18. The method can be applied to a variety of molecular systems, including organic compounds, amino acids and their derivatives, oligonucleotides, and oligopeptides. By comparing the gas-phase acidities measured experimentally with those values calculated for different conformers, conformational effects on the acidities can be evaluated.
Chemistry, Issue 76, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Oligopeptide, gas-phase acidity, kinetic method, collision-induced dissociation, triple-quadrupole mass spectrometry, oligopeptides, peptides, mass spectrometry, MS
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Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Authors: James Smadbeck, Meghan B. Peterson, George A. Khoury, Martin S. Taylor, Christodoulos A. Floudas.
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 (, 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
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High Resolution Whole Mount In Situ Hybridization within Zebrafish Embryos to Study Gene Expression and Function
Authors: Babykumari P. Chitramuthu, Hugh P. J. Bennett.
Institutions: Royal Victoria Hospital, McGill University Health Centre Research Institute.
This article focuses on whole-mount in situ hybridization (WISH) of zebrafish embryos. The WISH technology facilitates the assessment of gene expression both in terms of tissue distribution and developmental stage. Protocols are described for the use of WISH of zebrafish embryos using antisense RNA probes labeled with digoxigenin. Probes are generated by incorporating digoxigenin-linked nucleotides through in vitro transcription of gene templates that have been cloned and linearized. The chorions of embryos harvested at defined developmental stages are removed before incubation with specific probes. Following a washing procedure to remove excess probe, embryos are incubated with anti-digoxigenin antibody conjugated with alkaline phosphatase. By employing a chromogenic substrate for alkaline phosphatase, specific gene expression can be assessed. Depending on the level of gene expression the entire procedure can be completed within 2-3 days.
Neuroscience, Issue 80, Blood Cells, Endoderm, Motor Neurons, life sciences, animal models in situ hybridization, morpholino knockdown, progranulin, neuromast, proprotein convertase, anti-sense transcripts, intermediate cell mass, pronephric duct, somites
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Analyzing and Building Nucleic Acid Structures with 3DNA
Authors: Andrew V. Colasanti, Xiang-Jun Lu, Wilma K. Olson.
Institutions: Rutgers - The State University of New Jersey, Columbia University .
The 3DNA software package is a popular and versatile bioinformatics tool with capabilities to analyze, construct, and visualize three-dimensional nucleic acid structures. This article presents detailed protocols for a subset of new and popular features available in 3DNA, applicable to both individual structures and ensembles of related structures. Protocol 1 lists the set of instructions needed to download and install the software. This is followed, in Protocol 2, by the analysis of a nucleic acid structure, including the assignment of base pairs and the determination of rigid-body parameters that describe the structure and, in Protocol 3, by a description of the reconstruction of an atomic model of a structure from its rigid-body parameters. The most recent version of 3DNA, version 2.1, has new features for the analysis and manipulation of ensembles of structures, such as those deduced from nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) measurements and molecular dynamic (MD) simulations; these features are presented in Protocols 4 and 5. In addition to the 3DNA stand-alone software package, the w3DNA web server, located at, provides a user-friendly interface to selected features of the software. Protocol 6 demonstrates a novel feature of the site for building models of long DNA molecules decorated with bound proteins at user-specified locations.
Genetics, Issue 74, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Bioengineering, Biophysics, Genomics, Chemical Biology, Quantitative Biology, conformational analysis, DNA, high-resolution structures, model building, molecular dynamics, nucleic acid structure, RNA, visualization, bioinformatics, three-dimensional, 3DNA, software
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Principles of Site-Specific Recombinase (SSR) Technology
Authors: Frank Bucholtz.
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Site-specific recombinase (SSR) technology allows the manipulation of gene structure to explore gene function and has become an integral tool of molecular biology. Site-specific recombinases are proteins that bind to distinct DNA target sequences. The Cre/lox system was first described in bacteriophages during the 1980's. Cre recombinase is a Type I topoisomerase that catalyzes site-specific recombination of DNA between two loxP (locus of X-over P1) sites. The Cre/lox system does not require any cofactors. LoxP sequences contain distinct binding sites for Cre recombinases that surround a directional core sequence where recombination and rearrangement takes place. When cells contain loxP sites and express the Cre recombinase, a recombination event occurs. Double-stranded DNA is cut at both loxP sites by the Cre recombinase, rearranged, and ligated ("scissors and glue"). Products of the recombination event depend on the relative orientation of the asymmetric sequences. SSR technology is frequently used as a tool to explore gene function. Here the gene of interest is flanked with Cre target sites loxP ("floxed"). Animals are then crossed with animals expressing the Cre recombinase under the control of a tissue-specific promoter. In tissues that express the Cre recombinase it binds to target sequences and excises the floxed gene. Controlled gene deletion allows the investigation of gene function in specific tissues and at distinct time points. Analysis of gene function employing SSR technology --- conditional mutagenesis -- has significant advantages over traditional knock-outs where gene deletion is frequently lethal.
Cellular Biology, Issue 15, Molecular Biology, Site-Specific Recombinase, Cre recombinase, Cre/lox system, transgenic animals, transgenic technology
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