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.
27 Related JoVE Articles!
Detection of Infectious Virus from Field-collected Mosquitoes by Vero Cell Culture Assay
Institutions: The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.
Mosquitoes transmit a number of distinct viruses including important human pathogens such as West Nile virus, dengue virus, and chickungunya virus. Many of these viruses have intensified in their endemic ranges and expanded to new territories, necessitating effective surveillance and control programs to respond to these threats. One strategy to monitor virus activity involves collecting large numbers of mosquitoes from endemic sites and testing them for viral infection. In this article, we describe how to handle, process, and screen field-collected mosquitoes for infectious virus by Vero cell culture assay. Mosquitoes are sorted by trap location and species, and grouped into pools containing ≤50 individuals. Pooled specimens are homogenized in buffered saline using a mixer-mill and the aqueous phase is inoculated onto confluent Vero cell cultures (Clone E6). Cell cultures are monitored for cytopathic effect from days 3-7 post-inoculation and any viruses grown in cell culture are identified by the appropriate diagnostic assays. By utilizing this approach, we have isolated 9 different viruses from mosquitoes collected in Connecticut, USA, and among these, 5 are known to cause human disease. Three of these viruses (West Nile virus, Potosi virus, and La Crosse virus) represent new records for North America or the New England region since 1999. The ability to detect a wide diversity of viruses is critical to monitoring both established and newly emerging viruses in the mosquito population.
Immunology, Issue 52, Mosquito-borne viruses, mosquitoes, cell culture, surveillance
DNA Fingerprinting of Mycobacterium leprae Strains Using Variable Number Tandem Repeat (VNTR) - Fragment Length Analysis (FLA)
Institutions: Colorado State University.
The study of the transmission of leprosy is particularly difficult since the causative agent, Mycobacterium leprae
, cannot be cultured in the laboratory. The only sources of the bacteria are leprosy patients, and experimentally infected armadillos and nude mice. Thus, many of the methods used in modern epidemiology are not available for the study of leprosy. Despite an extensive global drug treatment program for leprosy implemented by the WHO1
, leprosy remains endemic in many countries with approximately 250,000 new cases each year.2
The entire M. leprae
genome has been mapped3,4
and many loci have been identified that have repeated segments of 2 or more base pairs (called micro- and minisatellites).5
Clinical strains of M. leprae
may vary in the number of tandem repeated segments (short tandem repeats, STR) at many of these loci.5,6,7
Variable number tandem repeat (VNTR)5
analysis has been used to distinguish different strains of the leprosy bacilli. Some of the loci appear to be more stable than others, showing less variation in repeat numbers, while others seem to change more rapidly, sometimes in the same patient. While the variability of certain VNTRs has brought up questions regarding their suitability for strain typing7,8,9
, the emerging data suggest that analyzing multiple loci, which are diverse in their stability, can be used as a valuable epidemiological tool. Multiple locus VNTR analysis (MLVA)10
has been used to study leprosy evolution and transmission in several countries including China11,12
, the Philippines10,13
, and Brazil14
. MLVA involves multiple steps. First, bacterial DNA is extracted along with host tissue DNA from clinical biopsies or slit skin smears (SSS).10
The desired loci are then amplified from the extracted DNA via polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Fluorescently-labeled primers for 4-5 different loci are used per reaction, with 18 loci being amplified in a total of four reactions.10
The PCR products may be subjected to agarose gel electrophoresis to verify the presence of the desired DNA segments, and then submitted for fluorescent fragment length analysis (FLA) using capillary electrophoresis. DNA from armadillo passaged bacteria with a known number of repeat copies for each locus is used as a positive control. The FLA chromatograms are then examined using Peak Scanner
software and fragment length is converted to number of VNTR copies (allele). Finally, the VNTR haplotypes are analyzed for patterns, and when combined with patient clinical data can be used to track distribution of strain types.
Immunology, Issue 53, Mycobacterium leprae, leprosy, biopsy, STR, VNTR, PCR, fragment length analysis
A Noninvasive Hair Sampling Technique to Obtain High Quality DNA from Elusive Small Mammals
Institutions: University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus.
Noninvasive genetic sampling approaches are becoming increasingly important to study wildlife populations. A number of studies have reported using noninvasive sampling techniques to investigate population genetics and demography of wild populations1
. This approach has proven to be especially useful when dealing with rare or elusive species2
. While a number of these methods have been developed to sample hair, feces and other biological material from carnivores and medium-sized mammals, they have largely remained untested in elusive small mammals. In this video, we present a novel, inexpensive and noninvasive hair snare targeted at an elusive small mammal, the American pika (Ochotona princeps
). We describe the general set-up of the hair snare, which consists of strips of packing tape arranged in a web-like fashion and placed along travelling routes in the pikas’ habitat. We illustrate the efficiency of the snare at collecting a large quantity of hair that can then be collected and brought back to the lab. We then demonstrate the use of the DNA IQ system (Promega) to isolate DNA and showcase the utility of this method to amplify commonly used molecular markers including nuclear microsatellites, amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLPs), mitochondrial sequences (800bp) as well as a molecular sexing marker. Overall, we demonstrate the utility of this novel noninvasive hair snare as a sampling technique for wildlife population biologists. We anticipate that this approach will be applicable to a variety of small mammals, opening up areas of investigation within natural populations, while minimizing impact to study organisms.
Genetics, Issue 49, Conservation genetics, noninvasive genetic sampling, Hair snares, Microsatellites, AFLPs, American pika, Ochotona princeps
Intraductal Injection for Localized Drug Delivery to the Mouse Mammary Gland
Institutions: Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Harvard University, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Herein we describe a protocol to deliver various reagents to the mouse mammary gland via intraductal injections. Localized drug delivery and knock-down of genes within the mammary epithelium has been difficult to achieve due to the lack of appropriate targeting molecules that are independent of developmental stages such as pregnancy and lactation. Herein, we describe a technique for localized delivery of reagents to the mammary gland at any stage in adulthood via intraductal injection into the nipples of mice. The injections can be performed on live mice, under anesthesia, and allow for a non-invasive and localized drug delivery to the mammary gland. Furthermore, the injections can be repeated over several months without damaging the nipple. Vital dyes such as Evans Blue are very helpful to learn the technique. Upon intraductal injection of the blue dye, the entire ductal tree becomes visible to the eye. Furthermore, fluorescently labeled reagents also allow for visualization and distribution within the mammary gland. This technique is adaptable for a variety of compounds including siRNA, chemotherapeutic agents, and small molecules.
Developmental Biology, Issue 80, Mammary Glands, Animal, Drug Administration Routes, intraductal injection, local drug delivery, siRNA
Using an Automated 3D-tracking System to Record Individual and Shoals of Adult Zebrafish
Like many aquatic animals, zebrafish (Danio rerio
) moves in a 3D space. It is thus preferable to use a 3D recording system to study its behavior. The presented automatic video tracking system accomplishes this by using a mirror system and a calibration procedure that corrects for the considerable error introduced by the transition of light from water to air. With this system it is possible to record both single and groups of adult zebrafish. Before use, the system has to be calibrated. The system consists of three modules: Recording, Path Reconstruction, and Data Processing. The step-by-step protocols for calibration and using the three modules are presented. Depending on the experimental setup, the system can be used for testing neophobia, white aversion, social cohesion, motor impairments, novel object exploration etc
. It is especially promising as a first-step tool to study the effects of drugs or mutations on basic behavioral patterns. The system provides information about vertical and horizontal distribution of the zebrafish, about the xyz-components of kinematic parameters (such as locomotion, velocity, acceleration, and turning angle) and it provides the data necessary to calculate parameters for social cohesions when testing shoals.
Behavior, Issue 82, neuroscience, Zebrafish, Danio rerio, anxiety, Shoaling, Pharmacology, 3D-tracking, MK801
Microarray-based Identification of Individual HERV Loci Expression: Application to Biomarker Discovery in Prostate Cancer
Institutions: Joint Unit Hospices de Lyon-bioMérieux, BioMérieux, Hospices Civils de Lyon, Lyon 1 University, BioMérieux, Hospices Civils de Lyon, Hospices Civils de Lyon.
The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is the main diagnostic biomarker for prostate cancer in clinical use, but it lacks specificity and sensitivity, particularly in low dosage values1
. ‘How to use PSA' remains a current issue, either for diagnosis as a gray zone corresponding to a concentration in serum of 2.5-10 ng/ml which does not allow a clear differentiation to be made between cancer and noncancer2
or for patient follow-up as analysis of post-operative PSA kinetic parameters can pose considerable challenges for their practical application3,4
. Alternatively, noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs) are emerging as key molecules in human cancer, with the potential to serve as novel markers of disease, e.g.
PCA3 in prostate cancer5,6
and to reveal uncharacterized aspects of tumor biology. Moreover, data from the ENCODE project published in 2012 showed that different RNA types cover about 62% of the genome. It also appears that the amount of transcriptional regulatory motifs is at least 4.5x higher than the one corresponding to protein-coding exons. Thus, long terminal repeats (LTRs) of human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) constitute a wide range of putative/candidate transcriptional regulatory sequences, as it is their primary function in infectious retroviruses. HERVs, which are spread throughout the human genome, originate from ancestral and independent infections within the germ line, followed by copy-paste propagation processes and leading to multicopy families occupying 8% of the human genome (note that exons span 2% of our genome). Some HERV loci still express proteins that have been associated with several pathologies including cancer7-10
. We have designed a high-density microarray, in Affymetrix format, aiming to optimally characterize individual HERV loci expression, in order to better understand whether they can be active, if they drive ncRNA transcription or modulate coding gene expression. This tool has been applied in the prostate cancer field (Figure 1
Medicine, Issue 81, Cancer Biology, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Prostate, Retroviridae, Biomarkers, Pharmacological, Tumor Markers, Biological, Prostatectomy, Microarray Analysis, Gene Expression, Diagnosis, Human Endogenous Retroviruses, HERV, microarray, Transcriptome, prostate cancer, Affymetrix
Multimodal Optical Microscopy Methods Reveal Polyp Tissue Morphology and Structure in Caribbean Reef Building Corals
Institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
An integrated suite of imaging techniques has been applied to determine the three-dimensional (3D) morphology and cellular structure of polyp tissues comprising the Caribbean reef building corals Montastraeaannularis
and M. faveolata
. These approaches include fluorescence microscopy (FM), serial block face imaging (SBFI), and two-photon confocal laser scanning microscopy (TPLSM). SBFI provides deep tissue imaging after physical sectioning; it details the tissue surface texture and 3D visualization to tissue depths of more than 2 mm. Complementary FM and TPLSM yield ultra-high resolution images of tissue cellular structure. Results have: (1) identified previously unreported lobate tissue morphologies on the outer wall of individual coral polyps and (2) created the first surface maps of the 3D distribution and tissue density of chromatophores and algae-like dinoflagellate zooxanthellae
endosymbionts. Spectral absorption peaks of 500 nm and 675 nm, respectively, suggest that M. annularis
and M. faveolata
contain similar types of chlorophyll and chromatophores. However, M. annularis
and M. faveolata
exhibit significant differences in the tissue density and 3D distribution of these key cellular components. This study focusing on imaging methods indicates that SBFI is extremely useful for analysis of large mm-scale samples of decalcified coral tissues. Complimentary FM and TPLSM reveal subtle submillimeter scale changes in cellular distribution and density in nondecalcified coral tissue samples. The TPLSM technique affords: (1) minimally invasive sample preparation, (2) superior optical sectioning ability, and (3) minimal light absorption and scattering, while still permitting deep tissue imaging.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 91, Serial block face imaging, two-photon fluorescence microscopy, Montastraea annularis, Montastraea faveolata, 3D coral tissue morphology and structure, zooxanthellae, chromatophore, autofluorescence, light harvesting optimization, environmental change
Radio Frequency Identification and Motion-sensitive Video Efficiently Automate Recording of Unrewarded Choice Behavior by Bumblebees
Institutions: University of Ottawa.
We present two methods for observing bumblebee choice behavior in an enclosed testing space. The first method consists of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) readers built into artificial flowers that display various visual cues, and RFID tags (i.e.
, passive transponders) glued to the thorax of bumblebee workers. The novelty in our implementation is that RFID readers are built directly into artificial flowers that are capable of displaying several distinct visual properties such as color, pattern type, spatial frequency (i.e.
, “busyness” of the pattern), and symmetry (spatial frequency and symmetry were not manipulated in this experiment). Additionally, these visual displays in conjunction with the automated systems are capable of recording unrewarded
choice behavior. The second method consists of recording choice behavior at artificial flowers using motion-sensitive high-definition camcorders. Bumblebees have number tags glued to their thoraces for unique identification. The advantage in this implementation over RFID is that in addition to observing landing behavior, alternate measures of preference such as hovering and antennation may also be observed. Both automation methods increase experimental control, and internal validity by allowing larger scale studies that take into account individual differences. External validity is also improved because bees can freely enter and exit the testing environment without constraints such as the availability of a research assistant on-site. Compared to human observation in real time, the automated methods are more cost-effective and possibly less error-prone.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, bumblebee, unlearned behaviors, floral choice, visual perception, Bombus spp, information processing, radio-frequency identification, motion-sensitive video
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
A Microplate Assay to Assess Chemical Effects on RBL-2H3 Mast Cell Degranulation: Effects of Triclosan without Use of an Organic Solvent
Institutions: University of Maine, Orono, University of Maine, Orono.
Mast cells play important roles in allergic disease and immune defense against parasites. Once activated (e.g.
by an allergen), they degranulate, a process that results in the exocytosis of allergic mediators. Modulation of mast cell degranulation by drugs and toxicants may have positive or adverse effects on human health. Mast cell function has been dissected in detail with the use of rat basophilic leukemia mast cells (RBL-2H3), a widely accepted model of human mucosal mast cells3-5
. Mast cell granule component and the allergic mediator β-hexosaminidase, which is released linearly in tandem with histamine from mast cells6
, can easily and reliably be measured through reaction with a fluorogenic substrate, yielding measurable fluorescence intensity in a microplate assay that is amenable to high-throughput studies1
. Originally published by Naal et al.1
, we have adapted this degranulation assay for the screening of drugs and toxicants and demonstrate its use here.
Triclosan is a broad-spectrum antibacterial agent that is present in many consumer products and has been found to be a therapeutic aid in human allergic skin disease7-11
, although the mechanism for this effect is unknown. Here we demonstrate an assay for the effect of triclosan on mast cell degranulation. We recently showed that triclosan strongly affects mast cell function2
. In an effort to avoid use of an organic solvent, triclosan is dissolved directly into aqueous buffer with heat and stirring, and resultant concentration is confirmed using UV-Vis spectrophotometry (using ε280
= 4,200 L/M/cm)12
. This protocol has the potential to be used with a variety of chemicals to determine their effects on mast cell degranulation, and more broadly, their allergic potential.
Immunology, Issue 81, mast cell, basophil, degranulation, RBL-2H3, triclosan, irgasan, antibacterial, β-hexosaminidase, allergy, Asthma, toxicants, ionophore, antigen, fluorescence, microplate, UV-Vis
One-channel Cell-attached Patch-clamp Recording
Institutions: University at Buffalo, SUNY, University at Buffalo, SUNY, The Scripps Research Institute, University at Buffalo, SUNY.
Ion channel proteins are universal devices for fast communication across biological membranes. The temporal signature of the ionic flux they generate depends on properties intrinsic to each channel protein as well as the mechanism by which it is generated and controlled and represents an important area of current research. Information about the operational dynamics of ion channel proteins can be obtained by observing long stretches of current produced by a single molecule. Described here is a protocol for obtaining one-channel cell-attached patch-clamp current recordings for a ligand gated ion channel, the NMDA receptor, expressed heterologously in HEK293 cells or natively in cortical neurons. Also provided are instructions on how to adapt the method to other ion channels of interest by presenting the example of the mechano-sensitive channel PIEZO1. This method can provide data regarding the channel’s conductance properties and the temporal sequence of open-closed conformations that make up the channel’s activation mechanism, thus helping to understand their functions in health and disease.
Neuroscience, Issue 88, biophysics, ion channels, single-channel recording, NMDA receptors, gating, electrophysiology, patch-clamp, kinetic analysis
Identification of Key Factors Regulating Self-renewal and Differentiation in EML Hematopoietic Precursor Cells by RNA-sequencing Analysis
Institutions: The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston.
Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) are used clinically for transplantation treatment to rebuild a patient's hematopoietic system in many diseases such as leukemia and lymphoma. Elucidating the mechanisms controlling HSCs self-renewal and differentiation is important for application of HSCs for research and clinical uses. However, it is not possible to obtain large quantity of HSCs due to their inability to proliferate in vitro
. To overcome this hurdle, we used a mouse bone marrow derived cell line, the EML (Erythroid, Myeloid, and Lymphocytic) cell line, as a model system for this study.
RNA-sequencing (RNA-Seq) has been increasingly used to replace microarray for gene expression studies. We report here a detailed method of using RNA-Seq technology to investigate the potential key factors in regulation of EML cell self-renewal and differentiation. The protocol provided in this paper is divided into three parts. The first part explains how to culture EML cells and separate Lin-CD34+ and Lin-CD34- cells. The second part of the protocol offers detailed procedures for total RNA preparation and the subsequent library construction for high-throughput sequencing. The last part describes the method for RNA-Seq data analysis and explains how to use the data to identify differentially expressed transcription factors between Lin-CD34+ and Lin-CD34- cells. The most significantly differentially expressed transcription factors were identified to be the potential key regulators controlling EML cell self-renewal and differentiation. In the discussion section of this paper, we highlight the key steps for successful performance of this experiment.
In summary, this paper offers a method of using RNA-Seq technology to identify potential regulators of self-renewal and differentiation in EML cells. The key factors identified are subjected to downstream functional analysis in vitro
and in vivo
Genetics, Issue 93, EML Cells, Self-renewal, Differentiation, Hematopoietic precursor cell, RNA-Sequencing, Data analysis
Measuring the Subjective Value of Risky and Ambiguous Options using Experimental Economics and Functional MRI Methods
Institutions: Yale School of Medicine, Yale School of Medicine, New York University , New York University , New York University .
Most of the choices we make have uncertain consequences. In some cases the probabilities for different possible outcomes are precisely known, a condition termed "risky". In other cases when probabilities cannot be estimated, this is a condition described as "ambiguous". While most people are averse to both risk and ambiguity1,2
, the degree of those aversions vary substantially across individuals, such that the subjective value
of the same risky or ambiguous option can be very different for different individuals. We combine functional MRI (fMRI) with an experimental economics-based method3
to assess the neural representation of the subjective values of risky and ambiguous options4
. This technique can be now used to study these neural representations in different populations, such as different age groups and different patient populations.
In our experiment, subjects make consequential choices between two alternatives while their neural activation is tracked using fMRI. On each trial subjects choose between lotteries that vary in their monetary amount and in either the probability of winning that amount or the ambiguity level associated with winning. Our parametric design allows us to use each individual's choice behavior to estimate their attitudes towards risk and ambiguity, and thus to estimate the subjective values that each option held for them. Another important feature of the design is that the outcome of the chosen lottery is not revealed during the experiment, so that no learning can take place, and thus the ambiguous options remain ambiguous and risk attitudes are stable. Instead, at the end of the scanning session one or few trials are randomly selected and played for real money. Since subjects do not know beforehand which trials will be selected, they must treat each and every trial as if it and it alone was the one trial on which they will be paid. This design ensures that we can estimate the true subjective value of each option to each subject. We then look for areas in the brain whose activation is correlated with the subjective value of risky options and for areas whose activation is correlated with the subjective value of ambiguous options.
Neuroscience, Issue 67, Medicine, Molecular Biology, fMRI, magnetic resonance imaging, decision-making, value, uncertainty, risk, ambiguity
Nerve Excitability Assessment in Chemotherapy-induced Neurotoxicity
Institutions: University of New South Wales , University of New South Wales , University of New South Wales .
Chemotherapy-induced neurotoxicity is a serious consequence of cancer treatment, which occurs with some of the most commonly used chemotherapies1,2
. Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy produces symptoms of numbness and paraesthesia in the limbs and may progress to difficulties with fine motor skills and walking, leading to functional impairment. In addition to producing troubling symptoms, chemotherapy-induced neuropathy may limit treatment success leading to dose reduction or early cessation of treatment. Neuropathic symptoms may persist long-term, leaving permanent nerve damage in patients with an otherwise good prognosis3
. As chemotherapy is utilised more often as a preventative measure, and survival rates increase, the importance of long-lasting and significant neurotoxicity will increase.
There are no established neuroprotective or treatment options and a lack of sensitive assessment methods. Appropriate assessment of neurotoxicity will be critical as a prognostic factor and as suitable endpoints for future trials of neuroprotective agents. Current methods to assess the severity of chemotherapy-induced neuropathy utilise clinician-based grading scales which have been demonstrated to lack sensitivity to change and inter-observer objectivity4
. Conventional nerve conduction studies provide information about compound action potential amplitude and conduction velocity, which are relatively non-specific measures and do not provide insight into ion channel function or resting membrane potential. Accordingly, prior studies have demonstrated that conventional nerve conduction studies are not sensitive to early change in chemotherapy-induced neurotoxicity4-6
. In comparison, nerve excitability studies utilize threshold tracking techniques which have been developed to enable assessment of ion channels, pumps and exchangers in vivo
in large myelinated human axons7-9
Nerve excitability techniques have been established as a tool to examine the development and severity of chemotherapy-induced neurotoxicity10-13
. Comprising a number of excitability parameters, nerve excitability studies can be used to assess acute neurotoxicity arising immediately following infusion and the development of chronic, cumulative neurotoxicity. Nerve excitability techniques are feasible in the clinical setting, with each test requiring only 5 -10 minutes to complete. Nerve excitability equipment is readily commercially available, and a portable system has been devised so that patients can be tested in situ
in the infusion centre setting. In addition, these techniques can be adapted for use in multiple chemotherapies.
In patients treated with the chemotherapy oxaliplatin, primarily utilised for colorectal cancer, nerve excitability techniques provide a method to identify patients at-risk for neurotoxicity prior to the onset of chronic neuropathy. Nerve excitability studies have revealed the development of an acute Na+
channelopathy in motor and sensory axons10-13
. Importantly, patients who demonstrated changes in excitability in early treatment were subsequently more likely to develop moderate to severe neurotoxicity11
. However, across treatment, striking longitudinal changes were identified only in sensory axons which were able to predict clinical neurological outcome in 80% of patients10
. These changes demonstrated a different pattern to those seen acutely following oxaliplatin infusion, and most likely reflect the development of significant axonal damage and membrane potential change in sensory nerves which develops longitudinally during oxaliplatin treatment10
. Significant abnormalities developed during early treatment, prior to any reduction in conventional measures of nerve function, suggesting that excitability parameters may provide a sensitive biomarker.
Neuroscience, Issue 62, Chemotherapy, Neurotoxicity, Neuropathy, Nerve excitability, Ion channel function, Oxaliplatin, oncology, medicine
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
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
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2
proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness
) (Figure 1
). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6
. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7
. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
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)
Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1
. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2
, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3
In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis.
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials
Analysis of Tubular Membrane Networks in Cardiac Myocytes from Atria and Ventricles
Institutions: Heart Research Center Goettingen, University Medical Center Goettingen, German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) partner site Goettingen, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
In cardiac myocytes a complex network of membrane tubules - the transverse-axial tubule system (TATS) - controls deep intracellular signaling functions. While the outer surface membrane and associated TATS membrane components appear to be continuous, there are substantial differences in lipid and protein content. In ventricular myocytes (VMs), certain TATS components are highly abundant contributing to rectilinear tubule networks and regular branching 3D architectures. It is thought that peripheral TATS components propagate action potentials from the cell surface to thousands of remote intracellular sarcoendoplasmic reticulum (SER) membrane contact domains, thereby activating intracellular Ca2+
release units (CRUs). In contrast to VMs, the organization and functional role of TATS membranes in atrial myocytes (AMs) is significantly different and much less understood. Taken together, quantitative structural characterization of TATS membrane networks in healthy and diseased myocytes is an essential prerequisite towards better understanding of functional plasticity and pathophysiological reorganization. Here, we present a strategic combination of protocols for direct quantitative analysis of TATS membrane networks in living VMs and AMs. For this, we accompany primary cell isolations of mouse VMs and/or AMs with critical quality control steps and direct membrane staining protocols for fluorescence imaging of TATS membranes. Using an optimized workflow for confocal or superresolution TATS image processing, binarized and skeletonized data are generated for quantitative analysis of the TATS network and its components. Unlike previously published indirect regional aggregate image analysis strategies, our protocols enable direct characterization of specific components and derive complex physiological properties of TATS membrane networks in living myocytes with high throughput and open access software tools. In summary, the combined protocol strategy can be readily applied for quantitative TATS network studies during physiological myocyte adaptation or disease changes, comparison of different cardiac or skeletal muscle cell types, phenotyping of transgenic models, and pharmacological or therapeutic interventions.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cardiac myocyte, atria, ventricle, heart, primary cell isolation, fluorescence microscopy, membrane tubule, transverse-axial tubule system, image analysis, image processing, T-tubule, collagenase
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
A Protocol for Conducting Rainfall Simulation to Study Soil Runoff
Institutions: University of Maryland Eastern Shore, USDA - Agricultural Research Service, University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
Rainfall is a driving force for the transport of environmental contaminants from agricultural soils to surficial water bodies via surface runoff. The objective of this study was to characterize the effects of antecedent soil moisture content on the fate and transport of surface applied commercial urea, a common form of nitrogen (N) fertilizer, following a rainfall event that occurs within 24 hr after fertilizer application. Although urea is assumed to be readily hydrolyzed to ammonium and therefore not often available for transport, recent studies suggest that urea can be transported from agricultural soils to coastal waters where it is implicated in harmful algal blooms. A rainfall simulator was used to apply a consistent rate of uniform rainfall across packed soil boxes that had been prewetted to different soil moisture contents. By controlling rainfall and soil physical characteristics, the effects of antecedent soil moisture on urea loss were isolated. Wetter soils exhibited shorter time from rainfall initiation to runoff initiation, greater total volume of runoff, higher urea concentrations in runoff, and greater mass loadings of urea in runoff. These results also demonstrate the importance of controlling for antecedent soil moisture content in studies designed to isolate other variables, such as soil physical or chemical characteristics, slope, soil cover, management, or rainfall characteristics. Because rainfall simulators are designed to deliver raindrops of similar size and velocity as natural rainfall, studies conducted under a standardized protocol can yield valuable data that, in turn, can be used to develop models for predicting the fate and transport of pollutants in runoff.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 86, Agriculture, Water Pollution, Water Quality, Technology, Industry, and Agriculture, Rainfall Simulator, Artificial Rainfall, Runoff, Packed Soil Boxes, Nonpoint Source, Urea
Protocol for Long Duration Whole Body Hyperthermia in Mice
Institutions: National Institute of Immunology, National Institute of Immunology.
Hyperthermia is a general term used to define the increase in core body temperature above normal. It is often used to describe the increased core body temperature that is observed during fever. The use of hyperthermia as an adjuvant has emerged as a promising procedure for tumor regression in the field of cancer biology. For this purpose, the most important requirement is to have reliable and uniform heating protocols. We have developed a protocol for hyperthermia (whole body) in mice. In this protocol, animals are exposed to cycles of hyperthermia for 90 min followed by a rest period of 15 min. During this period mice have easy access to food and water. High body temperature spikes in the mice during first few hyperthermia exposure cycles are prevented by immobilizing the animal. Additionally, normal saline is administered in first few cycles to minimize the effects of dehydration. This protocol can simulate fever like conditions in mice up to 12-24 hr. We have used 8-12 weeks old BALB/Cj female mice to demonstrate the protocol.
Medicine, Issue 66, Anatomy, Physiology, Mouse, Fever, Whole Body Hyperthermia, Temperature Spikes, core body temperature
Recording Single Neurons' Action Potentials from Freely Moving Pigeons Across Three Stages of Learning
Institutions: Ruhr-University Bochum.
While the subject of learning has attracted immense interest from both behavioral and neural scientists, only relatively few investigators have observed single-neuron activity while animals are acquiring an operantly conditioned response, or when that response is extinguished. But even in these cases, observation periods usually encompass only a single stage of learning, i.e.
acquisition or extinction, but not both (exceptions include protocols employing reversal learning; see Bingman et al.1
for an example). However, acquisition and extinction entail different learning mechanisms and are therefore expected to be accompanied by different types and/or loci of neural plasticity.
Accordingly, we developed a behavioral paradigm which institutes three stages of learning in a single behavioral session and which is well suited for the simultaneous recording of single neurons' action potentials. Animals are trained on a single-interval forced choice task which requires mapping each of two possible choice responses to the presentation of different novel visual stimuli (acquisition). After having reached a predefined performance criterion, one of the two choice responses is no longer reinforced (extinction). Following a certain decrement in performance level, correct responses are reinforced again (reacquisition). By using a new set of stimuli in every session, animals can undergo the acquisition-extinction-reacquisition process repeatedly. Because all three stages of learning occur in a single behavioral session, the paradigm is ideal for the simultaneous observation of the spiking output of multiple single neurons. We use pigeons as model systems, but the task can easily be adapted to any other species capable of conditioned discrimination learning.
Neuroscience, Issue 88, pigeon, single unit recording, learning, memory, extinction, spike sorting, operant conditioning, reward, electrophysiology, animal cognition, model species
Comprehensive & Cost Effective Laboratory Monitoring of HIV/AIDS: an African Role Model
Institutions: National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS-SA), University of Witwatersrand, Lightcurve Films.
We present the video about assisting anti-retroviral therapy (ART) by an apt laboratory service - representing a South-African role model for economical large scale diagnostic testing. In the low-income countries inexpensive ART has transformed the prospects for the survival of HIV seropositive patients but there are doubts whether there is a need for the laboratory monitoring of ART and at what costs - in situations when the overall quality of pathology services can still be very low. The appropriate answer is to establish economically sound services with better coordination and stricter internal quality assessment than seen in western countries. This video, photographed at location in the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS-SA) at the Witwatersrand University, Johannesburg, South Africa, provides such a coordinated scheme expanding the original 2-color CD4-CD45 PanLeucoGating strategy (PLG). Thus the six modules of the video presentation reveal the simplicity of a 4-color flow cytometric assay to combine haematological, immunological and virology-related tests in a single tube. These video modules are: (i) the set-up of instruments; (ii) sample preparations; (iii) testing absolute counts and monitoring quality for each sample by bead-count-rate; (iv) the heamatological CD45 test for white cell counts and differentials; (v) the CD4 counts, and (vi) the activation of CD8+ T cells measured by CD38 display, a viral load related parameter. The potential cost-savings are remarkable. This arrangement is a prime example for the feasibility of performing > 800-1000 tests per day with a stricter quality control than that applied in western laboratories, and also with a transfer of technology to other laboratories within a NHLS-SA network. Expert advisors, laboratory managers and policy makers who carry the duty of making decisions about introducing modern medical technology are frequently not in a position to see the latest technical details as carried out in the large regional laboratories with huge burdens of workload. Hence this video shows details of these new developments.
Immunology, Issue 44, Human Immunodeficiency virus (HIV); CD4 lymphocyte count, white cell count, CD45, panleucogating, lymphocyte activation, CD38, HIV viral load, antiretroviral therapy (ART), internal quality control
An Optimized Protocol for Rearing Fopius arisanus, a Parasitoid of Tephritid Fruit Flies
Institutions: US Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center.
(Sonan) is an important parasitoid of Tephritid fruit flies for at least two reasons. First, it is the one of only three opiine parasitoids known to infect the host during the egg stage1
. Second, it has a wide range of potential fruit fly hosts. Perhaps due to its life history, F. arisanus
has been a successfully used for biological control of fruit flies in multiple tropical regions2-4
. One impediment to the wide use of F. arisanus
for fruit fly control is that it is difficult to establish a stable laboratory colony5-9
. Despite this difficulty, in the 1990s USDA researchers developed a reliable method to maintain laboratory populations of F. arisanus10-12
. There is significant interest in F. arisanus
, especially regarding its ability to colonize a wide variety of Tephritid hosts14-17
; interest is especially driven by the alarming spread of Bactrocera
fruit fly pests to new continents in the last decade18
. Further research on F. arisanus
and additional deployments of this species as a biological control agent will benefit from optimizations and improvements of rearing methods. In this protocol and associated video article we describe an optimized method for rearing F. arisanus
based on a previously described approach12
. The method we describe here allows rearing of F. arisanus
in a small scale without the use of fruit, using materials available in tropical regions around the world and with relatively low manual labor requirements.
Developmental Biology, Issue 53, Biological control, Tephritidae, parasitoid, French Polynesia, insectary