Microtubules are cytoskeletal polymers which play a role in cell division, cell mechanics, and intracellular transport. Each of these functions requires microtubules that are stiff and straight enough to span a significant fraction of the cell diameter. As a result, the microtubule persistence length, a measure of stiffness, has been actively studied for the past two decades1. Nonetheless, open questions remain: short microtubules are 10-50 times less stiff than long microtubules2-4, and even long microtubules have measured persistence lengths which vary by an order of magnitude5-9.
Here, we present a method to measure microtubule persistence length. The method is based on a kinesin-driven microtubule gliding assay10. By combining sparse fluorescent labeling of individual microtubules with single particle tracking of individual fluorophores attached to the microtubule, the gliding trajectories of single microtubules are tracked with nanometer-level precision. The persistence length of the trajectories is the same as the persistence length of the microtubule under the conditions used11. An automated tracking routine is used to create microtubule trajectories from fluorophores attached to individual microtubules, and the persistence length of this trajectory is calculated using routines written in IDL.
This technique is rapidly implementable, and capable of measuring the persistence length of 100 microtubules in one day of experimentation. The method can be extended to measure persistence length under a variety of conditions, including persistence length as a function of length along microtubules. Moreover, the analysis routines used can be extended to myosin-based acting gliding assays, to measure the persistence length of actin filaments as well.
23 Related JoVE Articles!
Fluorescence Imaging with One-nanometer Accuracy (FIONA)
Institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Fluorescence imaging with one-nanometer accuracy (FIONA) is a simple but useful technique for localizing single fluorophores with nanometer precision in the x-y plane. Here a summary of the FIONA technique is reported and examples of research that have been performed using FIONA are briefly described. First, how to set up the required equipment for FIONA experiments, i.e.
, a total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy (TIRFM), with details on aligning the optics, is described. Then how to carry out a simple FIONA experiment on localizing immobilized Cy3-DNA single molecules using appropriate protocols, followed by the use of FIONA to measure the 36 nm step size of a single truncated myosin Va motor labeled with a quantum dot, is illustrated. Lastly, recent effort to extend the application of FIONA to thick samples is reported. It is shown that, using a water immersion objective and quantum dots soaked deep in sol-gels and rabbit eye corneas (>200 µm), localization precision of 2-3 nm can be achieved.
Molecular Biology, Issue 91, FIONA, fluorescence imaging, nanometer precision, myosin walking, thick tissue
Fluorescent Labeling of Drosophila Heart Structures
Institutions: San Diego State University, The Sanford Burnham Institute for Medical Research.
The Drosophila melanogaster
dorsal vessel, or heart, is a tubular structure comprised of a single layer of contractile cardiomyocytes, pericardial cells that align along each side of the heart wall, supportive alary muscles and, in adults, a layer of ventral longitudinal muscle cells. The contractile fibers house conserved constituents of the muscle cytoarchitecture including densely packed bundles of myofibrils and cytoskeletal/submembranous protein complexes, which interact with homologous components of the extracellular matrix. Here we describe a protocol for the fixation and the fluorescent labeling of particular myocardial elements from the hearts of dissected larvae and semi-intact adult Drosophila
. Specifically, we demonstrate the labeling of sarcomeric F-actin and of α-actinin in larval hearts. Additionally, we perform labeling of F-actin and α-actinin in myosin-GFP expressing adult flies and of α-actinin and pericardin, a type IV extracellular matrix collagen, in wild type adult hearts. Particular attention is given to a mounting strategy for semi-intact adult hearts that minimizes handling and optimizes the opportunity for maintaining the integrity of the cardiac tubes and the associated tissues. These preparations are suitable for imaging via fluorescent and confocal microscopy. Overall, this procedure allows for careful and detailed analysis of the structural characteristics of the heart from a powerful genetically tractable model system.
Cellular Biology, Issue 32, Cardiac, cardiomyopathy, dorsal vessel, fluorescence, staining, GFP, larva, immunohistochemistry, microscopy, imaging
Visualizing Neuroblast Cytokinesis During C. elegans Embryogenesis
Institutions: Concordia University.
This protocol describes the use of fluorescence microscopy to image dividing cells within developing Caenorhabditis elegans
embryos. In particular, this protocol focuses on how to image dividing neuroblasts, which are found underneath the epidermal cells and may be important for epidermal morphogenesis. Tissue formation is crucial for metazoan development and relies on external cues from neighboring tissues. C. elegans
is an excellent model organism to study tissue morphogenesis in vivo
due to its transparency and simple organization, making its tissues easy to study via microscopy. Ventral enclosure is the process where the ventral surface of the embryo is covered by a single layer of epithelial cells. This event is thought to be facilitated by the underlying neuroblasts, which provide chemical guidance cues to mediate migration of the overlying epithelial cells. However, the neuroblasts are highly proliferative and also may act as a mechanical substrate for the ventral epidermal cells. Studies using this experimental protocol could uncover the importance of intercellular communication during tissue formation, and could be used to reveal the roles of genes involved in cell division within developing tissues.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, C. elegans, morphogenesis, cytokinesis, neuroblasts, anillin, microscopy, cell division
Combining Single-molecule Manipulation and Imaging for the Study of Protein-DNA Interactions
Institutions: University of Florence, University of Oxford, University of Florence, University of Florence, National Institute of Optics-National Research Council, Italy, International Center of Computational Neurophotonics.
The paper describes the combination of optical tweezers and single molecule fluorescence detection for the study of protein-DNA interaction. The method offers the opportunity of investigating interactions occurring in solution (thus avoiding problems due to closeby surfaces as in other single molecule methods), controlling the DNA extension and tracking interaction dynamics as a function of both mechanical parameters and DNA sequence. The methods for establishing successful optical trapping and nanometer localization of single molecules are illustrated. We illustrate the experimental conditions allowing the study of interaction of lactose repressor (lacI), labeled with Atto532, with a DNA molecule containing specific target sequences (operators) for LacI binding. The method allows the observation of specific interactions at the operators, as well as one-dimensional diffusion of the protein during the process of target search. The method is broadly applicable to the study of protein-DNA interactions but also to molecular motors, where control of the tension applied to the partner track polymer (for example actin or microtubules) is desirable.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, Single molecule biophysics, Optical tweezers, fluorescence microscopy, DNA binding proteins, lactose repressor, microfluidics
Magnetic Tweezers for the Measurement of Twist and Torque
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
Nanomanipulation of Single RNA Molecules by Optical Tweezers
Institutions: University at Albany, State University of New York, University at Albany, State University of New York, University at Albany, State University of New York, University at Albany, State University of New York, University at Albany, State University of New York.
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.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, RNA folding, single-molecule, optical tweezers, nanomanipulation, RNA secondary structure, RNA tertiary structure
Analysis of Tubular Membrane Networks in Cardiac Myocytes from Atria and Ventricles
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
High Efficiency Differentiation of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells to Cardiomyocytes and Characterization by Flow Cytometry
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin, Stanford University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin, Hong Kong University, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin.
There is an urgent need to develop approaches for repairing the damaged heart, discovering new therapeutic drugs that do not have toxic effects on the heart, and improving strategies to accurately model heart disease. The potential of exploiting human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) technology to generate cardiac muscle “in a dish” for these applications continues to generate high enthusiasm. In recent years, the ability to efficiently generate cardiomyogenic cells from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) has greatly improved, offering us new opportunities to model very early stages of human cardiac development not otherwise accessible. In contrast to many previous methods, the cardiomyocyte differentiation protocol described here does not require cell aggregation or the addition of Activin A or BMP4 and robustly generates cultures of cells that are highly positive for cardiac troponin I and T (TNNI3, TNNT2), iroquois-class homeodomain protein IRX-4 (IRX4), myosin regulatory light chain 2, ventricular/cardiac muscle isoform (MLC2v) and myosin regulatory light chain 2, atrial isoform (MLC2a) by day 10 across all human embryonic stem cell (hESC) and hiPSC lines tested to date. Cells can be passaged and maintained for more than 90 days in culture. The strategy is technically simple to implement and cost-effective. Characterization of cardiomyocytes derived from pluripotent cells often includes the analysis of reference markers, both at the mRNA and protein level. For protein analysis, flow cytometry is a powerful analytical tool for assessing quality of cells in culture and determining subpopulation homogeneity. However, technical variation in sample preparation can significantly affect quality of flow cytometry data. Thus, standardization of staining protocols should facilitate comparisons among various differentiation strategies. Accordingly, optimized staining protocols for the analysis of IRX4, MLC2v, MLC2a, TNNI3, and TNNT2 by flow cytometry are described.
Cellular Biology, Issue 91, human induced pluripotent stem cell, flow cytometry, directed differentiation, cardiomyocyte, IRX4, TNNI3, TNNT2, MCL2v, MLC2a
Methods to Assess Subcellular Compartments of Muscle in C. elegans
Institutions: University of Nottingham.
Muscle is a dynamic tissue that responds to changes in nutrition, exercise, and disease state. The loss of muscle mass and function with disease and age are significant public health burdens. We currently understand little about the genetic regulation of muscle health with disease or age. The nematode C. elegans
is an established model for understanding the genomic regulation of biological processes of interest. This worm’s body wall muscles display a large degree of homology with the muscles of higher metazoan species. Since C. elegans
is a transparent organism, the localization of GFP to mitochondria and sarcomeres allows visualization of these structures in vivo
. Similarly, feeding animals cationic dyes, which accumulate based on the existence of a mitochondrial membrane potential, allows the assessment of mitochondrial function in vivo
. These methods, as well as assessment of muscle protein homeostasis, are combined with assessment of whole animal muscle function, in the form of movement assays, to allow correlation of sub-cellular defects with functional measures of muscle performance. Thus, C. elegans
provides a powerful platform with which to assess the impact of mutations, gene knockdown, and/or chemical compounds upon muscle structure and function. Lastly, as GFP, cationic dyes, and movement assays are assessed non-invasively, prospective studies of muscle structure and function can be conducted across the whole life course and this at present cannot be easily investigated in vivo
in any other organism.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, Physiology, C. elegans, muscle, mitochondria, sarcomeres, ageing
Use of Stopped-Flow Fluorescence and Labeled Nucleotides to Analyze the ATP Turnover Cycle of Kinesins
Institutions: University of Nottingham.
The kinesin superfamily of microtubule associated motor proteins share a characteristic motor domain which both hydrolyses ATP and binds microtubules. Kinesins display differences across the superfamily both in ATP turnover and in microtubule interaction. These differences tailor specific kinesins to various functions such as cargo transport, microtubule sliding, microtubule depolymerization and microtubule stabilization. To understand the mechanism of action of a kinesin it is important to understand how the chemical cycle of ATP turnover is coupled to the mechanical cycle of microtubule interaction. To dissect the ATP turnover cycle, one approach is to utilize fluorescently labeled nucleotides to visualize individual steps in the cycle. Determining the kinetics of each nucleotide transition in the ATP turnover cycle allows the rate-limiting step or steps for the complete cycle to be identified. For a kinesin, it is important to know the rate-limiting step, in the absence of microtubules, as this step is generally accelerated several thousand fold when the kinesin interacts with microtubules. The cycle in the absence of microtubules is then compared to that in the presence of microtubules to fully understand a kinesin’s ATP turnover cycle. The kinetics of individual nucleotide transitions are generally too fast to observe by manually mixing reactants, particularly in the presence of microtubules. A rapid mixing device, such as a stopped-flow fluorimeter, which allows kinetics to be observed on timescales of as little as a few milliseconds, can be used to monitor such transitions. Here, we describe protocols in which rapid mixing of reagents by stopped-flow is used in conjunction with fluorescently labeled nucleotides to dissect the ATP turnover cycle of a kinesin.
Chemistry, Issue 92, Kinesin, ATP turnover, mantATP, mantADP, stopped-flow fluorescence, microtubules, enzyme kinetics, nucleotide
Preparation of Segmented Microtubules to Study Motions Driven by the Disassembling Microtubule Ends
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
Using Caenorhabditis elegans as a Model System to Study Protein Homeostasis in a Multicellular Organism
Institutions: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
The folding and assembly of proteins is essential for protein function, the long-term health of the cell, and longevity of the organism. Historically, the function and regulation of protein folding was studied in vitro
, in isolated tissue culture cells and in unicellular organisms. Recent studies have uncovered links between protein homeostasis (proteostasis), metabolism, development, aging, and temperature-sensing. These findings have led to the development of new tools for monitoring protein folding in the model metazoan organism Caenorhabditis elegans
. In our laboratory, we combine behavioral assays, imaging and biochemical approaches using temperature-sensitive or naturally occurring metastable proteins as sensors of the folding environment to monitor protein misfolding. Behavioral assays that are associated with the misfolding of a specific protein provide a simple and powerful readout for protein folding, allowing for the fast screening of genes and conditions that modulate folding. Likewise, such misfolding can be associated with protein mislocalization in the cell. Monitoring protein localization can, therefore, highlight changes in cellular folding capacity occurring in different tissues, at various stages of development and in the face of changing conditions. Finally, using biochemical tools ex vivo
, we can directly monitor protein stability and conformation. Thus, by combining behavioral assays, imaging and biochemical techniques, we are able to monitor protein misfolding at the resolution of the organism, the cell, and the protein, respectively.
Biochemistry, Issue 82, aging, Caenorhabditis elegans, heat shock response, neurodegenerative diseases, protein folding homeostasis, proteostasis, stress, temperature-sensitive
Measuring the Mechanical Properties of Living Cells Using Atomic Force Microscopy
Institutions: Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Mechanical properties of cells and extracellular matrix (ECM) play important roles in many biological processes including stem cell differentiation, tumor formation, and wound healing. Changes in stiffness of cells and ECM are often signs of changes in cell physiology or diseases in tissues. Hence, cell stiffness is an index to evaluate the status of cell cultures. Among the multitude of methods applied to measure the stiffness of cells and tissues, micro-indentation using an Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) provides a way to reliably measure the stiffness of living cells. This method has been widely applied to characterize the micro-scale stiffness for a variety of materials ranging from metal surfaces to soft biological tissues and cells. The basic principle of this method is to indent a cell with an AFM tip of selected geometry and measure the applied force from the bending of the AFM cantilever. Fitting the force-indentation curve to the Hertz model for the corresponding tip geometry can give quantitative measurements of material stiffness. This paper demonstrates the procedure to characterize the stiffness of living cells using AFM. Key steps including the process of AFM calibration, force-curve acquisition, and data analysis using a MATLAB routine are demonstrated. Limitations of this method are also discussed.
Biophysics, Issue 76, Bioengineering, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Physics, Chemical Engineering, Biomechanics, bioengineering (general), AFM, cell stiffness, microindentation, force spectroscopy, atomic force microscopy, microscopy
Focussed Ion Beam Milling and Scanning Electron Microscopy of Brain Tissue
Institutions: École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.
This protocol describes how biological samples, like brain tissue, can be imaged in three dimensions using the focussed ion beam/scanning electron microscope (FIB/SEM). The samples are fixed with aldehydes, heavy metal stained using osmium tetroxide and uranyl acetate. They are then dehydrated with alcohol and infiltrated with resin, which is then hardened. Using a light microscope and ultramicrotome with glass knives, a small block containing the region interest close to the surface is made. The block is then placed inside the FIB/SEM, and the ion beam used to roughly mill a vertical face along one side of the block, close to this region. Using backscattered electrons to image the underlying structures, a smaller face is then milled with a finer ion beam and the surface scrutinised more closely to determine the exact area of the face to be imaged and milled. The parameters of the microscope are then set so that the face is repeatedly milled and imaged so that serial images are collected through a volume of the block. The image stack will typically contain isotropic voxels with dimenions as small a 4 nm in each direction. This image quality in any imaging plane enables the user to analyse cell ultrastructure at any viewing angle within the image stack.
Neuroscience, Issue 53, Focussed ion beam, scanning electron microscopy, FIB
Demonstrating the Uses of the Novel Gravitational Force Spectrometer to Stretch and Measure Fibrous Proteins
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
An In Vitro System to Study Tumor Dormancy and the Switch to Metastatic Growth
Institutions: University of Haifa, National Cancer Institute.
Recurrence of breast cancer often follows a long latent period in which there are no signs of cancer, and metastases may not become clinically apparent until many years after removal of the primary tumor and adjuvant therapy. A likely explanation of this phenomenon is that tumor cells have seeded metastatic sites, are resistant to conventional therapies, and remain dormant for long periods of time 1-4
The existence of dormant cancer cells at secondary sites has been described previously as quiescent solitary cells that neither proliferate nor undergo apoptosis 5-7
. Moreover, these solitary cells has been shown to disseminate from the primary tumor at an early stage of disease progression 8-10
and reside growth-arrested in the patients' bone marrow, blood and lymph nodes 1,4,11
. Therefore, understanding mechanisms that regulate dormancy or the switch to a proliferative state is critical for discovering novel targets and interventions to prevent disease recurrence. However, unraveling the mechanisms regulating the switch from tumor dormancy to metastatic growth has been hampered by the lack of available model systems.
in vivo and ex vivo
model systems to study metastatic progression of tumor cells have been described previously 1,12-14
. However these model systems have not provided in real time and in a high throughput manner mechanistic insights into what triggers the emergence of solitary dormant tumor cells to proliferate as metastatic disease. We have recently developed a 3D in vitro
system to model the in vivo
growth characteristics of cells that exhibit either dormant (D2.OR, MCF7, K7M2-AS.46) or proliferative (D2A1, MDA-MB-231, K7M2) metastatic behavior in vivo
. We demonstrated that tumor cells that exhibit dormancy in vivo
at a metastatic site remain quiescent when cultured in a 3-dimension (3D) basement membrane extract (BME), whereas cells highly metastatic in vivo
readily proliferate in 3D culture after variable, but relatively short periods of quiescence. Importantly by utilizing the 3D in vitro
model system we demonstrated for the first time that the ECM composition plays an important role in regulating whether dormant tumor cells will switch to a proliferative state and have confirmed this in in vivo
. Hence, the model system described in this report provides an in vitro
method to model tumor dormancy and study the transition to proliferative growth induced by the microenvironment.
Medicine, Issue 54, Tumor dormancy, cancer recurrence, metastasis, reconstituted basement membrane extract (BME), 3D culture, breast cancer
Stretching Short Sequences of DNA with Constant Force Axial Optical Tweezers
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Michigan .
Single-molecule techniques for stretching DNA of contour lengths less than a kilobase are fraught with experimental difficulties. However, many interesting biological events such as histone binding and protein-mediated looping of DNA1,2
, occur on this length scale. In recent years, the mechanical properties of DNA have been shown to play a significant role in fundamental cellular processes like the packaging of DNA into compact nucleosomes and chromatin fibers3,4
. Clearly, it is then important to understand the mechanical properties of short stretches of DNA. In this paper, we provide a practical guide to a single-molecule optical tweezing technique that we have developed to study the mechanical behavior of DNA with contour lengths as short as a few hundred basepairs.
The major hurdle in stretching short segments of DNA is that conventional optical tweezers are generally designed to apply force in a direction lateral to the stage5,6,
(see Fig. 1). In this geometry, the angle between the bead and the coverslip, to which the DNA is tethered, becomes very steep for submicron length DNA. The axial position must now be accounted for, which can be a challenge, and, since the extension drags the microsphere closer to the coverslip, steric effects are enhanced. Furthermore, as a result of the asymmetry of the microspheres, lateral extensions will generate varying levels of torque due to rotation of the microsphere within the optical trap since the direction of the reactive force changes during the extension.
Alternate methods for stretching submicron DNA run up against their own unique hurdles. For instance, a dual-beam optical trap is limited to stretching DNA of around a wavelength, at which point interference effects between the two traps and from light scattering between the microspheres begin to pose a significant problem. Replacing one of the traps with a micropipette would most likely suffer from similar challenges. While one could directly use the axial potential to stretch the DNA, an active feedback scheme would be needed to apply a constant force and the bandwidth of this will be quite limited, especially at low forces.
We circumvent these fundamental problems by directly pulling the DNA away from the coverslip by using a constant force axial optical tweezers7,8
. This is achieved by trapping the bead in a linear region of the optical potential, where the optical force is constant-the strength of which can be tuned by adjusting the laser power. Trapping within the linear region also serves as an all optical force-clamp on the DNA that extends for nearly 350 nm in the axial direction. We simultaneously compensate for thermal and mechanical drift by finely adjusting the position of the stage so that a reference microsphere stuck to the coverslip remains at the same position and focus, allowing for a virtually limitless observation period.
Bioengineering, Issue 56, Genetics, DNA stretching, DNA, Axial Optical Tweezers, Single-Molecule Biophysics, Biophysics
Measurement of Cytosolic Ca2+ in Isolated Contractile Lymphatics
Institutions: Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.
Lymphatic vessels comprise a multifunctional transport system that maintains fluid homeostasis, delivers lipids to the central circulation, and acts as a surveillance system for potentially harmful antigens, optimizing mucosal immunity and adaptive immune responses1
. Lymph is formed from interstitial fluid that enters blind-ended initial lymphatics, and then is transported against a pressure gradient in larger collecting lymphatics. Each collecting lymphatic is made up of a series of segments called lymphangions, separated by bicuspid valves that prevent backflow. Each lymphangion possesses a contractile cycle that propels lymph against a pressure gradient toward the central circulation2
. This phasic contractile pattern is analogous to the cardiac cycle, with systolic and diastolic phases, and with a lower contraction frequency4
. In addition, lymphatic smooth muscle generates tone and displays myogenic constriction and dilation in response to increases and decreases in luminal pressure, respectively5
. A hybrid of molecular mechanisms that support both the phasic and tonic contractility of lymphatics are thus proposed.
Contraction of smooth muscle is generally regulated by the cytosolic Ca2+
) plus sensitivity to Ca2+,
of the contractile elements in response to changes in the environment surrounding the cell6
is determined by the combination of the movement of Ca2+
through plasma membrane ligand or voltage gated Ca2+
channels and the release and uptake of Ca2+
from internal stores. Cytosolic Ca2+
binds to calmodulin and activates enzymes such as myosin light chain (MLC) kinase (MLCK), which in turn phosphorylates MLC leading to actin-myosin-mediated contraction8
. However, the sensitivity of this pathway to Ca2+
can be regulated by the MLC phosphatase (MLCP)9
. MLCP activity is regulated by Rho kinase (ROCK) and the myosin phosphatase inhibitor protein CPI-17.
Here, we present a method to evaluate changes in [Ca2+
over time in isolated, perfused lymphatics in order to study Ca2+
-dependent and Ca2+
-sensitizing mechanisms of lymphatic smooth muscle contraction. Using isolated rat mesenteric collecting lymphatics we studied stretch-induced changes in [Ca2+
and contractile activity. The isolated lymphatic model offers the advantage that pressure, flow, and the chemical composition of the bath solution can be tightly controlled. [Ca2+
was determined by loading lymphatics with the ratiometric, Ca2+
-binding dye Fura-2. These studies will provide a new approach to the broader problem of studying the different molecular mechanisms that regulate phasic contractions versus tonic constriction in lymphatic smooth muscle.
Immunology, Issue 58, Mesenteric lymphatic vessels, lymphatic smooth muscle, lymphangion, calcium transient, Fura-2
Pull-down of Calmodulin-binding Proteins
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin .
) is an ion vital in regulating cellular function through a variety of mechanisms. Much of Ca2+
signaling is mediated through the calcium-binding protein known as calmodulin (CaM)1,2
. CaM is involved at multiple levels in almost all cellular processes, including apoptosis, metabolism, smooth muscle contraction, synaptic plasticity, nerve growth, inflammation and the immune response. A number of proteins help regulate these pathways through their interaction with CaM. Many of these interactions depend on the conformation of CaM, which is distinctly different when bound to Ca2+
-CaM) as opposed to its Ca2+
-free state (ApoCaM)3
While most target proteins bind Ca2+
-CaM, certain proteins only bind to ApoCaM. Some bind CaM through their IQ-domain, including neuromodulin4
, neurogranin (Ng)5
, and certain myosins6
. These proteins have been shown to play important roles in presynaptic function7
, postsynaptic function8
, and muscle contraction9
, respectively. Their ability to bind and release CaM in the absence or presence of Ca2+
is pivotal in their function. In contrast, many proteins only bind Ca2+
-CaM and require this binding for their activation. Examples include myosin light chain kinase10
/CaM-dependent kinases (CaMKs)11
and phosphatases (e.g. calcineurin)12
, and spectrin kinase13
, which have a variety of direct and downstream effects14
The effects of these proteins on cellular function are often dependent on their ability to bind to CaM in a Ca2+
-dependent manner. For example, we tested the relevance of Ng-CaM binding in synaptic function and how different mutations affect this binding. We generated a GFP-tagged Ng construct with specific mutations in the IQ-domain that would change the ability of Ng to bind CaM in a Ca2+
-dependent manner. The study of these different mutations gave us great insight into important processes involved in synaptic function8,15
. However, in such studies, it is essential to demonstrate that the mutated proteins have the expected altered binding to CaM.
Here, we present a method for testing the ability of proteins to bind to CaM in the presence or absence of Ca2+
, using CaMKII and Ng as examples. This method is a form of affinity chromatography referred to as a CaM pull-down assay. It uses CaM-Sepharose beads to test proteins that bind to CaM and the influence of Ca2+
on this binding. It is considerably more time efficient and requires less protein relative to column chromatography and other assays. Altogether, this provides a valuable tool to explore Ca2+
/CaM signaling and proteins that interact with CaM.
Molecular BIology, Issue 59, Calmodulin, calcium, IQ-motif, affinity chromatography, pull-down, Ca2+/Calmodulin-dependent Kinase II, neurogranin
Environmentally-controlled Microtensile Testing of Mechanically-adaptive Polymer Nanocomposites for ex vivo Characterization
Institutions: Louis Stokes Cleveland Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Case Western Reserve University, Case Western Reserve University.
Implantable microdevices are gaining significant attention for several biomedical applications1-4
. Such devices have been made from a range of materials, each offering its own advantages and shortcomings5,6
. Most prominently, due to the microscale device dimensions, a high modulus is required to facilitate implantation into living tissue. Conversely, the stiffness of the device should match the surrounding tissue to minimize induced local strain7-9
. Therefore, we recently developed a new class of bio-inspired materials to meet these requirements by responding to environmental stimuli with a change in mechanical properties10-14
. Specifically, our poly(vinyl acetate)-based nanocomposite (PVAc-NC) displays a reduction in stiffness when exposed to water and elevated temperatures (e.g.
body temperature). Unfortunately, few methods exist to quantify the stiffness of materials in vivo15
, and mechanical testing outside of the physiological environment often requires large samples inappropriate for implantation. Further, stimuli-responsive materials may quickly recover their initial stiffness after explantation. Therefore, we have developed a method by which the mechanical properties of implanted microsamples can be measured ex vivo
, with simulated physiological conditions maintained using moisture and temperature control13,16,17
To this end, a custom microtensile tester was designed to accommodate microscale samples13,17
with widely-varying Young's moduli (range of 10 MPa to 5 GPa). As our interests are in the application of PVAc-NC as a biologically-adaptable neural probe substrate, a tool capable of mechanical characterization of samples at the microscale was necessary. This tool was adapted to provide humidity and temperature control, which minimized sample drying and cooling17
. As a result, the mechanical characteristics of the explanted sample closely reflect those of the sample just prior to explantation.
The overall goal of this method is to quantitatively assess the in vivo
mechanical properties, specifically the Young's modulus, of stimuli-responsive, mechanically-adaptive polymer-based materials. This is accomplished by first establishing the environmental conditions that will minimize a change in sample mechanical properties after explantation without contributing to a reduction in stiffness independent of that resulting from implantation. Samples are then prepared for implantation, handling, and testing (Figure 1A
). Each sample is implanted into the cerebral cortex of rats, which is represented here as an explanted rat brain, for a specified duration (Figure 1B
). At this point, the sample is explanted and immediately loaded into the microtensile tester, and then subjected to tensile testing (Figure 1C
). Subsequent data analysis provides insight into the mechanical behavior of these innovative materials in the environment of the cerebral cortex.
Bioengineering, Issue 78, Biophysics, Biomedical Engineering, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Electrical Engineering, Materials Science, Nanotechnology, Nanocomposites, Electrodes, Implanted, Neural Prostheses, Micro-Electrical-Mechanical Systems, Implants, Experimental, mechanical properties (composite materials), Dynamic materials, polymer nanocomposite, Young's modulus, modulus of elasticity, intracortical microelectrode, polymers, biomaterials
Measurement of Tension Release During Laser Induced Axon Lesion to Evaluate Axonal Adhesion to the Substrate at Piconewton and Millisecond Resolution
Institutions: National Research Council of Italy, Università di Firenze, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia.
The formation of functional connections in a developing neuronal network is influenced by extrinsic cues. The neurite growth of developing neurons is subject to chemical and mechanical signals, and the mechanisms by which it senses and responds to mechanical signals are poorly understood. Elucidating the role of forces in cell maturation will enable the design of scaffolds that can promote cell adhesion and cytoskeletal coupling to the substrate, and therefore improve the capacity of different neuronal types to regenerate after injury.
Here, we describe a method to apply simultaneous force spectroscopy measurements during laser induced cell lesion. We measure tension release in the partially lesioned axon by simultaneous interferometric tracking of an optically trapped probe adhered to the membrane of the axon. Our experimental protocol detects the tension release with piconewton sensitivity, and the dynamic of the tension release at millisecond time resolution. Therefore, it offers a high-resolution method to study how the mechanical coupling between cells and substrates can be modulated by pharmacological treatment and/or by distinct mechanical properties of the substrate.
Bioengineering, Issue 75, Biophysics, Neuroscience, Cellular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Engineering (General), Life Sciences (General), Physics (General), Axon, tension release, Laser dissector, optical tweezers, force spectroscopy, neurons, neurites, cytoskeleton, adhesion, cell culture, microscopy
Atomic Force Microscopy of Red-Light Photoreceptors Using PeakForce Quantitative Nanomechanical Property Mapping
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
Semi-automated Optical Heartbeat Analysis of Small Hearts
Institutions: The Sanford Burnham Institute for Medical Research, The Sanford Burnham Institute for Medical Research, San Diego State University.
We have developed a method for analyzing high speed optical recordings from Drosophila
, zebrafish and embryonic mouse hearts (Fink, et. al., 2009). Our Semi-automatic Optical Heartbeat Analysis (SOHA) uses a novel movement detection algorithm that is able to detect cardiac movements associated with individual contractile and relaxation events. The program provides a host of physiologically relevant readouts including systolic and diastolic intervals, heart rate, as well as qualitative and quantitative measures of heartbeat arrhythmicity. The program also calculates heart diameter measurements during both diastole and systole from which fractional shortening and fractional area changes are calculated. Output is provided as a digital file compatible with most spreadsheet programs. Measurements are made for every heartbeat in a record increasing the statistical power of the output. We demonstrate each of the steps where user input is required and show the application of our methodology to the analysis of heart function in all three genetically tractable heart models.
Physiology, Issue 31, Drosophila, zebrafish, mouse, heart, myosin, dilated, restricted, cardiomyopathy, KCNQ, movement detection