Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
21 Related JoVE Articles!
In Vitro Reconstitution of Light-harvesting Complexes of Plants and Green Algae
Institutions: VU University Amsterdam.
In plants and green algae, light is captured by the light-harvesting complexes (LHCs), a family of integral membrane proteins that coordinate chlorophylls and carotenoids. In vivo
, these proteins are folded with pigments to form complexes which are inserted in the thylakoid membrane of the chloroplast. The high similarity in the chemical and physical properties of the members of the family, together with the fact that they can easily lose pigments during isolation, makes their purification in a native state challenging. An alternative approach to obtain homogeneous preparations of LHCs was developed by Plumley and Schmidt in 19871
, who showed that it was possible to reconstitute these complexes in vitro
starting from purified pigments and unfolded apoproteins, resulting in complexes with properties very similar to that of native complexes. This opened the way to the use of bacterial expressed recombinant proteins for in vitro
reconstitution. The reconstitution method is powerful for various reasons: (1) pure preparations of individual complexes can be obtained, (2) pigment composition can be controlled to assess their contribution to structure and function, (3) recombinant proteins can be mutated to study the functional role of the individual residues (e.g.,
pigment binding sites) or protein domain (e.g.,
protein-protein interaction, folding). This method has been optimized in several laboratories and applied to most of the light-harvesting complexes. The protocol described here details the method of reconstituting light-harvesting complexes in vitro
currently used in our laboratory,
and examples describing applications of the method are provided.
Biochemistry, Issue 92, Reconstitution, Photosynthesis, Chlorophyll, Carotenoids, Light Harvesting Protein, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, Arabidopsis thaliana
Detection of Architectural Distortion in Prior Mammograms via Analysis of Oriented Patterns
Institutions: University of Calgary , University of Calgary .
We demonstrate methods for the detection of architectural distortion in prior mammograms of interval-cancer cases based on analysis of the orientation of breast tissue patterns in mammograms. We hypothesize that architectural distortion modifies the normal orientation of breast tissue patterns in mammographic images before the formation of masses or tumors. In the initial steps of our methods, the oriented structures in a given mammogram are analyzed using Gabor filters and phase portraits to detect node-like sites of radiating or intersecting tissue patterns. Each detected site is then characterized using the node value, fractal dimension, and a measure of angular dispersion specifically designed to represent spiculating patterns associated with architectural distortion.
Our methods were tested with a database of 106 prior mammograms of 56 interval-cancer cases and 52 mammograms of 13 normal cases using the features developed for the characterization of architectural distortion, pattern classification via
quadratic discriminant analysis, and validation with the leave-one-patient out procedure. According to the results of free-response receiver operating characteristic analysis, our methods have demonstrated the capability to detect architectural distortion in prior mammograms, taken 15 months (on the average) before clinical diagnosis of breast cancer, with a sensitivity of 80% at about five false positives per patient.
Medicine, Issue 78, Anatomy, Physiology, Cancer Biology, angular spread, architectural distortion, breast cancer, Computer-Assisted Diagnosis, computer-aided diagnosis (CAD), entropy, fractional Brownian motion, fractal dimension, Gabor filters, Image Processing, Medical Informatics, node map, oriented texture, Pattern Recognition, phase portraits, prior mammograms, spectral analysis
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (https://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
Analyzing Protein Dynamics Using Hydrogen Exchange Mass Spectrometry
Institutions: University of Heidelberg.
All cellular processes depend on the functionality of proteins. Although the functionality of a given protein is the direct consequence of its unique amino acid sequence, it is only realized by the folding of the polypeptide chain into a single defined three-dimensional arrangement or more commonly into an ensemble of interconverting conformations. Investigating the connection between protein conformation and its function is therefore essential for a complete understanding of how proteins are able to fulfill their great variety of tasks. One possibility to study conformational changes a protein undergoes while progressing through its functional cycle is hydrogen-1
H-exchange in combination with high-resolution mass spectrometry (HX-MS). HX-MS is a versatile and robust method that adds a new dimension to structural information obtained by e.g.
crystallography. It is used to study protein folding and unfolding, binding of small molecule ligands, protein-protein interactions, conformational changes linked to enzyme catalysis, and allostery. In addition, HX-MS is often used when the amount of protein is very limited or crystallization of the protein is not feasible. Here we provide a general protocol for studying protein dynamics with HX-MS and describe as an example how to reveal the interaction interface of two proteins in a complex.
Chemistry, Issue 81, Molecular Chaperones, mass spectrometers, Amino Acids, Peptides, Proteins, Enzymes, Coenzymes, Protein dynamics, conformational changes, allostery, protein folding, secondary structure, mass spectrometry
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
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
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
High Throughput Quantitative Expression Screening and Purification Applied to Recombinant Disulfide-rich Venom Proteins Produced in E. coli
Institutions: Aix-Marseille Université, Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA) Saclay, France.
Escherichia coli (E. coli)
is the most widely used expression system for the production of recombinant proteins for structural and functional studies. However, purifying proteins is sometimes challenging since many proteins are expressed in an insoluble form. When working with difficult or multiple targets it is therefore recommended to use high throughput (HTP) protein expression screening on a small scale (1-4 ml cultures) to quickly identify conditions for soluble expression. To cope with the various structural genomics programs of the lab, a quantitative (within a range of 0.1-100 mg/L culture of recombinant protein) and HTP protein expression screening protocol was implemented and validated on thousands of proteins. The protocols were automated with the use of a liquid handling robot but can also be performed manually without specialized equipment.
Disulfide-rich venom proteins are gaining increasing recognition for their potential as therapeutic drug leads. They can be highly potent and selective, but their complex disulfide bond networks make them challenging to produce. As a member of the FP7 European Venomics project (www.venomics.eu), our challenge is to develop successful production strategies with the aim of producing thousands of novel venom proteins for functional characterization. Aided by the redox properties of disulfide bond isomerase DsbC, we adapted our HTP production pipeline for the expression of oxidized, functional venom peptides in the E. coli
cytoplasm. The protocols are also applicable to the production of diverse disulfide-rich proteins. Here we demonstrate our pipeline applied to the production of animal venom proteins. With the protocols described herein it is likely that soluble disulfide-rich proteins will be obtained in as little as a week. Even from a small scale, there is the potential to use the purified proteins for validating the oxidation state by mass spectrometry, for characterization in pilot studies, or for sensitive micro-assays.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, E. coli, expression, recombinant, high throughput (HTP), purification, auto-induction, immobilized metal affinity chromatography (IMAC), tobacco etch virus protease (TEV) cleavage, disulfide bond isomerase C (DsbC) fusion, disulfide bonds, animal venom proteins/peptides
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
Designing a Bio-responsive Robot from DNA Origami
Institutions: Bar-Ilan University.
Nucleic acids are astonishingly versatile. In addition to their natural role as storage medium for biological information1
, they can be utilized in parallel computing2,3
, recognize and bind molecular or cellular targets4,5
, catalyze chemical reactions6,7
, and generate calculated responses in a biological system8,9
. Importantly, nucleic acids can be programmed to self-assemble into 2D and 3D structures10-12
, enabling the integration of all these remarkable features in a single robot linking the sensing of biological cues to a preset response in order to exert a desired effect.
Creating shapes from nucleic acids was first proposed by Seeman13
, and several variations on this theme have since been realized using various techniques11,12,14,15
. However, the most significant is perhaps the one proposed by Rothemund, termed scaffolded DNA origami16
. In this technique, the folding of a long (>7,000 bases) single-stranded DNA 'scaffold'
is directed to a desired shape by hundreds of short complementary strands termed 'staples'
. Folding is carried out by temperature annealing ramp. This technique was successfully demonstrated in the creation of a diverse array of 2D shapes with remarkable precision and robustness. DNA origami was later extended to 3D as well17,18
The current paper will focus on the caDNAno 2.0 software19
developed by Douglas and colleagues. caDNAno is a robust, user-friendly CAD tool enabling the design of 2D and 3D DNA origami shapes with versatile features. The design process relies on a systematic and accurate abstraction scheme for DNA structures, making it relatively straightforward and efficient.
In this paper we demonstrate the design of a DNA origami nanorobot that has been recently described20
. This robot is 'robotic' in the sense that it links sensing to actuation, in order to perform a task. We explain how various sensing schemes can be integrated into the structure, and how this can be relayed to a desired effect. Finally we use Cando21
to simulate the mechanical properties of the designed shape. The concept we discuss can be adapted to multiple tasks and settings.
Bioengineering, Issue 77, Genetics, Biomedical Engineering, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Genomics, Nanotechnology, Nanomedicine, DNA origami, nanorobot, caDNAno, DNA, DNA Origami, nucleic acids, DNA structures, CAD, sequencing
RNA Secondary Structure Prediction Using High-throughput SHAPE
Institutions: Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research.
Understanding the function of RNA involved in biological processes requires a thorough knowledge of RNA structure. Toward this end, the methodology dubbed "high-throughput selective 2' hydroxyl acylation analyzed by primer extension", or SHAPE, allows prediction of RNA secondary structure with single nucleotide resolution. This approach utilizes chemical probing agents that preferentially acylate single stranded or flexible regions of RNA in aqueous solution. Sites of chemical modification are detected by reverse transcription of the modified RNA, and the products of this reaction are fractionated by automated capillary electrophoresis (CE). Since reverse transcriptase pauses at those RNA nucleotides modified by the SHAPE reagents, the resulting cDNA library indirectly maps those ribonucleotides that are single stranded in the context of the folded RNA. Using ShapeFinder software, the electropherograms produced by automated CE are processed and converted into nucleotide reactivity tables that are themselves converted into pseudo-energy constraints used in the RNAStructure (v5.3) prediction algorithm. The two-dimensional RNA structures obtained by combining SHAPE probing with in silico
RNA secondary structure prediction have been found to be far more accurate than structures obtained using either method alone.
Genetics, Issue 75, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Virology, Cancer Biology, Medicine, Genomics, Nucleic Acid Probes, RNA Probes, RNA, High-throughput SHAPE, Capillary electrophoresis, RNA structure, RNA probing, RNA folding, secondary structure, DNA, nucleic acids, electropherogram, synthesis, transcription, high throughput, sequencing
4D Imaging of Protein Aggregation in Live Cells
Institutions: Hebrew University of Jerusalem .
One of the key tasks of any living cell is maintaining the proper folding of newly synthesized proteins in the face of ever-changing environmental conditions and an intracellular environment that is tightly packed, sticky, and hazardous to protein stability1
. The ability to dynamically balance protein production, folding and degradation demands highly-specialized quality control machinery, whose absolute necessity is observed best when it malfunctions. Diseases such as ALS, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and certain forms of Cystic Fibrosis have a direct link to protein folding quality control components2
, and therefore future therapeutic development requires a basic understanding of underlying processes. Our experimental challenge is to understand how cells integrate damage signals and mount responses that are tailored to diverse circumstances.
The primary reason why protein misfolding represents an existential threat to the cell is the propensity of incorrectly folded proteins to aggregate, thus causing a global perturbation of the crowded and delicate intracellular folding environment1
. The folding health, or "proteostasis," of the cellular proteome is maintained, even under the duress of aging, stress and oxidative damage, by the coordinated action of different mechanistic units in an elaborate quality control system3,4
. A specialized machinery of molecular chaperones can bind non-native polypeptides and promote their folding into the native state1
, target them for degradation by the ubiquitin-proteasome system5
, or direct them to protective aggregation inclusions6-9
In eukaryotes, the cytosolic aggregation quality control load is partitioned between two compartments8-10
: the juxtanuclear quality control compartment (JUNQ) and the insoluble protein deposit (IPOD) (Figure 1
- model). Proteins that are ubiquitinated by the protein folding quality control machinery are delivered to the JUNQ, where they are processed for degradation by the proteasome. Misfolded proteins that are not ubiquitinated are diverted to the IPOD, where they are actively aggregated in a protective compartment.
Up until this point, the methodological paradigm of live-cell fluorescence microscopy has largely been to label proteins and track their locations in the cell at specific time-points and usually in two dimensions. As new technologies have begun to grant experimenters unprecedented access to the submicron scale in living cells, the dynamic architecture of the cytosol has come into view as a challenging new frontier for experimental characterization. We present a method for rapidly monitoring the 3D spatial distributions of multiple fluorescently labeled proteins in the yeast cytosol over time. 3D timelapse (4D imaging) is not merely a technical challenge; rather, it also facilitates a dramatic shift in the conceptual framework used to analyze cellular structure.
We utilize a cytosolic folding sensor protein in live yeast to visualize distinct fates for misfolded proteins in cellular aggregation quality control, using rapid 4D fluorescent imaging. The temperature sensitive mutant of the Ubc9 protein10-12
) is extremely effective both as a sensor of cellular proteostasis, and a physiological model for tracking aggregation quality control. As with most ts proteins, Ubc9ts
is fully folded and functional at permissive temperatures due to active cellular chaperones. Above 30 °C, or when the cell faces misfolding stress, Ubc9ts
misfolds and follows the fate of a native globular protein that has been misfolded due to mutation, heat denaturation, or oxidative damage. By fusing it to GFP or other fluorophores, it can be tracked in 3D as it forms Stress Foci, or is directed to JUNQ or IPOD.
Cellular Biology, Issue 74, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Proteins, Aggregation quality control, protein folding quality control, GFP, JUNQ (juxtanuclear quality control compartment), IPOD (insoluble protein deposit), proteostasis sensor, 4D live cell imaging, live cells, laser, cell biology, protein folding, Ubc9ts, yeast, assay, cell, imaging
Assessment of Immunologically Relevant Dynamic Tertiary Structural Features of the HIV-1 V3 Loop Crown R2 Sequence by ab initio Folding
Institutions: School of Medicine, New York University.
The antigenic diversity of HIV-1 has long been an obstacle to vaccine design, and this variability is especially pronounced in the V3 loop of the virus' surface envelope glycoprotein. We previously proposed that the crown of the V3 loop, although dynamic and sequence variable, is constrained throughout the population of HIV-1 viruses to an immunologically relevant β-hairpin tertiary structure. Importantly, there are thousands of different V3 loop crown sequences in circulating HIV-1 viruses, making 3D structural characterization of trends across the diversity of viruses difficult or impossible by crystallography or NMR. Our previous successful studies with folding of the V3 crown1, 2
used the ab initio
accessible in the ICM-Pro molecular modeling software package (Molsoft LLC, La Jolla, CA) and suggested that the crown of the V3 loop, specifically from positions 10 to 22, benefits sufficiently from the flexibility and length of its flanking stems to behave to a large degree as if it were an unconstrained peptide freely folding in solution. As such, rapid ab initio
folding of just this portion of the V3 loop of any individual strain of the 60,000+ circulating HIV-1 strains can be informative. Here, we folded the V3 loop of the R2 strain to gain insight into the structural basis of its unique properties. R2 bears a rare V3 loop sequence thought to be responsible for the exquisite sensitivity of this strain to neutralization by patient sera and monoclonal antibodies4, 5
. The strain mediates CD4-independent infection and appears to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies. We demonstrate how evaluation of the results of the folding can be informative for associating observed structures in the folding with the immunological activities observed for R2.
Infection, Issue 43, HIV-1, structure-activity relationships, ab initio simulations, antibody-mediated neutralization, vaccine design
Thermodynamics of Membrane Protein Folding Measured by Fluorescence Spectroscopy
Institutions: University of California San Diego - UCSD.
Membrane protein folding is an emerging topic with both fundamental and health-related significance. The abundance of membrane proteins in cells underlies the need for comprehensive study of the folding of this ubiquitous family of proteins. Additionally, advances in our ability to characterize diseases associated with misfolded proteins have motivated significant experimental and theoretical efforts in the field of protein folding. Rapid progress in this important field is unfortunately hindered by the inherent challenges associated with membrane proteins and the complexity of the folding mechanism. Here, we outline an experimental procedure for measuring the thermodynamic property of the Gibbs free energy of unfolding in the absence of denaturant, ΔG°H2O
, for a representative integral membrane protein from E. coli
. This protocol focuses on the application of fluorescence spectroscopy to determine equilibrium populations of folded and unfolded states as a function of denaturant concentration. Experimental considerations for the preparation of synthetic lipid vesicles as well as key steps in the data analysis procedure are highlighted. This technique is versatile and may be pursued with different types of denaturant, including temperature and pH, as well as in various folding environments of lipids and micelles. The current protocol is one that can be generalized to any membrane or soluble protein that meets the set of criteria discussed below.
Bioengineering, Issue 50, tryptophan, peptides, Gibbs free energy, protein stability, vesicles
Monitoring Equilibrium Changes in RNA Structure by 'Peroxidative' and 'Oxidative' Hydroxyl Radical Footprinting
Institutions: Hunter College , Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
RNA molecules play an essential role in biology. In addition to transmitting genetic information, RNA can fold into unique tertiary structures fulfilling a specific biologic role as regulator, binder or catalyst. Information about tertiary contact formation is essential to understand the function of RNA molecules. Hydroxyl radicals (•OH) are unique probes of the structure of nucleic acids due to their high reactivity and small size.1
When used as a footprinting probe, hydroxyl radicals map the solvent accessible surface of the phosphodiester backbone of DNA1
with as fine as single nucleotide resolution. Hydroxyl radical footprinting can be used to identify the nucleotides within an intermolecular contact surface, e.g. in DNA-protein1
and RNA-protein complexes. Equilibrium3
transitions can be determined by conducting hydroxyl radical footprinting as a function of a solution variable or time, respectively. A key feature of footprinting is that limited exposure to the probe (e.g., 'single-hit kinetics') results in the uniform sampling of each nucleotide of the polymer.5
In this video article, we use the P4-P6 domain of the Tetrahymena
ribozyme to illustrate RNA sample preparation and the determination of a Mg(II)-mediated folding isotherms. We describe the use of the well known hydroxyl radical footprinting protocol that requires H2
(we call this the 'peroxidative' protocol) and a valuable, but not widely known, alternative that uses naturally dissolved O2
(we call this the 'oxidative' protocol). An overview of the data reduction, transformation and analysis procedures is presented.
Molecular Biology, Issue 56, hydroxyl radical, footprinting, RNA, Fenton, equilibrium
How to Measure Cortical Folding from MR Images: a Step-by-Step Tutorial to Compute Local Gyrification Index
Institutions: University of Geneva School of Medicine, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, University Hospital Center and University of Lausanne, Massachusetts General Hospital.
Cortical folding (gyrification) is determined during the first months of life, so that adverse events occurring during this period leave traces that will be identifiable at any age. As recently reviewed by Mangin and colleagues2
, several methods exist to quantify different characteristics of gyrification. For instance, sulcal morphometry can be used to measure shape descriptors such as the depth, length or indices of inter-hemispheric asymmetry3
. These geometrical properties have the advantage of being easy to interpret. However, sulcal morphometry tightly relies on the accurate identification of a given set of sulci and hence provides a fragmented description of gyrification. A more fine-grained quantification of gyrification can be achieved with curvature-based measurements, where smoothed absolute mean curvature is typically computed at thousands of points over the cortical surface4
. The curvature is however not straightforward to comprehend, as it remains unclear if there is any direct relationship between the curvedness and a biologically meaningful correlate such as cortical volume or surface. To address the diverse issues raised by the measurement of cortical folding, we previously developed an algorithm to quantify local gyrification with an exquisite spatial resolution and of simple interpretation. Our method is inspired of the Gyrification Index5
, a method originally used in comparative neuroanatomy to evaluate the cortical folding differences across species. In our implementation, which we name l
ocal Gyrification Index (l
), we measure the amount of cortex buried within the sulcal folds as compared with the amount of visible cortex in circular regions of interest. Given that the cortex grows primarily through radial expansion6
, our method was specifically designed to identify early defects of cortical development.
In this article, we detail the computation of local Gyrification Index, which is now freely distributed as a part of the FreeSurfer
Software (https://surfer.nmr.mgh.harvard.edu/, Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Massachusetts General Hospital). FreeSurfer
provides a set of automated reconstruction tools of the brain's cortical surface from structural MRI data. The cortical surface extracted in the native space of the images with sub-millimeter accuracy is then further used for the creation of an outer surface, which will serve as a basis for the l
GI calculation. A circular region of interest is then delineated on the outer surface, and its corresponding region of interest on the cortical surface is identified using a matching algorithm as described in our validation study1
. This process is repeatedly iterated with largely overlapping regions of interest, resulting in cortical maps of gyrification for subsequent statistical comparisons (Fig. 1). Of note, another measurement of local gyrification with a similar inspiration was proposed by Toro and colleagues7
, where the folding index at each point is computed as the ratio of the cortical area contained in a sphere divided by the area of a disc with the same radius. The two implementations differ in that the one by Toro et al. is based on Euclidian distances and thus considers discontinuous patches of cortical area, whereas ours uses a strict geodesic algorithm and include only the continuous patch of cortical area opening at the brain surface in a circular region of interest.
Medicine, Issue 59, neuroimaging, brain, cortical complexity, cortical development
Microfluidic Mixers for Studying Protein Folding
Institutions: Michigan State University, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, University of California, Davis .
The process by which a protein folds into its native conformation is highly relevant to biology and human health yet still poorly understood. One reason for this is that folding takes place over a wide range of timescales, from nanoseconds to seconds or longer, depending on the protein1
. Conventional stopped-flow mixers have allowed measurement of folding kinetics starting at about 1 ms. We have recently developed a microfluidic mixer that dilutes denaturant ~100-fold in ~8 μs2
. Unlike a stopped-flow mixer, this mixer operates in the laminar flow regime in which turbulence does not occur. The absence of turbulence allows precise numeric simulation of all flows within the mixer with excellent agreement to experiment3-4
Laminar flow is achieved for Reynolds numbers Re
≤100. For aqueous solutions, this requires micron scale geometries. We use a hard substrate, such as silicon or fused silica, to make channels 5-10 μm wide and 10 μm deep (See Figure 1
). The smallest dimensions, at the entrance to the mixing region, are on the order of 1 μm in size. The chip is sealed with a thin glass or fused silica coverslip for optical access. Typical total linear flow rates are ~1 m/s, yielding Re
~10, but the protein consumption is only ~0.5 nL/s or 1.8 μL/hr. Protein concentration depends on the detection method: For tryptophan fluorescence the typical concentration is 100 μM (for 1 Trp/protein) and for FRET the typical concentration is ~100 nM.
The folding process is initiated by rapid dilution of denaturant from 6 M to 0.06 M guanidine hydrochloride. The protein in high denaturant flows down a central channel and is met on either side at the mixing region by buffer without denaturant moving ~100 times faster (see Figure 2
). This geometry causes rapid constriction of the protein flow into a narrow jet ~100 nm wide. Diffusion of the light denaturant molecules is very rapid, while diffusion of the heavy protein molecules is much slower, diffusing less than 1 μm in 1 ms. The difference in diffusion constant of the denaturant and the protein results in rapid dilution of the denaturant from the protein stream, reducing the effective concentration of the denaturant around the protein. The protein jet flows at a constant rate down the observation channel and fluorescence of the protein during folding can be observed using a scanning confocal microscope5
Bioengineering, Issue 62, microfluidic mixing, laminar flow, protein folding, fluorescence, FRET
Isolation of Ribosome Bound Nascent Polypeptides in vitro to Identify Translational Pause Sites Along mRNA
Institutions: Cleveland State University.
The rate of translational elongation is non-uniform. mRNA secondary structure, codon usage and mRNA associated proteins may alter ribosome movement on the messagefor review see 1
. However, it's now widely accepted that synonymous codon usage is the primary cause of non-uniform translational elongation rates1
. Synonymous codons are not used with identical frequency. A bias exists in the use of synonymous codons with some codons used more frequently than others2
. Codon bias is organism as well as tissue specific2,3
. Moreover, frequency of codon usage is directly proportional to the concentrations of cognate tRNAs4
. Thus, a frequently used codon will have higher multitude of corresponding tRNAs, which further implies that a frequent codon will be translated faster than an infrequent one. Thus, regions on mRNA enriched in rare codons (potential pause sites) will as a rule slow down ribosome movement on the message and cause accumulation of nascent peptides of the respective sizes5-8
. These pause sites can have functional impact on the protein expression, mRNA stability and protein foldingfor review see 9
. Indeed, it was shown that alleviation of such pause sites can alter ribosome movement on mRNA and subsequently may affect the efficiency of co-translational (in vivo
) protein folding1,7,10,11
. To understand the process of protein folding in vivo
, in the cell, that is ultimately coupled to the process of protein synthesis it is essential to gain comprehensive insights into the impact of codon usage/tRNA content on the movement of ribosomes along mRNA during translational elongation.
Here we describe a simple technique that can be used to locate major translation pause sites for a given mRNA translated in various cell-free systems6-8
. This procedure is based on isolation of nascent polypeptides accumulating on ribosomes during in vitro
translation of a target mRNA. The rationale is that at low-frequency codons, the increase in the residence time of the ribosomes results in increased amounts of nascent peptides of the corresponding sizes. In vitro
transcribed mRNA is used for in vitro
translational reactions in the presence of radioactively labeled amino acids to allow the detection of the nascent chains. In order to isolate ribosome bound nascent polypeptide complexes the translation reaction is layered on top of 30% glycerol solution followed by centrifugation. Nascent polypeptides in polysomal pellet are further treated with ribonuclease A and resolved by SDS PAGE. This technique can be potentially used for any protein and allows analysis of ribosome movement along mRNA and the detection of the major pause sites. Additionally, this protocol can be adapted to study factors and conditions that can alter ribosome movement and thus potentially can also alter the function/conformation of the protein.
Genetics, Issue 65, Molecular Biology, Ribosome, Nascent polypeptide, Co-translational protein folding, Synonymous codon usage, gene regulation
Using SecM Arrest Sequence as a Tool to Isolate Ribosome Bound Polypeptides
Institutions: Cleveland State University.
Extensive research has provided ample evidences suggesting that protein folding in the cell is a co-translational process1-5
. However, the exact pathway that polypeptide chain follows during co-translational folding to achieve its functional form is still an enigma. In order to understand this process and to determine the exact conformation of the co-translational folding intermediates, it is essential to develop techniques that allow the isolation of RNCs carrying nascent chains of predetermined sizes to allow their further structural analysis.
SecM (secretion monitor) is a 170 amino acid E. coli
protein that regulates expression of the downstream SecA (secretion driving) ATPase in the secM-secA
. Nakatogawa and Ito originally found that a 17 amino acid long sequence (150-FSTPVWISQAQGIRAG
P-166) in the C-terminal region of the SecM protein is sufficient and necessary to cause stalling of SecM elongation at Gly165, thereby producing peptidyl-glycyl-tRNA stably bound to the ribosomal P-site7-9
. More importantly, it was found that this 17 amino acid long sequence can be fused to the C-terminus of virtually any full-length and/or truncated protein thus allowing the production of RNCs carrying nascent chains of predetermined sizes7
. Thus, when fused or inserted into the target protein, SecM stalling sequence produces arrest of the polypeptide chain elongation and generates stable RNCs both in vivo
in E. coli
cells and in vitro
in a cell-free system. Sucrose gradient centrifugation is further utilized to isolate RNCs.
The isolated RNCs can be used to analyze structural and functional features of the co-translational folding intermediates. Recently, this technique has been successfully used to gain insights into the structure of several ribosome bound nascent chains10,11
. Here we describe the isolation of bovine Gamma-B Crystallin RNCs fused to SecM and generated in an in vitro
Molecular Biology, Issue 64, Ribosome, nascent polypeptides, co-translational protein folding, translational arrest, in vitro translation
A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli
and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9
addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments.
A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli
to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2
) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia
were transformed into E. coli
. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA
gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans
was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH
and ALDH (
originating from G. thermodenitrificans
) were introduced10,11
. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed.
To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli
K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources.
The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii
OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g.
under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n
-hexane in the culture medium were observed.
Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli
to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
Interview: Protein Folding and Studies of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In this interview, Dr. Lindquist describes relationships between protein folding, prion diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. The problem of the protein folding is at the core of the modern biology. In addition to their traditional biochemical functions, proteins can mediate transfer of biological information and therefore can be considered a genetic material. This recently discovered function of proteins has important implications for studies of human disorders. Dr. Lindquist also describes current experimental approaches to investigate the mechanism of neurodegenerative diseases based on genetic studies in model organisms.
Neuroscience, issue 17, protein folding, brain, neuron, prion, neurodegenerative disease, yeast, screen, Translational Research