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.
26 Related JoVE Articles!
Determination of the Gas-phase Acidities of Oligopeptides
Institutions: University of the Pacific.
Amino acid residues located at different positions in folded proteins often exhibit different degrees of acidities. For example, a cysteine residue located at or near the N-terminus of a helix is often more acidic than that at or near the C-terminus 1-6
. Although extensive experimental studies on the acid-base properties of peptides have been carried out in the condensed phase, in particular in aqueous solutions 6-8
, the results are often complicated by solvent effects 7
. In fact, most of the active sites in proteins are located near the interior region where solvent effects have been minimized 9,10
. In order to understand intrinsic acid-base properties of peptides and proteins, it is important to perform the studies in a solvent-free environment.
We present a method to measure the acidities of oligopeptides in the gas-phase. We use a cysteine-containing oligopeptide, Ala3
CH), as the model compound. The measurements are based on the well-established extended Cooks kinetic method (Figure 1
. The experiments are carried out using a triple-quadrupole mass spectrometer interfaced with an electrospray ionization (ESI) ion source (Figure 2
). For each peptide sample, several reference acids are selected. The reference acids are structurally similar organic compounds with known gas-phase acidities. A solution of the mixture of the peptide and a reference acid is introduced into the mass spectrometer, and a gas-phase proton-bound anionic cluster of peptide-reference acid is formed. The proton-bound cluster is mass isolated and subsequently fragmented via collision-induced dissociation (CID) experiments. The resulting fragment ion abundances are analyzed using a relationship between the acidities and the cluster ion dissociation kinetics. The gas-phase acidity of the peptide is then obtained by linear regression of the thermo-kinetic plots 17,18
The method can be applied to a variety of molecular systems, including organic compounds, amino acids and their derivatives, oligonucleotides, and oligopeptides. By comparing the gas-phase acidities measured experimentally with those values calculated for different conformers, conformational effects on the acidities can be evaluated.
Chemistry, Issue 76, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Oligopeptide, gas-phase acidity, kinetic method, collision-induced dissociation, triple-quadrupole mass spectrometry, oligopeptides, peptides, mass spectrometry, MS
Orthogonal Protein Purification Facilitated by a Small Bispecific Affinity Tag
Institutions: Royal Institute of Technology.
Due to the high costs associated with purification of recombinant proteins the protocols need to be rationalized. For high-throughput efforts there is a demand for general methods that do not require target protein specific optimization1
. To achieve this, purification tags that genetically can be fused to the gene of interest are commonly used2
. The most widely used affinity handle is the hexa-histidine tag, which is suitable for purification under both native and denaturing conditions3
. The metabolic burden for producing the tag is low, but it does not provide as high specificity as competing affinity chromatography based strategies1,2
Here, a bispecific purification tag with two different binding sites on a 46 amino acid, small protein domain has been developed. The albumin-binding domain is derived from Streptococcal protein G and has a strong inherent affinity to human serum albumin (HSA). Eleven surface-exposed amino acids, not involved in albumin-binding4
, were genetically randomized to produce a combinatorial library. The protein library with the novel randomly arranged binding surface (Figure 1) was expressed on phage particles to facilitate selection of binders by phage display technology. Through several rounds of biopanning against a dimeric Z-domain derived from Staphylococcal protein A5
, a small, bispecific molecule with affinity for both HSA and the novel target was identified6
The novel protein domain, referred to as ABDz1, was evaluated as a purification tag for a selection of target proteins with different molecular weight, solubility and isoelectric point. Three target proteins were expressed in Escherishia coli
with the novel tag fused to their N-termini and thereafter affinity purified. Initial purification on either a column with immobilized HSA or Z-domain resulted in relatively pure products. Two-step affinity purification with the bispecific tag resulted in substantial improvement of protein purity. Chromatographic media with the Z-domain immobilized, for example MabSelect SuRe, are readily available for purification of antibodies and HSA can easily be chemically coupled to media to provide the second matrix.
This method is especially advantageous when there is a high demand on purity of the recovered target protein. The bifunctionality of the tag allows two different chromatographic steps to be used while the metabolic burden on the expression host is limited due to the small size of the tag. It provides a competitive alternative to so called combinatorial tagging where multiple tags are used in combination1,7
Molecular Biology, Issue 59, Affinity chromatography, albumin-binding domain, human serum albumin, Z-domain
Assessing Two-dimensional Crystallization Trials of Small Membrane Proteins for Structural Biology Studies by Electron Crystallography
Institutions: Georgia Institute of Technology, RWTH Aachen University, Georgia Institute of Technology.
Electron crystallography has evolved as a method that can be used either alternatively or in combination with three-dimensional crystallization and X-ray crystallography to study structure-function questions of membrane proteins, as well as soluble proteins. Screening for two-dimensional (2D) crystals by transmission electron microscopy (EM) is the critical step in finding, optimizing, and selecting samples for high-resolution data collection by cryo-EM. Here we describe the fundamental steps in identifying both large and ordered, as well as small 2D arrays, that can potentially supply critical information for optimization of crystallization conditions.
By working with different magnifications at the EM, data on a range of critical parameters is obtained. Lower magnification supplies valuable data on the morphology and membrane size. At higher magnifications, possible order and 2D crystal dimensions are determined. In this context, it is described how CCD cameras and online-Fourier Transforms are used at higher magnifications to assess proteoliposomes for order and size.
While 2D crystals of membrane proteins are most commonly grown by reconstitution by dialysis, the screening technique is equally applicable for crystals produced with the help of monolayers, native 2D crystals, and ordered arrays of soluble proteins. In addition, the methods described here are applicable to the screening for 2D crystals of even smaller as well as larger membrane proteins, where smaller proteins require the same amount of care in identification as our examples and the lattice of larger proteins might be more easily identifiable at earlier stages of the screening.
Cellular Biology, Issue 44, membrane protein, structure, two-dimensional crystallization, electron crystallography, electron microscopy, screening
The ITS2 Database
Institutions: University of Würzburg, University of Würzburg.
The internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS2) has been used as a phylogenetic marker for more than two decades. As ITS2 research mainly focused on the very variable ITS2 sequence, it confined this marker to low-level phylogenetics only. However, the combination of the ITS2 sequence and its highly conserved secondary structure improves the phylogenetic resolution1
and allows phylogenetic inference at multiple taxonomic ranks, including species delimitation2-8
The ITS2 Database9
presents an exhaustive dataset of internal transcribed spacer 2 sequences from NCBI GenBank11
. Following an annotation by profile Hidden Markov Models (HMMs), the secondary structure of each sequence is predicted. First, it is tested whether a minimum energy based fold12
(direct fold) results in a correct, four helix conformation. If this is not the case, the structure is predicted by homology modeling13
. In homology modeling, an already known secondary structure is transferred to another ITS2 sequence, whose secondary structure was not able to fold correctly in a direct fold.
The ITS2 Database is not only a database for storage and retrieval of ITS2 sequence-structures. It also provides several tools to process your own ITS2 sequences, including annotation, structural prediction, motif detection and BLAST14
search on the combined sequence-structure information. Moreover, it integrates trimmed versions of 4SALE15,16
for multiple sequence-structure alignment calculation and Neighbor Joining18
tree reconstruction. Together they form a coherent analysis pipeline from an initial set of sequences to a phylogeny based on sequence and secondary structure.
In a nutshell, this workbench simplifies first phylogenetic analyses to only a few mouse-clicks, while additionally providing tools and data for comprehensive large-scale analyses.
Genetics, Issue 61, alignment, internal transcribed spacer 2, molecular systematics, secondary structure, ribosomal RNA, phylogenetic tree, homology modeling, phylogeny
A Rapid and Specific Microplate Assay for the Determination of Intra- and Extracellular Ascorbate in Cultured Cells
Institutions: University of Sydney, Monash University.
Vitamin C (ascorbate) plays numerous important roles in cellular metabolism, many of which have only come to light in recent years. For instance, within the brain, ascorbate acts in a neuroprotective and neuromodulatory manner that involves ascorbate cycling between neurons and vicinal astrocytes - a relationship that appears to be crucial for brain ascorbate homeostasis. Additionally, emerging evidence strongly suggests that ascorbate has a greatly expanded role in regulating cellular and systemic iron metabolism than is classically recognized. The increasing recognition of the integral role of ascorbate in normal and deregulated cellular and organismal physiology demands a range of medium-throughput and high-sensitivity analytic techniques that can be executed without the need for highly expensive specialist equipment. Here we provide explicit instructions for a medium-throughput, specific and relatively inexpensive microplate assay for the determination of both intra- and extracellular ascorbate in cell culture.
Biochemistry, Issue 86, Vitamin C, Ascorbate, Cell swelling, Glutamate, Microplate assay, Astrocytes
High Resolution Electron Microscopy of the Helicobacter pylori Cag Type IV Secretion System Pili Produced in Varying Conditions of Iron Availability
Institutions: Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, U. S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs.
is a helical-shaped, gram negative bacterium that colonizes the human gastric niche of half of the human population1,2
. H. pylori
is the primary cause of gastric cancer, the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide3
. One virulence factor that has been associated with increased risk of gastric disease is the Cag-pathogenicity island, a 40-kb region within the chromosome of H. pylori
that encodes a type IV secretion system and the cognate effector molecule, CagA4,5
. The Cag-T4SS is responsible for translocating CagA and peptidoglycan into host epithelial cells5,6
. The activity of the Cag-T4SS results in numerous changes in host cell biology including upregulation of cytokine expression, activation of proinflammatory pathways, cytoskeletal remodeling, and induction of oncogenic cell-signaling networks5-8
. The Cag-T4SS is a macromolecular machine comprised of sub-assembly components spanning the inner and outer membrane and extending outward from the cell into the extracellular space. The extracellular portion of the Cag-T4SS is referred to as the “pilus”5
. Numerous studies have demonstrated that the Cag-T4SS pili are formed at the host-pathogen interface9,10
. However, the environmental features that regulate the biogenesis of this important organelle remain largely obscure. Recently, we reported that conditions of low iron availability increased the Cag-T4SS activity and pilus biogenesis. Here we present an optimized protocol to grow H. pylori
in varying conditions of iron availability prior to co-culture with human gastric epithelial cells. Further, we present the comprehensive protocol for visualization of the hyper-piliated phenotype exhibited in iron restricted conditions by high resolution scanning electron microscopy analyses.
Infection, Issue 93, Helicobacter pylori, iron acquisition, cag pathogenicity island, type IV secretion, pili
Electrophoretic Mobility Shift Assay (EMSA) for the Study of RNA-Protein Interactions: The IRE/IRP Example
Institutions: Jewish General Hospital, McGill University.
RNA/protein interactions are critical for post-transcriptional regulatory pathways. Among the best-characterized cytosolic RNA-binding proteins are iron regulatory proteins
, IRP1 and IRP2. They bind to iron responsive elements (IREs) within the untranslated regions (UTRs) of several target mRNAs, thereby controlling the mRNAs translation or stability. IRE/IRP interactions have been widely studied by EMSA. Here, we describe the EMSA protocol for analyzing the IRE-binding activity of IRP1 and IRP2, which can be generalized to assess the activity of other RNA-binding proteins as well. A crude protein lysate containing an RNA-binding protein, or a purified preparation of this protein, is incubated with an excess of32
P-labeled RNA probe, allowing for complex formation. Heparin is added to preclude non-specific protein to probe binding. Subsequently, the mixture is analyzed by non-denaturing electrophoresis on a polyacrylamide gel. The free probe migrates fast, while the RNA/protein complex exhibits retarded mobility; hence, the procedure is also called “gel retardation” or “bandshift” assay. After completion of the electrophoresis, the gel is dried and RNA/protein complexes, as well as free probe, are detected by autoradiography. The overall goal of the protocol is to detect and quantify IRE/IRP and other RNA/protein interactions. Moreover, EMSA can also be used to determine specificity, binding affinity, and stoichiometry of the RNA/protein interaction under investigation.
Biochemistry, Issue 94, RNA metabolism, mRNA translation, post-transcriptional gene regulation, mRNA stability, IRE, IRP1, IRP2, iron metabolism, ferritin, transferrin receptor
Measuring Cation Transport by Na,K- and H,K-ATPase in Xenopus Oocytes by Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometry: An Alternative to Radioisotope Assays
Institutions: Technical University of Berlin, Oregon Health & Science University.
Whereas cation transport by the electrogenic membrane transporter Na+
-ATPase can be measured by electrophysiology, the electroneutrally operating gastric H+
-ATPase is more difficult to investigate. Many transport assays utilize radioisotopes to achieve a sufficient signal-to-noise ratio, however, the necessary security measures impose severe restrictions regarding human exposure or assay design. Furthermore, ion transport across cell membranes is critically influenced by the membrane potential, which is not straightforwardly controlled in cell culture or in proteoliposome preparations. Here, we make use of the outstanding sensitivity of atomic absorption spectrophotometry (AAS) towards trace amounts of chemical elements to measure Rb+
transport by Na+
- or gastric H+
-ATPase in single cells. Using Xenopus
oocytes as expression system, we determine the amount of Rb+
) transported into the cells by measuring samples of single-oocyte homogenates in an AAS device equipped with a transversely heated graphite atomizer (THGA) furnace, which is loaded from an autosampler. Since the background of unspecific Rb+
uptake into control oocytes or during application of ATPase-specific inhibitors is very small, it is possible to implement complex kinetic assay schemes involving a large number of experimental conditions simultaneously, or to compare the transport capacity and kinetics of site-specifically mutated transporters with high precision. Furthermore, since cation uptake is determined on single cells, the flux experiments can be carried out in combination with two-electrode voltage-clamping (TEVC) to achieve accurate control of the membrane potential and current. This allowed e.g.
to quantitatively determine the 3Na+
transport stoichiometry of the Na+
-ATPase and enabled for the first time to investigate the voltage dependence of cation transport by the electroneutrally operating gastric H+
-ATPase. In principle, the assay is not limited to K+
-transporting membrane proteins, but it may work equally well to address the activity of heavy or transition metal transporters, or uptake of chemical elements by endocytotic processes.
Biochemistry, Issue 72, Chemistry, Biophysics, Bioengineering, Physiology, Molecular Biology, electrochemical processes, physical chemistry, spectrophotometry (application), spectroscopic chemical analysis (application), life sciences, temperature effects (biological, animal and plant), Life Sciences (General), Na+,K+-ATPase, H+,K+-ATPase, Cation Uptake, P-type ATPases, Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometry (AAS), Two-Electrode Voltage-Clamp, Xenopus Oocytes, Rb+ Flux, Transversely Heated Graphite Atomizer (THGA) Furnace, electrophysiology, animal model
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
Use of Galleria mellonella as a Model Organism to Study Legionella pneumophila Infection
Institutions: Imperial College London.
, the causative agent of a severe pneumonia named Legionnaires' disease, is an important human pathogen that infects and replicates within alveolar macrophages. Its virulence depends on the Dot/Icm type IV secretion system (T4SS), which is essential to establish a replication permissive vacuole known as the Legionella
containing vacuole (LCV). L. pneumophila
infection can be modeled in mice however most mouse strains are not permissive, leading to the search for novel infection models. We have recently shown that the larvae of the wax moth Galleria mellonella
are suitable for investigation of L. pneumophila
infection. G. mellonella
is increasingly used as an infection model for human pathogens and a good correlation exists between virulence of several bacterial species in the insect and in mammalian models. A key component of the larvae's immune defenses are hemocytes, professional phagocytes, which take up and destroy invaders. L. pneumophila
is able to infect, form a LCV and replicate within these cells. Here we demonstrate protocols for analyzing L. pneumophila
virulence in the G. mellonella
model, including how to grow infectious L. pneumophila
, pretreat the larvae with inhibitors, infect the larvae and how to extract infected cells for quantification and immunofluorescence microscopy. We also describe how to quantify bacterial replication and fitness in competition assays. These approaches allow for the rapid screening of mutants to determine factors important in L. pneumophila
virulence, describing a new tool to aid our understanding of this complex pathogen.
Infection, Issue 81, Bacterial Infections, Infection, Disease Models, Animal, Bacterial Infections and Mycoses, Galleria mellonella, Legionella pneumophila, insect model, bacterial infection, Legionnaires' disease, haemocytes
A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli
and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9
addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments.
A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli
to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2
) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia
were transformed into E. coli
. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA
gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans
was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH
and ALDH (
originating from G. thermodenitrificans
) were introduced10,11
. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed.
To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli
K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources.
The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii
OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g.
under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n
-hexane in the culture medium were observed.
Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli
to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
Assessment of Immunologically Relevant Dynamic Tertiary Structural Features of the HIV-1 V3 Loop Crown R2 Sequence by ab initio Folding
Institutions: School of Medicine, New York University.
The antigenic diversity of HIV-1 has long been an obstacle to vaccine design, and this variability is especially pronounced in the V3 loop of the virus' surface envelope glycoprotein. We previously proposed that the crown of the V3 loop, although dynamic and sequence variable, is constrained throughout the population of HIV-1 viruses to an immunologically relevant β-hairpin tertiary structure. Importantly, there are thousands of different V3 loop crown sequences in circulating HIV-1 viruses, making 3D structural characterization of trends across the diversity of viruses difficult or impossible by crystallography or NMR. Our previous successful studies with folding of the V3 crown1, 2
used the ab initio
accessible in the ICM-Pro molecular modeling software package (Molsoft LLC, La Jolla, CA) and suggested that the crown of the V3 loop, specifically from positions 10 to 22, benefits sufficiently from the flexibility and length of its flanking stems to behave to a large degree as if it were an unconstrained peptide freely folding in solution. As such, rapid ab initio
folding of just this portion of the V3 loop of any individual strain of the 60,000+ circulating HIV-1 strains can be informative. Here, we folded the V3 loop of the R2 strain to gain insight into the structural basis of its unique properties. R2 bears a rare V3 loop sequence thought to be responsible for the exquisite sensitivity of this strain to neutralization by patient sera and monoclonal antibodies4, 5
. The strain mediates CD4-independent infection and appears to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies. We demonstrate how evaluation of the results of the folding can be informative for associating observed structures in the folding with the immunological activities observed for R2.
Infection, Issue 43, HIV-1, structure-activity relationships, ab initio simulations, antibody-mediated neutralization, vaccine design
Structure of HIV-1 Capsid Assemblies by Cryo-electron Microscopy and Iterative Helical Real-space Reconstruction
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), combined with image processing, is an increasingly powerful tool for structure determination of macromolecular protein complexes and assemblies. In fact, single particle electron microscopy1
and two-dimensional (2D) electron crystallography2
have become relatively routine methodologies and a large number of structures have been solved using these methods. At the same time, image processing and three-dimensional (3D) reconstruction of helical objects has rapidly developed, especially, the iterative helical real-space reconstruction (IHRSR) method3
, which uses single particle analysis tools in conjunction with helical symmetry. Many biological entities function in filamentous or helical forms, including actin filaments4
, amyloid fibers6
, tobacco mosaic viruses7
, and bacteria flagella8
, and, because a 3D density map of a helical entity can be attained from a single projection image, compared to the many images required for 3D reconstruction of a non-helical object, with the IHRSR method, structural analysis of such flexible and disordered helical assemblies is now attainable.
In this video article, we provide detailed protocols for obtaining a 3D density map of a helical protein assembly (HIV-1 capsid9
is our example), including protocols for cryo-EM specimen preparation, low dose data collection by cryo-EM, indexing of helical diffraction patterns, and image processing and 3D reconstruction using IHRSR. Compared to other techniques, cryo-EM offers optimal specimen preservation under near native conditions. Samples are embedded in a thin layer of vitreous ice, by rapid freezing, and imaged in electron microscopes at liquid nitrogen temperature, under low dose conditions to minimize the radiation damage. Sample images are obtained under near native conditions at the expense of low signal and low contrast in the recorded micrographs. Fortunately, the process of helical reconstruction has largely been automated, with the exception of indexing the helical diffraction pattern. Here, we describe an approach to index helical structure and determine helical symmetries (helical parameters) from digitized micrographs, an essential step for 3D helical reconstruction. Briefly, we obtain an initial 3D density map by applying the IHRSR method. This initial map is then iteratively refined by introducing constraints for the alignment parameters of each segment, thus controlling their degrees of freedom. Further improvement is achieved by correcting for the contrast transfer function (CTF) of the electron microscope (amplitude and phase correction) and by optimizing the helical symmetry of the assembly.
Immunology, Issue 54, cryo-electron microscopy, helical indexing, helical real-space reconstruction, tubular assemblies, HIV-1 capsid
Transmembrane Domain Oligomerization Propensity determined by ToxR Assay
Institutions: University of Colorado at Boulder.
The oversimplified view of protein transmembrane domains as merely anchors in phospholipid bilayers has long since been disproven. In many cases membrane-spanning proteins have evolved highly sophisticated mechanisms of action.1-3
One way in which membrane proteins can modulate their structures and functions is by direct and specific contact of hydrophobic helices, forming structured transmembrane oligomers.4,5
Much recent work has focused on the distribution of amino acids preferentially found in the membrane environment in comparison to aqueous solution and the different intermolecular forces that drive protein association.6,7
Nevertheless, studies of molecular recognition at the transmembrane domain of proteins still lags behind those of water-soluble regions. A major hurdle remains: despite the remarkable specificity and affinity that transmembrane oligomerization can achieve,8
direct measurement of their association is challenging. Traditional methodologies applied to the study of integral membrane protein function can be hampered by the inherent insolubility of the sequences under examination. Biophysical insights gained from studying synthetic peptides representing transmembrane domains can provide useful structural insight. However, the biological relevance of the detergent micellar or liposome systems used in these studies to mimic cellular membranes is often questioned; do peptides adopt a native-like structure under these conditions and does their functional behaviour truly reflect the mode of action within a native membrane? In order to study the interactions of transmembrane sequences in natural phospholipid bilayers, the Langosch lab developed ToxR transcriptional reporter assays.9
The transmembrane domain of interest is expressed as a chimeric protein with maltose binding protein for location to the periplasm and ToxR to provide a report of the level of oligomerization (Figure 1).
In the last decade, several other groups (e.g. Engelman, DeGrado, Shai) further optimized and applied this ToxR reporter assay.10-13
The various ToxR assays have become a gold standard to test protein-protein interactions in cell membranes. We herein demonstrate a typical experimental operation conducted in our laboratory that primarily follows protocols developed by Langosch. This generally applicable method is useful for the analysis of transmembrane domain self-association in E. coli
, where β-galactosidase production is used to assess the TMD oligomerization propensity. Upon TMD-induced dimerization, ToxR binds to the ctx
promoter causing up-regulation of the LacZ
gene for β-galactosidase. A colorimetric readout is obtained by addition of ONPG to lyzed cells. Hydrolytic cleavage of ONPG by β-galactosidase results in the production of the light absorbing species o-nitrophenolate (ONP) (Figure 2).
Cellular Biology, Issue 51, Transmembrane domain, oligomerization, transcriptional reporter, ToxR, latent membrane protein-1
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (https://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
Optimized Negative Staining: a High-throughput Protocol for Examining Small and Asymmetric Protein Structure by Electron Microscopy
Institutions: The Molecular Foundry.
Structural determination of proteins is rather challenging for proteins with molecular masses between 40 - 200 kDa. Considering that more than half of natural proteins have a molecular mass between 40 - 200 kDa1,2
, a robust and high-throughput method with a nanometer resolution capability is needed. Negative staining (NS) electron microscopy (EM) is an easy, rapid, and qualitative approach which has frequently been used in research laboratories to examine protein structure and protein-protein interactions. Unfortunately, conventional NS protocols often generate structural artifacts on proteins, especially with lipoproteins that usually form presenting rouleaux artifacts. By using images of lipoproteins from cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) as a standard, the key parameters in NS specimen preparation conditions were recently screened and reported as the optimized NS protocol (OpNS), a modified conventional NS protocol 3
. Artifacts like rouleaux can be greatly limited by OpNS, additionally providing high contrast along with reasonably high‐resolution (near 1 nm) images of small and asymmetric proteins. These high-resolution and high contrast images are even favorable for an individual protein (a single object, no average) 3D reconstruction, such as a 160 kDa antibody, through the method of electron tomography4,5
. Moreover, OpNS can be a high‐throughput tool to examine hundreds of samples of small proteins. For example, the previously published mechanism of 53 kDa cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) involved the screening and imaging of hundreds of samples 6
. Considering cryo-EM rarely successfully images proteins less than 200 kDa has yet to publish any study involving screening over one hundred sample conditions, it is fair to call OpNS a high-throughput method for studying small proteins. Hopefully the OpNS protocol presented here can be a useful tool to push the boundaries of EM and accelerate EM studies into small protein structure, dynamics and mechanisms.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, small and asymmetric protein structure, electron microscopy, optimized negative staining
FtsZ Polymerization Assays: Simple Protocols and Considerations
Institutions: University of Groningen.
During bacterial cell division, the essential protein FtsZ assembles in the middle of the cell to form the so-called Z-ring. FtsZ polymerizes into long filaments in the presence of GTP in vitro
, and polymerization is regulated by several accessory proteins. FtsZ polymerization has been extensively studied in vitro
using basic methods including light scattering, sedimentation, GTP hydrolysis assays and electron microscopy. Buffer conditions influence both the polymerization properties of FtsZ, and the ability of FtsZ to interact with regulatory proteins. Here, we describe protocols for FtsZ polymerization studies and validate conditions and controls using Escherichia coli
and Bacillus subtilis
FtsZ as model proteins. A low speed sedimentation assay is introduced that allows the study of the interaction of FtsZ with proteins that bundle or tubulate FtsZ polymers. An improved GTPase assay protocol is described that allows testing of GTP hydrolysis over time using various conditions in a 96-well plate setup, with standardized incubation times that abolish variation in color development in the phosphate detection reaction. The preparation of samples for light scattering studies and electron microscopy is described. Several buffers are used to establish suitable buffer pH and salt concentration for FtsZ polymerization studies. A high concentration of KCl is the best for most of the experiments. Our methods provide a starting point for the in vitro
characterization of FtsZ, not only from E. coli
and B. subtilis
but from any other bacterium. As such, the methods can be used for studies of the interaction of FtsZ with regulatory proteins or the testing of antibacterial drugs which may affect FtsZ polymerization.
Basic Protocols, Issue 81, FtsZ, protein polymerization, cell division, GTPase, sedimentation assay, light scattering
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
Helical Organization of Blood Coagulation Factor VIII on Lipid Nanotubes
Institutions: University of Texas Medical Branch, University of Texas Medical Branch, University of Texas Medical Branch.
Cryo-electron microscopy (Cryo-EM)1
is a powerful approach to investigate the functional structure of proteins and complexes in a hydrated state and membrane environment2
Coagulation Factor VIII (FVIII)3
is a multi-domain blood plasma glycoprotein. Defect or deficiency of FVIII is the cause for Hemophilia type A - a severe bleeding disorder. Upon proteolytic activation, FVIII binds to the serine protease Factor IXa on the negatively charged platelet membrane, which is critical for normal blood clotting4
. Despite the pivotal role FVIII plays in coagulation, structural information for its membrane-bound state is incomplete5
. Recombinant FVIII concentrate is the most effective drug against Hemophilia type A and commercially available FVIII can be expressed as human or porcine, both forming functional complexes with human Factor IXa6,7
In this study we present a combination of Cryo-electron microscopy (Cryo-EM), lipid nanotechnology and structure analysis applied to resolve the membrane-bound structure of two highly homologous FVIII forms: human and porcine. The methodology developed in our laboratory to helically organize the two functional recombinant FVIII forms on negatively charged lipid nanotubes (LNT) is described. The representative results demonstrate that our approach is sufficiently sensitive to define the differences in the helical organization between the two highly homologous in sequence (86% sequence identity) proteins. Detailed protocols for the helical organization, Cryo-EM and electron tomography (ET) data acquisition are given. The two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) structure analysis applied to obtain the 3D reconstructions of human and porcine FVIII-LNT is discussed. The presented human and porcine FVIII-LNT structures show the potential of the proposed methodology to calculate the functional, membrane-bound organization of blood coagulation Factor VIII at high resolution.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, Cryo-electron microscopy, Lipid nanotubes, Helical assembly, Membrane-bound organization, Coagulation factor VIII
Reconstitution of a Kv Channel into Lipid Membranes for Structural and Functional Studies
Institutions: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.
To study the lipid-protein interaction in a reductionistic fashion, it is necessary to incorporate the membrane proteins into membranes of well-defined lipid composition. We are studying the lipid-dependent gating effects in a prototype voltage-gated potassium (Kv) channel, and have worked out detailed procedures to reconstitute the channels into different membrane systems. Our reconstitution procedures take consideration of both detergent-induced fusion of vesicles and the fusion of protein/detergent micelles with the lipid/detergent mixed micelles as well as the importance of reaching an equilibrium distribution of lipids among the protein/detergent/lipid and the detergent/lipid mixed micelles. Our data suggested that the insertion of the channels in the lipid vesicles is relatively random in orientations, and the reconstitution efficiency is so high that no detectable protein aggregates were seen in fractionation experiments. We have utilized the reconstituted channels to determine the conformational states of the channels in different lipids, record electrical activities of a small number of channels incorporated in planar lipid bilayers, screen for conformation-specific ligands from a phage-displayed peptide library, and support the growth of 2D crystals of the channels in membranes. The reconstitution procedures described here may be adapted for studying other membrane proteins in lipid bilayers, especially for the investigation of the lipid effects on the eukaryotic voltage-gated ion channels.
Molecular Biology, Issue 77, Biochemistry, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Structural Biology, Biophysics, Membrane Lipids, Phospholipids, Carrier Proteins, Membrane Proteins, Micelles, Molecular Motor Proteins, life sciences, biochemistry, Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, lipid-protein interaction, channel reconstitution, lipid-dependent gating, voltage-gated ion channel, conformation-specific ligands, lipids
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)
Analyzing Protein Dynamics Using Hydrogen Exchange Mass Spectrometry
Institutions: University of Heidelberg.
All cellular processes depend on the functionality of proteins. Although the functionality of a given protein is the direct consequence of its unique amino acid sequence, it is only realized by the folding of the polypeptide chain into a single defined three-dimensional arrangement or more commonly into an ensemble of interconverting conformations. Investigating the connection between protein conformation and its function is therefore essential for a complete understanding of how proteins are able to fulfill their great variety of tasks. One possibility to study conformational changes a protein undergoes while progressing through its functional cycle is hydrogen-1
H-exchange in combination with high-resolution mass spectrometry (HX-MS). HX-MS is a versatile and robust method that adds a new dimension to structural information obtained by e.g.
crystallography. It is used to study protein folding and unfolding, binding of small molecule ligands, protein-protein interactions, conformational changes linked to enzyme catalysis, and allostery. In addition, HX-MS is often used when the amount of protein is very limited or crystallization of the protein is not feasible. Here we provide a general protocol for studying protein dynamics with HX-MS and describe as an example how to reveal the interaction interface of two proteins in a complex.
Chemistry, Issue 81, Molecular Chaperones, mass spectrometers, Amino Acids, Peptides, Proteins, Enzymes, Coenzymes, Protein dynamics, conformational changes, allostery, protein folding, secondary structure, mass spectrometry
In Vitro Reconstitution of Light-harvesting Complexes of Plants and Green Algae
Institutions: VU University Amsterdam.
In plants and green algae, light is captured by the light-harvesting complexes (LHCs), a family of integral membrane proteins that coordinate chlorophylls and carotenoids. In vivo
, these proteins are folded with pigments to form complexes which are inserted in the thylakoid membrane of the chloroplast. The high similarity in the chemical and physical properties of the members of the family, together with the fact that they can easily lose pigments during isolation, makes their purification in a native state challenging. An alternative approach to obtain homogeneous preparations of LHCs was developed by Plumley and Schmidt in 19871
, who showed that it was possible to reconstitute these complexes in vitro
starting from purified pigments and unfolded apoproteins, resulting in complexes with properties very similar to that of native complexes. This opened the way to the use of bacterial expressed recombinant proteins for in vitro
reconstitution. The reconstitution method is powerful for various reasons: (1) pure preparations of individual complexes can be obtained, (2) pigment composition can be controlled to assess their contribution to structure and function, (3) recombinant proteins can be mutated to study the functional role of the individual residues (e.g.,
pigment binding sites) or protein domain (e.g.,
protein-protein interaction, folding). This method has been optimized in several laboratories and applied to most of the light-harvesting complexes. The protocol described here details the method of reconstituting light-harvesting complexes in vitro
currently used in our laboratory,
and examples describing applications of the method are provided.
Biochemistry, Issue 92, Reconstitution, Photosynthesis, Chlorophyll, Carotenoids, Light Harvesting Protein, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, Arabidopsis thaliana
Preparation of the Mgm101 Recombination Protein by MBP-based Tagging Strategy
Institutions: State University of New York Upstate Medical University.
gene was identified 20 years ago for its role in the maintenance of mitochondrial DNA. Studies from several groups have suggested that the Mgm101 protein is involved in the recombinational repair of mitochondrial DNA. Recent investigations have indicated that Mgm101 is related to the Rad52-type recombination protein family. These proteins form large oligomeric rings and promote the annealing of homologous single stranded DNA molecules. However, the characterization of Mgm101 has been hindered by the difficulty in producing the recombinant protein. Here, a reliable procedure for the preparation of recombinant Mgm101 is described. Maltose Binding Protein (MBP)-tagged Mgm101 is first expressed in Escherichia coli
. The fusion protein is initially purified by amylose affinity chromatography. After being released by proteolytic cleavage, Mgm101 is separated from MBP by cationic exchange chromatography. Monodispersed Mgm101 is then obtained by size exclusion chromatography. A yield of ~0.87 mg of Mgm101 per liter of bacterial culture can be routinely obtained. The recombinant Mgm101 has minimal contamination of DNA. The prepared samples are successfully used for biochemical, structural and single particle image analyses of Mgm101. This protocol may also be used for the preparation of other large oligomeric DNA-binding proteins that may be misfolded and toxic to bacterial cells.
Biochemistry, Issue 76, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Microbiology, Bacteria, Proteins, Mgm101, Rad52, mitochondria, recombination, mtDNA, maltose-binding protein, MBP, E. coli., yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, chromatography, electron microscopy, cell culture
Staphylococcus aureus Growth using Human Hemoglobin as an Iron Source
Institutions: Vanderbilt University Medical School.
is a pathogenic bacterium that requires iron to carry out vital metabolic functions and cause disease. The most abundant reservoir of iron inside the human host is heme, which is the cofactor of hemoglobin. To acquire iron from hemoglobin, S. aureus
utilizes an elaborate system known as the iron-regulated surface determinant (Isd) system1
. Components of the Isd system first bind host hemoglobin, then extract and import heme, and finally liberate iron from heme in the bacterial cytoplasm2,3
. This pathway has been dissected through numerous in vitro
. Further, the contribution of the Isd system to infection has been repeatedly demonstrated in mouse models8,10-14
. Establishing the contribution of the Isd system to hemoglobin-derived iron acquisition and growth has proven to be more challenging. Growth assays using hemoglobin as a sole iron source are complicated by the instability of commercially available hemoglobin, contaminating free iron in the growth medium, and toxicity associated with iron chelators. Here we present a method that overcomes these limitations. High quality hemoglobin is prepared from fresh blood and is stored in liquid nitrogen. Purified hemoglobin is supplemented into iron-deplete medium mimicking the iron-poor environment encountered by pathogens inside the vertebrate host. By starving S. aureus
of free iron and supplementing with a minimally manipulated form of hemoglobin we induce growth in a manner that is entirely dependent on the ability to bind hemoglobin, extract heme, pass heme through the bacterial cell envelope and degrade heme in the cytoplasm. This assay will be useful for researchers seeking to elucidate the mechanisms of hemoglobin-/heme-derived iron acquisition in S. aureus
and possibly other bacterial pathogens.
Infection, Issue 72, Immunology, Microbiology, Infectious Diseases, Cellular Biology, Pathology, Micronutrients, Bacterial Infections, Gram-Positive Bacterial Infections, Bacteriology, Staphylococcus aureus, iron acquisition, hemoglobin, bacterial growth, bacteria
Analyzing and Building Nucleic Acid Structures with 3DNA
Institutions: Rutgers - The State University of New Jersey, Columbia University .
The 3DNA software package is a popular and versatile bioinformatics tool with capabilities to analyze, construct, and visualize three-dimensional nucleic acid structures. This article presents detailed protocols for a subset of new and popular features available in 3DNA, applicable to both individual structures and ensembles of related structures. Protocol 1 lists the set of instructions needed to download and install the software. This is followed, in Protocol 2, by the analysis of a nucleic acid structure, including the assignment of base pairs and the determination of rigid-body parameters that describe the structure and, in Protocol 3, by a description of the reconstruction of an atomic model of a structure from its rigid-body parameters. The most recent version of 3DNA, version 2.1, has new features for the analysis and manipulation of ensembles of structures, such as those deduced from nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) measurements and molecular dynamic (MD) simulations; these features are presented in Protocols 4 and 5. In addition to the 3DNA stand-alone software package, the w3DNA web server, located at https://w3dna.rutgers.edu, provides a user-friendly interface to selected features of the software. Protocol 6 demonstrates a novel feature of the site for building models of long DNA molecules decorated with bound proteins at user-specified locations.
Genetics, Issue 74, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Bioengineering, Biophysics, Genomics, Chemical Biology, Quantitative Biology, conformational analysis, DNA, high-resolution structures, model building, molecular dynamics, nucleic acid structure, RNA, visualization, bioinformatics, three-dimensional, 3DNA, software