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.
26 Related JoVE Articles!
Visualizing Bacteria in Nematodes using Fluorescent Microscopy
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Symbioses, the living together of two or more organisms, are widespread throughout all kingdoms of life. As two of the most ubiquitous organisms on earth, nematodes and bacteria form a wide array of symbiotic associations that range from beneficial to pathogenic 1-3
. One such association is the mutually beneficial relationship between Xenorhabdus
bacteria and Steinernema
nematodes, which has emerged as a model system of symbiosis 4
nematodes are entomopathogenic, using their bacterial symbiont to kill insects 5
. For transmission between insect hosts, the bacteria colonize the intestine of the nematode's infective juvenile stage 6-8
. Recently, several other nematode species have been shown to utilize bacteria to kill insects 9-13
, and investigations have begun examining the interactions between the nematodes and bacteria in these systems 9
We describe a method for visualization of a bacterial symbiont within or on a nematode host, taking advantage of the optical transparency of nematodes when viewed by microscopy. The bacteria are engineered to express a fluorescent protein, allowing their visualization by fluorescence microscopy. Many plasmids are available that carry genes encoding proteins that fluoresce at different wavelengths (i.e.
green or red), and conjugation of plasmids from a donor Escherichia coli
strain into a recipient bacterial symbiont is successful for a broad range of bacteria. The methods described were developed to investigate the association between Steinernema carpocapsae
and Xenorhabdus nematophila 14
. Similar methods have been used to investigate other nematode-bacterium associations 9,15-18
and the approach therefore is generally applicable.
The method allows characterization of bacterial presence and localization within nematodes at different stages of development, providing insights into the nature of the association and the process of colonization 14,16,19
. Microscopic analysis reveals both colonization frequency within a population and localization of bacteria to host tissues 14,16,19-21
. This is an advantage over other methods of monitoring bacteria within nematode populations, such as sonication 22
or grinding 23
, which can provide average levels of colonization, but may not, for example, discriminate populations with a high frequency of low symbiont loads from populations with a low frequency of high symbiont loads. Discriminating the frequency and load of colonizing bacteria can be especially important when screening or characterizing bacterial mutants for colonization phenotypes 21,24
. Indeed, fluorescence microscopy has been used in high throughput screening of bacterial mutants for defects in colonization 17,18
, and is less laborious than other methods, including sonication 22,25-27
and individual nematode dissection 28,29
Microbiology, Issue 68, Molecular Biology, Bacteriology, Developmental Biology, Colonization, Xenorhabdus, Steinernema, symbiosis, nematode, bacteria, fluorescence microscopy
C. elegans Chemotaxis Assay
Institutions: Queen's University , Queen's University , Queen's University .
Many organisms use chemotaxis to seek out food sources, avoid noxious substances, and find mates. Caenorhabditis elegans
has impressive chemotaxis behavior.
The premise behind testing the response of the worms to an odorant is to place them in an area and observe the movement evoked in response to an odorant. Even with the many available assays, optimizing worm starting location relative to both the control and test areas, while minimizing the interaction of worms with each other, while maintaining a significant sample size remains a work in progress 1-10
. The method described here aims to address these issues by modifying the assay developed by Bargmann et al
. A Petri dish is divided into four quadrants, two opposite quadrants marked "Test" and two are designated "Control". Anesthetic is placed in all test and control sites. The worms are placed in the center of the plate with a circle marked around the origin to ensure that non-motile worms will be ignored. Utilizing a four-quadrant system rather than one 2 or two 1 eliminates bias in the movement of the worms, as they are equidistant from test and control samples, regardless of which side of the origin they began. This circumvents the problem of worms being forced to travel through a cluster of other worms to respond to an odorant, which can delay worms or force them to take a more circuitous route, yielding an incorrect interpretation of their intended path. This method also shows practical advantages by having a larger sample size and allowing the researcher to run the assay unattended and score the worms once the allotted time has expired.
Behavior, Issue 74, Biochemistry, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Developmental Biology, Physiology, Anatomy, Chemical Engineering, chemotaxis, Caenorhabditis elegans, C. elegans, chemotaxis assay, nematode, chemotactic index, worm movement, animal model
Reconstitution of a Kv Channel into Lipid Membranes for Structural and Functional Studies
Institutions: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.
To study the lipid-protein interaction in a reductionistic fashion, it is necessary to incorporate the membrane proteins into membranes of well-defined lipid composition. We are studying the lipid-dependent gating effects in a prototype voltage-gated potassium (Kv) channel, and have worked out detailed procedures to reconstitute the channels into different membrane systems. Our reconstitution procedures take consideration of both detergent-induced fusion of vesicles and the fusion of protein/detergent micelles with the lipid/detergent mixed micelles as well as the importance of reaching an equilibrium distribution of lipids among the protein/detergent/lipid and the detergent/lipid mixed micelles. Our data suggested that the insertion of the channels in the lipid vesicles is relatively random in orientations, and the reconstitution efficiency is so high that no detectable protein aggregates were seen in fractionation experiments. We have utilized the reconstituted channels to determine the conformational states of the channels in different lipids, record electrical activities of a small number of channels incorporated in planar lipid bilayers, screen for conformation-specific ligands from a phage-displayed peptide library, and support the growth of 2D crystals of the channels in membranes. The reconstitution procedures described here may be adapted for studying other membrane proteins in lipid bilayers, especially for the investigation of the lipid effects on the eukaryotic voltage-gated ion channels.
Molecular Biology, Issue 77, Biochemistry, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Structural Biology, Biophysics, Membrane Lipids, Phospholipids, Carrier Proteins, Membrane Proteins, Micelles, Molecular Motor Proteins, life sciences, biochemistry, Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, lipid-protein interaction, channel reconstitution, lipid-dependent gating, voltage-gated ion channel, conformation-specific ligands, lipids
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
Construction of a High Resolution Microscope with Conventional and Holographic Optical Trapping Capabilities
Institutions: University of Utah .
High resolution microscope systems with optical traps allow for precise manipulation of various refractive objects, such as dielectric beads 1
or cellular organelles 2,3
, as well as for high spatial and temporal resolution readout of their position relative to the center of the trap. The system described herein has one such "traditional" trap operating at 980 nm. It additionally provides a second optical trapping system that uses a commercially available holographic package to simultaneously create and manipulate complex trapping patterns in the field of view of the microscope 4,5
at a wavelength of 1,064 nm. The combination of the two systems allows for the manipulation of multiple refractive objects at the same time while simultaneously conducting high speed and high resolution measurements of motion and force production at nanometer and piconewton scale.
Physics, Issue 74, Molecular Biology, Optics, refraction (optics), optical traps, Molecular motors, microtubules, motility, holographic mirror, wavelength, dual traps, microscopy, imaging
Isolation and Chemical Characterization of Lipid A from Gram-negative Bacteria
Institutions: The University of Texas at Austin, The University of Texas at Austin, The University of Texas at Austin.
Lipopolysaccharide (LPS) is the major cell surface molecule of gram-negative bacteria, deposited on the outer leaflet of the outer membrane bilayer. LPS can be subdivided into three domains: the distal O-polysaccharide, a core oligosaccharide, and the lipid A domain consisting of a lipid A molecular species and 3-deoxy-D-manno-oct-2-ulosonic acid residues (Kdo). The lipid A domain is the only component essential for bacterial cell survival. Following its synthesis, lipid A is chemically modified in response to environmental stresses such as pH or temperature, to promote resistance to antibiotic compounds, and to evade recognition by mediators of the host innate immune response. The following protocol details the small- and large-scale isolation of lipid A from gram-negative bacteria. Isolated material is then chemically characterized by thin layer chromatography (TLC) or mass-spectrometry (MS). In addition to matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization-time of flight (MALDI-TOF) MS, we also describe tandem MS protocols for analyzing lipid A molecular species using electrospray ionization (ESI) coupled to collision induced dissociation (CID) and newly employed ultraviolet photodissociation (UVPD) methods. Our MS protocols allow for unequivocal determination of chemical structure, paramount to characterization of lipid A molecules that contain unique or novel chemical modifications. We also describe the radioisotopic labeling, and subsequent isolation, of lipid A from bacterial cells for analysis by TLC. Relative to MS-based protocols, TLC provides a more economical and rapid characterization method, but cannot be used to unambiguously assign lipid A chemical structures without the use of standards of known chemical structure. Over the last two decades isolation and characterization of lipid A has led to numerous exciting discoveries that have improved our understanding of the physiology of gram-negative bacteria, mechanisms of antibiotic resistance, the human innate immune response, and have provided many new targets in the development of antibacterial compounds.
Chemistry, Issue 79, Membrane Lipids, Toll-Like Receptors, Endotoxins, Glycolipids, Lipopolysaccharides, Lipid A, Microbiology, Lipids, lipid A, Bligh-Dyer, thin layer chromatography (TLC), lipopolysaccharide, mass spectrometry, Collision Induced Dissociation (CID), Photodissociation (PD)
In vitro Coculture Assay to Assess Pathogen Induced Neutrophil Trans-epithelial Migration
Institutions: Harvard Medical School, MGH for Children, Massachusetts General Hospital.
Mucosal surfaces serve as protective barriers against pathogenic organisms. Innate immune responses are activated upon sensing pathogen leading to the infiltration of tissues with migrating inflammatory cells, primarily neutrophils. This process has the potential to be destructive to tissues if excessive or held in an unresolved state. Cocultured in vitro
models can be utilized to study the unique molecular mechanisms involved in pathogen induced neutrophil trans-epithelial migration. This type of model provides versatility in experimental design with opportunity for controlled manipulation of the pathogen, epithelial barrier, or neutrophil. Pathogenic infection of the apical surface of polarized epithelial monolayers grown on permeable transwell filters instigates physiologically relevant basolateral to apical trans-epithelial migration of neutrophils applied to the basolateral surface. The in vitro
model described herein demonstrates the multiple steps necessary for demonstrating neutrophil migration across a polarized lung epithelial monolayer that has been infected with pathogenic P. aeruginosa
(PAO1). Seeding and culturing of permeable transwells with human derived lung epithelial cells is described, along with isolation of neutrophils from whole human blood and culturing of PAO1 and nonpathogenic K12 E. coli
(MC1000). The emigrational process and quantitative analysis of successfully migrated neutrophils that have been mobilized in response to pathogenic infection is shown with representative data, including positive and negative controls. This in vitro
model system can be manipulated and applied to other mucosal surfaces. Inflammatory responses that involve excessive neutrophil infiltration can be destructive to host tissues and can occur in the absence of pathogenic infections. A better understanding of the molecular mechanisms that promote neutrophil trans-epithelial migration through experimental manipulation of the in vitro
coculture assay system described herein has significant potential to identify novel therapeutic targets for a range of mucosal infectious as well as inflammatory diseases.
Infection, Issue 83, Cellular Biology, Epithelium, Neutrophils, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Respiratory Tract Diseases, Neutrophils, epithelial barriers, pathogens, transmigration
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
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
Microfluidic Platform for Measuring Neutrophil Chemotaxis from Unprocessed Whole Blood
Institutions: Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Shriners Burns Hospital, Harvard University School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Neutrophils play an essential role in protection against infections and their numbers in the blood are frequently measured in the clinic. Higher neutrophil counts in the blood are usually an indicator of ongoing infections, while low neutrophil counts are a warning sign for higher risks for infections. To accomplish their functions, neutrophils also have to be able to move effectively from the blood where they spend most of their life, into tissues, where infections occur. Consequently, any defects in the ability of neutrophils to migrate can increase the risks for infections, even when neutrophils are present in appropriate numbers in the blood. However, measuring neutrophil migration ability in the clinic is a challenging task, which is time consuming, requires large volume of blood, and expert knowledge. To address these limitations, we designed a robust microfluidic assays for neutrophil migration, which requires a single droplet of unprocessed blood, circumvents the need for neutrophil separation, and is easy to quantify on a simple microscope. In this assay, neutrophils migrate directly from the blood droplet, through small channels, towards the source of chemoattractant. To prevent the granular flow of red blood cells through the same channels, we implemented mechanical filters with right angle turns that selectively block the advance of red blood cells. We validated the assay by comparing neutrophil migration from blood droplets collected from finger prick and venous blood. We also compared these whole blood (WB) sources with neutrophil migration from samples of purified neutrophils and found consistent speed and directionality between the three sources. This microfluidic platform will enable the study of human neutrophil migration in the clinic and the research setting to help advance our understanding of neutrophil functions in health and disease.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, chemotaxis, neutrophil, whole blood assay, microfluidic device, chemoattractant, migration, inflammation
Analyzing the Movement of the Nauplius 'Artemia salina' by Optical Tracking of Plasmonic Nanoparticles
We demonstrate how optical tweezers may provide a sensitive tool to analyze the fluidic vibrations generated by the movement of small aquatic organisms. A single gold nanoparticle held by an optical tweezer is used as a sensor to quantify the rhythmic motion of a Nauplius larva (Artemia salina
) in a water sample. This is achieved by monitoring the time dependent displacement of the trapped nanoparticle as a consequence of the Nauplius activity. A Fourier analysis of the nanoparticle's position then yields a frequency spectrum that is characteristic to the motion of the observed species. This experiment demonstrates the capability of this method to measure and characterize the activity of small aquatic larvae without the requirement to observe them directly and to gain information about the position of the larvae with respect to the trapped particle. Overall, this approach could give an insight on the vitality of certain species found in an aquatic ecosystem and could expand the range of conventional methods for analyzing water samples.
Biophysics, Issue 89, optical tweezers, particle tracking, plasmonic nanoparticles, Nauplius, bioindicator, water sample analysis
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
Measurement of Cellular Chemotaxis with ECIS/Taxis
Institutions: University of Connecticut, University of Connecticut.
Cellular movement in response to external stimuli is fundamental to many cellular processes including wound healing, inflammation and the response to infection. A common method to measure chemotaxis is the Boyden chamber assay, in which cells and chemoattractant are separated by a porous membrane. As cells migrate through the membrane toward the chemoattractant, they adhere to the underside of the membrane, or fall into the underlying media, and are subsequently stained and visually counted 1
. In this method, cells are exposed to a steep and transient chemoattractant gradient, which is thought to be a poor representation of gradients found in tissues 2
Another assay system, the under-agarose chemotaxis assay, 3, 4
measures cell movement across a solid substrate in a thin aqueous film that forms under the agarose layer. The gradient that develops in the agarose is shallow and is thought to be an appropriate representation of naturally occurring gradients. Chemotaxis can be evaluated by microscopic imaging of the distance traveled. Both the Boyden chamber assay and the under-agarose assay are usually configured as endpoint assays.
The automated ECIS/Taxis system combines the under-agarose approach with Electric Cell-substrate Impedance Sensing (ECIS) 5, 6
. In this assay, target electrodes are located in each of 8 chambers. A large counter-electrode runs through each of the 8 chambers (Figure 2
). Each chamber is filled with agarose and two small wells are the cut in the agarose on either side of the target electrode. One well is filled with the test cell population, while the other holds the sources of diffusing chemoattractant (Figure 3
). Current passed through the system can be used to determine the change in resistance that occurs as cells pass over the target electrode. Cells on the target electrode increase the resistance of the system 6
. In addition, rapid fluctuations in the resistance represent changes in the interactions of cells with the electrode surface and are indicative of ongoing cellular shape changes. The ECIS/Taxis system can measure movement of the cell population in real-time over extended periods of time, but is also sensitive enough to detect the arrival of a single cell at the target electrode.
is known to migrate in the presence of a folate gradient 7, 8
and its chemotactic response can be accurately measured by ECIS/Taxis 9
. Leukocyte chemotaxis, in response to SDF1α and to chemotaxis antagonists has also been measured with ECIS/Taxis 10, 11
. An example of the leukocyte response to SDF1α is shown in Figure 1
Cellular Biology, Issue 62, Electric Cell- substrate Impedance Sensing, ECIS, ECIS/Taxis, Chemotaxis
Infection of Zebrafish Embryos with Intracellular Bacterial Pathogens
Institutions: Leiden University, VU University Medical Center, Monash University.
Zebrafish (Danio rerio
) embryos are increasingly used as a model for studying the function of the vertebrate innate immune system in host-pathogen interactions 1
. The major cell types of the innate immune system, macrophages and neutrophils, develop during the first days of embryogenesis prior to the maturation of lymphocytes that are required for adaptive immune responses. The ease of obtaining large numbers of embryos, their accessibility due to external development, the optical transparency of embryonic and larval stages, a wide range of genetic tools, extensive mutant resources and collections of transgenic reporter lines, all add to the versatility of the zebrafish model. Salmonella enterica
serovar Typhimurium (S. typhimurium)
and Mycobacterium marinum
can reside intracellularly in macrophages and are frequently used to study host-pathogen interactions in zebrafish embryos. The infection processes of these two bacterial pathogens are interesting to compare because S. typhimurium
infection is acute and lethal within one day, whereas M. marinum
infection is chronic and can be imaged up to the larval stage 2, 3
. The site of micro-injection of bacteria into the embryo (Figure 1
) determines whether the infection will rapidly become systemic or will initially remain localized. A rapid systemic infection can be established by micro-injecting bacteria directly into the blood circulation via the caudal vein at the posterior blood island or via the Duct of Cuvier, a wide circulation channel on the yolk sac connecting the heart to the trunk vasculature. At 1 dpf, when embryos at this stage have phagocytically active macrophages but neutrophils have not yet matured, injecting into the blood island is preferred. For injections at 2-3 dpf, when embryos also have developed functional (myeloperoxidase-producing) neutrophils, the Duct of Cuvier is preferred as the injection site. To study directed migration of myeloid cells towards local infections, bacteria can be injected into the tail muscle, otic vesicle, or hindbrain ventricle 4-6
. In addition, the notochord, a structure that appears to be normally inaccessible to myeloid cells, is highly susceptible to local infection 7
. A useful alternative for high-throughput applications is the injection of bacteria into the yolk of embryos within the first hours after fertilization 8
. Combining fluorescent bacteria and transgenic zebrafish lines with fluorescent macrophages or neutrophils creates ideal circumstances for multi-color imaging of host-pathogen interactions. This video article will describe detailed protocols for intravenous and local infection of zebrafish embryos with S. typhimurium
or M. marinum
bacteria and for subsequent fluorescence imaging of the interaction with cells of the innate immune system.
Immunology, Issue 61, Zebrafish embryo, innate immunity, macrophages, infection, Salmonella, Mycobacterium, micro-injection, fluorescence imaging, Danio rerio
Two Types of Assays for Detecting Frog Sperm Chemoattraction
Institutions: University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Arizona State University .
Sperm chemoattraction in invertebrates can be sufficiently robust that one can place a pipette containing the attractive peptide into a sperm suspension and microscopically visualize sperm accumulation around the pipette1
. Sperm chemoattraction in vertebrates such as frogs, rodents and humans is more difficult to detect and requires quantitative assays. Such assays are of two major types - assays that quantitate sperm movement to a source of chemoattractant, so-called sperm accumulation assays, and assays that actually track the swimming trajectories of individual sperm.
Sperm accumulation assays are relatively rapid allowing tens or hundreds of assays to be done in a single day, thereby allowing dose response curves and time courses to be carried out relatively rapidly. These types of assays have been used extensively to characterize many well established chemoattraction systems - for example, neutrophil chemotaxis to bacterial peptides and sperm chemotaxis to follicular fluid. Sperm tracking assays can be more labor intensive but offer additional data on how chemoattractancts actually alter the swimming paths that sperm take. This type of assay is needed to demonstrate the orientation of sperm movement relative to the chemoattrractant gradient axis and to visualize characteristic turns or changes in orientation that bring the sperm closer to the egg.
Here we describe methods used for each of these two types of assays. The sperm accumulation assay utilized is called a "two-chamber" assay. Amphibian sperm are placed in a tissue culture plate insert with a polycarbonate filter floor having 12 μm diameter pores. Inserts with sperm are placed into tissue culture plate wells containing buffer and a chemoatttractant carefully pipetted into the bottom well where the floor meets the wall (see Fig. 1). After incubation, the top insert containing the sperm reservoir is carefully removed, and sperm in the bottom chamber that have passed through the membrane are removed, pelleted and then counted by hemocytometer or flow cytometer.
The sperm tracking assay utilizes a Zigmond chamber originally developed for observing neutrophil chemotaxis and modified for observation of sperm by Giojalas and coworkers2,3
. The chamber consists of a thick glass slide into which two vertical troughs have been machined. These are separated by a 1 mm wide observation platform. After application of a cover glass, sperm are loaded into one trough, the chemoattractant agent into the other and movement of individual sperm visualized by video microscopy. Video footage is then analyzed using software to identify two-dimensional cell movements in the x-y plane as a function of time (xyt data sets) that form the trajectory of each sperm.
Developmental Biology, Issue 58, Sperm chemotaxis, fertilization, sperm accumulation assay, sperm tracking assay, sperm motility, Xenopus laevis, egg jelly
Imaging G-protein Coupled Receptor (GPCR)-mediated Signaling Events that Control Chemotaxis of Dictyostelium Discoideum
Institutions: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health.
Many eukaryotic cells can detect gradients of chemical signals in their environments and migrate accordingly 1
. This guided cell migration is referred as chemotaxis, which is essential for various cells to carry out their functions such as trafficking of immune cells and patterning of neuronal cells 2, 3
. A large family of G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) detects variable small peptides, known as chemokines, to direct cell migration in vivo 4
. The final goal of chemotaxis research is to understand how a GPCR machinery senses chemokine gradients and controls signaling events leading to chemotaxis. To this end, we use imaging techniques to monitor, in real time, spatiotemporal concentrations of chemoattractants, cell movement in a gradient of chemoattractant, GPCR mediated activation of heterotrimeric G-protein, and intracellular signaling events involved in chemotaxis of eukaryotic cells 5-8
. The simple eukaryotic organism, Dictyostelium discoideum
, displays chemotaxic behaviors that are similar to those of leukocytes, and D. discoideum
is a key model system for studying eukaryotic chemotaxis. As free-living amoebae, D. discoideum
cells divide in rich medium. Upon starvation, cells enter a developmental program in which they aggregate through cAMP-mediated chemotaxis to form multicullular structures. Many components involved in chemotaxis to cAMP have been identified in D. discoideum
. The binding of cAMP to a GPCR (cAR1) induces dissociation of heterotrimeric G-proteins into Gγ and Gβγ subunits 7, 9, 10
. Gβγ subunits activate Ras, which in turn activates PI3K, converting PIP2
on the cell membrane 11-13
serve as binding sites for proteins with pleckstrin Homology (PH) domains, thus recruiting these proteins to the membrane 14, 15
. Activation of cAR1 receptors also controls the membrane associations of PTEN, which dephosphorylates PIP3
to PIP216, 17
. The molecular mechanisms are evolutionarily conserved in chemokine GPCR-mediated chemotaxis of human cells such as neutrophils 18
. We present following methods for studying chemotaxis of D. discoideum cells
. 1. Preparation of chemotactic component cells. 2. Imaging chemotaxis of cells in a cAMP gradient. 3. Monitoring a GPCR induced activation of heterotrimeric G-protein in single live cells. 4. Imaging chemoattractant-triggered dynamic PIP3
responses in single live cells in real time. Our developed imaging methods can be applied to study chemotaxis of human leukocytes.
Molecular Biology, Issue 55, Chemotaxis, directional sensing, GPCR, PCR, G-proteins, signal transduction, Dictyostelium discoideum
Aseptic Laboratory Techniques: Plating Methods
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Microorganisms are present on all inanimate surfaces creating ubiquitous sources of possible contamination in the laboratory. Experimental success relies on the ability of a scientist to sterilize work surfaces and equipment as well as prevent contact of sterile instruments and solutions with non-sterile surfaces. Here we present the steps for several plating methods routinely used in the laboratory to isolate, propagate, or enumerate microorganisms such as bacteria and phage. All five methods incorporate aseptic technique, or procedures that maintain the sterility of experimental materials. Procedures described include (1) streak-plating bacterial cultures to isolate single colonies, (2) pour-plating and (3) spread-plating to enumerate viable bacterial colonies, (4) soft agar overlays to isolate phage and enumerate plaques, and (5) replica-plating to transfer cells from one plate to another in an identical spatial pattern. These procedures can be performed at the laboratory bench, provided they involve non-pathogenic strains of microorganisms (Biosafety Level 1, BSL-1). If working with BSL-2 organisms, then these manipulations must take place in a biosafety cabinet. Consult the most current edition of the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories
(BMBL) as well as Material Safety Data Sheets
(MSDS) for Infectious Substances to determine the biohazard classification as well as the safety precautions and containment facilities required for the microorganism in question. Bacterial strains and phage stocks can be obtained from research investigators, companies, and collections maintained by particular organizations such as the American Type Culture Collection
(ATCC). It is recommended that non-pathogenic strains be used when learning the various plating methods. By following the procedures described in this protocol, students should be able to:
● Perform plating procedures without contaminating media.
● Isolate single bacterial colonies by the streak-plating method.
● Use pour-plating and spread-plating methods to determine the concentration of bacteria.
● Perform soft agar overlays when working with phage.
● Transfer bacterial cells from one plate to another using the replica-plating procedure.
● Given an experimental task, select the appropriate plating method.
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, Streak plates, pour plates, soft agar overlays, spread plates, replica plates, bacteria, colonies, phage, plaques, dilutions
C. elegans Positive Butanone Learning, Short-term, and Long-term Associative Memory Assays
Institutions: Princeton University, Princeton University.
The memory of experiences and learned information is critical for organisms to make choices that aid their survival. C. elegans
navigates its environment through neuron-specific detection of food and chemical odors1, 2
, and can associate nutritive states with chemical odors3
, and the pathogenicity of a food source5
Here, we describe assays of C. elegans
associative learning and short- and long-term associative memory. We modified an aversive olfactory learning paradigm6
to instead produce a positive response; the assay involves starving ~400 worms, then feeding the worms in the presence of the AWC neuron-sensed volatile chemoattractant butanone at a concentration that elicits a low chemotactic index (similar to Toroyama et al.7
). A standard population chemotaxis assay1 tests the worms' attraction to the odorant immediately or minutes to hours after conditioning.
After conditioning, wild-type animals' chemotaxis to butanone increases ~0.6 Chemotaxis Index units, its "Learning Index". Associative learning is dependent on the presence of both food and butanone during training. Pairing food and butanone for a single conditioning period ("massed training") produces short-term associative memory that lasts ~2 hours. Multiple conditioning periods with rest periods between ("spaced training") yields long-term associative memory (<40 hours), and is dependent on the cAMP Response Element Binding protein (CREB),6
a transcription factor required for long-term memory across species.8
Our protocol also includes image analysis methods for quick and accurate determination of chemotaxis indices. High-contrast images of animals on chemotaxis assay plates are captured and analyzed by worm counting software in MatLab. The software corrects for uneven background using a morphological tophat transformation.9
Otsu's method is then used to determine a threshold to separate worms from the background.10
Very small particles are removed automatically and larger non-worm regions (plate edges or agar punches) are removed by manual selection. The software then estimates the size of single worm by ignoring regions that are above a specified maximum size and taking the median size of the remaining regions. The number of worms is then estimated by dividing the total area identified as occupied by worms by the estimated size of a single worm.
We have found that learning and short- and long-term memory can be distinguished, and that these processes share similar key molecules with higher organisms.6,8
Our assays can quickly test novel candidate genes or molecules that affect learning and short- or long-term memory in C. elegans
that are relevant across species.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, memory, associative learning, C. elegans, chemotaxis, spaced training, behavior
Membrane Potentials, Synaptic Responses, Neuronal Circuitry, Neuromodulation and Muscle Histology Using the Crayfish: Student Laboratory Exercises
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
The purpose of this report is to help develop an understanding of the effects caused by ion gradients across a biological membrane. Two aspects that influence a cell's membrane potential and which we address in these experiments are: (1) Ion concentration of K+
on the outside of the membrane, and (2) the permeability of the membrane to specific ions. The crayfish abdominal extensor muscles are in groupings with some being tonic (slow) and others phasic (fast) in their biochemical and physiological phenotypes, as well as in their structure; the motor neurons that innervate these muscles are correspondingly different in functional characteristics. We use these muscles as well as the superficial, tonic abdominal flexor muscle to demonstrate properties in synaptic transmission. In addition, we introduce a sensory-CNS-motor neuron-muscle circuit to demonstrate the effect of cuticular sensory stimulation as well as the influence of neuromodulators on certain aspects of the circuit. With the techniques obtained in this exercise, one can begin to answer many questions remaining in other experimental preparations as well as in physiological applications related to medicine and health. We have demonstrated the usefulness of model invertebrate preparations to address fundamental questions pertinent to all animals.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, neurophysiology, muscle, anatomy, electrophysiology
Studies of Bacterial Chemotaxis Using Microfluidics - Interview
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, chemotaxis, microfluidics
Purifying Plasmid DNA from Bacterial Colonies Using the Qiagen Miniprep Kit
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
Plasmid DNA purification from E. coli is a core technique for molecular cloning. Small scale purification (miniprep) from less than 5 ml of bacterial culture is a quick way for clone verification or DNA isolation, followed by further enzymatic reactions (polymerase chain reaction and restriction enzyme digestion). Here, we video-recorded the general procedures of miniprep through the QIAGEN's QIAprep 8 Miniprep Kit, aiming to introducing this highly efficient technique to the general beginners for molecular biology techniques. The whole procedure is based on alkaline lysis of E. coli cells followed by adsorption of DNA onto silica in the presence of high salt. It consists of three steps: 1) preparation and clearing of a bacterial lysate, 2) adsorption of DNA onto the QIAprep membrane, 3) washing and elution of plasmid DNA. All steps are performed without the use of phenol, chloroform, CsCl, ethidium bromide, and without alcohol precipitation. It usually takes less than 2 hours to finish the entire procedure.
Issue 6, Basic Protocols, plasmid, DNA, purification, Qiagen
Electroporation of Mycobacteria
Institutions: Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry.
High efficiency transformation is a major limitation in the study of mycobacteria. The genus Mycobacterium can be difficult to transform; this is mainly caused by the thick and waxy cell wall, but is compounded by the fact that most molecular techniques have been developed for distantly-related species such as Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis. In spite of these obstacles, mycobacterial plasmids have been identified and DNA transformation of many mycobacterial species have now been described. The most successful method for introducing DNA into mycobacteria is electroporation. Many parameters contribute to successful transformation; these include the species/strain, the nature of the transforming DNA, the selectable marker used, the growth medium, and the conditions for the electroporation pulse. Optimized methods for the transformation of both slow- and fast-grower are detailed here. Transformation efficiencies for different mycobacterial species and with various selectable markers are reported.
Microbiology, Issue 15, Springer Protocols, Mycobacteria, Electroporation, Bacterial Transformation, Transformation Efficiency, Bacteria, Tuberculosis, M. Smegmatis, Springer Protocols
Visualizing Single Molecular Complexes In Vivo Using Advanced Fluorescence Microscopy
Institutions: University of Oxford, University of Oxford.
Full insight into the mechanisms of living cells can be achieved only by investigating the key processes that elicit and direct events at a cellular level. To date the shear complexity of biological systems has caused precise single-molecule experimentation to be far too demanding, instead focusing on studies of single systems using relatively crude bulk ensemble-average measurements. However, many important processes occur in the living cell at the level of just one or a few molecules; ensemble measurements generally mask the stochastic and heterogeneous nature of these events. Here, using advanced optical microscopy and analytical image analysis tools we demonstrate how to monitor proteins within a single living bacterial cell to a precision of single molecules and how we can observe dynamics within molecular complexes in functioning biological machines. The techniques are directly relevant physiologically. They are minimally-perturbative and non-invasive to the biological sample under study and are fully attuned for investigations in living material, features not readily available to other single-molecule approaches of biophysics. In addition, the biological specimens studied all produce fluorescently-tagged protein at levels which are almost identical to the unmodified cell strains ("genomic encoding"), as opposed to the more common but less ideal approach for generating significantly more protein than would occur naturally ('plasmid expression'). Thus, the actual biological samples which will be investigated are significantly closer to the natural organisms, and therefore the observations more relevant to real physiological processes.
Bioengineering, Issue 31, Single-molecule, fluorescence, microscopy, TIRF, FRAP, in vivo, membrane protein, GFP, diffusion, bacteria
A Microfluidic Device for Quantifying Bacterial Chemotaxis in Stable Concentration Gradients
Institutions: Texas A&M University, Texas A&M University, Texas A&M University.
Chemotaxis allows bacteria to approach sources of attractant chemicals or to avoid sources of repellent chemicals. Bacteria constantly monitor the concentration of specific chemoeffectors by comparing the current concentration to the concentration detected a few seconds earlier. This comparison determines the net direction of movement. Although multiple, competing gradients often coexist in nature, conventional approaches for investigating bacterial chemotaxis are suboptimal for quantifying migration in response to concentration gradients of attractants and repellents. Here, we describe the development of a microfluidic chemotaxis model for presenting precise and stable concentration gradients of chemoeffectors to bacteria and quantitatively investigating their response to the applied gradient. The device is versatile in that concentration gradients of any desired absolute concentration and gradient strength can be easily generated by diffusive mixing. The device is demonstrated using the response of Escherichia coli
RP437 to gradients of amino acids and nickel ions.
Microbiology, Issue 38, chemotaxis, microfluidics, gradients
Measuring the Bending Stiffness of Bacterial Cells Using an Optical Trap
Institutions: Princeton University, Princeton University.
We developed a protocol to measure the bending rigidity of filamentous rod-shaped bacteria. Forces are applied with an optical trap, a microscopic three-dimensional spring made of light that is formed when a high-intensity laser beam is focused to a very small spot by a microscope's objective lens. To bend a cell, we first bind live bacteria to a chemically-treated coverslip. As these cells grow, the middle of the cells remains bound to the coverslip but the growing ends are free of this restraint. By inducing filamentous growth with the drug cephalexin, we are able to identify cells in which one end of the cell was stuck to the surface while the other end remained unattached and susceptible to bending forces. A bending force is then applied with an optical trap by binding a polylysine-coated bead to the tip of a growing cell. Both the force and the displacement of the bead are recorded and the bending stiffness of the cell is the slope of this relationship.
Microbiology, Issue 38, optical trap, cell mechanics, E. coli, cell bending
Chemotactic Response of Marine Micro-Organisms to Micro-Scale Nutrient Layers
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The degree to which planktonic microbes can exploit microscale resource patches will have considerable implications for oceanic trophodynamics and biogeochemical flux. However, to take advantage of nutrient patches in the ocean, swimming microbes must overcome the influences of physical forces including molecular diffusion and turbulent shear, which will limit the availability of patches and the ability of bacteria to locate them. Until recently, methodological limitations have precluded direct examinations of microbial behaviour within patchy habitats and realistic small-scale flow conditions. Hence, much of our current knowledge regarding microbial behaviour in the ocean has been procured from theoretical predictions. To obtain new information on microbial foraging behaviour in the ocean we have applied soft lithographic fabrication techniques to develop 2 microfluidic devices, which we have used to create (i) microscale nutrient patches with dimensions and diffusive characteristics relevant to oceanic processes and (ii) microscale vortices, with shear rates corresponding to those expected in the ocean. These microfluidic devices have permitted a first direct examination of microbial swimming and chemotactic behaviour within a heterogeneous and dynamic seascape. The combined use of epifluorescence and phase contrast microscopy allow direct examinations of the physical dimensions and diffusive characteristics of nutrient patches, while observing the population-level aggregative response, in addition to the swimming behaviour of individual microbes. These experiments have revealed that some species of phytoplankton, heterotrophic bacteria and phagotrophic protists are adept at locating and exploiting diffusing microscale resource patches within very short time frames. We have also shown that up to moderate shear rates, marine bacteria are able to fight the flow and swim through their environment at their own accord. However, beyond a threshold high shear level, bacteria are aligned in the shear flow and are less capable of swimming without disturbance from the flow. Microfluidics represents a novel and inexpensive approach for studying aquatic microbial ecology, and due to its suitability for accurately creating realistic flow fields and substrate gradients at the microscale, is ideally applicable to examinations of microbial behaviour at the smallest scales of interaction. We therefore suggest that microfluidics represents a valuable tool for obtaining a better understanding of the ecology of microorganisms in the ocean.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, chemotaxis, microfluidics