Testing visual sensitivity in any species provides basic information regarding behaviour, evolution, and ecology. However, testing specific features of the visual system provide more empirical evidence for functional applications. Investigation into the sensory system provides information about the sensory capacity, learning and memory ability, and establishes known baseline behaviour in which to gauge deviations (Burghardt, 1977). However, unlike mammalian or avian systems, testing for learning and memory in a reptile species is difficult. Furthermore, using an operant paradigm as a psychophysical measure of sensory ability is likewise as difficult. Historically, reptilian species have responded poorly to conditioning trials because of issues related to motivation, physiology, metabolism, and basic biological characteristics. Here, I demonstrate an operant paradigm used a novel model lizard species, the Jacky dragon (Amphibolurus muricatus) and describe how to test peripheral sensitivity to salient speed and motion characteristics. This method uses an innovative approach to assessing learning and sensory capacity in lizards. I employ the use of random-dot kinematograms (RDKs) to measure sensitivity to speed, and manipulate the level of signal strength by changing the proportion of dots moving in a coherent direction. RDKs do not represent a biologically meaningful stimulus, engages the visual system, and is a classic psychophysical tool used to measure sensitivity in humans and other animals. Here, RDKs are displayed to lizards using three video playback systems. Lizards are to select the direction (left or right) in which they perceive dots to be moving. Selection of the appropriate direction is reinforced by biologically important prey stimuli, simulated by computer-animated invertebrates.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
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 (http://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
Detecting Somatic Genetic Alterations in Tumor Specimens by Exon Capture and Massively Parallel Sequencing
Institutions: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
Efforts to detect and investigate key oncogenic mutations have proven valuable to facilitate the appropriate treatment for cancer patients. The establishment of high-throughput, massively parallel "next-generation" sequencing has aided the discovery of many such mutations. To enhance the clinical and translational utility of this technology, platforms must be high-throughput, cost-effective, and compatible with formalin-fixed paraffin embedded (FFPE) tissue samples that may yield small amounts of degraded or damaged DNA. Here, we describe the preparation of barcoded and multiplexed DNA libraries followed by hybridization-based capture of targeted exons for the detection of cancer-associated mutations in fresh frozen and FFPE tumors by massively parallel sequencing. This method enables the identification of sequence mutations, copy number alterations, and select structural rearrangements involving all targeted genes. Targeted exon sequencing offers the benefits of high throughput, low cost, and deep sequence coverage, thus conferring high sensitivity for detecting low frequency mutations.
Molecular Biology, Issue 80, Molecular Diagnostic Techniques, High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing, Genetics, Neoplasms, Diagnosis, Massively parallel sequencing, targeted exon sequencing, hybridization capture, cancer, FFPE, DNA mutations
Protocols for Implementing an Escherichia coli Based TX-TL Cell-Free Expression System for Synthetic Biology
Institutions: California Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Minnesota.
Ideal cell-free expression systems can theoretically emulate an in vivo
cellular environment in a controlled in vitro
This is useful for expressing proteins and genetic circuits in a controlled manner as well as for providing a prototyping environment for synthetic biology.2,3
To achieve the latter goal, cell-free expression systems that preserve endogenous Escherichia coli transcription-translation mechanisms are able to more accurately reflect in vivo
cellular dynamics than those based on T7 RNA polymerase transcription. We describe the preparation and execution of an efficient endogenous E. coli
based transcription-translation (TX-TL) cell-free expression system that can produce equivalent amounts of protein as T7-based systems at a 98% cost reduction to similar commercial systems.4,5
The preparation of buffers and crude cell extract are described, as well as the execution of a three tube TX-TL reaction. The entire protocol takes five days to prepare and yields enough material for up to 3000 single reactions in one preparation. Once prepared, each reaction takes under 8 hr from setup to data collection and analysis. Mechanisms of regulation and transcription exogenous to E. coli
, such as lac/tet repressors and T7 RNA polymerase, can be supplemented.6
Endogenous properties, such as mRNA and DNA degradation rates, can also be adjusted.7
The TX-TL cell-free expression system has been demonstrated for large-scale circuit assembly, exploring biological phenomena, and expression of proteins under both T7- and endogenous promoters.6,8
Accompanying mathematical models are available.9,10
The resulting system has unique applications in synthetic biology as a prototyping environment, or "TX-TL biomolecular breadboard."
Cellular Biology, Issue 79, Bioengineering, Synthetic Biology, Chemistry Techniques, Synthetic, Molecular Biology, control theory, TX-TL, cell-free expression, in vitro, transcription-translation, cell-free protein synthesis, synthetic biology, systems biology, Escherichia coli cell extract, biological circuits, biomolecular breadboard
Training Synesthetic Letter-color Associations by Reading in Color
Institutions: University of Amsterdam.
Synesthesia is a rare condition in which a stimulus from one modality automatically and consistently triggers unusual sensations in the same and/or other modalities. A relatively common and well-studied type is grapheme-color synesthesia, defined as the consistent experience of color when viewing, hearing and thinking about letters, words and numbers. We describe our method for investigating to what extent synesthetic associations between letters and colors can be learned by reading in color in nonsynesthetes. Reading in color is a special method for training associations in the sense that the associations are learned implicitly while the reader reads text as he or she normally would and it does not require explicit computer-directed training methods. In this protocol, participants are given specially prepared books to read in which four high-frequency letters are paired with four high-frequency colors. Participants receive unique sets of letter-color pairs based on their pre-existing preferences for colored letters. A modified Stroop task is administered before and after reading in order to test for learned letter-color associations and changes in brain activation. In addition to objective testing, a reading experience questionnaire is administered that is designed to probe for differences in subjective experience. A subset of questions may predict how well an individual learned the associations from reading in color. Importantly, we are not claiming that this method will cause each individual to develop grapheme-color synesthesia, only that it is possible for certain individuals to form letter-color associations by reading in color and these associations are similar in some aspects to those seen in developmental grapheme-color synesthetes. The method is quite flexible and can be used to investigate different aspects and outcomes of training synesthetic associations, including learning-induced changes in brain function and structure.
Behavior, Issue 84, synesthesia, training, learning, reading, vision, memory, cognition
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
A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Institutions: Arizona State University.
Insects modify their responses to stimuli through experience of associating those stimuli with events important for survival (e.g.
, food, mates, threats). There are several behavioral mechanisms through which an insect learns salient associations and relates them to these events. It is important to understand this behavioral plasticity for programs aimed toward assisting insects that are beneficial for agriculture. This understanding can also be used for discovering solutions to biomedical and agricultural problems created by insects that act as disease vectors and pests. The Proboscis Extension Response (PER) conditioning protocol was developed for honey bees (Apis mellifera
) over 50 years ago to study how they perceive and learn about floral odors, which signal the nectar and pollen resources a colony needs for survival. The PER procedure provides a robust and easy-to-employ framework for studying several different ecologically relevant mechanisms of behavioral plasticity. It is easily adaptable for use with several other insect species and other behavioral reflexes. These protocols can be readily employed in conjunction with various means for monitoring neural activity in the CNS via electrophysiology or bioimaging, or for manipulating targeted neuromodulatory pathways. It is a robust assay for rapidly detecting sub-lethal effects on behavior caused by environmental stressors, toxins or pesticides.
We show how the PER protocol is straightforward to implement using two procedures. One is suitable as a laboratory exercise for students or for quick assays of the effect of an experimental treatment. The other provides more thorough control of variables, which is important for studies of behavioral conditioning. We show how several measures for the behavioral response ranging from binary yes/no to more continuous variable like latency and duration of proboscis extension can be used to test hypotheses. And, we discuss some pitfalls that researchers commonly encounter when they use the procedure for the first time.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, PER, conditioning, honey bee, olfaction, olfactory processing, learning, memory, toxin assay
Isolation and Quantification of Botulinum Neurotoxin From Complex Matrices Using the BoTest Matrix Assays
Institutions: BioSentinel Inc., Madison, WI.
Accurate detection and quantification of botulinum neurotoxin (BoNT) in complex matrices is required for pharmaceutical, environmental, and food sample testing. Rapid BoNT testing of foodstuffs is needed during outbreak forensics, patient diagnosis, and food safety testing while accurate potency testing is required for BoNT-based drug product manufacturing and patient safety. The widely used mouse bioassay for BoNT testing is highly sensitive but lacks the precision and throughput needed for rapid and routine BoNT testing. Furthermore, the bioassay's use of animals has resulted in calls by drug product regulatory authorities and animal-rights proponents in the US and abroad to replace the mouse bioassay for BoNT testing. Several in vitro
replacement assays have been developed that work well with purified BoNT in simple buffers, but most have not been shown to be applicable to testing in highly complex matrices. Here, a protocol for the detection of BoNT in complex matrices using the BoTest Matrix assays is presented. The assay consists of three parts: The first part involves preparation of the samples for testing, the second part is an immunoprecipitation step using anti-BoNT antibody-coated paramagnetic beads to purify BoNT from the matrix, and the third part quantifies the isolated BoNT's proteolytic activity using a fluorogenic reporter. The protocol is written for high throughput testing in 96-well plates using both liquid and solid matrices and requires about 2 hr of manual preparation with total assay times of 4-26 hr depending on the sample type, toxin load, and desired sensitivity. Data are presented for BoNT/A testing with phosphate-buffered saline, a drug product, culture supernatant, 2% milk, and fresh tomatoes and includes discussion of critical parameters for assay success.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, Botulinum, food testing, detection, quantification, complex matrices, BoTest Matrix, Clostridium, potency testing
An Affordable HIV-1 Drug Resistance Monitoring Method for Resource Limited Settings
Institutions: University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa, Jembi Health Systems, University of Amsterdam, Stanford Medical School.
HIV-1 drug resistance has the potential to seriously compromise the effectiveness and impact of antiretroviral therapy (ART). As ART programs in sub-Saharan Africa continue to expand, individuals on ART should be closely monitored for the emergence of drug resistance. Surveillance of transmitted drug resistance to track transmission of viral strains already resistant to ART is also critical. Unfortunately, drug resistance testing is still not readily accessible in resource limited settings, because genotyping is expensive and requires sophisticated laboratory and data management infrastructure. An open access genotypic drug resistance monitoring method to manage individuals and assess transmitted drug resistance is described. The method uses free open source software for the interpretation of drug resistance patterns and the generation of individual patient reports. The genotyping protocol has an amplification rate of greater than 95% for plasma samples with a viral load >1,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml. The sensitivity decreases significantly for viral loads <1,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml. The method described here was validated against a method of HIV-1 drug resistance testing approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Viroseq genotyping method. Limitations of the method described here include the fact that it is not automated and that it also failed to amplify the circulating recombinant form CRF02_AG from a validation panel of samples, although it amplified subtypes A and B from the same panel.
Medicine, Issue 85, Biomedical Technology, HIV-1, HIV Infections, Viremia, Nucleic Acids, genetics, antiretroviral therapy, drug resistance, genotyping, affordable
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
A Restriction Enzyme Based Cloning Method to Assess the In vitro Replication Capacity of HIV-1 Subtype C Gag-MJ4 Chimeric Viruses
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University.
The protective effect of many HLA class I alleles on HIV-1 pathogenesis and disease progression is, in part, attributed to their ability to target conserved portions of the HIV-1 genome that escape with difficulty. Sequence changes attributed to cellular immune pressure arise across the genome during infection, and if found within conserved regions of the genome such as Gag, can affect the ability of the virus to replicate in vitro
. Transmission of HLA-linked polymorphisms in Gag to HLA-mismatched recipients has been associated with reduced set point viral loads. We hypothesized this may be due to a reduced replication capacity of the virus. Here we present a novel method for assessing the in vitro
replication of HIV-1 as influenced by the gag
gene isolated from acute time points from subtype C infected Zambians. This method uses restriction enzyme based cloning to insert the gag
gene into a common subtype C HIV-1 proviral backbone, MJ4. This makes it more appropriate to the study of subtype C sequences than previous recombination based methods that have assessed the in vitro
replication of chronically derived gag-pro
sequences. Nevertheless, the protocol could be readily modified for studies of viruses from other subtypes. Moreover, this protocol details a robust and reproducible method for assessing the replication capacity of the Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses on a CEM-based T cell line. This method was utilized for the study of Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses derived from 149 subtype C acutely infected Zambians, and has allowed for the identification of residues in Gag that affect replication. More importantly, the implementation of this technique has facilitated a deeper understanding of how viral replication defines parameters of early HIV-1 pathogenesis such as set point viral load and longitudinal CD4+ T cell decline.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, HIV-1, Gag, viral replication, replication capacity, viral fitness, MJ4, CEM, GXR25
Production of Disulfide-stabilized Transmembrane Peptide Complexes for Structural Studies
Institutions: The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, The University of Melbourne.
Physical interactions among the lipid-embedded alpha-helical domains of membrane proteins play a crucial role in folding and assembly of membrane protein complexes and in dynamic processes such as transmembrane (TM) signaling and regulation of cell-surface protein levels. Understanding the structural features driving the association of particular sequences requires sophisticated biophysical and biochemical analyses of TM peptide complexes. However, the extreme hydrophobicity of TM domains makes them very difficult to manipulate using standard peptide chemistry techniques, and production of suitable study material often proves prohibitively challenging. Identifying conditions under which peptides can adopt stable helical conformations and form complexes spontaneously
adds a further level of difficulty. Here we present a procedure for the production of homo- or hetero-dimeric TM peptide complexes from materials that are expressed in E. coli
, thus allowing incorporation of stable isotope labels for nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) or non-natural amino acids for other applications relatively inexpensively. The key innovation in this method is that TM complexes are produced and purified as covalently associated
(disulfide-crosslinked) assemblies that can form stable, stoichiometric and homogeneous structures when reconstituted into detergent, lipid or other membrane-mimetic materials. We also present carefully optimized procedures for expression and purification that are equally applicable whether producing single TM domains or crosslinked complexes and provide advice for adapting these methods to new TM sequences.
Biochemistry, Issue 73, Structural Biology, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Biophysics, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Membrane Proteins, Proteins, Molecular Structure, transmembrane domain, peptide chemistry, membrane protein structure, immune receptors, reversed-phase HPLC, HPLC, peptides, lipids, protein, cloning, TFA Elution, CNBr Digestion, NMR, expression, cell culture
A Practical and Novel Method to Extract Genomic DNA from Blood Collection Kits for Plasma Protein Preservation
Institutions: Emory University School of Medicine and Children's Health Care of Atlanta, Emory University School of Medicine and Children's Health Care of Atlanta.
Laboratory tests can be done on the cellular or fluid portions of the blood. The use of different blood collection tubes determines the portion of the blood that can be analyzed (whole blood, plasma or serum). Laboratories involved in studying the genetic basis of human disorders rely on anticoagulated whole blood collected in EDTA-containing vacutainer as the source of DNA for genetic / genomic analysis. Because most clinical laboratories perform biochemical, serologic and viral testing as a first step in phenotypic outcome investigation, anticoagulated blood is also collected in heparin-containing tube (plasma tube). Therefore when DNA and plasma are needed for simultaneous and parallel analyses of both genomic and proteomic data, it is customary to collect blood in both EDTA and heparin tubes. If blood could be collected in a single tube and serve as a source for both plasma and DNA, that method would be considered an advancement to existing methods. The use of the compacted blood after plasma extraction represents an alternative source for genomic DNA, thus minimizing the amount of blood samples processed and reducing the number of samples required from each patient. This would ultimately save time and resources.
The BD P100 blood collection system for plasma protein preservation were created as an improved method over previous plasma or serum collection tubes1
, to stabilize the protein content of blood, enabling better protein biomarker discovery and proteomics experimentation from human blood. The BD P100 tubes contain 15.8 ml of spray-dried K2EDTA and a lyophilized proprietary broad spectrum cocktail of protease inhibitors to prevent coagulation and stabilize the plasma proteins. They also include a mechanical separator, which provides a physical barrier between plasma and cell pellets after centrifugation. Few methods have been devised to extract DNA from clotted blood samples collected in old plasma tubes2-4
. Challenges from these methods were mainly associated with the type of separator inside the tubes (gel separator) and included difficulty in recovering the clotted blood, the inconvenience of fragmenting or dispersing the clot, and obstruction of the clot extraction by the separation gel.
We present the first method that extracts and purifies genomic DNA from blood drawn in the new BD P100 tubes. We compare the quality of the DNA sample from P100 tubes to that from EDTA tubes. Our approach is simple and efficient. It involves four major steps as follows: 1) the use of a plasma BD P100 (BD Diagnostics, Sparks, MD, USA) tube with mechanical separator for blood collection, 2) the removal of the mechanical separator using a combination of sucrose and a sterile paperclip metallic hook, 3) the separation of the buffy coat layer containing the white cells and 4) the isolation of the genomic DNA from the buffy coat using a regular commercial DNA extraction kit or a similar standard protocol.
Genetics, Issue 75, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Medicine, Biochemistry, Hematology, Proteins, Genomics, genomic DNA, blood collection, P100 tubes, DNA extraction, buffy coat isolation, genotyping assays, red blood, whole blood, plasma, DNA, assay, genotyping
Polymerase Chain Reaction: Basic Protocol Plus Troubleshooting and Optimization Strategies
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
In the biological sciences there have been technological advances that catapult the discipline into golden ages of discovery. For example, the field of microbiology was transformed with the advent of Anton van Leeuwenhoek's microscope, which allowed scientists to visualize prokaryotes for the first time. The development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is one of those innovations that changed the course of molecular science with its impact spanning countless subdisciplines in biology. The theoretical process was outlined by Keppe and coworkers in 1971; however, it was another 14 years until the complete PCR procedure was described and experimentally applied by Kary Mullis while at Cetus Corporation in 1985. Automation and refinement of this technique progressed with the introduction of a thermal stable DNA polymerase from the bacterium Thermus aquaticus
, consequently the name Taq
PCR is a powerful amplification technique that can generate an ample supply of a specific segment of DNA (i.e., an amplicon) from only a small amount of starting material (i.e., DNA template or target sequence). While straightforward and generally trouble-free, there are pitfalls that complicate the reaction producing spurious results. When PCR fails it can lead to many non-specific DNA products of varying sizes that appear as a ladder or smear of bands on agarose gels. Sometimes no products form at all. Another potential problem occurs when mutations are unintentionally introduced in the amplicons, resulting in a heterogeneous population of PCR products. PCR failures can become frustrating unless patience and careful troubleshooting are employed to sort out and solve the problem(s). This protocol outlines the basic principles of PCR, provides a methodology that will result in amplification of most target sequences, and presents strategies for optimizing a reaction. By following this PCR guide, students should be able to:
● Set up reactions and thermal cycling conditions for a conventional PCR experiment
● Understand the function of various reaction components and their overall effect on a PCR experiment
● Design and optimize a PCR experiment for any DNA template
● Troubleshoot failed PCR experiments
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, PCR, optimization, primer design, melting temperature, Tm, troubleshooting, additives, enhancers, template DNA quantification, thermal cycler, molecular biology, genetics
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g.
, signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation.
The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
Assessment of Ultrasonic Vocalizations During Drug Self-administration in Rats
Institutions: University of Texas at Austin, University of Texas at Austin, University of Michigan, University of Texas at Austin, University of Texas at Austin.
Drug self-administration procedures are commonly used to study behavioral and neurochemical changes associated with human drug abuse, addiction and relapse. Various types of behavioral activity are commonly utilized as measures of drug motivation in animals. However, a crucial component of drug abuse relapse in abstinent cocaine users is "drug craving", which is difficult to model in animals, as it often occurs in the absence of overt behaviors. Yet, it is possible that a class of ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) in rats may be a useful marker for affective responses to drug administration, drug anticipation and even drug craving. Rats vocalize in ultrasonic frequencies that serve as a communicatory function and express subjective emotional states. Several studies have shown that different call frequency ranges are associated with negative and positive emotional states. For instance, high frequency calls ("50-kHz") are associated with positive affect, whereas low frequency calls ("22-kHz") represent a negative emotional state. This article describes a procedure to assess rat USVs associated with daily cocaine self-administration. For this procedure, we utilized standard single-lever operant chambers housed within sound-attenuating boxes for cocaine self-administration sessions and utilized ultrasonic microphones, multi-channel recording hardware and specialized software programs to detect and analyze USVs. USVs measurements reflect emotionality of rats before, during and after drug availability and can be correlated with commonly assessed drug self-administration behavioral data such lever responses, inter-response intervals and locomotor activity. Since USVs can be assessed during intervals prior to drug availability (e.g., anticipatory USVs) and during drug extinction trials, changes in affect associated with drug anticipation and drug abstinence can also be determined. In addition, determining USV changes over the course of short- and long-term drug exposure can provide a more detailed interpretation of drug exposure effects on affective functioning.
JoVE Neuroscience, Issue 41, ultrasound, behavior, self-administration, emotionality, anticipation, reward
Genomic MRI - a Public Resource for Studying Sequence Patterns within Genomic DNA
Institutions: University of Toledo Health Science Campus.
Non-coding genomic regions in complex eukaryotes, including intergenic areas, introns, and untranslated segments of exons, are profoundly non-random in their nucleotide composition and consist of a complex mosaic of sequence patterns. These patterns include so-called Mid-Range Inhomogeneity (MRI) regions -- sequences 30-10000 nucleotides in length that are enriched by a particular base or combination of bases (e.g. (G+T)-rich, purine-rich, etc.). MRI regions are associated with unusual (non-B-form) DNA structures that are often involved in regulation of gene expression, recombination, and other genetic processes (Fedorova & Fedorov 2010). The existence of a strong fixation bias within MRI regions against mutations that tend to reduce their sequence inhomogeneity additionally supports the functionality and importance of these genomic sequences (Prakash et al.
Here we demonstrate a freely available Internet resource -- the Genomic MRI
program package -- designed for computational analysis of genomic sequences in order to find and characterize various MRI patterns within them (Bechtel et al.
2008). This package also allows generation of randomized sequences with various properties and level of correspondence to the natural input DNA sequences. The main goal of this resource is to facilitate examination of vast regions of non-coding DNA that are still scarcely investigated and await thorough exploration and recognition.
Genetics, Issue 51, bioinformatics, computational biology, genomics, non-randomness, signals, gene regulation, DNA conformation
Targeted Training of Ultrasonic Vocalizations in Aged and Parkinsonian Rats
Institutions: University of Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin.
Voice deficits are a common complication of both Parkinson disease (PD) and aging; they can significantly diminish quality of life by impacting communication abilities. 1, 2
Targeted training (speech/voice therapy) can improve specific voice deficits,3, 4
although the underlying mechanisms of behavioral interventions are not well understood. Systematic investigation of voice deficits and therapy should consider many factors that are difficult to control in humans, such as age, home environment, age post-onset of disease, severity of disease, and medications. The method presented here uses an animal model of vocalization that allows for systematic study of how underlying sensorimotor mechanisms change with targeted voice training. The ultrasonic recording and analysis procedures outlined in this protocol are applicable to any investigation of rodent ultrasonic vocalizations.
The ultrasonic vocalizations of rodents are emerging as a valuable model to investigate the neural substrates of behavior.5-8
Both rodent and human vocalizations carry semiotic value and are produced by modifying an egressive airflow with a laryngeal constriction.9, 10
Thus, rodent vocalizations may be a useful model to study voice deficits in a sensorimotor context. Further, rat models allow us to study the neurobiological underpinnings of recovery from deficits with targeted training.
To model PD we use Long-Evans rats (Charles River Laboratories International, Inc.) and induce parkinsonism by a unilateral infusion of 7 μg of 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) into the medial forebrain bundle which causes moderate to severe degeneration of presynaptic striatal neurons (for details see Ciucci, 2010).11, 12
For our aging model we use the Fischer 344/Brown Norway F1 (National Institute on Aging).
Our primary method for eliciting vocalizations is to expose sexually-experienced male rats to sexually receptive female rats. When the male becomes interested in the female, the female is removed and the male continues to vocalize. By rewarding complex vocalizations with food or water, both the number of complex vocalizations and the rate of vocalizations can be increased (Figure 1).
An ultrasonic microphone mounted above the male's home cage records the vocalizations. Recording begins after the female rat is removed to isolate the male calls. Vocalizations can be viewed in real time for training or recorded and analyzed offline. By recording and acoustically analyzing vocalizations before and after vocal training, the effects of disease and restoration of normal function with training can be assessed. This model also allows us to relate the observed behavioral (vocal) improvements to changes in the brain and neuromuscular system.
Neuroscience, Issue 54, ultrasonic vocalization, rat, aging, Parkinson disease, exercise, 6-hydroxydopamine, voice disorders, voice therapy
Isolation of Fidelity Variants of RNA Viruses and Characterization of Virus Mutation Frequency
Institutions: Institut Pasteur .
RNA viruses use RNA dependent RNA polymerases to replicate their genomes. The intrinsically high error rate of these enzymes is a large contributor to the generation of extreme population diversity that facilitates virus adaptation and evolution. Increasing evidence shows that the intrinsic error rates, and the resulting mutation frequencies, of RNA viruses can be modulated by subtle amino acid changes to the viral polymerase. Although biochemical assays exist for some viral RNA polymerases that permit quantitative measure of incorporation fidelity, here we describe a simple method of measuring mutation frequencies of RNA viruses that has proven to be as accurate as biochemical approaches in identifying fidelity altering mutations. The approach uses conventional virological and sequencing techniques that can be performed in most biology laboratories. Based on our experience with a number of different viruses, we have identified the key steps that must be optimized to increase the likelihood of isolating fidelity variants and generating data of statistical significance. The isolation and characterization of fidelity altering mutations can provide new insights into polymerase structure and function1-3
. Furthermore, these fidelity variants can be useful tools in characterizing mechanisms of virus adaptation and evolution4-7
Immunology, Issue 52, Polymerase fidelity, RNA virus, mutation frequency, mutagen, RNA polymerase, viral evolution
Enabling High Grayscale Resolution Displays and Accurate Response Time Measurements on Conventional Computers
Institutions: The Ohio State University, University of Southern California, University of Southern California, University of Southern California, The Ohio State University.
Display systems based on conventional computer graphics cards are capable of generating images with 8-bit gray level resolution. However, most experiments in vision research require displays with more than 12 bits of luminance resolution. Several solutions are available. Bit++ 1
and DataPixx 2
use the Digital Visual Interface (DVI) output from graphics cards and high resolution (14 or 16-bit) digital-to-analog converters to drive analog display devices. The VideoSwitcher 3
described here combines analog video signals from the red and blue channels of graphics cards with different weights using a passive resister network 4
and an active circuit to deliver identical video signals to the three channels of color monitors. The method provides an inexpensive way to enable high-resolution monochromatic displays using conventional graphics cards and analog monitors. It can also provide trigger signals that can be used to mark stimulus onsets, making it easy to synchronize visual displays with physiological recordings or response time measurements.
Although computer keyboards and mice are frequently used in measuring response times (RT), the accuracy of these measurements is quite low. The RTbox is a specialized hardware and software solution for accurate RT measurements. Connected to the host computer through a USB connection, the driver of the RTbox is compatible with all conventional operating systems. It uses a microprocessor and high-resolution clock to record the identities and timing of button events, which are buffered until the host computer retrieves them. The recorded button events are not affected by potential timing uncertainties or biases associated with data transmission and processing in the host computer. The asynchronous storage greatly simplifies the design of user programs. Several methods are available to synchronize the clocks of the RTbox and the host computer. The RTbox can also receive external triggers and be used to measure RT with respect to external events.
Both VideoSwitcher and RTbox are available for users to purchase. The relevant information and many demonstration programs can be found at http://lobes.usc.edu/.
Neuroscience, Issue 60, VideoSwitcher, Visual stimulus, Luminance resolution, Contrast, Trigger, RTbox, Response time
The Structure of Skilled Forelimb Reaching in the Rat: A Movement Rating Scale
Institutions: University of Lethbridge.
Skilled reaching for food is an evolutionary ancient act and is displayed by many animal species, including those in the sister clades of rodents and primates. The video describes a test situation that allows filming of repeated acts of reaching for food by the rat that has been mildly food deprived. A rat is trained to reach through a slot in a holding box for food pellet that it grasps and then places in its mouth for eating. Reaching is accomplished in the main by proximally driven movements of the limb but distal limb movements are used for pronating the paw, grasping the food, and releasing the food into the mouth. Each reach is divided into at least 10 movements of the forelimb and the reaching act is facilitated by postural adjustments. Each of the movements is described and examples of the movements are given from a number of viewing perspectives. By rating each movement element on a 3-point scale, the reach can be quantified. A number of studies have demonstrated that the movement elements are altered by motor system damage, including damage to the motor cortex, basal ganglia, brainstem, and spinal cord. The movements are also altered in neurological conditions that can be modeled in the rat, including Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease. Thus, the rating scale is useful for quantifying motor impairments and the effectiveness of neural restoration and rehabilitation. Because the reaching act for the rat is very similar to that displayed by humans and nonhuman primates, the scale can be used for comparative purposes. from a number of viewing perspectives. By rating each movement element on a 3-point scale, the reach can be quantified. A number of studies have demonstrated that the movement elements are altered by motor system damage, including damage to the motor cortex, basal ganglia, brainstem, and spinal cord. The movements are also altered in neurological conditions that can be modeled in the rat, including Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease. Thus, the rating scale is useful for quantifying motor impairments and the effectiveness of neural restoration and rehabilitation.
Experiments on animals were performed in accordance with the guidelines and regulations set forth by the University of Lethbridge Animal Care Committee in accordance with the regulations of the Canadian Council on Animal Care.
Neuroscience, Issue 18, rat skilled reaching, rat reaching scale, rat, rat movement element rating scale, reaching elements
Molecular Evolution of the Tre Recombinase
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Here we report the generation of Tre recombinase through directed, molecular evolution. Tre recombinase recognizes a pre-defined target sequence within the LTR sequences of the HIV-1 provirus, resulting in the excision and eradication of the provirus from infected human cells.
We started with Cre, a 38-kDa recombinase, that recognizes a 34-bp double-stranded DNA sequence known as loxP. Because Cre can effectively eliminate genomic sequences, we set out to tailor a recombinase that could remove the sequence between the 5'-LTR and 3'-LTR of an integrated HIV-1 provirus. As a first step we identified sequences within the LTR sites that were similar to loxP and tested for recombination activity. Initially Cre and mutagenized Cre libraries failed to recombine the chosen loxLTR sites of the HIV-1 provirus. As the start of any directed molecular evolution process requires at least residual activity, the original asymmetric loxLTR sequences were split into subsets and tested again for recombination activity. Acting as intermediates, recombination activity was shown with the subsets. Next, recombinase libraries were enriched through reiterative evolution cycles. Subsequently, enriched libraries were shuffled and recombined. The combination of different mutations proved synergistic and recombinases were created that were able to recombine loxLTR1 and loxLTR2. This was evidence that an evolutionary strategy through intermediates can be successful. After a total of 126 evolution cycles individual recombinases were functionally and structurally analyzed. The most active recombinase -- Tre -- had 19 amino acid changes as compared to Cre. Tre recombinase was able to excise the HIV-1 provirus from the genome HIV-1 infected HeLa cells (see "HIV-1 Proviral DNA Excision Using an Evolved Recombinase", Hauber J., Heinrich-Pette-Institute for Experimental Virology and Immunology, Hamburg, Germany). While still in its infancy, directed molecular evolution will allow the creation of custom enzymes that will serve as tools of "molecular surgery" and molecular medicine.
Cell Biology, Issue 15, HIV-1, Tre recombinase, Site-specific recombination, molecular evolution
Principles of Site-Specific Recombinase (SSR) Technology
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Site-specific recombinase (SSR) technology allows the manipulation of gene structure to explore gene function and has become an integral tool of molecular biology. Site-specific recombinases are proteins that bind to distinct DNA target sequences. The Cre/lox system was first described in bacteriophages during the 1980's. Cre recombinase is a Type I topoisomerase that catalyzes site-specific recombination of DNA between two loxP (locus of X-over P1) sites. The Cre/lox system does not require any cofactors. LoxP sequences contain distinct binding sites for Cre recombinases that surround a directional core sequence where recombination and rearrangement takes place. When cells contain loxP sites and express the Cre recombinase, a recombination event occurs. Double-stranded DNA is cut at both loxP sites by the Cre recombinase, rearranged, and ligated ("scissors and glue"). Products of the recombination event depend on the relative orientation of the asymmetric sequences.
SSR technology is frequently used as a tool to explore gene function. Here the gene of interest is flanked with Cre target sites loxP ("floxed"). Animals are then crossed with animals expressing the Cre recombinase under the control of a tissue-specific promoter. In tissues that express the Cre recombinase it binds to target sequences and excises the floxed gene. Controlled gene deletion allows the investigation of gene function in specific tissues and at distinct time points. Analysis of gene function employing SSR technology --- conditional mutagenesis -- has significant advantages over traditional knock-outs where gene deletion is frequently lethal.
Cellular Biology, Issue 15, Molecular Biology, Site-Specific Recombinase, Cre recombinase, Cre/lox system, transgenic animals, transgenic technology
Computer-Generated Animal Model Stimuli
Institutions: Macquarie University.
Communication between animals is diverse and complex. Animals may communicate using auditory, seismic, chemosensory, electrical, or visual signals. In particular, understanding the constraints on visual signal design for communication has been of great interest. Traditional methods for investigating animal interactions have used basic observational techniques, staged encounters, or physical manipulation of morphology. Less intrusive methods have tried to simulate conspecifics using crude playback tools, such as mirrors, still images, or models. As technology has become more advanced, video playback has emerged as another tool in which to examine visual communication (Rosenthal, 2000). However, to move one step further, the application of computer-animation now allows researchers to specifically isolate critical components necessary to elicit social responses from conspecifics, and manipulate these features to control interactions. Here, I provide detail on how to create an animation using the Jacky dragon as a model, but this process may be adaptable for other species. In building the animation, I elected to use Lightwave 3D to alter object morphology, add texture, install bones, and provide comparable weight shading that prevents exaggerated movement. The animation is then matched to select motor patterns to replicate critical movement features. Finally, the sequence must rendered into an individual clip for presentation. Although there are other adaptable techniques, this particular method had been demonstrated to be effective in eliciting both conspicuous and social responses in staged interactions.
Neuroscience, Issue 6, behavior, lizard, simulation, animation
The Preparation of Drosophila Embryos for Live-Imaging Using the Hanging Drop Protocol
Institutions: University of Waterloo.
Green fluorescent protein (GFP)-based timelapse live-imaging is a powerful technique for studying the genetic regulation of dynamic processes such as tissue morphogenesis, cell-cell adhesion, or cell death. Drosophila embryos expressing GFP are readily imaged using either stereoscopic or confocal microscopy. A goal of any live-imaging protocol is to minimize detrimental effects such as dehydration and hypoxia. Previous protocols for preparing Drosophila embryos for live-imaging analysis have involved placing dechorionated embryos in halocarbon oil and sandwiching them between a halocarbon gas-permeable membrane and a coverslip1-3
. The introduction of compression through mounting embryos in this manner represents an undesirable complication for any biomechanical-based analysis of morphogenesis. Our method, which we call the hanging drop protocol, results in excellent viability of embryos during live imaging and does not require that embryos be compressed. Briefly, the hanging drop protocol involves the placement of embryos in a drop of halocarbon oil that is suspended from a coverslip, which is, in turn, fixed in position over a humid chamber. In addition to providing gas exchange and preventing dehydration, this arrangement takes advantage of the buoyancy of embryos in halocarbon oil to prevent them from drifting out of position during timelapse acquisition. This video describes in detail how to collect and prepare Drosophila embryos for live imaging using the hanging drop protocol. This protocol is suitable for imaging dechorionated embryos using stereomicroscopy or any upright compound fluorescence microscope.
Developmental Biology, Issue 25, Drosophila, embryos, live-imaging, GFP