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Genomic heterogeneity of osteosarcoma - shift from single candidates to functional modules.
PUBLISHED: 04-08-2015
Osteosarcoma (OS), a bone tumor, exhibit a complex karyotype. On the genomic level a highly variable degree of alterations in nearly all chromosomal regions and between individual tumors is observable. This hampers the identification of common drivers in OS biology. To identify the common molecular mechanisms involved in the maintenance of OS, we follow the hypothesis that all the copy number-associated differences between the patients are intercepted on the level of the functional modules. The implementation is based on a network approach utilizing copy number associated genes in OS, paired expression data and protein interaction data. The resulting functional modules of tightly connected genes were interpreted regarding their biological functions in OS and their potential prognostic significance. We identified an osteosarcoma network assembling well-known and lesser-known candidates. The derived network shows a significant connectivity and modularity suggesting that the genes affected by the heterogeneous genetic alterations share the same biological context. The network modules participate in several critical aspects of cancer biology like DNA damage response, cell growth, and cell motility which is in line with the hypothesis of specifically deregulated but functional modules in cancer. Further, we could deduce genes with possible prognostic significance in OS for further investigation (e.g. EZR, CDKN2A, MAP3K5). Several of those module genes were located on chromosome 6q. The given systems biological approach provides evidence that heterogeneity on the genomic and expression level is ordered by the biological system on the level of the functional modules. Different genomic aberrations are pointing to the same cellular network vicinity to form vital, but already neoplastically altered, functional modules maintaining OS. This observation, exemplarily now shown for OS, has been under discussion already for a longer time, but often in a hypothetical manner, and can here be exemplified for OS.
Authors: Alla Gagarinova, Mohan Babu, Jack Greenblatt, Andrew Emili.
Published: 11-12-2012
Phenotypes are determined by a complex series of physical (e.g. protein-protein) and functional (e.g. gene-gene or genetic) interactions (GI)1. While physical interactions can indicate which bacterial proteins are associated as complexes, they do not necessarily reveal pathway-level functional relationships1. GI screens, in which the growth of double mutants bearing two deleted or inactivated genes is measured and compared to the corresponding single mutants, can illuminate epistatic dependencies between loci and hence provide a means to query and discover novel functional relationships2. Large-scale GI maps have been reported for eukaryotic organisms like yeast3-7, but GI information remains sparse for prokaryotes8, which hinders the functional annotation of bacterial genomes. To this end, we and others have developed high-throughput quantitative bacterial GI screening methods9, 10. Here, we present the key steps required to perform quantitative E. coli Synthetic Genetic Array (eSGA) screening procedure on a genome-scale9, using natural bacterial conjugation and homologous recombination to systemically generate and measure the fitness of large numbers of double mutants in a colony array format. Briefly, a robot is used to transfer, through conjugation, chloramphenicol (Cm) - marked mutant alleles from engineered Hfr (High frequency of recombination) 'donor strains' into an ordered array of kanamycin (Kan) - marked F- recipient strains. Typically, we use loss-of-function single mutants bearing non-essential gene deletions (e.g. the 'Keio' collection11) and essential gene hypomorphic mutations (i.e. alleles conferring reduced protein expression, stability, or activity9, 12, 13) to query the functional associations of non-essential and essential genes, respectively. After conjugation and ensuing genetic exchange mediated by homologous recombination, the resulting double mutants are selected on solid medium containing both antibiotics. After outgrowth, the plates are digitally imaged and colony sizes are quantitatively scored using an in-house automated image processing system14. GIs are revealed when the growth rate of a double mutant is either significantly better or worse than expected9. Aggravating (or negative) GIs often result between loss-of-function mutations in pairs of genes from compensatory pathways that impinge on the same essential process2. Here, the loss of a single gene is buffered, such that either single mutant is viable. However, the loss of both pathways is deleterious and results in synthetic lethality or sickness (i.e. slow growth). Conversely, alleviating (or positive) interactions can occur between genes in the same pathway or protein complex2 as the deletion of either gene alone is often sufficient to perturb the normal function of the pathway or complex such that additional perturbations do not reduce activity, and hence growth, further. Overall, systematically identifying and analyzing GI networks can provide unbiased, global maps of the functional relationships between large numbers of genes, from which pathway-level information missed by other approaches can be inferred9.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
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Adjustable Stiffness, External Fixator for the Rat Femur Osteotomy and Segmental Bone Defect Models
Authors: Vaida Glatt, Romano Matthys.
Institutions: Queensland University of Technology, RISystem AG.
The mechanical environment around the healing of broken bone is very important as it determines the way the fracture will heal. Over the past decade there has been great clinical interest in improving bone healing by altering the mechanical environment through the fixation stability around the lesion. One constraint of preclinical animal research in this area is the lack of experimental control over the local mechanical environment within a large segmental defect as well as osteotomies as they heal. In this paper we report on the design and use of an external fixator to study the healing of large segmental bone defects or osteotomies. This device not only allows for controlled axial stiffness on the bone lesion as it heals, but it also enables the change of stiffness during the healing process in vivo. The conducted experiments have shown that the fixators were able to maintain a 5 mm femoral defect gap in rats in vivo during unrestricted cage activity for at least 8 weeks. Likewise, we observed no distortion or infections, including pin infections during the entire healing period. These results demonstrate that our newly developed external fixator was able to achieve reproducible and standardized stabilization, and the alteration of the mechanical environment of in vivo rat large bone defects and various size osteotomies. This confirms that the external fixation device is well suited for preclinical research investigations using a rat model in the field of bone regeneration and repair.
Medicine, Issue 92, external fixator, bone healing, small animal model, large bone defect and osteotomy model, rat model, mechanical environment, mechanobiology.
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Experimental Protocol for Manipulating Plant-induced Soil Heterogeneity
Authors: Angela J. Brandt, Gaston A. del Pino, Jean H. Burns.
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University.
Coexistence theory has often treated environmental heterogeneity as being independent of the community composition; however biotic feedbacks such as plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) have large effects on plant performance, and create environmental heterogeneity that depends on the community composition. Understanding the importance of PSF for plant community assembly necessitates understanding of the role of heterogeneity in PSF, in addition to mean PSF effects. Here, we describe a protocol for manipulating plant-induced soil heterogeneity. Two example experiments are presented: (1) a field experiment with a 6-patch grid of soils to measure plant population responses and (2) a greenhouse experiment with 2-patch soils to measure individual plant responses. Soils can be collected from the zone of root influence (soils from the rhizosphere and directly adjacent to the rhizosphere) of plants in the field from conspecific and heterospecific plant species. Replicate collections are used to avoid pseudoreplicating soil samples. These soils are then placed into separate patches for heterogeneous treatments or mixed for a homogenized treatment. Care should be taken to ensure that heterogeneous and homogenized treatments experience the same degree of soil disturbance. Plants can then be placed in these soil treatments to determine the effect of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on plant performance. We demonstrate that plant-induced heterogeneity results in different outcomes than predicted by traditional coexistence models, perhaps because of the dynamic nature of these feedbacks. Theory that incorporates environmental heterogeneity influenced by the assembling community and additional empirical work is needed to determine when heterogeneity intrinsic to the assembling community will result in different assembly outcomes compared with heterogeneity extrinsic to the community composition.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Coexistence, community assembly, environmental drivers, plant-soil feedback, soil heterogeneity, soil microbial communities, soil patch
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DNA-affinity-purified Chip (DAP-chip) Method to Determine Gene Targets for Bacterial Two component Regulatory Systems
Authors: Lara Rajeev, Eric G. Luning, Aindrila Mukhopadhyay.
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
In vivo methods such as ChIP-chip are well-established techniques used to determine global gene targets for transcription factors. However, they are of limited use in exploring bacterial two component regulatory systems with uncharacterized activation conditions. Such systems regulate transcription only when activated in the presence of unique signals. Since these signals are often unknown, the in vitro microarray based method described in this video article can be used to determine gene targets and binding sites for response regulators. This DNA-affinity-purified-chip method may be used for any purified regulator in any organism with a sequenced genome. The protocol involves allowing the purified tagged protein to bind to sheared genomic DNA and then affinity purifying the protein-bound DNA, followed by fluorescent labeling of the DNA and hybridization to a custom tiling array. Preceding steps that may be used to optimize the assay for specific regulators are also described. The peaks generated by the array data analysis are used to predict binding site motifs, which are then experimentally validated. The motif predictions can be further used to determine gene targets of orthologous response regulators in closely related species. We demonstrate the applicability of this method by determining the gene targets and binding site motifs and thus predicting the function for a sigma54-dependent response regulator DVU3023 in the environmental bacterium Desulfovibrio vulgaris Hildenborough.
Genetics, Issue 89, DNA-Affinity-Purified-chip, response regulator, transcription factor binding site, two component system, signal transduction, Desulfovibrio, lactate utilization regulator, ChIP-chip
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Modeling Astrocytoma Pathogenesis In Vitro and In Vivo Using Cortical Astrocytes or Neural Stem Cells from Conditional, Genetically Engineered Mice
Authors: Robert S. McNeill, Ralf S. Schmid, Ryan E. Bash, Mark Vitucci, Kristen K. White, Andrea M. Werneke, Brian H. Constance, Byron Huff, C. Ryan Miller.
Institutions: University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
Current astrocytoma models are limited in their ability to define the roles of oncogenic mutations in specific brain cell types during disease pathogenesis and their utility for preclinical drug development. In order to design a better model system for these applications, phenotypically wild-type cortical astrocytes and neural stem cells (NSC) from conditional, genetically engineered mice (GEM) that harbor various combinations of floxed oncogenic alleles were harvested and grown in culture. Genetic recombination was induced in vitro using adenoviral Cre-mediated recombination, resulting in expression of mutated oncogenes and deletion of tumor suppressor genes. The phenotypic consequences of these mutations were defined by measuring proliferation, transformation, and drug response in vitro. Orthotopic allograft models, whereby transformed cells are stereotactically injected into the brains of immune-competent, syngeneic littermates, were developed to define the role of oncogenic mutations and cell type on tumorigenesis in vivo. Unlike most established human glioblastoma cell line xenografts, injection of transformed GEM-derived cortical astrocytes into the brains of immune-competent littermates produced astrocytomas, including the most aggressive subtype, glioblastoma, that recapitulated the histopathological hallmarks of human astrocytomas, including diffuse invasion of normal brain parenchyma. Bioluminescence imaging of orthotopic allografts from transformed astrocytes engineered to express luciferase was utilized to monitor in vivo tumor growth over time. Thus, astrocytoma models using astrocytes and NSC harvested from GEM with conditional oncogenic alleles provide an integrated system to study the genetics and cell biology of astrocytoma pathogenesis in vitro and in vivo and may be useful in preclinical drug development for these devastating diseases.
Neuroscience, Issue 90, astrocytoma, cortical astrocytes, genetically engineered mice, glioblastoma, neural stem cells, orthotopic allograft
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Rapid Genotyping of Animals Followed by Establishing Primary Cultures of Brain Neurons
Authors: Jin-Young Koh, Sadahiro Iwabuchi, Zhengmin Huang, N. Charles Harata.
Institutions: University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, EZ BioResearch LLC.
High-resolution analysis of the morphology and function of mammalian neurons often requires the genotyping of individual animals followed by the analysis of primary cultures of neurons. We describe a set of procedures for: labeling newborn mice to be genotyped, rapid genotyping, and establishing low-density cultures of brain neurons from these mice. Individual mice are labeled by tattooing, which allows for long-term identification lasting into adulthood. Genotyping by the described protocol is fast and efficient, and allows for automated extraction of nucleic acid with good reliability. This is useful under circumstances where sufficient time for conventional genotyping is not available, e.g., in mice that suffer from neonatal lethality. Primary neuronal cultures are generated at low density, which enables imaging experiments at high spatial resolution. This culture method requires the preparation of glial feeder layers prior to neuronal plating. The protocol is applied in its entirety to a mouse model of the movement disorder DYT1 dystonia (ΔE-torsinA knock-in mice), and neuronal cultures are prepared from the hippocampus, cerebral cortex and striatum of these mice. This protocol can be applied to mice with other genetic mutations, as well as to animals of other species. Furthermore, individual components of the protocol can be used for isolated sub-projects. Thus this protocol will have wide applications, not only in neuroscience but also in other fields of biological and medical sciences.
Neuroscience, Issue 95, AP2, genotyping, glial feeder layer, mouse tail, neuronal culture, nucleic-acid extraction, PCR, tattoo, torsinA
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Antifouling Self-assembled Monolayers on Microelectrodes for Patterning Biomolecules
Authors: John Noel, Winfried Teizer, Wonmuk Hwang.
Institutions: Texas A&M University (TAMU), Texas A&M University (TAMU).
We present a procedure for forming a poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) trimethoxysilane self-assembled monolayer (SAM) on a silicon substrate with gold microelectrodes. The PEG-SAM is formed in a single assembly step and prevents biofouling on silicon and gold surfaces. The SAM is used to coat microelectrodes patterned with standard, positive-tone lithography. Using the microtubule as an example, we apply a DC voltage to induce electrophoretic migration to the SAM-coated electrode in a reversible manner. A flow chamber is used for imaging the electrophoretic migration and microtubule patterning in situ using epifluorescence microscopy. This method is generally applicable to biomolecule patterning, as it employs electrophoresis to immobilize target molecules and thus does not require specific molecular interactions. Further, it avoids problems encountered when attempting to pattern the SAM molecules directly using lithographic techniques. The compatibility with electron beam lithography allows this method to be used to pattern biomolecules at the nanoscale.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 30, protein patterning, self-assembly, tubulin, kinesin, biofouling, bioNEMS, biosensor
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Generation of Genomic Deletions in Mammalian Cell Lines via CRISPR/Cas9
Authors: Daniel E. Bauer, Matthew C. Canver, Stuart H. Orkin.
Institutions: Harvard Medical School, Boston Children's Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
The prokaryotic clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)/CRISPR-associated (Cas) 9 system may be re-purposed for site-specific eukaryotic genome engineering. CRISPR/Cas9 is an inexpensive, facile, and efficient genome editing tool that allows genetic perturbation of genes and genetic elements. Here we present a simple methodology for CRISPR design, cloning, and delivery for the production of genomic deletions. In addition, we describe techniques for deletion, identification, and characterization. This strategy relies on cellular delivery of a pair of chimeric single guide RNAs (sgRNAs) to create two double strand breaks (DSBs) at a locus in order to delete the intervening DNA segment by non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) repair. Deletions have potential advantages as compared to single-site small indels given the efficiency of biallelic modification, ease of rapid identification by PCR, predictability of loss-of-function, and utility for the study of non-coding elements. This approach can be used for efficient loss-of-function studies of genes and genetic elements in mammalian cell lines.
Molecular Biology, Issue 95, CRISPR, Cas9, Genome Engineering, Gene Knockout, Genomic Deletion, Gene Regulation
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Impact Assessment of Repeated Exposure of Organotypic 3D Bronchial and Nasal Tissue Culture Models to Whole Cigarette Smoke
Authors: Diana Kuehn, Shoaib Majeed, Emmanuel Guedj, Remi Dulize, Karine Baumer, Anita Iskandar, Stephanie Boue, Florian Martin, Radina Kostadinova, Carole Mathis, Nikolai V. Ivanov, Stefan Frentzel, Julia Hoeng, Manuel C. Peitsch.
Institutions: Philip Morris Products S.A..
Cigarette smoke (CS) has a major impact on lung biology and may result in the development of lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or lung cancer. To understand the underlying mechanisms of disease development, it would be important to examine the impact of CS exposure directly on lung tissues. However, this approach is difficult to implement in epidemiological studies because lung tissue sampling is complex and invasive. Alternatively, tissue culture models can facilitate the assessment of exposure impacts on the lung tissue. Submerged 2D cell cultures, such as normal human bronchial epithelial (NHBE) cell cultures, have traditionally been used for this purpose. However, they cannot be exposed directly to smoke in a similar manner to the in vivo exposure situation. Recently developed 3D tissue culture models better reflect the in vivo situation because they can be cultured at the air-liquid interface (ALI). Their basal sides are immersed in the culture medium; whereas, their apical sides are exposed to air. Moreover, organotypic tissue cultures that contain different type of cells, better represent the physiology of the tissue in vivo. In this work, the utilization of an in vitro exposure system to expose human organotypic bronchial and nasal tissue models to mainstream CS is demonstrated. Ciliary beating frequency and the activity of cytochrome P450s (CYP) 1A1/1B1 were measured to assess functional impacts of CS on the tissues. Furthermore, to examine CS-induced alterations at the molecular level, gene expression profiles were generated from the tissues following exposure. A slight increase in CYP1A1/1B1 activity was observed in CS-exposed tissues compared with air-exposed tissues. A network-and transcriptomics-based systems biology approach was sufficiently robust to demonstrate CS-induced alterations of xenobiotic metabolism that were similar to those observed in the bronchial and nasal epithelial cells obtained from smokers.
Bioengineering, Issue 96, human organotypic bronchial epithelial, 3D culture, in vitro exposure system, cigarette smoke, cilia beating, xenobiotic metabolism, network models, systems toxicology
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Mosaic Zebrafish Transgenesis for Functional Genomic Analysis of Candidate Cooperative Genes in Tumor Pathogenesis
Authors: Choong Yong Ung, Feng Guo, Xiaoling Zhang, Zhihui Zhu, Shizhen Zhu.
Institutions: Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Center for Individualized Medicine, Tufts University School of Medicine, Mayo Clinic.
Comprehensive genomic analysis has uncovered surprisingly large numbers of genetic alterations in various types of cancers. To robustly and efficiently identify oncogenic “drivers” among these tumors and define their complex relationships with concurrent genetic alterations during tumor pathogenesis remains a daunting task. Recently, zebrafish have emerged as an important animal model for studying human diseases, largely because of their ease of maintenance, high fecundity, obvious advantages for in vivo imaging, high conservation of oncogenes and their molecular pathways, susceptibility to tumorigenesis and, most importantly, the availability of transgenic techniques suitable for use in the fish. Transgenic zebrafish models of cancer have been widely used to dissect oncogenic pathways in diverse tumor types. However, developing a stable transgenic fish model is both tedious and time-consuming, and it is even more difficult and more time-consuming to dissect the cooperation of multiple genes in disease pathogenesis using this approach, which requires the generation of multiple transgenic lines with overexpression of the individual genes of interest followed by complicated breeding of these stable transgenic lines. Hence, use of a mosaic transient transgenic approach in zebrafish offers unique advantages for functional genomic analysis in vivo. Briefly, candidate transgenes can be coinjected into one-cell-stage wild-type or transgenic zebrafish embryos and allowed to integrate together into each somatic cell in a mosaic pattern that leads to mixed genotypes in the same primarily injected animal. This permits one to investigate in a faster and less expensive manner whether and how the candidate genes can collaborate with each other to drive tumorigenesis. By transient overexpression of activated ALK in the transgenic fish overexpressing MYCN, we demonstrate here the cooperation of these two oncogenes in the pathogenesis of a pediatric cancer, neuroblastoma that has resisted most forms of contemporary treatment.
Developmental Biology, Issue 97, zebrafish, animal model, mosaic transgenesis, coinjection, functional genomics, tumor initiation
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Metal-silicate Partitioning at High Pressure and Temperature: Experimental Methods and a Protocol to Suppress Highly Siderophile Element Inclusions
Authors: Neil R. Bennett, James M. Brenan, Yingwei Fei.
Institutions: University of Toronto, Carnegie Institution of Washington.
Estimates of the primitive upper mantle (PUM) composition reveal a depletion in many of the siderophile (iron-loving) elements, thought to result from their extraction to the core during terrestrial accretion. Experiments to investigate the partitioning of these elements between metal and silicate melts suggest that the PUM composition is best matched if metal-silicate equilibrium occurred at high pressures and temperatures, in a deep magma ocean environment. The behavior of the most highly siderophile elements (HSEs) during this process however, has remained enigmatic. Silicate run-products from HSE solubility experiments are commonly contaminated by dispersed metal inclusions that hinder the measurement of element concentrations in the melt. The resulting uncertainty over the true solubility and metal-silicate partitioning of these elements has made it difficult to predict their expected depletion in PUM. Recently, several studies have employed changes to the experimental design used for high pressure and temperature solubility experiments in order to suppress the formation of metal inclusions. The addition of Au (Re, Os, Ir, Ru experiments) or elemental Si (Pt experiments) to the sample acts to alter either the geometry or rate of sample reduction respectively, in order to avoid transient metal oversaturation of the silicate melt. This contribution outlines procedures for using the piston-cylinder and multi-anvil apparatus to conduct solubility and metal-silicate partitioning experiments respectively. A protocol is also described for the synthesis of uncontaminated run-products from HSE solubility experiments in which the oxygen fugacity is similar to that during terrestrial core-formation. Time-resolved LA-ICP-MS spectra are presented as evidence for the absence of metal-inclusions in run-products from earlier studies, and also confirm that the technique may be extended to investigate Ru. Examples are also given of how these data may be applied.
Chemistry, Issue 100, siderophile elements, geoengineering, primitive upper mantle (PUM), HSEs, terrestrial accretion
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Phage Phenomics: Physiological Approaches to Characterize Novel Viral Proteins
Authors: Savannah E. Sanchez, Daniel A. Cuevas, Jason E. Rostron, Tiffany Y. Liang, Cullen G. Pivaroff, Matthew R. Haynes, Jim Nulton, Ben Felts, Barbara A. Bailey, Peter Salamon, Robert A. Edwards, Alex B. Burgin, Anca M. Segall, Forest Rohwer.
Institutions: San Diego State University, San Diego State University, San Diego State University, San Diego State University, San Diego State University, Argonne National Laboratory, Broad Institute.
Current investigations into phage-host interactions are dependent on extrapolating knowledge from (meta)genomes. Interestingly, 60 - 95% of all phage sequences share no homology to current annotated proteins. As a result, a large proportion of phage genes are annotated as hypothetical. This reality heavily affects the annotation of both structural and auxiliary metabolic genes. Here we present phenomic methods designed to capture the physiological response(s) of a selected host during expression of one of these unknown phage genes. Multi-phenotype Assay Plates (MAPs) are used to monitor the diversity of host substrate utilization and subsequent biomass formation, while metabolomics provides bi-product analysis by monitoring metabolite abundance and diversity. Both tools are used simultaneously to provide a phenotypic profile associated with expression of a single putative phage open reading frame (ORF). Representative results for both methods are compared, highlighting the phenotypic profile differences of a host carrying either putative structural or metabolic phage genes. In addition, the visualization techniques and high throughput computational pipelines that facilitated experimental analysis are presented.
Immunology, Issue 100, phenomics, phage, viral metagenome, Multi-phenotype Assay Plates (MAPs), continuous culture, metabolomics
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The Multiple Sclerosis Performance Test (MSPT): An iPad-Based Disability Assessment Tool
Authors: Richard A. Rudick, Deborah Miller, Francois Bethoux, Stephen M. Rao, Jar-Chi Lee, Darlene Stough, Christine Reece, David Schindler, Bernadett Mamone, Jay Alberts.
Institutions: Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland Clinic Foundation.
Precise measurement of neurological and neuropsychological impairment and disability in multiple sclerosis is challenging. We report a new test, the Multiple Sclerosis Performance Test (MSPT), which represents a new approach to quantifying MS related disability. The MSPT takes advantage of advances in computer technology, information technology, biomechanics, and clinical measurement science. The resulting MSPT represents a computer-based platform for precise, valid measurement of MS severity. Based on, but extending the Multiple Sclerosis Functional Composite (MSFC), the MSPT provides precise, quantitative data on walking speed, balance, manual dexterity, visual function, and cognitive processing speed. The MSPT was tested by 51 MS patients and 49 healthy controls (HC). MSPT scores were highly reproducible, correlated strongly with technician-administered test scores, discriminated MS from HC and severe from mild MS, and correlated with patient reported outcomes. Measures of reliability, sensitivity, and clinical meaning for MSPT scores were favorable compared with technician-based testing. The MSPT is a potentially transformative approach for collecting MS disability outcome data for patient care and research. Because the testing is computer-based, test performance can be analyzed in traditional or novel ways and data can be directly entered into research or clinical databases. The MSPT could be widely disseminated to clinicians in practice settings who are not connected to clinical trial performance sites or who are practicing in rural settings, drastically improving access to clinical trials for clinicians and patients. The MSPT could be adapted to out of clinic settings, like the patient’s home, thereby providing more meaningful real world data. The MSPT represents a new paradigm for neuroperformance testing. This method could have the same transformative effect on clinical care and research in MS as standardized computer-adapted testing has had in the education field, with clear potential to accelerate progress in clinical care and research.
Medicine, Issue 88, Multiple Sclerosis, Multiple Sclerosis Functional Composite, computer-based testing, 25-foot walk test, 9-hole peg test, Symbol Digit Modalities Test, Low Contrast Visual Acuity, Clinical Outcome Measure
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Setting-up an In Vitro Model of Rat Blood-brain Barrier (BBB): A Focus on BBB Impermeability and Receptor-mediated Transport
Authors: Yves Molino, Françoise Jabès, Emmanuelle Lacassagne, Nicolas Gaudin, Michel Khrestchatisky.
Institutions: VECT-HORUS SAS, CNRS, NICN UMR 7259.
The blood brain barrier (BBB) specifically regulates molecular and cellular flux between the blood and the nervous tissue. Our aim was to develop and characterize a highly reproducible rat syngeneic in vitro model of the BBB using co-cultures of primary rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC) and astrocytes to study receptors involved in transcytosis across the endothelial cell monolayer. Astrocytes were isolated by mechanical dissection following trypsin digestion and were frozen for later co-culture. RBEC were isolated from 5-week-old rat cortices. The brains were cleaned of meninges and white matter, and mechanically dissociated following enzymatic digestion. Thereafter, the tissue homogenate was centrifuged in bovine serum albumin to separate vessel fragments from nervous tissue. The vessel fragments underwent a second enzymatic digestion to free endothelial cells from their extracellular matrix. The remaining contaminating cells such as pericytes were further eliminated by plating the microvessel fragments in puromycin-containing medium. They were then passaged onto filters for co-culture with astrocytes grown on the bottom of the wells. RBEC expressed high levels of tight junction (TJ) proteins such as occludin, claudin-5 and ZO-1 with a typical localization at the cell borders. The transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER) of brain endothelial monolayers, indicating the tightness of TJs reached 300 ohm·cm2 on average. The endothelial permeability coefficients (Pe) for lucifer yellow (LY) was highly reproducible with an average of 0.26 ± 0.11 x 10-3 cm/min. Brain endothelial cells organized in monolayers expressed the efflux transporter P-glycoprotein (P-gp), showed a polarized transport of rhodamine 123, a ligand for P-gp, and showed specific transport of transferrin-Cy3 and DiILDL across the endothelial cell monolayer. In conclusion, we provide a protocol for setting up an in vitro BBB model that is highly reproducible due to the quality assurance methods, and that is suitable for research on BBB transporters and receptors.
Medicine, Issue 88, rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC), mouse, spinal cord, tight junction (TJ), receptor-mediated transport (RMT), low density lipoprotein (LDL), LDLR, transferrin, TfR, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER),
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Fabrication of Micro-tissues using Modules of Collagen Gel Containing Cells
Authors: M. Dean Chamberlain, Mark J. Butler, Ema C. Ciucurel, Lindsay E. Fitzpatrick, Omar F. Khan, Brendan M. Leung, Chuen Lo, Ritesh Patel, Alexandra Velchinskaya, Derek N. Voice, Michael V. Sefton.
Institutions: University of Toronto, University of Toronto.
This protocol describes the fabrication of a type of micro-tissues called modules. The module approach generates uniform, scalable and vascularized tissues. The modules can be made of collagen as well as other gelable or crosslinkable materials. They are approximately 2 mm in length and 0.7 mm in diameter upon fabrication but shrink in size with embedded cells or when the modules are coated with endothelial cells. The modules individually are small enough that the embedded cells are within the diffusion limit of oxygen and other nutrients but modules can be packed together to form larger tissues that are perfusable. These tissues are modular in construction because different cell types can be embedded in or coated on the modules before they are packed together to form complex tissues. There are three main steps to making the modules: (1) neutralizing the collagen and embedding cells in it, (2) gelling the collagen in the tube and cutting the modules and (3) coating the modules with endothelial cells.
Bioengineering, Issue 46, Tissue engineering, micro-tissue, endothelial cells, collagen gels, modules, 3D tissue culture.
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Isolation of Mouse Salivary Gland Stem Cells
Authors: Sarah Pringle, Lalitha S. Y. Nanduri, van der Zwaag Marianne, van Os Ronald, Rob P. Coppes.
Institutions: University Medical Center Groningen, University of Groningen, University Medical Center Groningen, University of Groningen.
Mature salivary glands of both human and mouse origin comprise a minimum of five cell types, each of which facilitates the production and excretion of saliva into the oral cavity. Serous and mucous acinar cells are the protein and mucous producing factories of the gland respectively, and represent the origin of saliva production. Once synthesised, the various enzymatic and other proteinaceous components of saliva are secreted through a series of ductal cells bearing epithelial-type morphology, until the eventual expulsion of the saliva through one major duct into the cavity of the mouth. The composition of saliva is also modified by the ductal cells during this process. In the manifestation of diseases such as Sjögren's syndrome, and in some clinical situations such as radiotherapy treatment for head and neck cancers, saliva production by the glands is dramatically reduced 1,2. The resulting xerostomia, a subjective feeling of dry mouth, affects not only the ability of the patient to swallow and speak, but also encourages the development of dental caries and can be socially debilitating for the sufferer. The restoration of saliva production in the above-mentioned clinical conditions therefore represents an unmet clinical need, and as such several studies have demonstrated the regenerative capacity of the salivary glands 3-5. Further to the isolation of stem cell-like populations of cells from various tissues within the mouse and human bodies 6-8, we have shown using the described method that stem cells isolated from mouse salivary glands can be used to rescue saliva production in irradiated salivary glands 9,10. This discovery paves the way for the development of stem cell-based therapies for the treatment of xerostomic conditions in humans, and also for the exploration of the salivary gland as a microenvironment containing cells with multipotent self-renewing capabilities.
Stem Cell Biology, Issue 48, Murine salivary glands, stem cells, isolation, tissue culture.
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Yeast Colony Embedding Method
Authors: Sarah Piccirillo, Saul M. Honigberg.
Institutions: University of Missouri - Kansas City.
Patterning of different cell types in embryos is a key mechanism in metazoan development. Communities of microorganisms, such as colonies and biofilms also display patterns of cell types. For example, in the yeast S. cerevisiae, sporulated cells and pseudohyphal cells are not uniformly distributed in colonies. The functional importance of patterning and the molecular mechanisms that underlie these patterns are still poorly understood. One challenge with respect to investigating patterns of cell types in fungal colonies is that unlike metazoan tissue, cells in colonies are relatively weakly attached to one another. In particular, fungal colonies do not contain the same extensive level of extracellular matrix found in most tissues . Here we report on a method for embedding and sectioning yeast colonies that reveals the interior patterns of cell types in these colonies. The method can be used to prepare thick sections (0.5 μ) useful for light microscopy and thin sections (0.1 μ) suitable for transmission electron microscopy. Asci and pseudohyphal cells can easily be distinguished from ovoid yeast cells by light microscopy , while the interior structure of these cells can be visualized by EM. The method is based on surrounding colonies with agar, infiltrating them with Spurr's medium, and then sectioning. Colonies with a diameter in the range of 1-2 mm are suitable for this protocol. In addition to visualizing the interior of colonies, the method allows visualization of the region of the colony that invades the underlying agar.
Cellular Biology, Issue 49, yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, colony, embedding, sporulation, pattern formation, organization
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A Strategy to Identify de Novo Mutations in Common Disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia
Authors: Gauthier Julie, Fadi F. Hamdan, Guy A. Rouleau.
Institutions: Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal.
There are several lines of evidence supporting the role of de novo mutations as a mechanism for common disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. First, the de novo mutation rate in humans is relatively high, so new mutations are generated at a high frequency in the population. However, de novo mutations have not been reported in most common diseases. Mutations in genes leading to severe diseases where there is a strong negative selection against the phenotype, such as lethality in embryonic stages or reduced reproductive fitness, will not be transmitted to multiple family members, and therefore will not be detected by linkage gene mapping or association studies. The observation of very high concordance in monozygotic twins and very low concordance in dizygotic twins also strongly supports the hypothesis that a significant fraction of cases may result from new mutations. Such is the case for diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. Second, despite reduced reproductive fitness1 and extremely variable environmental factors, the incidence of some diseases is maintained worldwide at a relatively high and constant rate. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia, with an incidence of approximately 1% worldwide. Mutational load can be thought of as a balance between selection for or against a deleterious mutation and its production by de novo mutation. Lower rates of reproduction constitute a negative selection factor that should reduce the number of mutant alleles in the population, ultimately leading to decreased disease prevalence. These selective pressures tend to be of different intensity in different environments. Nonetheless, these severe mental disorders have been maintained at a constant relatively high prevalence in the worldwide population across a wide range of cultures and countries despite a strong negative selection against them2. This is not what one would predict in diseases with reduced reproductive fitness, unless there was a high new mutation rate. Finally, the effects of paternal age: there is a significantly increased risk of the disease with increasing paternal age, which could result from the age related increase in paternal de novo mutations. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia3. The male-to-female ratio of mutation rate is estimated at about 4–6:1, presumably due to a higher number of germ-cell divisions with age in males. Therefore, one would predict that de novo mutations would more frequently come from males, particularly older males4. A high rate of new mutations may in part explain why genetic studies have so far failed to identify many genes predisposing to complexes diseases genes, such as autism and schizophrenia, and why diseases have been identified for a mere 3% of genes in the human genome. Identification for de novo mutations as a cause of a disease requires a targeted molecular approach, which includes studying parents and affected subjects. The process for determining if the genetic basis of a disease may result in part from de novo mutations and the molecular approach to establish this link will be illustrated, using autism and schizophrenia as examples.
Medicine, Issue 52, de novo mutation, complex diseases, schizophrenia, autism, rare variations, DNA sequencing
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Using SCOPE to Identify Potential Regulatory Motifs in Coregulated Genes
Authors: Viktor Martyanov, Robert H. Gross.
Institutions: Dartmouth College.
SCOPE is an ensemble motif finder that uses three component algorithms in parallel to identify potential regulatory motifs by over-representation and motif position preference1. Each component algorithm is optimized to find a different kind of motif. By taking the best of these three approaches, SCOPE performs better than any single algorithm, even in the presence of noisy data1. In this article, we utilize a web version of SCOPE2 to examine genes that are involved in telomere maintenance. SCOPE has been incorporated into at least two other motif finding programs3,4 and has been used in other studies5-8. The three algorithms that comprise SCOPE are BEAM9, which finds non-degenerate motifs (ACCGGT), PRISM10, which finds degenerate motifs (ASCGWT), and SPACER11, which finds longer bipartite motifs (ACCnnnnnnnnGGT). These three algorithms have been optimized to find their corresponding type of motif. Together, they allow SCOPE to perform extremely well. Once a gene set has been analyzed and candidate motifs identified, SCOPE can look for other genes that contain the motif which, when added to the original set, will improve the motif score. This can occur through over-representation or motif position preference. Working with partial gene sets that have biologically verified transcription factor binding sites, SCOPE was able to identify most of the rest of the genes also regulated by the given transcription factor. Output from SCOPE shows candidate motifs, their significance, and other information both as a table and as a graphical motif map. FAQs and video tutorials are available at the SCOPE web site which also includes a "Sample Search" button that allows the user to perform a trial run. Scope has a very friendly user interface that enables novice users to access the algorithm's full power without having to become an expert in the bioinformatics of motif finding. As input, SCOPE can take a list of genes, or FASTA sequences. These can be entered in browser text fields, or read from a file. The output from SCOPE contains a list of all identified motifs with their scores, number of occurrences, fraction of genes containing the motif, and the algorithm used to identify the motif. For each motif, result details include a consensus representation of the motif, a sequence logo, a position weight matrix, and a list of instances for every motif occurrence (with exact positions and "strand" indicated). Results are returned in a browser window and also optionally by email. Previous papers describe the SCOPE algorithms in detail1,2,9-11.
Genetics, Issue 51, gene regulation, computational biology, algorithm, promoter sequence motif
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Improved Visualization of Lung Metastases at Single Cell Resolution in Mice by Combined In-situ Perfusion of Lung Tissue and X-Gal Staining of lacZ-Tagged Tumor Cells
Authors: Matthias J.E. Arlt, Walter Born, Bruno Fuchs.
Institutions: Balgrist University Hospital, Zurich.
Metastasis is the main cause of death in the majority of cancer types and consequently a main focus in cancer research. However, the detection of micrometastases by radiologic imaging and the success in their therapeutic eradication remain limited. While animal models have proven to be invaluable tools for cancer research1, the monitoring/visualization of micrometastases remains a challenge and inaccurate evaluation of metastatic spread in preclinical studies potentially leads to disappointing results in clinical trials2. Consequently, there is great interest in refining the methods to finally allow reproducible and reliable detection of metastases down to the single cell level in normal tissue. The main focus therefore is on techniques, which allow the detection of tumor cells in vivo, like micro-computer tomography (micro-CT), positron emission tomography (PET), bioluminescence or fluorescence imaging3,4. We are currently optimizing these techniques for in vivo monitoring of primary tumor growth and metastasis in different osteosarcoma models. Some of these techniques can also be used for ex vivo analysis of metastasis beside classical methods like qPCR5, FACS6 or different types of histological staining. As a benchmark, we have established in the present study the stable transfection or transduction of tumor cells with the lacZ gene encoding the bacterial enzyme β-galactosidase that metabolizes the chromogenic substrate 5-bromo-4-chloro-3-indolyl-beta-D-galactopyranoside (X-Gal) to an insoluble indigo blue dye7 and allows highly sensitive and selective histochemical blue staining of tumor cells in mouse tissue ex vivo down to the single cell level as shown here. This is a low-cost and not equipment-intensive tool, which allows precise validation of metastasis8 in studies assessing new anticancer therapies9-11. A limiting factor of X-gal staining is the low contrast to e.g. blood-related red staining of well vascularized tissues. In lung tissue this problem can be solved by in-situ lung perfusion, a technique that was recently established by Borsig et al.12 who perfused the lungs of mice under anesthesia to clear them from blood and to fix and embed them in-situ under inflation through the trachea. This method prevents also the collapse of the lung and thereby maintains the morphology of functional lung alveoli, which improves the quality of the tissue for histological analysis. In the present study, we describe a new protocol, which takes advantage of a combination of X-gal staining of lacZ-expressing tumor cells and in-situ perfusion and fixation of lung tissue. This refined protocol allows high-sensitivity detection of single metastatic cells in the lung and enabled us in a recent study to detect "dormant" lung micrometastases in a mouse model13, which was originally described to be non-metastatic14.
Cancer Biology, Issue 66, Medicine, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, lung metastasis, lacZ-tagging, 5-Bromo-4-chloro-3-indolyl-beta-D-galactoside (X-Gal) staining, in-situ lung perfusion, metastases, imaging
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A New Screening Method for the Directed Evolution of Thermostable Bacteriolytic Enzymes
Authors: Ryan D. Heselpoth, Daniel C. Nelson.
Institutions: University of Maryland .
Directed evolution is defined as a method to harness natural selection in order to engineer proteins to acquire particular properties that are not associated with the protein in nature. Literature has provided numerous examples regarding the implementation of directed evolution to successfully alter molecular specificity and catalysis1. The primary advantage of utilizing directed evolution instead of more rational-based approaches for molecular engineering relates to the volume and diversity of variants that can be screened2. One possible application of directed evolution involves improving structural stability of bacteriolytic enzymes, such as endolysins. Bacteriophage encode and express endolysins to hydrolyze a critical covalent bond in the peptidoglycan (i.e. cell wall) of bacteria, resulting in host cell lysis and liberation of progeny virions. Notably, these enzymes possess the ability to extrinsically induce lysis to susceptible bacteria in the absence of phage and furthermore have been validated both in vitro and in vivo for their therapeutic potential3-5. The subject of our directed evolution study involves the PlyC endolysin, which is composed of PlyCA and PlyCB subunits6. When purified and added extrinsically, the PlyC holoenzyme lyses group A streptococci (GAS) as well as other streptococcal groups in a matter of seconds and furthermore has been validated in vivo against GAS7. Significantly, monitoring residual enzyme kinetics after elevated temperature incubation provides distinct evidence that PlyC loses lytic activity abruptly at 45 °C, suggesting a short therapeutic shelf life, which may limit additional development of this enzyme. Further studies reveal the lack of thermal stability is only observed for the PlyCA subunit, whereas the PlyCB subunit is stable up to ~90 °C (unpublished observation). In addition to PlyC, there are several examples in literature that describe the thermolabile nature of endolysins. For example, the Staphylococcus aureus endolysin LysK and Streptococcus pneumoniae endolysins Cpl-1 and Pal lose activity spontaneously at 42 °C, 43.5 °C and 50.2 °C, respectively8-10. According to the Arrhenius equation, which relates the rate of a chemical reaction to the temperature present in the particular system, an increase in thermostability will correlate with an increase in shelf life expectancy11. Toward this end, directed evolution has been shown to be a useful tool for altering the thermal activity of various molecules in nature, but never has this particular technology been exploited successfully for the study of bacteriolytic enzymes. Likewise, successful accounts of progressing the structural stability of this particular class of antimicrobials altogether are nonexistent. In this video, we employ a novel methodology that uses an error-prone DNA polymerase followed by an optimized screening process using a 96 well microtiter plate format to identify mutations to the PlyCA subunit of the PlyC streptococcal endolysin that correlate to an increase in enzyme kinetic stability (Figure 1). Results after just one round of random mutagenesis suggest the methodology is generating PlyC variants that retain more than twice the residual activity when compared to wild-type (WT) PlyC after elevated temperature treatment.
Immunology, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Microbiology, directed evolution, thermal behavior, thermostability, endolysin, enzybiotic, bacteriolytic, antimicrobial, therapeutic, PlyC
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Genetic Manipulation in Δku80 Strains for Functional Genomic Analysis of Toxoplasma gondii
Authors: Leah M. Rommereim, Miryam A. Hortua Triana, Alejandra Falla, Kiah L. Sanders, Rebekah B. Guevara, David J. Bzik, Barbara A. Fox.
Institutions: The Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth.
Targeted genetic manipulation using homologous recombination is the method of choice for functional genomic analysis to obtain a detailed view of gene function and phenotype(s). The development of mutant strains with targeted gene deletions, targeted mutations, complemented gene function, and/or tagged genes provides powerful strategies to address gene function, particularly if these genetic manipulations can be efficiently targeted to the gene locus of interest using integration mediated by double cross over homologous recombination. Due to very high rates of nonhomologous recombination, functional genomic analysis of Toxoplasma gondii has been previously limited by the absence of efficient methods for targeting gene deletions and gene replacements to specific genetic loci. Recently, we abolished the major pathway of nonhomologous recombination in type I and type II strains of T. gondii by deleting the gene encoding the KU80 protein1,2. The Δku80 strains behave normally during tachyzoite (acute) and bradyzoite (chronic) stages in vitro and in vivo and exhibit essentially a 100% frequency of homologous recombination. The Δku80 strains make functional genomic studies feasible on the single gene as well as on the genome scale1-4. Here, we report methods for using type I and type II Δku80Δhxgprt strains to advance gene targeting approaches in T. gondii. We outline efficient methods for generating gene deletions, gene replacements, and tagged genes by targeted insertion or deletion of the hypoxanthine-xanthine-guanine phosphoribosyltransferase (HXGPRT) selectable marker. The described gene targeting protocol can be used in a variety of ways in Δku80 strains to advance functional analysis of the parasite genome and to develop single strains that carry multiple targeted genetic manipulations. The application of this genetic method and subsequent phenotypic assays will reveal fundamental and unique aspects of the biology of T. gondii and related significant human pathogens that cause malaria (Plasmodium sp.) and cryptosporidiosis (Cryptosporidium).
Infectious Diseases, Issue 77, Genetics, Microbiology, Infection, Medicine, Immunology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Bioengineering, Genomics, Parasitology, Pathology, Apicomplexa, Coccidia, Toxoplasma, Genetic Techniques, Gene Targeting, Eukaryota, Toxoplasma gondii, genetic manipulation, gene targeting, gene deletion, gene replacement, gene tagging, homologous recombination, DNA, sequencing
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Cytotoxic Efficacy of Photodynamic Therapy in Osteosarcoma Cells In Vitro
Authors: Daniela Meier, Carmen Campanile, Sander M. Botter, Walter Born, Bruno Fuchs.
Institutions: Balgrist University Hospital, Zurich, Switzerland.
In recent years, there has been the difficulty in finding more effective therapies against cancer with less systemic side effects. Therefore Photodynamic Therapy is a novel approach for a more tumor selective treatment. Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) that makes use of a nontoxic photosensitizer (PS), which, upon activation with light of a specific wavelength in the presence of oxygen, generates oxygen radicals that elicit a cytotoxic response1. Despite its approval almost twenty years ago by the FDA, PDT is nowadays only used to treat a limited number of cancer types (skin, bladder) and nononcological diseases (psoriasis, actinic keratosis)2. The major advantage of the use of PDT is the ability to perform a local treatment, which prevents systemic side effects. Moreover, it allows the treatment of tumors at delicate sites (e.g. around nerves or blood vessels). Here, an intraoperative application of PDT is considered in osteosarcoma (OS), a tumor of the bone, to target primary tumor satellites left behind in tumor surrounding tissue after surgical tumor resection. The treatment aims at decreasing the number of recurrences and at reducing the risk for (postoperative) metastasis. In the present study, we present in vitro PDT procedures to establish the optimal PDT settings for effective treatment of widely used OS cell lines that are used to reproduce the human disease in well established intratibial OS mouse models. The uptake of the PS mTHPC was examined with a spectrophotometer and phototoxicity was provoked with laser light excitation of mTHPC at 652 nm to induce cell death assessed with a WST-1 assay and by the counting of surviving cells. The established techniques enable us to define the optimal PDT settings for future studies in animal models. They are an easy and quick tool for the evaluation of the efficacy of PDT in vitro before an application in vivo.
Medicine, Issue 85, Photodynamic Therapy (PDT), 5,10,15,20-tetrakis(meta-hydroxyphenyl)chlorin (mTHPC), phototoxicity, dark-toxicity, osteosarcoma (OS), photosensitizer
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Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Authors: Johannes Felix Buyel, Rainer Fischer.
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
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Optimization of Synthetic Proteins: Identification of Interpositional Dependencies Indicating Structurally and/or Functionally Linked Residues
Authors: R. Wolfgang Rumpf, William C. Ray.
Institutions: The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital.
Protein alignments are commonly used to evaluate the similarity of protein residues, and the derived consensus sequence used for identifying functional units (e.g., domains). Traditional consensus-building models fail to account for interpositional dependencies – functionally required covariation of residues that tend to appear simultaneously throughout evolution and across the phylogentic tree. These relationships can reveal important clues about the processes of protein folding, thermostability, and the formation of functional sites, which in turn can be used to inform the engineering of synthetic proteins. Unfortunately, these relationships essentially form sub-motifs which cannot be predicted by simple “majority rule” or even HMM-based consensus models, and the result can be a biologically invalid “consensus” which is not only never seen in nature but is less viable than any extant protein. We have developed a visual analytics tool, StickWRLD, which creates an interactive 3D representation of a protein alignment and clearly displays covarying residues. The user has the ability to pan and zoom, as well as dynamically change the statistical threshold underlying the identification of covariants. StickWRLD has previously been successfully used to identify functionally-required covarying residues in proteins such as Adenylate Kinase and in DNA sequences such as endonuclease target sites.
Chemistry, Issue 101, protein engineering, covariation, codependent residues, visualization
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