The aim of de novo protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (https://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
26 Related JoVE Articles!
Targeting Olfactory Bulb Neurons Using Combined In Vivo Electroporation and Gal4-Based Enhancer Trap Zebrafish Lines
Institutions: Pace University, University of California, San Diego, Braunschweig University of Technology.
electroporation is a powerful method for delivering DNA expression plasmids, RNAi reagents, and morpholino anti-sense oligonucleotides to specific regions of developing embryos, including those of C. elegans
, chick, Xenopus
, zebrafish, and mouse 1
. In zebrafish, in vivo
electroporation has been shown to have excellent spatial and temporal resolution for the delivery of these reagents 2-7
. The temporal resolution of this method is important because it allows for incorporation of these reagents at specific stages in development. Furthermore, because expression from electroporated vectors occurs within 6 hours 7
, this method is more timely than transgenic approaches. While the spatial resolution can be extremely precise when targeting a single cell 2, 6
, it is often preferable to incorporate reagents into a specific cell population within a tissue or structure. When targeting multiple cells, in vivo
electroporation is efficient for delivery to a specific region of the embryo; however, particularly within the developing nervous system, it is difficult to target specific cell types solely through spatially discrete electroporation. Alternatively, enhancer trap transgenic lines offer excellent cell type-specific expression of transgenes 8
. Here we describe an approach that combines transgenic Gal4-based enhancer trap lines 8
with spatially discrete in vivo
electroporation 7, 9
to specifically target developing neurons of the zebrafish olfactory bulb. The Et(zic4:Gal4TA4,UAS:mCherry)hzm5
(formerly GA80_9) enhancer trap line previously described 8
, displays targeted transgenic expression of mCherry mediated by a zebrafish optimized Gal4 (KalTA4) transcriptional activator in multiple regions of the developing brain including hindbrain, cerebellum, forebrain, and the olfactory bulb. To target GFP expression specifically to the olfactory bulb, a plasmid with the coding sequence of GFP under control of multiple Gal4 binding sites (UAS) was electroporated into the anterior end of the forebrain at 24-28 hours post-fertilization (hpf). Although this method incorporates plasmid DNA into multiple regions of the forebrain, GFP expression is only induced in cells transgenically expressing the KalTA4 transcription factor. Thus, by using the GA080_9 transgenic line, this approach led to GFP expression exclusively in the developing olfactory bulb. GFP expressing cells targeted through this approach showed typical axonal projections, as previously described for mitral cells of the olfactory bulb 10
. This method could also be used for targeted delivery of other reagents including short-hairpin RNA interference expression plasmids, which would provide a method for spatially and temporally discrete loss-of-function analysis.
Neuroscience, Issue 54, electroporation, zebrafish, olfactory bulb, Gal4 enhancer trap
Mosaic Analysis of Gene Function in Postnatal Mouse Brain Development by Using Virus-based Cre Recombination
Institutions: Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, University of Southern California, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California.
Normal brain function relies not only on embryonic development when major neuronal pathways are established, but also on postnatal
development when neural circuits are matured and refined. Misregulation at this stage may lead to neurological and psychiatric disorders such as autism
. Many genes have been studied in the prenatal brain and found crucial to many developmental processes3-5
. However, their
function in the postnatal brain is largely unknown, partly because their deletion in mice often leads to lethality during neonatal development, and partly because their requirement in early development hampers the postnatal analysis. To overcome these obstacles, floxed alleles of these genes are currently being generated in mice 6
. When combined with transgenic alleles that express Cre recombinase in specific cell types, conditional deletion can be achieved to study gene function in the postnatal brain. However, this method requires additional alleles and extra time (3-6 months) to generate the mice with appropriate genotypes, thereby limiting the expansion of the genetic analysis to a large scale in the mouse brain.
Here we demonstrate a complementary approach that uses virally-expressed Cre to study these floxed alleles rapidly and
systematically in postnatal brain development. By injecting recombinant adeno-associated viruses (rAAVs)7,8
encoding Cre into the neonatal brain,
we are able to delete the gene of interest in different regions of the brain. By controlling the viral titer and coexpressing a fluorescent
protein marker, we can simultaneously achieve mosaic gene inactivation and sparse neuronal labeling. This method bypasses the requirement of
many genes in early development, and allows us to study their cell autonomous function in many critical processes in postnatal brain development,
including axonal and dendritic growth, branching, and tiling, as well as synapse formation and refinement. This method has been used successfully
in our own lab (unpublished results) and others8,9
, and can be extended to other viruses, such as lentivirus 9
, as well as to the expression of
shRNA or dominant active proteins 10
. Furthermore, by combining this technique with electrophysiology as well as recently-developed optical
imaging tools 11
, this method provides a new strategy to study how genetic pathways influence neural circuit development and function in mice
Neuroscience, Issue 54, Adeno-associated virus, Cre, mosaic analysis, sparse labeling, mouse, postnatal, brain development
Electroporation of the Hindbrain to Trace Axonal Trajectories and Synaptic Targets in the Chick Embryo
Institutions: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Electroporation of the chick embryonic neural tube has many advantages such as being quick and efficient for the expression of foreign genes into neuronal cells. In this manuscript we provide a method that demonstrates uniquely how to electroporate DNA into the avian hindbrain at E2.75 in order to specifically label a subset of neuronal progenitors, and how to follow their axonal projections and synaptic targets at much advanced stages of development, up to E14.5. We have utilized novel genetic tools including specific enhancer elements, Cre/Lox - based plasmids and the PiggyBac-mediated DNA transposition system to drive GFP expression in a subtype of hindbrain cells (the dorsal most subgroup of interneurons, dA1). Axonal trajectories and targets of dA1 axons are followed at early and late embryonic stages at various brainstem regions. This strategy contributes advanced techniques for targeting cells of interest in the embryonic hindbrain and for tracing circuit formation at multiple stages of development.
Neuroscience, Issue 75, Neurobiology, Developmental Biology, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Genetics, Electroporation, Chick, Hindbrain, Axon, Interneuron, dA1, PiggyBac, Enhancer, Synapse, neurons, axons, GFP expression, in ovo, embryonic hindbrain, brain, animal model
Gene Trapping Using Gal4 in Zebrafish
Institutions: Temple University .
Large clutch size and external development of optically transparent embryos make zebrafish an exceptional vertebrate model system for in vivo
insertional mutagenesis using fluorescent reporters to tag expression of mutated genes. Several laboratories have constructed and tested enhancer- and gene-trap vectors in zebrafish, using fluorescent proteins, Gal4- and lexA- based transcriptional activators as reporters 1-7
. These vectors had two potential drawbacks: suboptimal stringency (e.g.
lack of ability to differentiate between enhancer- and gene-trap events) and low mutagenicity (e.g.
integrations into genes rarely produced null alleles). Gene Breaking Transposon (GBTs) were developed to address these drawbacks 8-10
. We have modified one of the first GBT vectors, GBT-R15, for use with Gal4-VP16 as the primary gene trap reporter and added UAS:eGFP as the secondary reporter for direct detection of gene trap events. Application of Gal4-VP16 as the primary gene trap reporter provides two main advantages. First, it increases sensitivity for genes expressed at low expression levels. Second, it enables researchers to use gene trap lines as Gal4 drivers to direct expression of other transgenes in very specific tissues. This is especially pertinent for genes with non-essential or redundant functions, where gene trap integration may not result in overt phenotypes. The disadvantage of using Gal4-VP16 as the primary gene trap reporter is that genes coding for proteins with N-terminal signal sequences are not amenable to trapping, as the resulting Gal4-VP16 fusion proteins are unlikely to be able to enter the nucleus and activate transcription. Importantly, the use of Gal4-VP16 does not pre-select for nuclear proteins: we recovered gene trap mutations in genes encoding proteins which function in the nucleus, the cytoplasm and the plasma membrane.
Developmental Biology, Issue 79, Zebrafish, Mutagenesis, Genetics, genetics (animal and plant), Gal4, transposon, gene trap, insertional mutagenesis
Production of Haploid Zebrafish Embryos by In Vitro Fertilization
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish has become a mainstream vertebrate model that is relevant for many disciplines of scientific study. Zebrafish are especially well suited for forward genetic analysis of developmental processes due to their external fertilization, embryonic size, rapid ontogeny, and optical clarity – a constellation of traits that enable the direct observation of events ranging from gastrulation to organogenesis with a basic stereomicroscope. Further, zebrafish embryos can survive for several days in the haploid state. The production of haploid embryos in vitro
is a powerful tool for mutational analysis, as it enables the identification of recessive mutant alleles present in first generation (F1) female carriers following mutagenesis in the parental (P) generation. This approach eliminates the necessity to raise multiple generations (F2, F3, etc.
) which involves breeding of mutant families, thus saving the researcher time along with reducing the needs for zebrafish colony space, labor, and the husbandry costs. Although zebrafish have been used to conduct forward screens for the past several decades, there has been a steady expansion of transgenic and genome editing tools. These tools now offer a plethora of ways to create nuanced assays for next generation screens that can be used to further dissect the gene regulatory networks that drive vertebrate ontogeny. Here, we describe how to prepare haploid zebrafish embryos. This protocol can be implemented for novel future haploid screens, such as in enhancer and suppressor screens, to address the mechanisms of development for a broad number of processes and tissues that form during early embryonic stages.
Developmental Biology, Issue 89, zebrafish, haploid, in vitro fertilization, forward genetic screen, saturation, recessive mutation, mutagenesis
Quantifying the Activity of cis-Regulatory Elements in the Mouse Retina by Explant Electroporation
Institutions: Washington University School of Medicine.
Transcription factors within cellular gene networks control the spatiotemporal pattern and levels of expression of their target genes by binding to cis
-regulatory elements (CREs), short (˜300-600 bp) stretches of genomic DNA which can lie upstream, downstream, or within the introns of the genes they control. CREs (i.e.
, enhancers/promoters) typically consist of multiple clustered binding sites for both transcriptional activators and repressors1-3
. They serve as logical integrators of transcriptional input giving a unitary output in the form of spatiotemporally precise and quantitatively exact promoter activity. Most studies of mammalian cis
-regulation to date have relied on mouse transgenesis as a means of assaying the enhancer function of CREs4-5
. This technique is time-consuming, costly and, on account of insertion site effects, largely non-quantitative. On the other hand, quantitative assays for mammalian CRE function have been developed in tissue culture systems (e.g.
, dual luciferase assays), but the in vivo
relevance of these results is often uncertain.
Electroporation offers an excellent alternative to traditional mouse transgenesis in that it permits both spatiotemporal and quantitative assessment of cis
-regulatory activity in living mammalian tissue. This technique has been particularly useful in the analysis of cis
-regulation in the central nervous system, especially in the cerebral cortex and the retina6-8
. While mouse retinal electroporation, both in vivo
and ex vivo
, has been developed and extensively described by Matsuda and Cepko6-7,9
, we have recently developed a simple approach to quantify the activity of photoreceptor-specific CREs in electroporated mouse retinas10
. Given that the amount of DNA that is introduced into the retina by electroporation can vary from experiment to experiment, it is necessary to include a co-electroporated 'loading control' in all experiments. In this respect, the technique is very similar to the dual luciferase assay used to quantify promoter activity in cultured cells.
When assaying photoreceptor cis
-regulatory activity, electroporation is usually performed in newborn mice (postnatal day 0, P0) which is the time of peak rod production11-12
. Once retinal cell types become post-mitotic, electroporation is much less efficient. Given the high rate of rod birth in newborn mice and the fact that rods constitute more than 70% of the cells in the adult mouse retina, the majority of cells that are electroporated at P0 are rods. For this reason, rod photoreceptors are the easiest retinal cell type to study via electroporation. The technique we describe here is primarily useful for quantifying the activity of photoreceptor CREs.
Neuroscience, Issue 52, retina, photoreceptor, cis-regulatory element, quantification, electroporation, promoter analysis
A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
Massively Parallel Reporter Assays in Cultured Mammalian Cells
Institutions: Broad Institute.
The genetic reporter assay is a well-established and powerful tool for dissecting the relationship between DNA sequences and their gene regulatory activities. The potential throughput of this assay has, however, been limited by the need to individually clone and assay the activity of each sequence on interest using protein fluorescence or enzymatic activity as a proxy for regulatory activity. Advances in high-throughput DNA synthesis and sequencing technologies have recently made it possible to overcome these limitations by multiplexing the construction and interrogation of large libraries of reporter constructs. This protocol describes implementation of a Massively Parallel Reporter Assay (MPRA) that allows direct comparison of hundreds of thousands of putative regulatory sequences in a single cell culture dish.
Genetics, Issue 90, gene regulation, transcriptional regulation, sequence-activity mapping, reporter assay, library cloning, transfection, tag sequencing, mammalian cells
Detection of the Genome and Transcripts of a Persistent DNA Virus in Neuronal Tissues by Fluorescent In situ Hybridization Combined with Immunostaining
Institutions: CNRS UMR 5534, Université de Lyon 1, LabEX DEVweCAN, CNRS UPR 3296, CNRS UMR 5286.
Single cell codetection of a gene, its RNA product and cellular regulatory proteins is critical to study gene expression regulation. This is a challenge in the field of virology; in particular for nuclear-replicating persistent DNA viruses that involve animal models for their study. Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) establishes a life-long latent infection in peripheral neurons. Latent virus serves as reservoir, from which it reactivates and induces a new herpetic episode. The cell biology of HSV-1 latency remains poorly understood, in part due to the lack of methods to detect HSV-1 genomes in situ
in animal models. We describe a DNA-fluorescent in situ
hybridization (FISH) approach efficiently detecting low-copy viral genomes within sections of neuronal tissues from infected animal models. The method relies on heat-based antigen unmasking, and directly labeled home-made DNA probes, or commercially available probes. We developed a triple staining approach, combining DNA-FISH with RNA-FISH and immunofluorescence, using peroxidase based signal amplification to accommodate each staining requirement. A major improvement is the ability to obtain, within 10 µm tissue sections, low-background signals that can be imaged at high resolution by confocal microscopy and wide-field conventional epifluorescence. Additionally, the triple staining worked with a wide range of antibodies directed against cellular and viral proteins. The complete protocol takes 2.5 days to accommodate antibody and probe penetration within the tissue.
Neuroscience, Issue 83, Life Sciences (General), Virology, Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV), Latency, In situ hybridization, Nuclear organization, Gene expression, Microscopy
High-throughput Functional Screening using a Homemade Dual-glow Luciferase Assay
Institutions: Massachusetts General Hospital.
We present a rapid and inexpensive high-throughput screening protocol to identify transcriptional regulators of alpha-synuclein, a gene associated with Parkinson's disease. 293T cells are transiently transfected with plasmids from an arrayed ORF expression library, together with luciferase reporter plasmids, in a one-gene-per-well microplate format. Firefly luciferase activity is assayed after 48 hr to determine the effects of each library gene upon alpha-synuclein transcription, normalized to expression from an internal control construct (a hCMV promoter directing Renilla
luciferase). This protocol is facilitated by a bench-top robot enclosed in a biosafety cabinet, which performs aseptic liquid handling in 96-well format. Our automated transfection protocol is readily adaptable to high-throughput lentiviral library production or other functional screening protocols requiring triple-transfections of large numbers of unique library plasmids in conjunction with a common set of helper plasmids. We also present an inexpensive and validated alternative to commercially-available, dual luciferase reagents which employs PTC124, EDTA, and pyrophosphate to suppress firefly luciferase activity prior to measurement of Renilla
luciferase. Using these methods, we screened 7,670 human genes and identified 68 regulators of alpha-synuclein. This protocol is easily modifiable to target other genes of interest.
Cellular Biology, Issue 88, Luciferases, Gene Transfer Techniques, Transfection, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Transfections, Robotics
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
A Manual Small Molecule Screen Approaching High-throughput Using Zebrafish Embryos
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
Zebrafish have become a widely used model organism to investigate the mechanisms that underlie developmental biology and to study human disease pathology due to their considerable degree of genetic conservation with humans. Chemical genetics entails testing the effect that small molecules have on a biological process and is becoming a popular translational research method to identify therapeutic compounds. Zebrafish are specifically appealing to use for chemical genetics because of their ability to produce large clutches of transparent embryos, which are externally fertilized. Furthermore, zebrafish embryos can be easily drug treated by the simple addition of a compound to the embryo media. Using whole-mount in situ
hybridization (WISH), mRNA expression can be clearly visualized within zebrafish embryos. Together, using chemical genetics and WISH, the zebrafish becomes a potent whole organism context in which to determine the cellular and physiological effects of small molecules. Innovative advances have been made in technologies that utilize machine-based screening procedures, however for many labs such options are not accessible or remain cost-prohibitive. The protocol described here explains how to execute a manual high-throughput chemical genetic screen that requires basic resources and can be accomplished by a single individual or small team in an efficient period of time. Thus, this protocol provides a feasible strategy that can be implemented by research groups to perform chemical genetics in zebrafish, which can be useful for gaining fundamental insights into developmental processes, disease mechanisms, and to identify novel compounds and signaling pathways that have medically relevant applications.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, zebrafish, chemical genetics, chemical screen, in vivo small molecule screen, drug discovery, whole mount in situ hybridization (WISH), high-throughput screening (HTS), high-content screening (HCS)
In Vivo Modeling of the Morbid Human Genome using Danio rerio
Institutions: Duke University Medical Center, Duke University, Duke University Medical Center.
Here, we present methods for the development of assays to query potentially clinically significant nonsynonymous changes using in vivo
complementation in zebrafish. Zebrafish (Danio rerio
) are a useful animal system due to their experimental tractability; embryos are transparent to enable facile viewing, undergo rapid development ex vivo,
and can be genetically manipulated.1
These aspects have allowed for significant advances in the analysis of embryogenesis, molecular processes, and morphogenetic signaling. Taken together, the advantages of this vertebrate model make zebrafish highly amenable to modeling the developmental defects in pediatric disease, and in some cases, adult-onset disorders. Because the zebrafish genome is highly conserved with that of humans (~70% orthologous), it is possible to recapitulate human disease states in zebrafish. This is accomplished either through the injection of mutant human mRNA to induce dominant negative or gain of function alleles, or utilization of morpholino (MO) antisense oligonucleotides to suppress genes to mimic loss of function variants. Through complementation of MO-induced phenotypes with capped human mRNA, our approach enables the interpretation of the deleterious effect of mutations on human protein sequence based on the ability of mutant mRNA to rescue a measurable, physiologically relevant phenotype. Modeling of the human disease alleles occurs through microinjection of zebrafish embryos with MO and/or human mRNA at the 1-4 cell stage, and phenotyping up to seven days post fertilization (dpf). This general strategy can be extended to a wide range of disease phenotypes, as demonstrated in the following protocol. We present our established models for morphogenetic signaling, craniofacial, cardiac, vascular integrity, renal function, and skeletal muscle disorder phenotypes, as well as others.
Molecular Biology, Issue 78, Genetics, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Developmental Biology, Biochemistry, Anatomy, Physiology, Bioengineering, Genomics, Medical, zebrafish, in vivo, morpholino, human disease modeling, transcription, PCR, mRNA, DNA, Danio rerio, animal model
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
Inhibitory Synapse Formation in a Co-culture Model Incorporating GABAergic Medium Spiny Neurons and HEK293 Cells Stably Expressing GABAA Receptors
Institutions: University College London.
Inhibitory neurons act in the central nervous system to regulate the dynamics and spatio-temporal co-ordination of neuronal networks. GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) is the predominant inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It is released from the presynaptic terminals of inhibitory neurons within highly specialized intercellular junctions known as synapses, where it binds to GABAA
Rs) present at the plasma membrane of the synapse-receiving, postsynaptic neurons. Activation of these GABA-gated ion channels leads to influx of chloride resulting in postsynaptic potential changes that decrease the probability that these neurons will generate action potentials.
During development, diverse types of inhibitory neurons with distinct morphological, electrophysiological and neurochemical characteristics have the ability to recognize their target neurons and form synapses which incorporate specific GABAA
Rs subtypes. This principle of selective innervation of neuronal targets raises the question as to how the appropriate synaptic partners identify each other.
To elucidate the underlying molecular mechanisms, a novel in vitro
co-culture model system was established, in which medium spiny GABAergic neurons, a highly homogenous population of neurons isolated from the embryonic striatum, were cultured with stably transfected HEK293 cell lines that express different GABAA
R subtypes. Synapses form rapidly, efficiently and selectively in this system, and are easily accessible for quantification. Our results indicate that various GABAA
R subtypes differ in their ability to promote synapse formation, suggesting that this reduced in vitro
model system can be used to reproduce, at least in part, the in vivo
conditions required for the recognition of the appropriate synaptic partners and formation of specific synapses. Here the protocols for culturing the medium spiny neurons and generating HEK293 cells lines expressing GABAA
Rs are first described, followed by detailed instructions on how to combine these two cell types in co-culture and analyze the formation of synaptic contacts.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, Developmental neuroscience, synaptogenesis, synaptic inhibition, co-culture, stable cell lines, GABAergic, medium spiny neurons, HEK 293 cell line
Lesion Explorer: A Video-guided, Standardized Protocol for Accurate and Reliable MRI-derived Volumetrics in Alzheimer's Disease and Normal Elderly
Institutions: Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, University of Toronto.
Obtaining in vivo
human brain tissue volumetrics from MRI is often complicated by various technical and biological issues. These challenges are exacerbated when significant brain atrophy and age-related white matter changes (e.g.
Leukoaraiosis) are present. Lesion Explorer (LE) is an accurate and reliable neuroimaging pipeline specifically developed to address such issues commonly observed on MRI of Alzheimer's disease and normal elderly. The pipeline is a complex set of semi-automatic procedures which has been previously validated in a series of internal and external reliability tests1,2
. However, LE's accuracy and reliability is highly dependent on properly trained manual operators to execute commands, identify distinct anatomical landmarks, and manually edit/verify various computer-generated segmentation outputs.
LE can be divided into 3 main components, each requiring a set of commands and manual operations: 1) Brain-Sizer, 2) SABRE, and 3) Lesion-Seg. Brain-Sizer's manual operations involve editing of the automatic skull-stripped total intracranial vault (TIV) extraction mask, designation of ventricular cerebrospinal fluid (vCSF), and removal of subtentorial structures. The SABRE component requires checking of image alignment along the anterior and posterior commissure (ACPC) plane, and identification of several anatomical landmarks required for regional parcellation. Finally, the Lesion-Seg component involves manual checking of the automatic lesion segmentation of subcortical hyperintensities (SH) for false positive errors.
While on-site training of the LE pipeline is preferable, readily available visual teaching tools with interactive training images are a viable alternative. Developed to ensure a high degree of accuracy and reliability, the following is a step-by-step, video-guided, standardized protocol for LE's manual procedures.
Medicine, Issue 86, Brain, Vascular Diseases, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Neuroimaging, Alzheimer Disease, Aging, Neuroanatomy, brain extraction, ventricles, white matter hyperintensities, cerebrovascular disease, Alzheimer disease
Setting-up an In Vitro Model of Rat Blood-brain Barrier (BBB): A Focus on BBB Impermeability and Receptor-mediated Transport
Institutions: VECT-HORUS SAS, CNRS, NICN UMR 7259.
The blood brain barrier (BBB) specifically regulates molecular and cellular flux between the blood and the nervous tissue. Our aim was to develop and characterize a highly reproducible rat syngeneic in vitro
model of the BBB using co-cultures of primary rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC) and astrocytes to study receptors involved in transcytosis across the endothelial cell monolayer. Astrocytes were isolated by mechanical dissection following trypsin digestion and were frozen for later co-culture. RBEC were isolated from 5-week-old rat cortices. The brains were cleaned of meninges and white matter, and mechanically dissociated following enzymatic digestion. Thereafter, the tissue homogenate was centrifuged in bovine serum albumin to separate vessel fragments from nervous tissue. The vessel fragments underwent a second enzymatic digestion to free endothelial cells from their extracellular matrix. The remaining contaminating cells such as pericytes were further eliminated by plating the microvessel fragments in puromycin-containing medium. They were then passaged onto filters for co-culture with astrocytes grown on the bottom of the wells. RBEC expressed high levels of tight junction (TJ) proteins such as occludin, claudin-5 and ZO-1 with a typical localization at the cell borders. The transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER) of brain endothelial monolayers, indicating the tightness of TJs reached 300 ohm·cm2
on average. The endothelial permeability coefficients (Pe) for lucifer yellow (LY) was highly reproducible with an average of 0.26 ± 0.11 x 10-3
cm/min. Brain endothelial cells organized in monolayers expressed the efflux transporter P-glycoprotein (P-gp), showed a polarized transport of rhodamine 123, a ligand for P-gp, and showed specific transport of transferrin-Cy3 and DiILDL across the endothelial cell monolayer. In conclusion, we provide a protocol for setting up an in vitro
BBB model that is highly reproducible due to the quality assurance methods, and that is suitable for research on BBB transporters and receptors.
Medicine, Issue 88, rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC), mouse, spinal cord, tight junction (TJ), receptor-mediated transport (RMT), low density lipoprotein (LDL), LDLR, transferrin, TfR, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER),
Flat Mount Preparation for Observation and Analysis of Zebrafish Embryo Specimens Stained by Whole Mount In situ Hybridization
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish embryo is now commonly used for basic and biomedical research to investigate the genetic control of developmental processes and to model congenital abnormalities. During the first day of life, the zebrafish embryo progresses through many developmental stages including fertilization, cleavage, gastrulation, segmentation, and the organogenesis of structures such as the kidney, heart, and central nervous system. The anatomy of a young zebrafish embryo presents several challenges for the visualization and analysis of the tissues involved in many of these events because the embryo develops in association with a round yolk mass. Thus, for accurate analysis and imaging of experimental phenotypes in fixed embryonic specimens between the tailbud and 20 somite stage (10 and 19 hours post fertilization (hpf), respectively), such as those stained using whole mount in situ
hybridization (WISH), it is often desirable to remove the embryo from the yolk ball and to position it flat on a glass slide. However, performing a flat mount procedure can be tedious. Therefore, successful and efficient flat mount preparation is greatly facilitated through the visual demonstration of the dissection technique, and also helped by using reagents that assist in optimal tissue handling. Here, we provide our WISH protocol for one or two-color detection of gene expression in the zebrafish embryo, and demonstrate how the flat mounting procedure can be performed on this example of a stained fixed specimen. This flat mounting protocol is broadly applicable to the study of many embryonic structures that emerge during early zebrafish development, and can be implemented in conjunction with other staining methods performed on fixed embryo samples.
Developmental Biology, Issue 89, animals, vertebrates, fishes, zebrafish, growth and development, morphogenesis, embryonic and fetal development, organogenesis, natural science disciplines, embryo, whole mount in situ hybridization, flat mount, deyolking, imaging
Recording Electrical Activity from Identified Neurons in the Intact Brain of Transgenic Fish
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Understanding the cell physiology of neural circuits that regulate complex behaviors is greatly enhanced by using model systems in which this work can be performed in an intact brain preparation where the neural circuitry of the CNS remains intact. We use transgenic fish in which gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons are genetically tagged with green fluorescent protein for identification in the intact brain. Fish have multiple populations of GnRH neurons, and their functions are dependent on their location in the brain and the GnRH gene that they express1
. We have focused our demonstration on GnRH3 neurons located in the terminal nerves (TN) associated with the olfactory bulbs using the intact brain of transgenic medaka fish (Figure 1B
). Studies suggest that medaka TN-GnRH3 neurons are neuromodulatory, acting as a transmitter of information from the external environment to the central nervous system; they do not play a direct role in regulating pituitary-gonadal functions, as do the well-known hypothalamic GnRH1 neurons2, 3
.The tonic pattern of spontaneous action potential firing of TN-GnRH3 neurons is an intrinsic property4-6
, the frequency of which is modulated by visual cues from conspecifics2
and the neuropeptide kisspeptin 15
. In this video, we use a stable line of transgenic medaka in which TN-GnRH3 neurons express a transgene containing the promoter region of Gnrh3
linked to enhanced green fluorescent protein7
to show you how to identify neurons and monitor their electrical activity in the whole brain preparation6
Neuroscience, Issue 74, Neurobiology, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Neuroendocrinology, Neurophysiology, Electrophysiology, Comparative, action potential, gonadotropin-releasing hormone, neuron, brain, teleost, animal model
Direct Imaging of ER Calcium with Targeted-Esterase Induced Dye Loading (TED)
Institutions: University of Wuerzburg, Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology, Martinsried, Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich.
Visualization of calcium dynamics is important to understand the role of calcium in cell physiology. To examine calcium dynamics, synthetic fluorescent Ca2+
indictors have become popular. Here we demonstrate TED (= targeted-esterase induced dye loading), a method to improve the release of Ca2+
indicator dyes in the ER lumen of different cell types. To date, TED was used in cell lines, glial cells, and neurons in vitro
. TED bases on efficient, recombinant targeting of a high carboxylesterase activity to the ER lumen using vector-constructs that express Carboxylesterases (CES). The latest TED vectors contain a core element of CES2 fused to a red fluorescent protein, thus enabling simultaneous two-color imaging. The dynamics of free calcium in the ER are imaged in one color, while the corresponding ER structure appears in red. At the beginning of the procedure, cells are transduced with a lentivirus. Subsequently, the infected cells are seeded on coverslips to finally enable live cell imaging. Then, living cells are incubated with the acetoxymethyl ester (AM-ester) form of low-affinity Ca2+
indicators, for instance Fluo5N-AM, Mag-Fluo4-AM, or Mag-Fura2-AM. The esterase activity in the ER cleaves off hydrophobic side chains from the AM form of the Ca2+
indicator and a hydrophilic fluorescent dye/Ca2+
complex is formed and trapped in the ER lumen. After dye loading, the cells are analyzed at an inverted confocal laser scanning microscope. Cells are continuously perfused with Ringer-like solutions and the ER calcium dynamics are directly visualized by time-lapse imaging. Calcium release from the ER is identified by a decrease in fluorescence intensity in regions of interest, whereas the refilling of the ER calcium store produces an increase in fluorescence intensity. Finally, the change in fluorescent intensity over time is determined by calculation of ΔF/F0
Cellular Biology, Issue 75, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Bioengineering, Virology, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Surgery, Endoplasmic Reticulum, ER, Calcium Signaling, calcium store, calcium imaging, calcium indicator, metabotropic signaling, Ca2+, neurons, cells, mouse, animal model, cell culture, targeted esterase induced dye loading, imaging
Analysis of Nephron Composition and Function in the Adult Zebrafish Kidney
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish model has emerged as a relevant system to study kidney development, regeneration and disease. Both the embryonic and adult zebrafish kidneys are composed of functional units known as nephrons, which are highly conserved with other vertebrates, including mammals. Research in zebrafish has recently demonstrated that two distinctive phenomena transpire after adult nephrons incur damage: first, there is robust regeneration within existing nephrons that replaces the destroyed tubule epithelial cells; second, entirely new nephrons are produced from renal progenitors in a process known as neonephrogenesis. In contrast, humans and other mammals seem to have only a limited ability for nephron epithelial regeneration. To date, the mechanisms responsible for these kidney regeneration phenomena remain poorly understood. Since adult zebrafish kidneys undergo both nephron epithelial regeneration and neonephrogenesis, they provide an outstanding experimental paradigm to study these events. Further, there is a wide range of genetic and pharmacological tools available in the zebrafish model that can be used to delineate the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate renal regeneration. One essential aspect of such research is the evaluation of nephron structure and function. This protocol describes a set of labeling techniques that can be used to gauge renal composition and test nephron functionality in the adult zebrafish kidney. Thus, these methods are widely applicable to the future phenotypic characterization of adult zebrafish kidney injury paradigms, which include but are not limited to, nephrotoxicant exposure regimes or genetic methods of targeted cell death such as the nitroreductase mediated cell ablation technique. Further, these methods could be used to study genetic perturbations in adult kidney formation and could also be applied to assess renal status during chronic disease modeling.
Cellular Biology, Issue 90,
zebrafish; kidney; nephron; nephrology; renal; regeneration; proximal tubule; distal tubule; segment; mesonephros; physiology; acute kidney injury (AKI)
A Practical Approach to Genetic Inducible Fate Mapping: A Visual Guide to Mark and Track Cells In Vivo
Institutions: Brown University, Brown University.
Fate maps are generated by marking and tracking cells in vivo to determine how progenitors contribute to specific structures and cell types in developing and adult tissue. An advance in this concept is Genetic Inducible Fate Mapping (GIFM), linking gene expression, cell fate, and cell behaviors in vivo, to create fate maps based on genetic lineage.
GIFM exploits X-CreER
lines where X is a gene or set of gene regulatory elements that confers spatial expression of a modified bacteriophage protein, Cre recombinase (CreERT
contains a modified estrogen receptor ligand binding domain which renders CreERT
sequestered in the cytoplasm in the absence of the drug tamoxifen. The binding of tamoxifen releases CreERT
, which translocates to the nucleus and mediates recombination between DNA sequences flanked by loxP sites. In GIFM, recombination typically occurs between a loxP flanked Stop cassette preceding a reporter gene such as GFP.
Mice are bred to contain either a region- or cell type-specific CreER
and a conditional reporter allele. Untreated mice will not have marking because the Stop cassette in the reporter prevents further transcription of the reporter gene. We administer tamoxifen by oral gavage to timed-pregnant females, which provides temporal control of CreERT
release and subsequent translocation to the nucleus removing the Stop cassette from the reporter. Following recombination, the reporter allele is constitutively and heritably expressed. This series of events marks cells such that their genetic history is indelibly recorded. The recombined reporter thus serves as a high fidelity genetic lineage tracer that, once on, is uncoupled from the gene expression initially used to drive CreERT
We apply GIFM in mouse to study normal development and ascertain the contribution of genetic lineages to adult cell types and tissues. We also use GIFM to follow cells on mutant genetic backgrounds to better understand complex phenotypes that mimic salient features of human genetic disorders.
This video article guides researchers through experimental methods to successfully apply GIFM. We demonstrate the method using our well characterized Wnt1-CreERT;mGFP
mice by administering tamoxifen at embryonic day (E)8.5 via oral gavage followed by dissection at E12.5 and analysis by epifluorescence stereomicroscopy. We also demonstrate how to micro-dissect fate mapped domains for explant preparation or FACS analysis and dissect adult fate-mapped brains for whole mount fluorescent imaging. Collectively, these procedures allow researchers to address critical questions in developmental biology and disease models.
Developmental Biology, Issue 34, neurodevelopment, genetics, genetic inducible fate mapping (GIFM), immunostaining, mouse, embryo, GIFM, lineage tracer, fate mapping
A Rapid Approach to High-Resolution Fluorescence Imaging in Semi-Thick Brain Slices
Institutions: Baylor College of Medicine (BCM), Precisionary Instruments Inc., Baylor College of Medicine (BCM), Texas Children's Hospital.
A fundamental goal to both basic and clinical neuroscience is to better understand the identities, molecular makeup, and patterns of connectivity that are characteristic to neurons in both normal and diseased brain. Towards this, a great deal of effort has been placed on building high-resolution neuroanatomical maps1-3
. With the expansion of molecular genetics and advances in light microscopy has come the ability to query not only neuronal morphologies, but also the molecular and cellular makeup of individual neurons and their associated networks4
. Major advances in the ability to mark and manipulate neurons through transgenic and gene targeting technologies in the rodent now allow investigators to 'program' neuronal subsets at will5-6
. Arguably, one of the most influential contributions to contemporary neuroscience has been the discovery and cloning of genes encoding fluorescent proteins (FPs) in marine invertebrates7-8
, alongside their subsequent engineering to yield an ever-expanding toolbox of vital reporters9
. Exploiting cell type-specific promoter activity to drive targeted FP expression in discrete neuronal populations now affords neuroanatomical investigation with genetic precision.
Engineering FP expression in neurons has vastly improved our understanding of brain structure and function. However, imaging individual neurons and their associated networks in deep brain tissues, or in three dimensions, has remained a challenge. Due to high lipid content, nervous tissue is rather opaque and exhibits auto fluorescence. These inherent biophysical properties make it difficult to visualize and image fluorescently labelled neurons at high resolution using standard epifluorescent or confocal microscopy beyond depths of tens of microns. To circumvent this challenge investigators often employ serial thin-section imaging and reconstruction methods10
, or 2-photon laser scanning microscopy11
. Current drawbacks to these approaches are the associated labor-intensive tissue preparation, or cost-prohibitive instrumentation respectively.
Here, we present a relatively rapid and simple method to visualize fluorescently labelled cells in fixed semi-thick mouse brain slices by optical clearing and imaging. In the attached protocol we describe the methods of: 1) fixing brain tissue in situ
via intracardial perfusion, 2) dissection and removal of whole brain, 3) stationary brain embedding in agarose, 4) precision semi-thick slice preparation using new vibratome instrumentation, 5) clearing brain tissue through a glycerol gradient, and 6) mounting on glass slides for light microscopy and z-stack reconstruction (Figure 1
For preparing brain slices we implemented a relatively new piece of instrumentation called the 'Compresstome' VF-200 (https://www.precisionary.com/products_vf200.html). This instrument is a semi-automated microtome equipped with a motorized advance and blade vibration system with features similar in function to other vibratomes. Unlike other vibratomes, the tissue to be sliced is mounted in an agarose plug within a stainless steel cylinder. The tissue is extruded at desired thicknesses from the cylinder, and cut by the forward advancing vibrating blade. The agarose plug/cylinder system allows for reproducible tissue mounting, alignment, and precision cutting. In our hands, the 'Compresstome' yields high quality tissue slices for electrophysiology, immunohistochemistry, and direct fixed-tissue mounting and imaging. Combined with optical clearing, here we demonstrate the preparation of semi-thick fixed brain slices for high-resolution fluorescent imaging.
Neuroscience, Issue 53, nervous tissue, neurons, confocal, epifluorescent, imaging, clearing, fluorescent proteins
Mapping and Application of Enhancer-trap Flippase Expression in Larval and Adult Drosophila CNS
Institutions: University of Oklahoma - Norman, Brandeis University.
The Gal4/ UAS binary method is powerful for gene and neural circuitry manipulation in Drosophila
. For most neurobiological studies, however, Gal4 expression is rarely tissue-specific enough to allow for precise correlation of the circuit with behavioral readouts. To overcome this major hurdle, we recently developed the FINGR method to achieve a more restrictive Gal4 expression in the tissue of interest. The FINGR method has three components: 1) the traditional Gal4/UAS system; 2) a set of FLP/FRT-mediated Gal80 converting tools; and 3) enhancer-trap FLP (ET-FLP). Gal4 is used to define the primary neural circuitry of interest. Paring the Gal4 with a UAS-effector, such as UAS-MJD78Q or UAS-Shits
, regulates the neuronal activity, which is in turn manifested by alterations in the fly behavior. With an additional UAS-reporter such as UAS-GFP, the neural circuit involved in the specific behavior can be simultaneously mapped for morphological analysis. For Gal4 lines with broad expression, Gal4 expression can be restricted by using two complementary Gal80-converting tools: tubP
>Gal80> ('flip out') and tubP
>stop>Gal80 ('flip in'). Finally, investigators can turn Gal80 on or off, respectively, with the help of tissue-specific ET-FLP. In the flip-in mode, Gal80 will repress Gal4 expression wherever Gal4 and ET-FLP intersect. In the flip-out mode, Gal80 will relieve Gal4 repression in cells in which Gal4 and FLP overlap. Both approaches enable the restriction of the number of cells in the Gal4-defined circuitry, but in an inverse pattern. The FINGR method is compatible with the vast collection of Gal4 lines in the fly community and highly versatile for traditional clonal analysis and for neural circuit mapping. In this protocol, we demonstrate the mapping of FLP expression patterns in select ET-FLPx2 lines and the effectiveness of the FINGR method in photoreceptor cells. The principle of the FINGR method should also be applicable to other genetic model organisms in which Gal4/UAS, Gal80, and FLP/FRT are used.
Neuroscience, Issue 52, UAS, Gal4, Gal80, Flippase, FRT, Clonal analysis, Behavior, Drosophila
A Novel RFP Reporter to Aid in the Visualization of the Eye Imaginal Disc in Drosophila
Institutions: King's College London.
eye is a powerful model system for studying areas such as neurogenesis, signal transduction and neurodegeneration. Many of the discoveries made using this system have taken advantage of the spatiotemporal nature of photoreceptor differentiation in the developing eye imaginal disc. To use this system it is first necessary for the researcher to learn to identify and dissect the eye disc. We describe a novel RFP reporter to aid in the identification of the eye disc and the visualization of specific cell types in the developing eye. We detail a methodology for dissection of the eye imaginal disc from third instar larvae and describe how the eye-RFP reporter can aid in this dissection. This eye-RFP reporter is only expressed in the eye and can be visualized using fluorescence microscopy either in live tissue or after fixation without the need for signal amplification. We also show how this reporter can be used to identify specific cells types within the eye disc. This protocol and the use of the eye-RFP reporter will aid researchers using the Drosophila
eye to address fundamentally important biological questions.
Cellular Biology, Issue 34, fluorescence microscopy, Drosophila, eye, RFP, dissection, imaginal disc
Deciphering Axonal Pathways of Genetically Defined Groups of Neurons in the Chick Neural Tube Utilizing in ovo Electroporation
Institutions: Institute for Medical Research Israel Canada, Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School.
Employment of enhancer elements to drive expression of reporter genes in neurons is a widely used paradigm for tracking axonal projection. For tracking axonal projection of spinal interneurons in vertebrates, germ line-targeted reporter genes yield bilaterally symmetric labeling. Therefore, it is hard to distinguish between the ipsi- and contra-laterally projecting axons. Unilateral electroporation into the chick neural tube provides a useful means to restrict expression of a reporter gene to one side of the central nervous system, and to follow axonal projection on both sides 1 ,2-5
. This video demonstrates first how to handle the eggs prior to injection. At HH stage 18-20, DNA is injected into the sacral level of the neural tube, then tungsten electrodes are placed parallel to the embryo and short electrical pulses are administered with a pulse generator. The egg is sealed with tape and placed back into an incubator for further development. Three days later (E6) the spinal cord is removed as an open book preparation from embryo, fixed, and processed for whole mount antibody staining. The stained spinal cord is mounted on slide and visualized using confocal microscopy.
Neuroscience, Issue 39, in ovo electroporation, neural tube, chick, interneurons, axonal pathway