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!
Dorsal Column Steerability with Dual Parallel Leads using Dedicated Power Sources: A Computational Model
In spinal cord stimulation (SCS), concordance of stimulation-induced paresthesia over painful body regions is a necessary condition for therapeutic efficacy. Since patient pain patterns can be unique, a common stimulation configuration is the placement of two leads in parallel in the dorsal epidural space. This construct provides flexibility in steering stimulation current mediolaterally over the dorsal column to achieve better pain-paresthesia overlap. Using a mathematical model with an accurate fiber diameter distribution, we studied the ability of dual parallel leads to steer stimulation between adjacent contacts on dual parallel leads using (1) a single source system, and (2) a multi-source system, with a dedicated current source for each contact. The volume conductor model of a low-thoracic spinal cord with epidurally-positioned dual parallel (2 mm separation) percutaneous leads was first created, and the electric field was calculated using ANSYS, a finite element modeling tool. The activating function for 10 um fibers was computed as the second difference of the extracellular potential along the nodes of Ranvier on the nerve fibers in the dorsal column. The volume of activation (VOA) and the central point of the VOA were computed using a predetermined threshold of the activating function. The model compared the field steering results with single source versus dedicated power source systems on dual 8-contact stimulation leads. The model predicted that the multi-source system can target more central points of stimulation on the dorsal column than a single source system (100 vs. 3) and the mean steering step for mediolateral steering is 0.02 mm for multi-source systems vs 1 mm for single source systems, a 50-fold improvement. The ability to center stimulation regions in the dorsal column with high resolution may allow for better optimization of paresthesia-pain overlap in patients.
Medicine, Issue 48, spinal cord stimulation, dorsal columns, current steering, field steering
Inchworming: A Novel Motor Stereotypy in the BTBR T+ Itpr3tf/J Mouse Model of Autism
Institutions: University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine, Trinity College.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a behaviorally defined neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by decreased reciprocal social interaction, abnormal communication, and repetitive behaviors with restricted interest. As diagnosis is based on clinical criteria, any potentially relevant rodent models of this heterogeneous disorder should ideally recapitulate these diverse behavioral traits. The BTBR T+Itpr3tf
/J (BTBR) mouse is an established animal model of ASD, displaying repetitive behaviors such as increased grooming, as well as cognitive inflexibility. With respect to social interaction and interest, the juvenile play test has been employed in multiple rodent models of ASD. Here, we show that when BTBR mice are tested in a juvenile social interaction enclosure containing sawdust bedding, they display a repetitive synchronous digging motion. This repetitive motor behavior, referred to as "inchworming," was named because of the stereotypic nature of the movements exhibited by the mice while moving horizontally across the floor. Inchworming mice must use their fore- and hind-limbs in synchrony to displace the bedding, performing a minimum of one inward and one outward motion. Although both BTBR and C56BL/6J (B6) mice exhibit this behavior, BTBR mice demonstrate a significantly higher duration and frequency of inchworming and a decreased latency to initiate inchworming when placed in a bedded enclosure. We conclude that this newly described behavior provides a measure of a repetitive motor stereotypy that can be easily measured in animal models of ASD.
Behavior, Issue 89, mice, inbred C57BL, social behavior, animal models, autism, BTBR, motor stereotypy, repetitive
Rapid Diagnosis of Avian Influenza Virus in Wild Birds: Use of a Portable rRT-PCR and Freeze-dried Reagents in the Field
Institutions: USGS Western Ecological Research Center, University of California, Davis, University of California, Davis, University of Minnesota , Science Applications International Corporation.
Wild birds have been implicated in the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) of the H5N1 subtype, prompting surveillance along migratory flyways. Sampling of wild birds for avian influenza virus (AIV) is often conducted in remote regions, but results are often delayed because of the need to transport samples to a laboratory equipped for molecular testing. Real-time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR) is a molecular technique that offers one of the most accurate and sensitive methods for diagnosis of AIV. The previously strict lab protocols needed for rRT-PCR are now being adapted for the field. Development of freeze-dried (lyophilized) reagents that do not require cold chain, with sensitivity at the level of wet reagents has brought on-site remote testing to a practical goal.
Here we present a method for the rapid diagnosis of AIV in wild birds using an rRT-PCR unit (Ruggedized Advanced Pathogen Identification Device or RAPID, Idaho Technologies, Salt Lake City, UT) that employs lyophilized reagents (Influenza A Target 1 Taqman; ASAY-ASY-0109, Idaho Technologies). The reagents contain all of the necessary components for testing at appropriate concentrations in a single tube: primers, probes, enzymes, buffers and internal positive controls, eliminating errors associated with improper storage or handling of wet reagents. The portable unit performs a screen for Influenza A by targeting the matrix gene and yields results in 2-3 hours. Genetic subtyping is also possible with H5 and H7 primer sets that target the hemagglutinin gene.
The system is suitable for use on cloacal and oropharyngeal samples collected from wild birds, as demonstrated here on the migratory shorebird species, the western sandpiper (Calidrus mauri
) captured in Northern California. Animal handling followed protocols approved by the Animal Care and Use Committee of the U.S. Geological Survey Western Ecological Research Center and permits of the U.S. Geological Survey Bird Banding Laboratory. The primary advantage of this technique is to expedite diagnosis of wild birds, increasing the chances of containing an outbreak in a remote location. On-site diagnosis would also prove useful for identifying and studying infected individuals in wild populations. The opportunity to collect information on host biology (immunological and physiological response to infection) and spatial ecology (migratory performance of infected birds) will provide insights into the extent to which wild birds can act as vectors for AIV over long distances.
Immunology, Issue 54, migratory birds, active surveillance, lyophilized reagents, avian influenza, H5N1
Identifying DNA Mutations in Purified Hematopoietic Stem/Progenitor Cells
Institutions: UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.
In recent years, it has become apparent that genomic instability is tightly related to many developmental disorders, cancers, and aging. Given that stem cells are responsible for ensuring tissue homeostasis and repair throughout life, it is reasonable to hypothesize that the stem cell population is critical for preserving genomic integrity of tissues. Therefore, significant interest has arisen in assessing the impact of endogenous and environmental factors on genomic integrity in stem cells and their progeny, aiming to understand the etiology of stem-cell based diseases.
transgenic mice carry a recoverable λ phage vector encoding the LacI
reporter system, in which the LacI
gene serves as the mutation reporter. The result of a mutated LacI
gene is the production of β-galactosidase that cleaves a chromogenic substrate, turning it blue. The LacI
reporter system is carried in all cells, including stem/progenitor cells and can easily be recovered and used to subsequently infect E. coli
. After incubating infected E. coli
on agarose that contains the correct substrate, plaques can be scored; blue plaques indicate a mutant LacI
gene, while clear plaques harbor wild-type. The frequency of blue (among clear) plaques indicates the mutant frequency in the original cell population the DNA was extracted from. Sequencing the mutant LacI
gene will show the location of the mutations in the gene and the type of mutation.
transgenic mouse model is well-established as an in vivo
mutagenesis assay. Moreover, the mice and the reagents for the assay are commercially available. Here we describe in detail how this model can be adapted to measure the frequency of spontaneously occurring DNA mutants in stem cell-enriched Lin-
(LSK) cells and other subpopulations of the hematopoietic system.
Infection, Issue 84, In vivo mutagenesis, hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells, LacI mouse model, DNA mutations, E. coli
Spatial Separation of Molecular Conformers and Clusters
Institutions: CFEL, DESY, University of Hamburg, University of Hamburg.
Gas-phase molecular physics and physical chemistry experiments commonly use supersonic expansions through pulsed valves for the production of cold molecular beams. However, these beams often contain multiple conformers and clusters, even at low rotational temperatures. We present an experimental methodology that allows the spatial separation of these constituent parts of a molecular beam expansion. Using an electric deflector the beam is separated by its mass-to-dipole moment ratio, analogous to a bender or an electric sector mass spectrometer spatially dispersing charged molecules on the basis of their mass-to-charge ratio. This deflector exploits the Stark effect in an inhomogeneous electric field and allows the separation of individual species of polar neutral molecules and clusters. It furthermore allows the selection of the coldest part of a molecular beam, as low-energy rotational quantum states generally experience the largest deflection. Different structural isomers (conformers) of a species can be separated due to the different arrangement of functional groups, which leads to distinct dipole moments. These are exploited by the electrostatic deflector for the production of a conformationally pure sample from a molecular beam. Similarly, specific cluster stoichiometries can be selected, as the mass and dipole moment of a given cluster depends on the degree of solvation around the parent molecule. This allows experiments on specific cluster sizes and structures, enabling the systematic study of solvation of neutral molecules.
Physics, Issue 83, Chemical Physics, Physical Chemistry, Molecular Physics, Molecular beams, Laser Spectroscopy, Clusters
Feeding of Ticks on Animals for Transmission and Xenodiagnosis in Lyme Disease Research
Institutions: Tulane University Health Sciences Center.
Transmission of the etiologic agent of Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi,
occurs by the attachment and blood feeding of Ixodes
species ticks on mammalian hosts. In nature, this zoonotic bacterial pathogen may use a variety of reservoir hosts, but the white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus
) is the primary reservoir for larval and nymphal ticks in North America. Humans are incidental hosts most frequently infected with B. burgdorferi
by the bite of ticks in the nymphal stage. B. burgdorferi
adapts to its hosts throughout the enzootic cycle, so the ability to explore the functions of these spirochetes and their effects on mammalian hosts requires the use of tick feeding. In addition, the technique of xenodiagnosis (using the natural vector for detection and recovery of an infectious agent) has been useful in studies of cryptic infection. In order to obtain nymphal ticks that harbor B. burgdorferi
, ticks are fed live spirochetes in culture through capillary tubes. Two animal models, mice and nonhuman primates, are most commonly used for Lyme disease studies involving tick feeding. We demonstrate the methods by which these ticks can be fed upon, and recovered from animals for either infection or xenodiagnosis.
Infection, Issue 78, Medicine, Immunology, Infectious Diseases, Biomedical Engineering, Primates, Muridae, Ticks, Borrelia, Borrelia Infections, Ixodes, ticks, Lyme disease, xenodiagnosis, Borrelia, burgdorferi, mice, nonhuman primates, animal model
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
Tractable Mammalian Cell Infections with Protozoan-primed Bacteria
Institutions: Oregon Health & Science University.
Many intracellular bacterial pathogens use freshwater protozoans as a natural reservoir for proliferation in the environment. Legionella pneumophila
, the causative agent of Legionnaires' pneumonia, gains a pathogenic advantage over in vitro
cultured bacteria when first harvested from protozoan cells prior to infection of mammalian macrophages. This suggests that important virulence factors may not be properly expressed in vitro
. We have developed a tractable system for priming L. pneumophila
through its natural protozoan host Acanthamoeba castellanii
prior to mammalian cell infection. The contribution of any virulence factor can be examined by comparing intracellular growth of a mutant strain to wild-type bacteria after protozoan priming. GFP-expressing wild-type and mutant L. pneumophila
strains are used to infect protozoan monolayers in a priming step and allowed to reach late stages of intracellular growth. Fluorescent bacteria are then harvested from these infected cells and normalized by spectrophotometry to generate comparable numbers of bacteria for a subsequent infection into mammalian macrophages. For quantification, live bacteria are monitored after infection using fluorescence microscopy, flow cytometry, and by colony plating. This technique highlights and relies on the contribution of host cell-dependent gene expression by mimicking the environment that would be encountered in a natural acquisition route. This approach can be modified to accommodate any bacterium that uses an intermediary host as a means for gaining a pathogenic advantage.
Infection, Issue 74, Immunology, Microbiology, Infectious Diseases, Medicine, Cellular Biology, Bacteria, Bacterial Infections, Mycoses, Legionella, amoeba, macrophage, priming, intracellular pathogen, fluorescence microscopy, flow cytometry, cell
An Introduction to Parasitic Wasps of Drosophila and the Antiparasite Immune Response
Institutions: The City College of New York, CUNY, The City University of New York.
Most known parasitoid wasp species attack the larval or pupal stages of Drosophila
. While Trichopria drosophilae
infect the pupal stages of the host (Fig. 1A-C
), females of the genus Leptopilina
(Fig. 1D, 1F, 1G
) and Ganaspis
) attack the larval stages. We use these parasites to study the molecular basis of a biological arms race. Parasitic wasps have tremendous value as biocontrol agents. Most of them carry virulence and other factors that modify host physiology and immunity. Analysis of Drosophila
wasps is providing insights into how species-specific interactions shape the genetic structures of natural communities. These studies also serve as a model for understanding the hosts' immune physiology and how coordinated immune reactions are thwarted by this class of parasites.
The larval/pupal cuticle serves as the first line of defense. The wasp ovipositor is a sharp needle-like structure that efficiently delivers eggs into the host hemocoel. Oviposition is followed by a wound healing reaction at the cuticle (Fig. 1C
, arrowheads). Some wasps can insert two or more eggs into the same host, although the development of only one egg succeeds. Supernumerary eggs or developing larvae are eliminated by a process that is not yet understood. These wasps are therefore referred to as solitary parasitoids.
Depending on the fly strain and the wasp species, the wasp egg has one of two fates. It is either encapsulated, so that its development is blocked (host emerges; Fig. 2
left); or the wasp egg hatches, develops, molts, and grows into an adult (wasp emerges; Fig. 2
right). L. heterotoma
is one of the best-studied species of Drosophila
parasitic wasps. It is a "generalist," which means that it can utilize most Drosophila
species as hosts1
. L. heterotoma
and L. victoriae
are sister species and they produce virus-like particles that actively interfere with the encapsulation response2
. Unlike L. heterotoma
, L. boulardi
is a specialist parasite and the range of Drosophila
species it utilizes is relatively limited1
. Strains of L. boulardi
also produce virus-like particles3
although they differ significantly in their ability to succeed on D. melanogaster1
. Some of these L. boulardi
strains are difficult to grow on D. melanogaster1
as the fly host frequently succeeds in encapsulating their eggs. Thus, it is important to have the knowledge of both partners in specific experimental protocols.
In addition to barrier tissues (cuticle, gut and trachea), Drosophila
larvae have systemic cellular and humoral immune responses that arise from functions of blood cells and the fat body, respectively. Oviposition by L. boulardi
activates both immune arms1,4
. Blood cells are found in circulation, in sessile populations under the segmented cuticle, and in the lymph gland. The lymph gland is a small hematopoietic organ on the dorsal side of the larva. Clusters of hematopoietic cells, called lobes, are arranged segmentally in pairs along the dorsal vessel that runs along the anterior-posterior axis of the animal (Fig. 3A
). The fat body is a large multifunctional organ (Fig. 3B
). It secretes antimicrobial peptides in response to microbial and metazoan infections.
Wasp infection activates immune signaling (Fig. 4
. At the cellular level, it triggers division and differentiation of blood cells. In self defense, aggregates and capsules develop in the hemocoel of infected animals (Fig. 5
. Activated blood cells migrate toward the wasp egg (or wasp larva) and begin to form a capsule around it (Fig. 5A-F
). Some blood cells aggregate to form nodules (Fig. 5G-H
). Careful analysis reveals that wasp infection induces the anterior-most lymph gland lobes to disperse at their peripheries (Fig. 6C, D
We present representative data with Toll signal transduction pathway components Dorsal and Spätzle (Figs. 4,5,7
), and its target Drosomycin
), to illustrate how specific changes in the lymph gland and hemocoel can be studied after wasp infection. The dissection protocols described here also yield the wasp eggs (or developing stages of wasps) from the host hemolymph (Fig. 8
Immunology, Issue 63, Parasitoid wasps, innate immunity, encapsulation, hematopoiesis, insect, fat body, Toll-NF-kappaB, molecular biology
Flat-floored Air-lifted Platform: A New Method for Combining Behavior with Microscopy or Electrophysiology on Awake Freely Moving Rodents
Institutions: University of Helsinki, Neurotar LTD, University of Eastern Finland, University of Helsinki.
It is widely acknowledged that the use of general anesthetics can undermine the relevance of electrophysiological or microscopical data obtained from a living animal’s brain. Moreover, the lengthy recovery from anesthesia limits the frequency of repeated recording/imaging episodes in longitudinal studies. Hence, new methods that would allow stable recordings from non-anesthetized behaving mice are expected to advance the fields of cellular and cognitive neurosciences. Existing solutions range from mere physical restraint to more sophisticated approaches, such as linear and spherical treadmills used in combination with computer-generated virtual reality. Here, a novel method is described where a head-fixed mouse can move around an air-lifted mobile homecage and explore its environment under stress-free conditions. This method allows researchers to perform behavioral tests (e.g.
, learning, habituation or novel object recognition) simultaneously with two-photon microscopic imaging and/or patch-clamp recordings, all combined in a single experiment. This video-article describes the use of the awake animal head fixation device (mobile homecage), demonstrates the procedures of animal habituation, and exemplifies a number of possible applications of the method.
Empty Value, Issue 88, awake, in vivo two-photon microscopy, blood vessels, dendrites, dendritic spines, Ca2+ imaging, intrinsic optical imaging, patch-clamp
Modeling Mucosal Candidiasis in Larval Zebrafish by Swimbladder Injection
Institutions: University of Maine, University of Maine.
Early defense against mucosal pathogens consists of both an epithelial barrier and innate immune cells. The immunocompetency of both, and their intercommunication, are paramount for the protection against infections. The interactions of epithelial and innate immune cells with a pathogen are best investigated in vivo
, where complex behavior unfolds over time and space. However, existing models do not allow for easy spatio-temporal imaging of the battle with pathogens at the mucosal level.
The model developed here creates a mucosal infection by direct injection of the fungal pathogen, Candida albicans
, into the swimbladder of juvenile zebrafish. The resulting infection enables high-resolution imaging of epithelial and innate immune cell behavior throughout the development of mucosal disease. The versatility of this method allows for interrogation of the host to probe the detailed sequence of immune events leading to phagocyte recruitment and to examine the roles of particular cell types and molecular pathways in protection. In addition, the behavior of the pathogen as a function of immune attack can be imaged simultaneously by using fluorescent protein-expressing C. albicans
. Increased spatial resolution of the host-pathogen interaction is also possible using the described rapid swimbladder dissection technique.
The mucosal infection model described here is straightforward and highly reproducible, making it a valuable tool for the study of mucosal candidiasis. This system may also be broadly translatable to other mucosal pathogens such as mycobacterial, bacterial or viral microbes that normally infect through epithelial surfaces.
Immunology, Issue 93, Zebrafish, mucosal candidiasis, mucosal infection, epithelial barrier, epithelial cells, innate immunity, swimbladder, Candida albicans, in vivo.
Two Types of Assays for Detecting Frog Sperm Chemoattraction
Institutions: University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Arizona State University .
Sperm chemoattraction in invertebrates can be sufficiently robust that one can place a pipette containing the attractive peptide into a sperm suspension and microscopically visualize sperm accumulation around the pipette1
. Sperm chemoattraction in vertebrates such as frogs, rodents and humans is more difficult to detect and requires quantitative assays. Such assays are of two major types - assays that quantitate sperm movement to a source of chemoattractant, so-called sperm accumulation assays, and assays that actually track the swimming trajectories of individual sperm.
Sperm accumulation assays are relatively rapid allowing tens or hundreds of assays to be done in a single day, thereby allowing dose response curves and time courses to be carried out relatively rapidly. These types of assays have been used extensively to characterize many well established chemoattraction systems - for example, neutrophil chemotaxis to bacterial peptides and sperm chemotaxis to follicular fluid. Sperm tracking assays can be more labor intensive but offer additional data on how chemoattractancts actually alter the swimming paths that sperm take. This type of assay is needed to demonstrate the orientation of sperm movement relative to the chemoattrractant gradient axis and to visualize characteristic turns or changes in orientation that bring the sperm closer to the egg.
Here we describe methods used for each of these two types of assays. The sperm accumulation assay utilized is called a "two-chamber" assay. Amphibian sperm are placed in a tissue culture plate insert with a polycarbonate filter floor having 12 μm diameter pores. Inserts with sperm are placed into tissue culture plate wells containing buffer and a chemoatttractant carefully pipetted into the bottom well where the floor meets the wall (see Fig. 1). After incubation, the top insert containing the sperm reservoir is carefully removed, and sperm in the bottom chamber that have passed through the membrane are removed, pelleted and then counted by hemocytometer or flow cytometer.
The sperm tracking assay utilizes a Zigmond chamber originally developed for observing neutrophil chemotaxis and modified for observation of sperm by Giojalas and coworkers2,3
. The chamber consists of a thick glass slide into which two vertical troughs have been machined. These are separated by a 1 mm wide observation platform. After application of a cover glass, sperm are loaded into one trough, the chemoattractant agent into the other and movement of individual sperm visualized by video microscopy. Video footage is then analyzed using software to identify two-dimensional cell movements in the x-y plane as a function of time (xyt data sets) that form the trajectory of each sperm.
Developmental Biology, Issue 58, Sperm chemotaxis, fertilization, sperm accumulation assay, sperm tracking assay, sperm motility, Xenopus laevis, egg jelly
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
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
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
In Situ Neutron Powder Diffraction Using Custom-made Lithium-ion Batteries
Institutions: University of Sydney, University of Wollongong, Australian Synchrotron, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, University of Wollongong, University of New South Wales.
Li-ion batteries are widely used in portable electronic devices and are considered as promising candidates for higher-energy applications such as electric vehicles.1,2
However, many challenges, such as energy density and battery lifetimes, need to be overcome before this particular battery technology can be widely implemented in such applications.3
This research is challenging, and we outline a method to address these challenges using in situ
NPD to probe the crystal structure of electrodes undergoing electrochemical cycling (charge/discharge) in a battery. NPD data help determine the underlying structural mechanism responsible for a range of electrode properties, and this information can direct the development of better electrodes and batteries.
We briefly review six types of battery designs custom-made for NPD experiments and detail the method to construct the ‘roll-over’ cell that we have successfully used on the high-intensity NPD instrument, WOMBAT, at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). The design considerations and materials used for cell construction are discussed in conjunction with aspects of the actual in situ
NPD experiment and initial directions are presented on how to analyze such complex in situ
Physics, Issue 93, In operando, structure-property relationships, electrochemical cycling, electrochemical cells, crystallography, battery performance
Detection of Architectural Distortion in Prior Mammograms via Analysis of Oriented Patterns
Institutions: University of Calgary , University of Calgary .
We demonstrate methods for the detection of architectural distortion in prior mammograms of interval-cancer cases based on analysis of the orientation of breast tissue patterns in mammograms. We hypothesize that architectural distortion modifies the normal orientation of breast tissue patterns in mammographic images before the formation of masses or tumors. In the initial steps of our methods, the oriented structures in a given mammogram are analyzed using Gabor filters and phase portraits to detect node-like sites of radiating or intersecting tissue patterns. Each detected site is then characterized using the node value, fractal dimension, and a measure of angular dispersion specifically designed to represent spiculating patterns associated with architectural distortion.
Our methods were tested with a database of 106 prior mammograms of 56 interval-cancer cases and 52 mammograms of 13 normal cases using the features developed for the characterization of architectural distortion, pattern classification via
quadratic discriminant analysis, and validation with the leave-one-patient out procedure. According to the results of free-response receiver operating characteristic analysis, our methods have demonstrated the capability to detect architectural distortion in prior mammograms, taken 15 months (on the average) before clinical diagnosis of breast cancer, with a sensitivity of 80% at about five false positives per patient.
Medicine, Issue 78, Anatomy, Physiology, Cancer Biology, angular spread, architectural distortion, breast cancer, Computer-Assisted Diagnosis, computer-aided diagnosis (CAD), entropy, fractional Brownian motion, fractal dimension, Gabor filters, Image Processing, Medical Informatics, node map, oriented texture, Pattern Recognition, phase portraits, prior mammograms, spectral analysis
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (https://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
Vascular Occlusion Training for Inclusion Body Myositis: A Novel Therapeutic Approach
Institutions: University of São Paulo, University of São Paulo.
Inclusion body myositis (IBM) is a rare idiopathic inflammatory myopathy. It is known to produces remarkable muscle weakness and to greatly compromise function and quality of life. Moreover, clinical practice suggests that, unlike other inflammatory myopathies, the majority of IBM patients are not responsive to treatment with immunosuppressive or immunomodulatory drugs to counteract disease progression1
. Additionally, conventional resistance training programs have been proven ineffective in restoring muscle function and muscle mass in these patients2,3
. Nevertheless, we have recently observed that restricting muscle blood flow using tourniquet cuffs in association with moderate intensity resistance training in an IBM patient produced a significant gain in muscle mass and function, along with substantial benefits in quality of life4
. Thus, a new non-pharmacological approach for IBM patients has been proposed. Herein, we describe the details of a proposed protocol for vascular occlusion associated with a resistance training program for this population.
Medicine, Issue 40, exercise training, therapeutical, myositis, vascular occlusion
Oscillation and Reaction Board Techniques for Estimating Inertial Properties of a Below-knee Prosthesis
Institutions: University of Northern Colorado, Arizona State University, Iowa State University.
The purpose of this study was two-fold: 1) demonstrate a technique that can be used to directly estimate the inertial properties of a below-knee prosthesis, and 2) contrast the effects of the proposed technique and that of using intact limb inertial properties on joint kinetic estimates during walking in unilateral, transtibial amputees. An oscillation and reaction board system was validated and shown to be reliable when measuring inertial properties of known geometrical solids. When direct measurements of inertial properties of the prosthesis were used in inverse dynamics modeling of the lower extremity compared with inertial estimates based on an intact shank and foot, joint kinetics at the hip and knee were significantly lower during the swing phase of walking. Differences in joint kinetics during stance, however, were smaller than those observed during swing. Therefore, researchers focusing on the swing phase of walking should consider the impact of prosthesis inertia property estimates on study outcomes. For stance, either one of the two inertial models investigated in our study would likely lead to similar outcomes with an inverse dynamics assessment.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, prosthesis inertia, amputee locomotion, below-knee prosthesis, transtibial amputee
Avian Influenza Surveillance with FTA Cards: Field Methods, Biosafety, and Transportation Issues Solved
Institutions: Wageningen University, Linnaeus University, Simon Fraser University .
Avian Influenza Viruses (AIVs) infect many mammals, including humans1
. These AIVs are diverse in their natural hosts, harboring almost all possible viral subtypes2
. Human pandemics of flu originally stem from AIVs3
. Many fatal human cases during the H5N1 outbreaks in recent years were reported. Lately, a new AIV related strain swept through the human population, causing the 'swine flu epidemic'4
. Although human trading and transportation activity seems to be responsible for the spread of highly pathogenic strains5
, dispersal can also partly be attributed to wild birds6, 7
. However, the actual reservoir of all AIV strains is wild birds.
In reaction to this and in face of severe commercial losses in the poultry industry, large surveillance programs have been implemented globally to collect information on the ecology of AIVs, and to install early warning systems to detect certain highly pathogenic strains8-12
. Traditional virological methods require viruses to be intact and cultivated before analysis. This necessitates strict cold chains with deep freezers and heavy biosafety procedures to be in place during transport. Long-term surveillance is therefore usually restricted to a few field stations close to well equipped laboratories. Remote areas cannot be sampled unless logistically cumbersome procedures are implemented. These problems have been recognised13, 14
and the use of alternative storage and transport strategies investigated (alcohols or guanidine)15-17
. Recently, Kraus et al
introduced a method to collect, store and transport AIV samples, based on a special filter paper. FTA cards19
preserve RNA on a dry storage basis20
and render pathogens inactive upon contact21
. This study showed that FTA cards can be used to detect AIV RNA in reverse-transcription PCR and that the resulting cDNA could be sequenced and virus genes and determined.
In the study of Kraus et al
a laboratory isolate of AIV was used, and samples were handled individually. In the extension presented here, faecal samples from wild birds from the duck trap at the Ottenby Bird Observatory (SE Sweden) were tested directly to illustrate the usefulness of the methods under field conditions. Catching of ducks and sample collection by cloacal swabs is demonstrated. The current protocol includes up-scaling of the work flow from single tube handling to a 96-well design. Although less sensitive than the traditional methods, the method of FTA cards provides an excellent supplement to large surveillance schemes. It allows collection and analysis of samples from anywhere in the world, without the need to maintaining a cool chain or safety regulations with respect to shipping of hazardous reagents, such as alcohol or guanidine.
Immunology, Issue 54, AI, Influenza A Virus, zoonoses, reverse transcription PCR, viral RNA, surveillance, duck trap, RNA preservation and storage, infection, mallard
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
PuraMatrix Encapsulation of Cancer Cells
Institutions: Harvard Medical School, Dartmouth College, Harvard Medical School.
Increasing evidence suggests that culturing cancer cells in three dimensions more accurately recapitulates the complexity of tumor biology. Many of these models utilize reconstituted basement membrane derived from animals which contain a variable amount of growth factors and cytokines that can influence the growth of these cell culture models. Here, we describe in detail the preparation and use of PuraMatrix, a commercially available self assembling peptide gel that is devoid of animal-derived material and pathogens to encapsulate and propagate the ovarian cancer cell line, OVCAR-5. We begin by describing how to prepare the PuraMatrix prior to use. Next, we demonstrate how to properly mix the PuraMatrix and cell suspension to encapsulate the cells in the hydrogel. Upon the addition of cell culture media or injection into a physiological environment, the peptide component of PuraMatrix rapidly self assembles into a 3D hydrogel that exhibits a nanometer scale fibrous structure with an average pore size of 5-200 nm1
. In addition, we demonstrate how to propagate cultures grown in encapsulated PuraMatrix. When encapsulated in PuraMatrix, OVCAR-5 cells assemble into three dimensional acinar structures that more closely resemble the morphology of micrometastatic nodules observed in the clinic than monolayer in vitro models. Using confocal microscopy we illustrate the appearance of representative OVCAR-5 cells encapsulated in PuraMatrix on day 1, 3, 5, and 7 post plating. The use of PuraMatrix to culture cancer cells should improve our understanding of the disease and allow us to assess treatment response in more clinically predictive model systems.
Cellular Biology, Issue 34, PuraMatrix, OVCAR-5 cells, Cancer, in vitro models, 3D, Encapsulation, PuraMatrix,
Brain Imaging Investigation of the Neural Correlates of Observing Virtual Social Interactions
Institutions: University of Alberta, University of Illinois, University of Alberta, University of Alberta, University of Alberta, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The ability to gauge social interactions is crucial in the assessment of others’ intentions. Factors such as facial expressions and body language affect our decisions in personal and professional life alike 1
. These "friend or foe
" judgements are often based on first impressions, which in turn may affect our decisions to "approach or avoid
". Previous studies investigating the neural correlates of social cognition tended to use static facial stimuli 2
. Here, we illustrate an experimental design in which whole-body animated characters were used in conjunction with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) recordings. Fifteen participants were presented with short movie-clips of guest-host interactions in a business setting, while fMRI data were recorded; at the end of each movie, participants also provided ratings of the host behaviour. This design mimics more closely real-life situations, and hence may contribute to better understanding of the neural mechanisms of social interactions in healthy behaviour, and to gaining insight into possible causes of deficits in social behaviour in such clinical conditions as social anxiety and autism 3
Neuroscience, Issue 53, Social Perception, Social Knowledge, Social Cognition Network, Non-Verbal Communication, Decision-Making, Event-Related fMRI
Predicting the Effectiveness of Population Replacement Strategy Using Mathematical Modeling
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles.
Charles Taylor and John Marshall explain the utility of mathematical modeling for evaluating the effectiveness of population replacement strategy. Insight is given into how computational models can provide information on the population dynamics of mosquitoes and the spread of transposable elements through A. gambiae subspecies. The ethical considerations of releasing genetically modified mosquitoes into the wild are discussed.
Cellular Biology, Issue 5, mosquito, malaria, popuulation, replacement, modeling, infectious disease
Silicon Microchips for Manipulating Cell-cell Interaction
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The role of the cellular microenvironment is recognized as crucial in determining cell fate and function in virtually all mammalian tissues from development to malignant transformation. In particular, interaction with neighboring stroma has been implicated in a plethora of biological phenomena; however, conventional techniques limit the ability to interrogate the spatial and dynamic elements of such interactions.
In Micromechanical Reconfigurable Culture (RC), we employ a micromachined silicon substrate with moving parts to dynamically control cell-cell interactions through mechanical repositioning. Previously, this method has been applied to investigate intercellular communication in co-cultures of hepatocytes and non-parenchymal cells, demonstrating time-dependent interactions and a limited range for soluble signaling 1
Here, we describe in detail the preparation and use of the RC system. We begin by demonstrating the handling of the device parts using tweezers, including actuating between the gap and contact configurations (cell populations separated by a narrow 80-µm gap, or in direct intimate contact). Next, we detail the process of preparing the substrates for culture, and the multi-step cell seeding process required for obtaining confluent cell monolayers. Using live microscopy, we then illustrate real-time manipulation of cells between the different possible experimental configurations. Finally, we demonstrate the steps required in order to regenerate the device surface for reuse: toluene and piranha cleaning, polystyrene coating, and oxygen plasma treatment.
Issue 7, tissue engineering, MEMS, microfabrication, microenvironment, Bioengineering