Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
26 Related JoVE Articles!
Autonomously Bioluminescent Mammalian Cells for Continuous and Real-time Monitoring of Cytotoxicity
Institutions: Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 490 BioTech, Inc., The University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Mammalian cell-based in vitro
assays have been widely employed as alternatives to animal testing for toxicological studies but have been limited due to the high monetary and time costs of parallel sample preparation that are necessitated due to the destructive nature of firefly luciferase-based screening methods. This video describes the utilization of autonomously bioluminescent mammalian cells, which do not require the destructive addition of a luciferin substrate, as an inexpensive and facile method for monitoring the cytotoxic effects of a compound of interest. Mammalian cells stably expressing the full bacterial bioluminescence (luxCDABEfrp
) gene cassette autonomously produce an optical signal that peaks at 490 nm without the addition of an expensive and possibly interfering luciferin substrate, excitation by an external energy source, or destruction of the sample that is traditionally performed during optical imaging procedures. This independence from external stimulation places the burden for maintaining the bioluminescent reaction solely on the cell, meaning that the resultant signal is only detected during active metabolism. This characteristic makes the lux
-expressing cell line an excellent candidate for use as a biosentinel against cytotoxic effects because changes in bioluminescent production are indicative of adverse effects on cellular growth and metabolism. Similarly, the autonomous nature and lack of required sample destruction permits repeated imaging of the same sample in real-time throughout the period of toxicant exposure and can be performed across multiple samples using existing imaging equipment in an automated fashion.
Cellular Biology, Issue 80, Toxicity Tests, optical imaging devices (design and techniques), Cytotoxicity, Screening, Optical Imaging, Bacterial Bioluminescence, lux, Mammalian Cell Culture
Generation of Human Cardiomyocytes: A Differentiation Protocol from Feeder-free Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells
Institutions: Humanitas Clinical and Research Center, Italy, National Research Council (CNR).
In order to investigate the events driving heart development and to determine the molecular mechanisms leading to myocardial diseases in humans, it is essential first to generate functional human cardiomyocytes (CMs). The use of these cells in drug discovery and toxicology studies would also be highly beneficial, allowing new pharmacological molecules for the treatment of cardiac disorders to be validated pre-clinically on cells of human origin. Of the possible sources of CMs, induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells are among the most promising, as they can be derived directly from readily accessible patient tissue and possess an intrinsic capacity to give rise to all cell types of the body 1
. Several methods have been proposed for differentiating iPS cells into CMs, ranging from the classical embryoid bodies (EBs) aggregation approach to chemically defined protocols 2,3
. In this article we propose an EBs-based protocol and show how this method can be employed to efficiently generate functional CM-like cells from feeder-free iPS cells.
Stem Cell Biology, Issue 76, Developmental Biology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Medicine, Bioengineering, Biomedical Engineering, Genetics, Cardiology, Stem Cell Research, Cardiovascular Diseases, Human cardiomyocytes, iPS cells, induced pluripotent stem cells, stem cells, cardiac differentiation, disease modeling, embryoid bodies, cell lines, cell culture
Corneal Donor Tissue Preparation for Descemet's Membrane Endothelial Keratoplasty
Institutions: University of Michigan, MidWest Eye Banks.
Descemet’s Membrane Endothelial Keratoplasty (DMEK) is a form of corneal transplantation in which only a single cell layer, the corneal endothelium, along with its basement membrane (Descemet's membrane) is introduced onto the recipient's posterior stroma3
. Unlike Descemet’s Stripping Automated Endothelial Keratoplasty (DSAEK), where additional donor stroma is introduced, no unnatural stroma-to-stroma interface is created. As a result, the natural anatomy of the cornea is preserved as much as possible allowing for improved recovery time and visual acuity4
. Endothelial Keratoplasty (EK) is the procedure of choice for treatment of endothelial dysfunction. The advantages of EK include rapid recovery of vision, preservation of ocular integrity and minimal refractive change due to use of a small, peripheral incision1
. DSAEK utilizes donor tissue prepared with partial thickness stroma and endothelium. The rapid success and utilization of this procedure can be attributed to availability of eye-bank prepared precut tissue. The benefits of eye-bank preparation of donor tissue include elimination of need for specialized equipment in the operating room and availability of back up donor tissue in case of tissue perforation during preparation. In addition, high volume preparation of donor tissue by eye-bank technicians may provide improved quality of donor tissue. DSAEK may have limited best corrected visual acuity due to creation of a stromal interface between the donor and recipient cornea. Elimination of this interface with transplantation of only donor Descemet's membrane and endothelium in DMEK may improve visual outcomes and reduce complications after EK5
. Similar to DSAEK, long term success and acceptance of DMEK is dependent on ease of availability of precut, eye-bank prepared donor tissue. Here we present a stepwise approach to donor tissue preparation which may reduce some barriers eye-banks face in providing DMEK grafts.
Medicine, Issue 91, DMEK, EK, endothelial keratoplasty, Descemet’s membrane endothelial keratoplasty, corneal transplantation, eye bank, donor tissue preparation
Teratoma Generation in the Testis Capsule
Institutions: Scripps Research Institute, Scripps Research Institute , University of California.
Pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) have the unique characteristic that they can differentiate into cells from all three germ layers. This makes them a potentially valuable tool for the treatment of many different diseases. With the advent of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and continuing research with human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) there is a need for assays that can demonstrate that a particular cell line is pluripotent. Germline transmission has been the gold standard for demonstrating the pluripotence of mouse embryonic stem cell (mESC) lines1,2,3
. Using this assay, researchers can show that a mESC line can make all cell types in the embryo including germ cells4
. With the generation of human ESC lines5,6
, the appropriate assay to prove pluripotence of these cells was unclear since human ESCs cannot be tested for germline transmission. As a surrogate, the teratoma assay is currently used to demonstrate the pluripotency of human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs)7,8,9
. Though this assay has recently come under scrutiny and new technologies are being actively explored, the teratoma assay is the current gold standard7
. In this assay, the cells in question are injected into an immune compromised mouse. If the cells are pluripotent, a teratoma will eventually develop and sections of the tumor will show tissues from all 3 germ layers10
. In the teratoma assay, hPSCs can be injected into different areas of the mouse. The most common injection sites include the testis capsule, the kidney capsule, the liver; or into the leg either subcutaneously or intramuscularly11
. Here we describe a robust protocol for the generation of teratomas from hPSCs using the testis capsule as the site for tumor growth.
Medicine, Issue 57, stem cells, pluripotent stem cells, hPSCs, teratoma assay, animal model, mouse testis capsule
In vivo Clonal Tracking of Hematopoietic Stem and Progenitor Cells Marked by Five Fluorescent Proteins using Confocal and Multiphoton Microscopy
Institutions: NHLBI/NIH, NHLBI/NIH.
We developed and validated a fluorescent marking methodology for clonal tracking of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs) with high spatial and temporal resolution to study in vivo
hematopoiesis using the murine bone marrow transplant experimental model. Genetic combinatorial marking using lentiviral vectors encoding fluorescent proteins (FPs) enabled cell fate mapping through advanced microscopy imaging. Vectors encoding five different FPs: Cerulean, EGFP, Venus, tdTomato, and mCherry were used to concurrently transduce HSPCs, creating a diverse palette of color marked cells. Imaging using confocal/two-photon hybrid microscopy enables simultaneous high resolution assessment of uniquely marked cells and their progeny in conjunction with structural components of the tissues. Volumetric analyses over large areas reveal that spectrally coded HSPC-derived cells can be detected non-invasively in various intact tissues, including the bone marrow (BM), for extensive periods of time following transplantation. Live studies combining video-rate multiphoton and confocal time-lapse imaging in 4D demonstrate the possibility of dynamic cellular and clonal tracking in a quantitative manner.
Stem Cell Biology, Issue 90, LeGO imaging, clonal tracking, fluorescent proteins, confocal microscopy, multiphoton microscopy, hematopoiesis, lentiviral vectors, hematopoietic stem cells
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
Stimulating the Lip Motor Cortex with Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
Institutions: University of Oxford.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has proven to be a useful tool in investigating the role of the articulatory motor cortex in speech perception. Researchers have used single-pulse and repetitive TMS to stimulate the lip representation in the motor cortex. The excitability of the lip motor representation can be investigated by applying single TMS pulses over this cortical area and recording TMS-induced motor evoked potentials (MEPs) via electrodes attached to the lip muscles (electromyography; EMG). Larger MEPs reflect increased cortical excitability. Studies have shown that excitability increases during listening to speech as well as during viewing speech-related movements. TMS can be used also to disrupt the lip motor representation. A 15-min train of low-frequency sub-threshold repetitive stimulation has been shown to suppress motor excitability for a further 15-20 min. This TMS-induced disruption of the motor lip representation impairs subsequent performance in demanding speech perception tasks and modulates auditory-cortex responses to speech sounds. These findings are consistent with the suggestion that the motor cortex contributes to speech perception. This article describes how to localize the lip representation in the motor cortex and how to define the appropriate stimulation intensity for carrying out both single-pulse and repetitive TMS experiments.
Behavior, Issue 88, electromyography, motor cortex, motor evoked potential, motor excitability, speech, repetitive TMS, rTMS, virtual lesion, transcranial magnetic stimulation
Preparation and Use of Photocatalytically Active Segmented Ag|ZnO and Coaxial TiO2-Ag Nanowires Made by Templated Electrodeposition
Institutions: University of Twente.
Photocatalytically active nanostructures require a large specific surface area with the presence of many catalytically active sites for the oxidation and reduction half reactions, and fast electron (hole) diffusion and charge separation. Nanowires present suitable architectures to meet these requirements. Axially segmented Ag|ZnO and radially segmented (coaxial) TiO2
-Ag nanowires with a diameter of 200 nm and a length of 6-20 µm were made by templated electrodeposition within the pores of polycarbonate track-etched (PCTE) or anodized aluminum oxide (AAO) membranes, respectively. In the photocatalytic experiments, the ZnO and TiO2
phases acted as photoanodes, and Ag as cathode. No external circuit is needed to connect both electrodes, which is a key advantage over conventional photo-electrochemical cells. For making segmented Ag|ZnO nanowires, the Ag salt electrolyte was replaced after formation of the Ag segment to form a ZnO segment attached to the Ag segment. For making coaxial TiO2
-Ag nanowires, a TiO2
gel was first formed by the electrochemically induced sol-gel method. Drying and thermal annealing of the as-formed TiO2
gel resulted in the formation of crystalline TiO2
nanotubes. A subsequent Ag electrodeposition step inside the TiO2
nanotubes resulted in formation of coaxial TiO2
-Ag nanowires. Due to the combination of an n
-type semiconductor (ZnO or TiO2
) and a metal (Ag) within the same nanowire, a Schottky barrier was created at the interface between the phases. To demonstrate the photocatalytic activity of these nanowires, the Ag|ZnO nanowires were used in a photocatalytic experiment in which H2
gas was detected upon UV illumination of the nanowires dispersed in a methanol/water mixture. After 17 min of illumination, approximately 0.2 vol% H2
gas was detected from a suspension of ~0.1 g of Ag|ZnO nanowires in a 50 ml 80 vol% aqueous methanol solution.
Physics, Issue 87, Multicomponent nanowires, electrochemistry, sol-gel processes, photocatalysis, photochemistry, H2 evolution
Quantitative Analysis of Chromatin Proteomes in Disease
Institutions: David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Nora Eccles Harrison Cardiovascular Research and Training Institute, University of Utah.
In the nucleus reside the proteomes whose functions are most intimately linked with gene regulation. Adult mammalian cardiomyocyte nuclei are unique due to the high percentage of binucleated cells,1
the predominantly heterochromatic state of the DNA, and the non-dividing nature of the cardiomyocyte which renders adult nuclei in a permanent state of interphase.2
Transcriptional regulation during development and disease have been well studied in this organ,3-5
but what remains relatively unexplored is the role played by the nuclear proteins responsible for DNA packaging and expression, and how these proteins control changes in transcriptional programs that occur during disease.6
In the developed world, heart disease is the number one cause of mortality for both men and women.7
Insight on how nuclear proteins cooperate to regulate the progression of this disease is critical for advancing the current treatment options.
Mass spectrometry is the ideal tool for addressing these questions as it allows for an unbiased annotation of the nuclear proteome and relative quantification for how the abundance of these proteins changes with disease. While there have been several proteomic studies for mammalian nuclear protein complexes,8-13
there has been only one study examining the cardiac nuclear proteome, and it considered the entire nucleus, rather than exploring the proteome at the level of nuclear sub compartments.15
In large part, this shortage of work is due to the difficulty of isolating cardiac nuclei. Cardiac nuclei occur within a rigid and dense actin-myosin apparatus to which they are connected via multiple extensions from the endoplasmic reticulum, to the extent that myocyte contraction alters their overall shape.16
Additionally, cardiomyocytes are 40% mitochondria by volume17
which necessitates enrichment of the nucleus apart from the other organelles. Here we describe a protocol for cardiac nuclear enrichment and further fractionation into biologically-relevant compartments. Furthermore, we detail methods for label-free quantitative mass spectrometric dissection of these fractions-techniques amenable to in vivo
experimentation in various animal models and organ systems where metabolic labeling is not feasible.
Medicine, Issue 70, Molecular Biology, Immunology, Genetics, Genomics, Physiology, Protein, DNA, Chromatin, cardiovascular disease, proteomics, mass spectrometry
How to Create and Use Binocular Rivalry
Institutions: New York University, New York University, Princeton University, Princeton University.
Each of our eyes normally sees a slightly different image of the world around us. The brain can combine these two images into a single coherent representation. However, when the eyes are presented with images that are sufficiently different from each other, an interesting thing happens: Rather than fusing the two images into a combined conscious percept, what transpires is a pattern of perceptual alternations where one image dominates awareness while the other is suppressed; dominance alternates between the two images, typically every few seconds. This perceptual phenomenon is known as binocular rivalry. Binocular rivalry is considered useful for studying perceptual selection and awareness in both human and animal models, because unchanging visual input to each eye leads to alternations in visual awareness and perception. To create a binocular rivalry stimulus, all that is necessary is to present each eye with a different image at the same perceived location. There are several ways of doing this, but newcomers to the field are often unsure which method would best suit their specific needs. The purpose of this article is to describe a number of inexpensive and straightforward ways to create and use binocular rivalry. We detail methods that do not require expensive specialized equipment and describe each method's advantages and disadvantages. The methods described include the use of red-blue goggles, mirror stereoscopes and prism goggles.
Neuroscience, Issue 45, Binocular rivalry, continuous flash suppression, vision, visual awareness, perceptual competition, unconscious processing, neuroimaging
A Comparative Approach to Characterize the Landscape of Host-Pathogen Protein-Protein Interactions
Institutions: Institut Pasteur , Université Sorbonne Paris Cité, Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
Significant efforts were gathered to generate large-scale comprehensive protein-protein interaction network maps. This is instrumental to understand the pathogen-host relationships and was essentially performed by genetic screenings in yeast two-hybrid systems. The recent improvement of protein-protein interaction detection by a Gaussia
luciferase-based fragment complementation assay now offers the opportunity to develop integrative comparative interactomic approaches necessary to rigorously compare interaction profiles of proteins from different pathogen strain variants against a common set of cellular factors.
This paper specifically focuses on the utility of combining two orthogonal methods to generate protein-protein interaction datasets: yeast two-hybrid (Y2H) and a new assay, high-throughput Gaussia princeps
protein complementation assay (HT-GPCA) performed in mammalian cells.
A large-scale identification of cellular partners of a pathogen protein is performed by mating-based yeast two-hybrid screenings of cDNA libraries using multiple pathogen strain variants. A subset of interacting partners selected on a high-confidence statistical scoring is further validated in mammalian cells for pair-wise interactions with the whole set of pathogen variants proteins using HT-GPCA. This combination of two complementary methods improves the robustness of the interaction dataset, and allows the performance of a stringent comparative interaction analysis. Such comparative interactomics constitute a reliable and powerful strategy to decipher any pathogen-host interplays.
Immunology, Issue 77, Genetics, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Infection, Cancer Biology, Virology, Medicine, Host-Pathogen Interactions, Host-Pathogen Interactions, Protein-protein interaction, High-throughput screening, Luminescence, Yeast two-hybrid, HT-GPCA, Network, protein, yeast, cell, culture
An Analytical Tool-box for Comprehensive Biochemical, Structural and Transcriptome Evaluation of Oral Biofilms Mediated by Mutans Streptococci
Institutions: University of Rochester Medical Center, Sichuan University, Glostrup Hospital, Glostrup, Denmark, University of Rochester Medical Center.
Biofilms are highly dynamic, organized and structured communities of microbial cells enmeshed in an extracellular matrix of variable density and composition 1, 2
. In general, biofilms develop from initial microbial attachment on a surface followed by formation of cell clusters (or microcolonies) and further development and stabilization of the microcolonies, which occur in a complex extracellular matrix. The majority of biofilm matrices harbor exopolysaccharides (EPS), and dental biofilms are no exception; especially those associated with caries disease, which are mostly mediated by mutans streptococci 3
. The EPS are synthesized by microorganisms (S. mutans
, a key contributor) by means of extracellular enzymes, such as glucosyltransferases using sucrose primarily as substrate 3
Studies of biofilms formed on tooth surfaces are particularly challenging owing to their constant exposure to environmental challenges associated with complex diet-host-microbial interactions occurring in the oral cavity. Better understanding of the dynamic changes of the structural organization and composition of the matrix, physiology and transcriptome/proteome profile of biofilm-cells in response to these complex interactions would further advance the current knowledge of how oral biofilms modulate pathogenicity. Therefore, we have developed an analytical tool-box to facilitate biofilm analysis at structural, biochemical and molecular levels by combining commonly available and novel techniques with custom-made software for data analysis. Standard analytical (colorimetric assays, RT-qPCR and microarrays) and novel fluorescence techniques (for simultaneous labeling of bacteria and EPS) were integrated with specific software for data analysis to address the complex nature of oral biofilm research.
The tool-box is comprised of 4 distinct but interconnected steps (Figure 1): 1) Bioassays, 2) Raw Data Input, 3) Data Processing, and 4) Data Analysis. We used our in vitro
biofilm model and specific experimental conditions to demonstrate the usefulness and flexibility of the tool-box. The biofilm model is simple, reproducible and multiple replicates of a single experiment can be done simultaneously 4, 5
. Moreover, it allows temporal evaluation, inclusion of various microbial species 5
and assessment of the effects of distinct experimental conditions (e.g. treatments 6
; comparison of knockout mutants vs. parental strain 5
; carbohydrates availability 7
). Here, we describe two specific components of the tool-box, including (i) new software for microarray data mining/organization (MDV) and fluorescence imaging analysis (DUOSTAT), and (ii) in situ
EPS-labeling. We also provide an experimental case showing how the tool-box can assist with biofilms analysis, data organization, integration and interpretation.
Microbiology, Issue 47, Extracellular matrix, polysaccharides, biofilm, mutans streptococci, glucosyltransferases, confocal fluorescence, microarray
The Use of Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy as a Tool for the Measurement of Bi-hemispheric Transcranial Electric Stimulation Effects on Primary Motor Cortex Metabolism
Institutions: University of Montréal, McGill University, University of Minnesota.
Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a neuromodulation technique that has been increasingly used over the past decade in the treatment of neurological and psychiatric disorders such as stroke and depression. Yet, the mechanisms underlying its ability to modulate brain excitability to improve clinical symptoms remains poorly understood 33
. To help improve this understanding, proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1
H-MRS) can be used as it allows the in vivo
quantification of brain metabolites such as γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate in a region-specific manner 41
. In fact, a recent study demonstrated that 1
H-MRS is indeed a powerful means to better understand the effects of tDCS on neurotransmitter concentration 34
. This article aims to describe the complete protocol for combining tDCS (NeuroConn MR compatible stimulator) with 1
H-MRS at 3 T using a MEGA-PRESS sequence. We will describe the impact of a protocol that has shown great promise for the treatment of motor dysfunctions after stroke, which consists of bilateral stimulation of primary motor cortices 27,30,31
. Methodological factors to consider and possible modifications to the protocol are also discussed.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, transcranial direct current stimulation, primary motor cortex, GABA, glutamate, stroke
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
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
Aseptic Laboratory Techniques: Plating Methods
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Microorganisms are present on all inanimate surfaces creating ubiquitous sources of possible contamination in the laboratory. Experimental success relies on the ability of a scientist to sterilize work surfaces and equipment as well as prevent contact of sterile instruments and solutions with non-sterile surfaces. Here we present the steps for several plating methods routinely used in the laboratory to isolate, propagate, or enumerate microorganisms such as bacteria and phage. All five methods incorporate aseptic technique, or procedures that maintain the sterility of experimental materials. Procedures described include (1) streak-plating bacterial cultures to isolate single colonies, (2) pour-plating and (3) spread-plating to enumerate viable bacterial colonies, (4) soft agar overlays to isolate phage and enumerate plaques, and (5) replica-plating to transfer cells from one plate to another in an identical spatial pattern. These procedures can be performed at the laboratory bench, provided they involve non-pathogenic strains of microorganisms (Biosafety Level 1, BSL-1). If working with BSL-2 organisms, then these manipulations must take place in a biosafety cabinet. Consult the most current edition of the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories
(BMBL) as well as Material Safety Data Sheets
(MSDS) for Infectious Substances to determine the biohazard classification as well as the safety precautions and containment facilities required for the microorganism in question. Bacterial strains and phage stocks can be obtained from research investigators, companies, and collections maintained by particular organizations such as the American Type Culture Collection
(ATCC). It is recommended that non-pathogenic strains be used when learning the various plating methods. By following the procedures described in this protocol, students should be able to:
● Perform plating procedures without contaminating media.
● Isolate single bacterial colonies by the streak-plating method.
● Use pour-plating and spread-plating methods to determine the concentration of bacteria.
● Perform soft agar overlays when working with phage.
● Transfer bacterial cells from one plate to another using the replica-plating procedure.
● Given an experimental task, select the appropriate plating method.
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, Streak plates, pour plates, soft agar overlays, spread plates, replica plates, bacteria, colonies, phage, plaques, dilutions
Unraveling the Unseen Players in the Ocean - A Field Guide to Water Chemistry and Marine Microbiology
Institutions: San Diego State University, University of California San Diego.
Here we introduce a series of thoroughly tested and well standardized research protocols adapted for use in remote marine environments. The sampling protocols include the assessment of resources available to the microbial community (dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, inorganic nutrients), and a comprehensive description of the viral and bacterial communities (via direct viral and microbial counts, enumeration of autofluorescent microbes, and construction of viral and microbial metagenomes). We use a combination of methods, which represent a dispersed field of scientific disciplines comprising already established protocols and some of the most recent techniques developed. Especially metagenomic sequencing techniques used for viral and bacterial community characterization, have been established only in recent years, and are thus still subjected to constant improvement. This has led to a variety of sampling and sample processing procedures currently in use. The set of methods presented here provides an up to date approach to collect and process environmental samples. Parameters addressed with these protocols yield the minimum on information essential to characterize and understand the underlying mechanisms of viral and microbial community dynamics. It gives easy to follow guidelines to conduct comprehensive surveys and discusses critical steps and potential caveats pertinent to each technique.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, nutrients, DAPI, SYBR, microbial metagenomics, viral metagenomics, marine environment
Physical, Chemical and Biological Characterization of Six Biochars Produced for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites
Institutions: Royal Military College of Canada, Queen's University.
The physical and chemical properties of biochar vary based on feedstock sources and production conditions, making it possible to engineer biochars with specific functions (e.g.
carbon sequestration, soil quality improvements, or contaminant sorption). In 2013, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) made publically available their Standardized Product Definition and Product Testing Guidelines (Version 1.1) which set standards for physical and chemical characteristics for biochar. Six biochars made from three different feedstocks and at two temperatures were analyzed for characteristics related to their use as a soil amendment. The protocol describes analyses of the feedstocks and biochars and includes: cation exchange capacity (CEC), specific surface area (SSA), organic carbon (OC) and moisture percentage, pH, particle size distribution, and proximate and ultimate analysis. Also described in the protocol are the analyses of the feedstocks and biochars for contaminants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals and mercury as well as nutrients (phosphorous, nitrite and nitrate and ammonium as nitrogen). The protocol also includes the biological testing procedures, earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on the quality assurance / quality control (QA/QC) results of blanks, duplicates, standards and reference materials, all methods were determined adequate for use with biochar and feedstock materials. All biochars and feedstocks were well within the criterion set by the IBI and there were little differences among biochars, except in the case of the biochar produced from construction waste materials. This biochar (referred to as Old biochar) was determined to have elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead, and failed the earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on these results, Old biochar would not be appropriate for use as a soil amendment for carbon sequestration, substrate quality improvements or remediation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, biochar, characterization, carbon sequestration, remediation, International Biochar Initiative (IBI), soil amendment
Setting-up an In Vitro Model of Rat Blood-brain Barrier (BBB): A Focus on BBB Impermeability and Receptor-mediated Transport
Institutions: VECT-HORUS SAS, CNRS, NICN UMR 7259.
The blood brain barrier (BBB) specifically regulates molecular and cellular flux between the blood and the nervous tissue. Our aim was to develop and characterize a highly reproducible rat syngeneic in vitro
model of the BBB using co-cultures of primary rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC) and astrocytes to study receptors involved in transcytosis across the endothelial cell monolayer. Astrocytes were isolated by mechanical dissection following trypsin digestion and were frozen for later co-culture. RBEC were isolated from 5-week-old rat cortices. The brains were cleaned of meninges and white matter, and mechanically dissociated following enzymatic digestion. Thereafter, the tissue homogenate was centrifuged in bovine serum albumin to separate vessel fragments from nervous tissue. The vessel fragments underwent a second enzymatic digestion to free endothelial cells from their extracellular matrix. The remaining contaminating cells such as pericytes were further eliminated by plating the microvessel fragments in puromycin-containing medium. They were then passaged onto filters for co-culture with astrocytes grown on the bottom of the wells. RBEC expressed high levels of tight junction (TJ) proteins such as occludin, claudin-5 and ZO-1 with a typical localization at the cell borders. The transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER) of brain endothelial monolayers, indicating the tightness of TJs reached 300 ohm·cm2
on average. The endothelial permeability coefficients (Pe) for lucifer yellow (LY) was highly reproducible with an average of 0.26 ± 0.11 x 10-3
cm/min. Brain endothelial cells organized in monolayers expressed the efflux transporter P-glycoprotein (P-gp), showed a polarized transport of rhodamine 123, a ligand for P-gp, and showed specific transport of transferrin-Cy3 and DiILDL across the endothelial cell monolayer. In conclusion, we provide a protocol for setting up an in vitro
BBB model that is highly reproducible due to the quality assurance methods, and that is suitable for research on BBB transporters and receptors.
Medicine, Issue 88, rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC), mouse, spinal cord, tight junction (TJ), receptor-mediated transport (RMT), low density lipoprotein (LDL), LDLR, transferrin, TfR, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER),
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)
High Efficiency Differentiation of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells to Cardiomyocytes and Characterization by Flow Cytometry
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin, Stanford University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin, Hong Kong University, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin.
There is an urgent need to develop approaches for repairing the damaged heart, discovering new therapeutic drugs that do not have toxic effects on the heart, and improving strategies to accurately model heart disease. The potential of exploiting human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) technology to generate cardiac muscle “in a dish” for these applications continues to generate high enthusiasm. In recent years, the ability to efficiently generate cardiomyogenic cells from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) has greatly improved, offering us new opportunities to model very early stages of human cardiac development not otherwise accessible. In contrast to many previous methods, the cardiomyocyte differentiation protocol described here does not require cell aggregation or the addition of Activin A or BMP4 and robustly generates cultures of cells that are highly positive for cardiac troponin I and T (TNNI3, TNNT2), iroquois-class homeodomain protein IRX-4 (IRX4), myosin regulatory light chain 2, ventricular/cardiac muscle isoform (MLC2v) and myosin regulatory light chain 2, atrial isoform (MLC2a) by day 10 across all human embryonic stem cell (hESC) and hiPSC lines tested to date. Cells can be passaged and maintained for more than 90 days in culture. The strategy is technically simple to implement and cost-effective. Characterization of cardiomyocytes derived from pluripotent cells often includes the analysis of reference markers, both at the mRNA and protein level. For protein analysis, flow cytometry is a powerful analytical tool for assessing quality of cells in culture and determining subpopulation homogeneity. However, technical variation in sample preparation can significantly affect quality of flow cytometry data. Thus, standardization of staining protocols should facilitate comparisons among various differentiation strategies. Accordingly, optimized staining protocols for the analysis of IRX4, MLC2v, MLC2a, TNNI3, and TNNT2 by flow cytometry are described.
Cellular Biology, Issue 91, human induced pluripotent stem cell, flow cytometry, directed differentiation, cardiomyocyte, IRX4, TNNI3, TNNT2, MCL2v, MLC2a
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g.
, signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation.
The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
Corneal Donor Tissue Preparation for Endothelial Keratoplasty
Institutions: University of Michigan , MidWest Eye Banks.
Over the past ten years, corneal transplantation surgical techniques have undergone revolutionary changes1,2
. Since its inception, traditional full thickness corneal transplantation has been the treatment to restore sight in those limited by corneal disease. Some disadvantages to this approach include a high degree of post-operative astigmatism, lack of predictable refractive outcome, and disturbance to the ocular surface. The development of Descemet's stripping endothelial keratoplasty (DSEK), transplanting only the posterior corneal stroma, Descemet's membrane, and endothelium, has dramatically changed treatment of corneal endothelial disease. DSEK is performed through a smaller incision; this technique avoids 'open sky' surgery with its risk of hemorrhage or expulsion, decreases the incidence of postoperative wound dehiscence, reduces unpredictable refractive outcomes, and may decrease the rate of transplant rejection3-6
Initially, cornea donor posterior lamellar dissection for DSEK was performed manually1
resulting in variable graft thickness and damage to the delicate corneal endothelial tissue during tissue processing. Automated lamellar dissection (Descemet's stripping automated endothelial keratoplasty, DSAEK) was developed to address these issues. Automated dissection utilizes the same technology as LASIK corneal flap creation with a mechanical microkeratome blade that helps to create uniform and thin tissue grafts for DSAEK surgery with minimal corneal endothelial cell loss in tissue processing.
Eye banks have been providing full thickness corneas for surgical transplantation for many years. In 2006, eye banks began to develop methodologies for supplying precut corneal tissue for endothelial keratoplasty. With the input of corneal surgeons, eye banks have developed thorough protocols to safely and effectively prepare posterior lamellar tissue for DSAEK surgery. This can be performed preoperatively at the eye bank. Research shows no significant difference in terms of the quality of the tissue7
or patient outcomes8,9
using eye bank precut tissue versus surgeon-prepared tissue for DSAEK surgery. For most corneal surgeons, the availability of precut DSAEK corneal tissue saves time and money10
, and reduces the stress of performing the donor corneal dissection in the operating room. In part because of the ability of the eye banks to provide high quality posterior lamellar corneal in a timely manner, DSAEK has become the standard of care for surgical management of corneal endothelial disease.
The procedure that we are describing is the preparation of the posterior lamellar cornea at the eye bank for transplantation in DSAEK surgery (Figure 1
Medicine, Issue 64, Physiology, Cornea, transplantation, DSAEK, DSEK, endothelial keratoplasty, lamellar, graft, Moria, microkeratome, precut, Fuchs dystrophy
A Strategy to Identify de Novo Mutations in Common Disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia
Institutions: Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal.
There are several lines of evidence supporting the role of de novo
mutations as a mechanism for common disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. First, the de novo
mutation rate in humans is relatively high, so new mutations are generated at a high frequency in the population. However, de novo
mutations have not been reported in most common diseases. Mutations in genes leading to severe diseases where there is a strong negative selection against the phenotype, such as lethality in embryonic stages or reduced reproductive fitness, will not be transmitted to multiple family members, and therefore will not be detected by linkage gene mapping or association studies. The observation of very high concordance in monozygotic twins and very low concordance in dizygotic twins also strongly supports the hypothesis that a significant fraction of cases may result from new mutations. Such is the case for diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. Second, despite reduced reproductive fitness1
and extremely variable environmental factors, the incidence of some diseases is maintained worldwide at a relatively high and constant rate. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia, with an incidence of approximately 1% worldwide. Mutational load can be thought of as a balance between selection for or against a deleterious mutation and its production by de novo
mutation. Lower rates of reproduction constitute a negative selection factor that should reduce the number of mutant alleles in the population, ultimately leading to decreased disease prevalence. These selective pressures tend to be of different intensity in different environments. Nonetheless, these severe mental disorders have been maintained at a constant relatively high prevalence in the worldwide population across a wide range of cultures and countries despite a strong negative selection against them2
. This is not what one would predict in diseases with reduced reproductive fitness, unless there was a high new mutation rate. Finally, the effects of paternal age: there is a significantly increased risk of the disease with increasing paternal age, which could result from the age related increase in paternal de novo
mutations. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia3
. The male-to-female ratio of mutation rate is estimated at about 4–6:1, presumably due to a higher number of germ-cell divisions with age in males. Therefore, one would predict that de novo
mutations would more frequently come from males, particularly older males4
. A high rate of new mutations may in part explain why genetic studies have so far failed to identify many genes predisposing to complexes diseases genes, such as autism and schizophrenia, and why diseases have been identified for a mere 3% of genes in the human genome. Identification for de novo
mutations as a cause of a disease requires a targeted molecular approach, which includes studying parents and affected subjects. The process for determining if the genetic basis of a disease may result in part from de novo
mutations and the molecular approach to establish this link will be illustrated, using autism and schizophrenia as examples.
Medicine, Issue 52, de novo mutation, complex diseases, schizophrenia, autism, rare variations, DNA sequencing
Freezing Human ES Cells
Here we demonstrate how our lab freezes HuES human embryonic stem cell lines. A healthy, exponentially expanding culture is washed with PBS to remove residual media that could otherwise quench the Trypsin reaction. Warmed 0.05% Trypsin-EDTA is then added to cover the cells, and the plate allowed to incubate for up to 5 mins at room temperature. During this time cells can be observed rounding, and colonies lifting off the plate surface. Gentle repeated pipetting will remove cells and colonies from the plate surface. Trypsinized cells are placed in a standard conical tube containing pre-warmed hES cell media to quench remaining trypsin, and then spun. Cells are resuspended growth media at a concentration of approximately one million cells in one mL of media, a concentration such that one frozen aliquot is sufficient to resurrect a culture on a 10cm plate. After cells are adequately resuspended, ice cold freezing media is added at equal volume. Cell suspensions are mixed thoroughly, aliquoted into freezing vials, and allowed to slowly freeze to -80C over 24 hours. Frozen cells can then moved to the vapor phase of liquid nitrogen for long term storage, or remain at -80 for approximately six months.
Cellular Biology, Issue 1, Embryonic Stem Cells, ES, Tissue Culture, Freezing
Investigating the Microbial Community in the Termite Hindgut - Interview
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter explains why the termite-gut microbial community is an excellent system for studying the complex interactions between microbes. The symbiotic relationship existing between the host insect and lignocellulose-degrading gut microbes is explained, as well as the industrial uses of these microbes for degrading plant biomass and generating biofuels.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, diversity