In the biological sciences there have been technological advances that catapult the discipline into golden ages of discovery. For example, the field of microbiology was transformed with the advent of Anton van Leeuwenhoek's microscope, which allowed scientists to visualize prokaryotes for the first time. The development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is one of those innovations that changed the course of molecular science with its impact spanning countless subdisciplines in biology. The theoretical process was outlined by Keppe and coworkers in 1971; however, it was another 14 years until the complete PCR procedure was described and experimentally applied by Kary Mullis while at Cetus Corporation in 1985. Automation and refinement of this technique progressed with the introduction of a thermal stable DNA polymerase from the bacterium Thermus aquaticus, consequently the name Taq DNA polymerase.
PCR is a powerful amplification technique that can generate an ample supply of a specific segment of DNA (i.e., an amplicon) from only a small amount of starting material (i.e., DNA template or target sequence). While straightforward and generally trouble-free, there are pitfalls that complicate the reaction producing spurious results. When PCR fails it can lead to many non-specific DNA products of varying sizes that appear as a ladder or smear of bands on agarose gels. Sometimes no products form at all. Another potential problem occurs when mutations are unintentionally introduced in the amplicons, resulting in a heterogeneous population of PCR products. PCR failures can become frustrating unless patience and careful troubleshooting are employed to sort out and solve the problem(s). This protocol outlines the basic principles of PCR, provides a methodology that will result in amplification of most target sequences, and presents strategies for optimizing a reaction. By following this PCR guide, students should be able to:
● Set up reactions and thermal cycling conditions for a conventional PCR experiment
● Understand the function of various reaction components and their overall effect on a PCR experiment
● Design and optimize a PCR experiment for any DNA template
● Troubleshoot failed PCR experiments
22 Related JoVE Articles!
MicroRNA Detection in Prostate Tumors by Quantitative Real-time PCR (qPCR)
Institutions: University of Toronto, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, Canada, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, Canada, Sunnybrook Research Institute.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are single-stranded, 18–24 nucleotide long, non-coding RNA molecules. They are involved in virtually every cellular process including development1
, and cell cycle regulation3
. MiRNAs are estimated to regulate the expression of 30% to 90% of human genes4
by binding to their target messenger RNAs (mRNAs)5
. Widespread dysregulation of miRNAs has been reported in various diseases and cancer subtypes6
. Due to their prevalence and unique structure, these small molecules are likely to be the next generation of biomarkers, therapeutic agents and/or targets.
Methods used to investigate miRNA expression include SYBR green I dye- based as well as Taqman-probe based qPCR. If miRNAs are to be effectively used in the clinical setting, it is imperative that their detection in fresh and/or archived clinical samples be accurate, reproducible, and specific. qPCR has been widely used for validating expression of miRNAs in whole genome analyses such as microarray studies7
. The samples used in this protocol were from patients who underwent radical prostatectomy for clinically localized prostate cancer; however other tissues and cell lines can be substituted in. Prostate specimens were snap-frozen in liquid nitrogen after resection. Clinical variables and follow-up information for each patient were collected for subsequent analysis8
Quantification of miRNA levels in prostate tumor samples
. The main steps in qPCR analysis of tumors are: Total RNA extraction, cDNA synthesis, and detection of qPCR products using miRNA-specific primers. Total RNA, which includes mRNA, miRNA, and other small RNAs were extracted from specimens using TRIzol reagent. Qiagen's miScript System was used to synthesize cDNA and perform qPCR (Figure 1
). Endogenous miRNAs are not polyadenylated, therefore during the reverse transcription process, a poly(A) polymerase polyadenylates the miRNA. The miRNA is used as a template to synthesize cDNA using oligo-dT and Reverse Transcriptase. A universal tag sequence on the 5' end of oligo-dT primers facilitates the amplification of cDNA in the PCR step. PCR product amplification is detected by the level of fluorescence emitted by SYBR Green, a dye which intercalates into double stranded DNA. Specific miRNA primers, along with a Universal Primer that binds to the universal tag sequence will amplify specific miRNA sequences.
The miScript Primer Assays are available for over a thousand human-specific miRNAs, and hundreds of murine-specific miRNAs. Relative quantification method was used here to quantify the expression of miRNAs. To correct for variability amongst different samples, expression levels of a target miRNA is normalized to the expression levels of a reference gene. The choice of a gene on which to normalize the expression of targets is critical in relative quantification method of analysis. Examples of reference genes typically used in this capacity are the small RNAs RNU6B, RNU44, and RNU48 as they are considered to be stably expressed across most samples. In this protocol, RNU6B is used as the reference gene.
Cancer Biology, Issue 63, Medicine, cancer, primer assay, Prostate, microRNA, tumor, qPCR
Profiling of Pre-micro RNAs and microRNAs using Quantitative Real-time PCR (qPCR) Arrays
Institutions: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Quantitative real-time PCR (QPCR) has emerged as an accurate and valuable tool in profiling gene expression levels. One of its many advantages is a lower detection limit compared to other methods of gene expression profiling while using smaller amounts of input for each assay. Automated qPCR setup has improved this field by allowing for greater reproducibility. Its convenient and rapid setup allows for high-throughput experiments, enabling the profiling of many different genes simultaneously in each experiment. This method along with internal plate controls also reduces experimental variables common to other techniques.
We recently developed a qPCR assay for profiling of pre-microRNAs (pre-miRNAs) using a set of 186 primer pairs. MicroRNAs have emerged as a novel class of small, non-coding RNAs with the ability to regulate many mRNA targets at the post-transcriptional level. These small RNAs are first transcribed by RNA polymerase II as a primary miRNA (pri-miRNA) transcript, which is then cleaved into the precursor miRNA (pre-miRNA). Pre-miRNAs are exported to the cytoplasm where Dicer cleaves the hairpin loop to yield mature miRNAs. Increases in miRNA levels can be observed at both the precursor and mature miRNA levels and profiling of both of these forms can be useful. There are several commercially available assays for mature miRNAs; however, their high cost may deter researchers from this profiling technique. Here, we discuss a cost-effective, reliable, SYBR-based qPCR method of profiling pre-miRNAs. Changes in pre-miRNA levels often reflect mature miRNA changes and can be a useful indicator of mature miRNA expression. However, simultaneous profiling of both pre-miRNAs and mature miRNAs may be optimal as they can contribute nonredundant information and provide insight into microRNA processing. Furthermore, the technique described here can be expanded to encompass the profiling of other library sets for specific pathways or pathogens.
Biochemistry, Issue 46, pre-microRNAs, qPCR, profiling, Tecan Freedom Evo, robot
Efficient Chromatin Immunoprecipitation using Limiting Amounts of Biomass
Institutions: University of Utah School of Medicine.
Chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) is a widely-used method for determining the interactions of different proteins with DNA in chromatin of living cells. Examples include sequence-specific DNA binding transcription factors, histones and their different modification states, enzymes such as RNA polymerases and ancillary factors, and DNA repair components. Despite its ubiquity, there is a lack of up-to-date, detailed methodologies for both bench preparation of material and for accurate analysis allowing quantitative metrics of interaction. Due to this lack of information, and also because, like any immunoprecipitation, conditions must be re-optimized for new sets of experimental conditions, the ChIP assay is susceptible to inaccurate or poorly quantitative results.
Our protocol is ultimately derived from seminal work on transcription factor:DNA interactions1,2
, but incorporates a number of improvements to sensitivity and reproducibility for difficult-to-obtain cell types. The protocol has been used successfully3,4
, both using qPCR to quantify DNA enrichment, or using a semi-quantitative variant of the below protocol.
This quantitative analysis of PCR-amplified material is performed computationally, and represents a limiting factor in the assay. Important controls and other considerations include the use of an isotype-matched antibody, as well as evaluation of a control region of genomic DNA, such as an intergenic region predicted not to be bound by the protein under study (or anticipated not to show changes under the experimental conditions). In addition, a standard curve of input material for every ChIP sample is used to derive absolute levels of enrichment in the experimental material. Use of standard curves helps to take into account differences between primer sets, regardless of how carefully they are designed, and also efficiency differences throughout the range of template concentrations for a single primer set. Our protocol is different from others that are available5-8
in that we extensively cover the later, analysis phase.
Molecular Biology, Issue 75, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Microbiology, Immunology, Biochemistry, Proteins, life sciences, animal models, chromatin immunoprecipitation, ChIP, chromatin, immunoprecipitation, gene regulation, T lymphocyte, transcription factor, chromatin modification, DNA, quantitative PCR, PCR, cells, isolation, animal model
Expression Analysis of Mammalian Linker-histone Subtypes
Institutions: Georgia Institute of Technology .
Linker histone H1 binds to the nucleosome core particle and linker DNA, facilitating folding of chromatin into higher order structure. H1 is essential for mammalian development1
and regulates specific gene expression in vivo2-4
. Among the highly conserved histone proteins, the family of H1 linker histones is the most heterogeneous group. There are 11 H1 subtypes in mammals that are differentially regulated during development and in different cell types. These H1 subtypes include 5 somatic H1s (H1a-e), the replacement H10
, 4 germ cell specific H1 subtypes, and H1x5
. The presence of multiple H1 subtypes that differ in DNA binding affinity and chromatin compaction ability6-9
provides an additional level of modulation of chromatin function. Thus, quantitative expression analysis of individual H1 subtypes, both of mRNA and proteins, is necessary for better understanding of the regulation of higher order chromatin structure and function.
Here we describe a set of assays designed for analyzing the expression levels of individual H1 subtypes (Figure 1
). mRNA expression of various H1 variant genes is measured by a set of highly sensitive and quantitative reverse transcription-PCR (qRT-PCR) assays, which are faster, more accurate and require much less samples compared with the alternative approach of Northern blot analysis. Unlike most other cellular mRNA messages, mRNAs for most histone genes, including the majority of H1 genes, lack a long polyA tail, but contain a stem-loop structure at the 3' untranslated region (UTR)10
. Therefore, cDNAs are prepared from total RNA by reverse transcription using random primers instead of oligo-dT primers. Realtime PCR assays with primers specific to each H1 subtypes (Table 1
) are performed to obtain highly quantitative measurement of mRNA levels of individual H1 subtypes. Expression of housekeeping genes are analyzed as controls for normalization.
The relative abundance of proteins of each H1 subtype and core histones is obtained through reverse phase high-performance liquid chromatography (RP-HPLC) analysis of total histones extracted from mammalian cells11-13
. The HPLC method and elution conditions described here give optimum separations of mouse H1 subtypes. By quantifying the HPLC profile, we calculate the relative proportion of individual H1 subtypes within H1 family, as well as determine the H1 to nucleosome ratio in the cells.
Genetics, Issue 61, H1 linker histones, histone H1 subtypes, chromatin, RT-PCR, HPLC, gene expression
Optimized PCR-based Detection of Mycoplasma
The maintenance of contamination-free cell lines is essential to cell-based research. Among the biggest contaminant concerns are mycoplasma contamination. Although mycoplasma do not usually kill contaminated cells, they are difficult to detect and can cause a variety of effects on cultured cells, including altered metabolism, slowed proliferation and chromosomal aberrations. In short, mycoplasma contamination compromises the value of those cell lines in providing accurate data for life science research.
The sources of mycoplasma contamination in the laboratory are very challenging to completely control. As certain mycoplasma species are found on human skin, they can be introduced through poor aseptic technique. Additionally, they can come from contaminated supplements such as fetal bovine serum, and most importantly from other contaminated cell cultures. Once mycoplasma contaminates a culture, it can quickly spread to contaminate other areas of the lab. Strict adherence to good laboratory practices such as good aseptic technique are key, and routine testing for mycoplasma is highly recommended for successful control of mycoplasma contamination.
PCR-based detection of mycoplasma has become a very popular method for routine cell line maintenance. PCR-based detection methods are highly sensitive and can provide rapid results, which allows researchers to respond quickly to isolate and eliminate contamination once it is detected in comparison to the time required using microbiological techniques. The LookOut Mycoplasma PCR Detection Kit is highly sensitive, with a detection limit of only 2 genomes per μl. Taking advantage of the highly specific JumpStart Taq DNA Polymerase and a proprietary primer design, false positives are greatly reduced. The convenient 8-tube format, strips pre-coated with dNTPs, and associated primers helps increase the throughput to meet the needs of customers with larger collections of cell lines.
Given the extreme sensitivity of the kit, great care must be taken to prevent inadvertent contamination of samples and reagents. The step-by-step protocol we demonstrate highlights the precautions and practices required for reliable mycoplasma detection. We also show and discuss typical results and their interpretation. Our goal is to ensure the success of researchers using the LookOut Mycoplasma PCR Detection Kit.
Microbiology, Issue 52, Mycoplasma detection, mycoplasma contamination, cell culture, sigma mycoplasma detection, acholeplasma contamination, polymerase chain reaction, PCR
Detection of Live Escherichia coli O157:H7 Cells by PMA-qPCR
Institutions: Food and Drug Administration.
A unique open reading frame (ORF) Z3276 was identified as a specific genetic marker for E. coli
O157:H7. A qPCR assay was developed for detection of E. coli
O157:H7 by targeting ORF Z3276. With this assay, we can detect as low as a few copies of the genome of DNA of E. coli
O157:H7. The sensitivity and specificity of the assay were confirmed by intensive validation tests with a large number of E. coli
O157:H7 strains (n = 369) and non-O157 strains (n = 112). Furthermore, we have combined propidium monoazide (PMA) procedure with the newly developed qPCR protocol for selective detection of live cells from dead cells. Amplification of DNA from PMA-treated dead cells was almost completely inhibited in contrast to virtually unaffected amplification of DNA from PMA-treated live cells. Additionally, the protocol has been modified and adapted to a 96-well plate format for an easy and consistent handling of a large number of samples. This method is expected to have an impact on accurate microbiological and epidemiological monitoring of food safety and environmental source.
Microbiology, Issue 84, Propidium monoazide (PMA), real-time PCR, E. coli O157:H7, pathogen, selective detection, live cells
Rapid PCR Thermocycling using Microscale Thermal Convection
Institutions: Texas A&M University, Texas A&M University, Texas A&M University.
Many molecular biology assays depend in some way on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to amplify an initially dilute target DNA sample to a detectable concentration level. But the design of conventional PCR thermocycling hardware, predominantly based on massive metal heating blocks whose temperature is regulated by thermoelectric heaters, severely limits the achievable reaction speed1
. Considerable electrical power is also required to repeatedly heat and cool the reagent mixture, limiting the ability to deploy these instruments in a portable format.
Thermal convection has emerged as a promising alternative thermocycling approach that has the potential to overcome these limitations2-9
. Convective flows are an everyday occurrence in a diverse array of settings ranging from the Earth's atmosphere, oceans, and interior, to decorative and colorful lava lamps. Fluid motion is initiated in the same way in each case: a buoyancy driven instability arises when a confined volume of fluid is subjected to a spatial temperature gradient. These same phenomena offer an attractive way to perform PCR thermocycling. By applying a static temperature gradient across an appropriately designed reactor geometry, a continuous circulatory flow can be established that will repeatedly transport PCR reagents through temperature zones associated with the denaturing, annealing, and extension stages of the reaction (Figure 1). Thermocycling can therefore be actuated in a pseudo-isothermal manner by simply holding two opposing surfaces at fixed temperatures, completely eliminating the need to repeatedly heat and cool the instrument.
One of the main challenges facing design of convective thermocyclers is the need to precisely control the spatial velocity and temperature distributions within the reactor to ensure that the reagents sequentially occupy the correct temperature zones for a sufficient period of time10,11
. Here we describe results of our efforts to probe the full 3-D velocity and temperature distributions in microscale convective thermocyclers12
. Unexpectedly, we have discovered a subset of complex flow trajectories that are highly favorable for PCR due to a synergistic combination of (1) continuous exchange among flow paths that provides an enhanced opportunity for reagents to sample the full range of optimal temperature profiles, and (2) increased time spent within the extension temperature zone the rate limiting step of PCR. Extremely rapid DNA amplification times (under 10 min) are achievable in reactors designed to generate these flows.
Molecular Biology, Issue 49, polymerase chain reaction, PCR, DNA, thermal convection
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
An Affordable HIV-1 Drug Resistance Monitoring Method for Resource Limited Settings
Institutions: University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa, Jembi Health Systems, University of Amsterdam, Stanford Medical School.
HIV-1 drug resistance has the potential to seriously compromise the effectiveness and impact of antiretroviral therapy (ART). As ART programs in sub-Saharan Africa continue to expand, individuals on ART should be closely monitored for the emergence of drug resistance. Surveillance of transmitted drug resistance to track transmission of viral strains already resistant to ART is also critical. Unfortunately, drug resistance testing is still not readily accessible in resource limited settings, because genotyping is expensive and requires sophisticated laboratory and data management infrastructure. An open access genotypic drug resistance monitoring method to manage individuals and assess transmitted drug resistance is described. The method uses free open source software for the interpretation of drug resistance patterns and the generation of individual patient reports. The genotyping protocol has an amplification rate of greater than 95% for plasma samples with a viral load >1,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml. The sensitivity decreases significantly for viral loads <1,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml. The method described here was validated against a method of HIV-1 drug resistance testing approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Viroseq genotyping method. Limitations of the method described here include the fact that it is not automated and that it also failed to amplify the circulating recombinant form CRF02_AG from a validation panel of samples, although it amplified subtypes A and B from the same panel.
Medicine, Issue 85, Biomedical Technology, HIV-1, HIV Infections, Viremia, Nucleic Acids, genetics, antiretroviral therapy, drug resistance, genotyping, affordable
Determination of Protein-ligand Interactions Using Differential Scanning Fluorimetry
Institutions: University of Exeter.
A wide range of methods are currently available for determining the dissociation constant between a protein and interacting small molecules. However, most of these require access to specialist equipment, and often require a degree of expertise to effectively establish reliable experiments and analyze data. Differential scanning fluorimetry (DSF) is being increasingly used as a robust method for initial screening of proteins for interacting small molecules, either for identifying physiological partners or for hit discovery. This technique has the advantage that it requires only a PCR machine suitable for quantitative PCR, and so suitable instrumentation is available in most institutions; an excellent range of protocols are already available; and there are strong precedents in the literature for multiple uses of the method. Past work has proposed several means of calculating dissociation constants from DSF data, but these are mathematically demanding. Here, we demonstrate a method for estimating dissociation constants from a moderate amount of DSF experimental data. These data can typically be collected and analyzed within a single day. We demonstrate how different models can be used to fit data collected from simple binding events, and where cooperative binding or independent binding sites are present. Finally, we present an example of data analysis in a case where standard models do not apply. These methods are illustrated with data collected on commercially available control proteins, and two proteins from our research program. Overall, our method provides a straightforward way for researchers to rapidly gain further insight into protein-ligand interactions using DSF.
Biophysics, Issue 91, differential scanning fluorimetry, dissociation constant, protein-ligand interactions, StepOne, cooperativity, WcbI.
Nucleoside Triphosphates - From Synthesis to Biochemical Characterization
Institutions: University of Bern.
The traditional strategy for the introduction of chemical functionalities is the use of solid-phase synthesis by appending suitably modified phosphoramidite precursors to the nascent chain. However, the conditions used during the synthesis and the restriction to rather short sequences hamper the applicability of this methodology. On the other hand, modified nucleoside triphosphates are activated building blocks that have been employed for the mild introduction of numerous functional groups into nucleic acids, a strategy that paves the way for the use of modified nucleic acids in a wide-ranging palette of practical applications such as functional tagging and generation of ribozymes and DNAzymes. One of the major challenges resides in the intricacy of the methodology leading to the isolation and characterization of these nucleoside analogues.
In this video article, we present a detailed protocol for the synthesis of these modified analogues using phosphorous(III)-based reagents. In addition, the procedure for their biochemical characterization is divulged, with a special emphasis on primer extension reactions and TdT tailing polymerization. This detailed protocol will be of use for the crafting of modified dNTPs and their further use in chemical biology.
Chemistry, Issue 86, Nucleic acid analogues, Bioorganic Chemistry, PCR, primer extension reactions, organic synthesis, PAGE, HPLC, nucleoside triphosphates
High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e.
C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample).
Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e.
colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ
soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
Strategies for Study of Neuroprotection from Cold-preconditioning
Institutions: The University of Chicago Medical Center.
Neurological injury is a frequent cause of morbidity and mortality from general anesthesia and related surgical procedures that could be alleviated by development of effective, easy to administer and safe preconditioning treatments. We seek to define the neural immune signaling responsible for cold-preconditioning as means to identify novel targets for therapeutics development to protect brain before injury onset. Low-level pro-inflammatory mediator signaling changes over time are essential for cold-preconditioning neuroprotection. This signaling is consistent with the basic tenets of physiological conditioning hormesis, which require that irritative stimuli reach a threshold magnitude with sufficient time for adaptation to the stimuli for protection to become evident.
Accordingly, delineation of the immune signaling involved in cold-preconditioning neuroprotection requires that biological systems and experimental manipulations plus technical capacities are highly reproducible and sensitive. Our approach is to use hippocampal slice cultures as an in vitro
model that closely reflects their in vivo
counterparts with multi-synaptic neural networks influenced by mature and quiescent macroglia / microglia. This glial state is particularly important for microglia since they are the principal source of cytokines, which are operative in the femtomolar range. Also, slice cultures can be maintained in vitro
for several weeks, which is sufficient time to evoke activating stimuli and assess adaptive responses. Finally, environmental conditions can be accurately controlled using slice cultures so that cytokine signaling of cold-preconditioning can be measured, mimicked, and modulated to dissect the critical node aspects. Cytokine signaling system analyses require the use of sensitive and reproducible multiplexed techniques. We use quantitative PCR for TNF-α to screen for microglial activation followed by quantitative real-time qPCR array screening to assess tissue-wide cytokine changes. The latter is a most sensitive and reproducible means to measure multiple cytokine system signaling changes simultaneously. Significant changes are confirmed with targeted qPCR and then protein detection. We probe for tissue-based cytokine protein changes using multiplexed microsphere flow cytometric assays using Luminex technology. Cell-specific cytokine production is determined with double-label immunohistochemistry. Taken together, this brain tissue preparation and style of use, coupled to the suggested investigative strategies, may be an optimal approach for identifying potential targets for the development of novel therapeutics that could mimic the advantages of cold-preconditioning.
Neuroscience, Issue 43, innate immunity, hormesis, microglia, hippocampus, slice culture, immunohistochemistry, neural-immune, gene expression, real-time PCR
Profiling of Estrogen-regulated MicroRNAs in Breast Cancer Cells
Institutions: University of Houston.
Estrogen plays vital roles in mammary gland development and breast cancer progression. It mediates its function by binding to and activating the estrogen receptors (ERs), ERα, and ERβ. ERα is frequently upregulated in breast cancer and drives the proliferation of breast cancer cells. The ERs function as transcription factors and regulate gene expression. Whereas ERα's regulation of protein-coding genes is well established, its regulation of noncoding microRNA (miRNA) is less explored. miRNAs play a major role in the post-transcriptional regulation of genes, inhibiting their translation or degrading their mRNA. miRNAs can function as oncogenes or tumor suppressors and are also promising biomarkers. Among the miRNA assays available, microarray and quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) have been extensively used to detect and quantify miRNA levels. To identify miRNAs regulated by estrogen signaling in breast cancer, their expression in ERα-positive breast cancer cell lines were compared before and after estrogen-activation using both the µParaflo-microfluidic microarrays and Dual Labeled Probes-low density arrays. Results were validated using specific qPCR assays, applying both Cyanine dye-based and Dual Labeled Probes-based chemistry. Furthermore, a time-point assay was used to identify regulations over time. Advantages of the miRNA assay approach used in this study is that it enables a fast screening of mature miRNA regulations in numerous samples, even with limited sample amounts. The layout, including the specific conditions for cell culture and estrogen treatment, biological and technical replicates, and large-scale screening followed by in-depth confirmations using separate techniques, ensures a robust detection of miRNA regulations, and eliminates false positives and other artifacts. However, mutated or unknown miRNAs, or regulations at the primary and precursor transcript level, will not be detected. The method presented here represents a thorough investigation of estrogen-mediated miRNA regulation.
Medicine, Issue 84, breast cancer, microRNA, estrogen, estrogen receptor, microarray, qPCR
Modeling Neural Immune Signaling of Episodic and Chronic Migraine Using Spreading Depression In Vitro
Institutions: The University of Chicago Medical Center, The University of Chicago Medical Center.
Migraine and its transformation to chronic migraine are healthcare burdens in need of improved treatment options. We seek to define how neural immune signaling modulates the susceptibility to migraine, modeled in vitro
using spreading depression (SD), as a means to develop novel therapeutic targets for episodic and chronic migraine. SD is the likely cause of migraine aura and migraine pain. It is a paroxysmal loss of neuronal function triggered by initially increased neuronal activity, which slowly propagates within susceptible brain regions. Normal brain function is exquisitely sensitive to, and relies on, coincident low-level immune signaling. Thus, neural immune signaling likely affects electrical activity of SD, and therefore migraine. Pain perception studies of SD in whole animals are fraught with difficulties, but whole animals are well suited to examine systems biology aspects of migraine since SD activates trigeminal nociceptive pathways. However, whole animal studies alone cannot be used to decipher the cellular and neural circuit mechanisms of SD. Instead, in vitro
preparations where environmental conditions can be controlled are necessary. Here, it is important to recognize limitations of acute slices and distinct advantages of hippocampal slice cultures. Acute brain slices cannot reveal subtle changes in immune signaling since preparing the slices alone triggers: pro-inflammatory changes that last days, epileptiform behavior due to high levels of oxygen tension needed to vitalize the slices, and irreversible cell injury at anoxic slice centers.
In contrast, we examine immune signaling in mature hippocampal slice cultures since the cultures closely parallel their in vivo
counterpart with mature trisynaptic function; show quiescent astrocytes, microglia, and cytokine levels; and SD is easily induced in an unanesthetized preparation. Furthermore, the slices are long-lived and SD can be induced on consecutive days without injury, making this preparation the sole means to-date capable of modeling the neuroimmune consequences of chronic SD, and thus perhaps chronic migraine. We use electrophysiological techniques and non-invasive imaging to measure
neuronal cell and circuit functions coincident with SD. Neural immune gene expression variables are measured with qPCR screening, qPCR arrays, and, importantly, use of cDNA preamplification for detection of ultra-low level targets such as interferon-gamma using whole, regional, or specific cell enhanced (via laser dissection microscopy) sampling. Cytokine cascade signaling is further assessed with multiplexed phosphoprotein related targets with gene expression and phosphoprotein changes confirmed via cell-specific immunostaining. Pharmacological and siRNA strategies are used to mimic
SD immune signaling.
Neuroscience, Issue 52, innate immunity, hormesis, microglia, T-cells, hippocampus, slice culture, gene expression, laser dissection microscopy, real-time qPCR, interferon-gamma
qPCR Is a Sensitive and Rapid Method for Detection of Cytomegaloviral DNA in Formalin-fixed, Paraffin-embedded Biopsy Tissue
Institutions: Indiana University School of Medicine, Indiana University Health.
It is crucial to identify cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract of immunosuppressed patients, given their greater risk for developing severe infection. Many laboratory methods for the detection of CMV infection have been developed, including serology, viral culture, and molecular methods. Often, these methods reflect systemic involvement with CMV and do not specifically identify local tissue involvement. Therefore, detection of CMV infection in the GI tract is frequently done by traditional histology of biopsy tissue. Hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) staining in conjunction with immunohistochemistry (IHC) have remained the mainstays of examining these biopsies. H&E and IHC sometimes result in atypical (equivocal) staining patterns, making interpretation difficult. It was shown that quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) for CMV can successfully be performed on formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE) biopsy tissue for very high sensitivity and specificity. The goal of this protocol is to demonstrate how to perform qPCR testing for the detection of CMV in FFPE biopsy tissue in a clinical laboratory setting. This method is likely to be of great benefit for patients in cases of equivocal staining for CMV in GI biopsies.
Genetics, Issue 89, qPCR, cytomegalovirus, CMV, biopsy, real-time PCR, gastrointestinal, formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissue
A Restriction Enzyme Based Cloning Method to Assess the In vitro Replication Capacity of HIV-1 Subtype C Gag-MJ4 Chimeric Viruses
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University.
The protective effect of many HLA class I alleles on HIV-1 pathogenesis and disease progression is, in part, attributed to their ability to target conserved portions of the HIV-1 genome that escape with difficulty. Sequence changes attributed to cellular immune pressure arise across the genome during infection, and if found within conserved regions of the genome such as Gag, can affect the ability of the virus to replicate in vitro
. Transmission of HLA-linked polymorphisms in Gag to HLA-mismatched recipients has been associated with reduced set point viral loads. We hypothesized this may be due to a reduced replication capacity of the virus. Here we present a novel method for assessing the in vitro
replication of HIV-1 as influenced by the gag
gene isolated from acute time points from subtype C infected Zambians. This method uses restriction enzyme based cloning to insert the gag
gene into a common subtype C HIV-1 proviral backbone, MJ4. This makes it more appropriate to the study of subtype C sequences than previous recombination based methods that have assessed the in vitro
replication of chronically derived gag-pro
sequences. Nevertheless, the protocol could be readily modified for studies of viruses from other subtypes. Moreover, this protocol details a robust and reproducible method for assessing the replication capacity of the Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses on a CEM-based T cell line. This method was utilized for the study of Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses derived from 149 subtype C acutely infected Zambians, and has allowed for the identification of residues in Gag that affect replication. More importantly, the implementation of this technique has facilitated a deeper understanding of how viral replication defines parameters of early HIV-1 pathogenesis such as set point viral load and longitudinal CD4+ T cell decline.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, HIV-1, Gag, viral replication, replication capacity, viral fitness, MJ4, CEM, GXR25
Protocols for Implementing an Escherichia coli Based TX-TL Cell-Free Expression System for Synthetic Biology
Institutions: California Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Minnesota.
Ideal cell-free expression systems can theoretically emulate an in vivo
cellular environment in a controlled in vitro
This is useful for expressing proteins and genetic circuits in a controlled manner as well as for providing a prototyping environment for synthetic biology.2,3
To achieve the latter goal, cell-free expression systems that preserve endogenous Escherichia coli transcription-translation mechanisms are able to more accurately reflect in vivo
cellular dynamics than those based on T7 RNA polymerase transcription. We describe the preparation and execution of an efficient endogenous E. coli
based transcription-translation (TX-TL) cell-free expression system that can produce equivalent amounts of protein as T7-based systems at a 98% cost reduction to similar commercial systems.4,5
The preparation of buffers and crude cell extract are described, as well as the execution of a three tube TX-TL reaction. The entire protocol takes five days to prepare and yields enough material for up to 3000 single reactions in one preparation. Once prepared, each reaction takes under 8 hr from setup to data collection and analysis. Mechanisms of regulation and transcription exogenous to E. coli
, such as lac/tet repressors and T7 RNA polymerase, can be supplemented.6
Endogenous properties, such as mRNA and DNA degradation rates, can also be adjusted.7
The TX-TL cell-free expression system has been demonstrated for large-scale circuit assembly, exploring biological phenomena, and expression of proteins under both T7- and endogenous promoters.6,8
Accompanying mathematical models are available.9,10
The resulting system has unique applications in synthetic biology as a prototyping environment, or "TX-TL biomolecular breadboard."
Cellular Biology, Issue 79, Bioengineering, Synthetic Biology, Chemistry Techniques, Synthetic, Molecular Biology, control theory, TX-TL, cell-free expression, in vitro, transcription-translation, cell-free protein synthesis, synthetic biology, systems biology, Escherichia coli cell extract, biological circuits, biomolecular breadboard
Chromatin Interaction Analysis with Paired-End Tag Sequencing (ChIA-PET) for Mapping Chromatin Interactions and Understanding Transcription Regulation
Institutions: Agency for Science, Technology and Research, Singapore, A*STAR-Duke-NUS Neuroscience Research Partnership, Singapore, National University of Singapore, Singapore.
Genomes are organized into three-dimensional structures, adopting higher-order conformations inside the micron-sized nuclear spaces 7, 2, 12
. Such architectures are not random and involve interactions between gene promoters and regulatory elements 13
. The binding of transcription factors to specific regulatory sequences brings about a network of transcription regulation and coordination 1, 14
Chromatin Interaction Analysis by Paired-End Tag Sequencing (ChIA-PET) was developed to identify these higher-order chromatin structures 5,6
. Cells are fixed and interacting loci are captured by covalent DNA-protein cross-links. To minimize non-specific noise and reduce complexity, as well as to increase the specificity of the chromatin interaction analysis, chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) is used against specific protein factors to enrich chromatin fragments of interest before proximity ligation. Ligation involving half-linkers subsequently forms covalent links between pairs of DNA fragments tethered together within individual chromatin complexes. The flanking MmeI restriction enzyme sites in the half-linkers allow extraction of paired end tag-linker-tag constructs (PETs) upon MmeI digestion. As the half-linkers are biotinylated, these PET constructs are purified using streptavidin-magnetic beads. The purified PETs are ligated with next-generation sequencing adaptors and a catalog of interacting fragments is generated via next-generation sequencers such as the Illumina Genome Analyzer. Mapping and bioinformatics analysis is then performed to identify ChIP-enriched binding sites and ChIP-enriched chromatin interactions 8
We have produced a video to demonstrate critical aspects of the ChIA-PET protocol, especially the preparation of ChIP as the quality of ChIP plays a major role in the outcome of a ChIA-PET library. As the protocols are very long, only the critical steps are shown in the video.
Genetics, Issue 62, ChIP, ChIA-PET, Chromatin Interactions, Genomics, Next-Generation Sequencing
Increasing cDNA Yields from Single-cell Quantities of mRNA in Standard Laboratory Reverse Transcriptase Reactions using Acoustic Microstreaming
Institutions: University of Melbourne, CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Industrial Sciences.
Correlating gene expression with cell behavior is ideally done at the single-cell level. However, this is not easily achieved because the small amount of labile mRNA present in a single cell (1-5% of 1-50pg total RNA, or 0.01-2.5pg mRNA, per cell 1
) mostly degrades before it can be reverse transcribed into a stable cDNA copy. For example, using standard laboratory reagents and hardware, only a small number of genes can be qualitatively assessed per cell 2
. One way to increase the efficiency of standard laboratory reverse transcriptase (RT) reactions (i.e. standard reagents in microliter volumes) comprising single-cell amounts of mRNA would be to more rapidly mix the reagents so the mRNA can be converted to cDNA before it degrades. However this is not trivial because at microliter scales liquid flow is laminar, i.e. currently available methods of mixing (i.e. shaking, vortexing and trituration) fail to produce sufficient chaotic motion to effectively mix reagents. To solve this problem, micro-scale mixing techniques have to be used 3,4
. A number of microfluidic-based mixing technologies have been developed which successfully increase RT reaction yields 5-8
. However, microfluidics technologies require specialized hardware that is relatively expensive and not yet widely available. A cheaper, more convenient solution is desirable. The main objective of this study is to demonstrate how application of a novel "micromixing" technique to standard laboratory RT reactions comprising single-cell quantities of mRNA significantly increases their cDNA yields. We find cDNA yields increase by approximately 10-100-fold, which enables: (1) greater numbers of genes to be analyzed per cell; (2) more quantitative analysis of gene expression; and (3) better detection of low-abundance genes in single cells. The micromixing is based on acoustic microstreaming 9-12
, a phenomenon where sound waves propagating around a small obstacle create a mean flow near the obstacle. We have developed an acoustic microstreaming-based device ("micromixer") with a key simplification; acoustic microstreaming can be achieved at audio frequencies by ensuring the system has a liquid-air interface with a small radius of curvature 13
. The meniscus of a microliter volume of solution in a tube provides an appropriately small radius of curvature. The use of audio frequencies means that the hardware can be inexpensive and versatile 13
, and nucleic acids and other biochemical reagents are not damaged like they can be with standard laboratory sonicators.
Bioengineering, Issue 53, neuroscience, brain, cells, reverse transcription, qPCR, gene expression, acoustic microstreaming, micromixer, microfluidics
Purifying Plasmid DNA from Bacterial Colonies Using the Qiagen Miniprep Kit
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
Plasmid DNA purification from E. coli is a core technique for molecular cloning. Small scale purification (miniprep) from less than 5 ml of bacterial culture is a quick way for clone verification or DNA isolation, followed by further enzymatic reactions (polymerase chain reaction and restriction enzyme digestion). Here, we video-recorded the general procedures of miniprep through the QIAGEN's QIAprep 8 Miniprep Kit, aiming to introducing this highly efficient technique to the general beginners for molecular biology techniques. The whole procedure is based on alkaline lysis of E. coli cells followed by adsorption of DNA onto silica in the presence of high salt. It consists of three steps: 1) preparation and clearing of a bacterial lysate, 2) adsorption of DNA onto the QIAprep membrane, 3) washing and elution of plasmid DNA. All steps are performed without the use of phenol, chloroform, CsCl, ethidium bromide, and without alcohol precipitation. It usually takes less than 2 hours to finish the entire procedure.
Issue 6, Basic Protocols, plasmid, DNA, purification, Qiagen
Quantitative Real-Time PCR using the Thermo Scientific Solaris qPCR Assay
Institutions: Thermo Scientific Solaris qPCR Products.
The Solaris qPCR Gene Expression Assay is a novel type of primer/probe set, designed to simplify the qPCR process while maintaining the sensitivity and accuracy of the assay. These primer/probe sets are pre-designed to >98% of the human and mouse genomes and feature significant improvements from previously available technologies. These improvements were made possible by virtue of a novel design algorithm, developed by Thermo Scientific bioinformatics experts.
Several convenient features have been incorporated into the Solaris qPCR Assay to streamline the process of performing quantitative real-time PCR. First, the protocol is similar to commonly employed alternatives, so the methods used during qPCR are likely to be familiar. Second, the master mix is blue, which makes setting the qPCR reactions easier to track. Third, the thermal cycling conditions are the same for all assays (genes), making it possible to run many samples at a time and reducing the potential for error. Finally, the probe and primer sequence information are provided, simplifying the publication process.
Here, we demonstrate how to obtain the appropriate Solaris reagents using the GENEius product search feature found on the ordering web site (www.thermo.com/solaris) and how to use the Solaris reagents for performing qPCR using the standard curve method.
Cellular Biology, Issue 40, qPCR, probe, real-time PCR, molecular biology, Solaris, primer, gene expression assays