Manual cell counts on a microscope are a sensitive means of assessing cellular viability but are time-consuming and therefore expensive. Computerized viability assays are expensive in terms of equipment but can be faster and more objective than manual cell counts. The present report describes the use of three such viability assays. Two of these assays are infrared and one is luminescent. Both infrared assays rely on a 16 bit Odyssey Imager. One infrared assay uses the DRAQ5 stain for nuclei combined with the Sapphire stain for cytosol and is visualized in the 700 nm channel. The other infrared assay, an In-Cell Western, uses antibodies against cytoskeletal proteins (α-tubulin or microtubule associated protein 2) and labels them in the 800 nm channel. The third viability assay is a commonly used luminescent assay for ATP, but we use a quarter of the recommended volume to save on cost. These measurements are all linear and correlate with the number of cells plated, but vary in sensitivity. All three assays circumvent time-consuming microscopy and sample the entire well, thereby reducing sampling error. Finally, all of the assays can easily be completed within one day of the end of the experiment, allowing greater numbers of experiments to be performed within short timeframes. However, they all rely on the assumption that cell numbers remain in proportion to signal strength after treatments, an assumption that is sometimes not met, especially for cellular ATP. Furthermore, if cells increase or decrease in size after treatment, this might affect signal strength without affecting cell number. We conclude that all viability assays, including manual counts, suffer from a number of caveats, but that computerized viability assays are well worth the initial investment. Using all three assays together yields a comprehensive view of cellular structure and function.
28 Related JoVE Articles!
Nerve Excitability Assessment in Chemotherapy-induced Neurotoxicity
Institutions: University of New South Wales , University of New South Wales , University of New South Wales .
Chemotherapy-induced neurotoxicity is a serious consequence of cancer treatment, which occurs with some of the most commonly used chemotherapies1,2
. Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy produces symptoms of numbness and paraesthesia in the limbs and may progress to difficulties with fine motor skills and walking, leading to functional impairment. In addition to producing troubling symptoms, chemotherapy-induced neuropathy may limit treatment success leading to dose reduction or early cessation of treatment. Neuropathic symptoms may persist long-term, leaving permanent nerve damage in patients with an otherwise good prognosis3
. As chemotherapy is utilised more often as a preventative measure, and survival rates increase, the importance of long-lasting and significant neurotoxicity will increase.
There are no established neuroprotective or treatment options and a lack of sensitive assessment methods. Appropriate assessment of neurotoxicity will be critical as a prognostic factor and as suitable endpoints for future trials of neuroprotective agents. Current methods to assess the severity of chemotherapy-induced neuropathy utilise clinician-based grading scales which have been demonstrated to lack sensitivity to change and inter-observer objectivity4
. Conventional nerve conduction studies provide information about compound action potential amplitude and conduction velocity, which are relatively non-specific measures and do not provide insight into ion channel function or resting membrane potential. Accordingly, prior studies have demonstrated that conventional nerve conduction studies are not sensitive to early change in chemotherapy-induced neurotoxicity4-6
. In comparison, nerve excitability studies utilize threshold tracking techniques which have been developed to enable assessment of ion channels, pumps and exchangers in vivo
in large myelinated human axons7-9
Nerve excitability techniques have been established as a tool to examine the development and severity of chemotherapy-induced neurotoxicity10-13
. Comprising a number of excitability parameters, nerve excitability studies can be used to assess acute neurotoxicity arising immediately following infusion and the development of chronic, cumulative neurotoxicity. Nerve excitability techniques are feasible in the clinical setting, with each test requiring only 5 -10 minutes to complete. Nerve excitability equipment is readily commercially available, and a portable system has been devised so that patients can be tested in situ
in the infusion centre setting. In addition, these techniques can be adapted for use in multiple chemotherapies.
In patients treated with the chemotherapy oxaliplatin, primarily utilised for colorectal cancer, nerve excitability techniques provide a method to identify patients at-risk for neurotoxicity prior to the onset of chronic neuropathy. Nerve excitability studies have revealed the development of an acute Na+
channelopathy in motor and sensory axons10-13
. Importantly, patients who demonstrated changes in excitability in early treatment were subsequently more likely to develop moderate to severe neurotoxicity11
. However, across treatment, striking longitudinal changes were identified only in sensory axons which were able to predict clinical neurological outcome in 80% of patients10
. These changes demonstrated a different pattern to those seen acutely following oxaliplatin infusion, and most likely reflect the development of significant axonal damage and membrane potential change in sensory nerves which develops longitudinally during oxaliplatin treatment10
. Significant abnormalities developed during early treatment, prior to any reduction in conventional measures of nerve function, suggesting that excitability parameters may provide a sensitive biomarker.
Neuroscience, Issue 62, Chemotherapy, Neurotoxicity, Neuropathy, Nerve excitability, Ion channel function, Oxaliplatin, oncology, medicine
Guidelines for Elective Pediatric Fiberoptic Intubation
Institutions: St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Children's Hospital of Michigan, Children's Hospital of Michigan.
Fiberoptic intubation in pediatric patients is often required especially in difficult airways of syndromic patients i.e. Pierre Robin Syndrome. Small babies will desaturate very quickly if ventilation is interrupted mainly to high metabolic rate. We describe guidelines to perform a safe fiberoptic intubation while maintaining spontaneous breathing throughout the procedure. Steps requiring the use of propofol pump, fentanyl, glycopyrrolate, red rubber catheter, metal insuflation hook, afrin, lubricant and lidocaine spray are shown.
Medicine, Issue 47, Fiberoptic, Intubation, Pediatric, elective
Optimized Analysis of DNA Methylation and Gene Expression from Small, Anatomically-defined Areas of the Brain
Institutions: Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry.
Exposure to diet, drugs and early life adversity during sensitive windows of life 1,2
can lead to lasting changes in gene expression that contribute to the display of physiological and behavioural phenotypes. Such environmental programming is likely to increase the susceptibility to metabolic, cardiovascular and mental diseases 3,4
DNA methylation and histone modifications are considered key processes in the mediation of the gene-environment dialogue and appear also to underlay environmental programming 5
. In mammals, DNA methylation typically comprises the covalent addition of a methyl group at the 5-position of cytosine within the context of CpG dinucleotides.
CpG methylation occurs in a highly tissue- and cell-specific manner making it a challenge to study discrete, small regions of the brain where cellular heterogeneity is high and tissue quantity limited. Moreover, because gene expression and methylation are closely linked events, increased value can be gained by comparing both parameters in the same sample.
Here, a step-by-step protocol (Figure 1
) for the investigation of epigenetic programming in the brain is presented using the 'maternal separation' paradigm of early life adversity for illustrative purposes. The protocol describes the preparation of micropunches from differentially-aged mouse brains from which DNA and RNA can be simultaneously isolated, thus allowing DNA methylation and gene expression analyses in the same sample.
Neuroscience, Issue 65, Genetics, Physiology, Epigenetics, DNA methylation, early-life stress, maternal separation, bisulfite sequencing
Enhancement of Apoptotic and Autophagic Induction by a Novel Synthetic C-1 Analogue of 7-deoxypancratistatin in Human Breast Adenocarcinoma and Neuroblastoma Cells with Tamoxifen
Institutions: University of Windsor, Brock University.
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers amongst women in North America. Many current anti-cancer treatments, including ionizing radiation, induce apoptosis via DNA damage. Unfortunately, such treatments are non-selective to cancer cells and produce similar toxicity in normal cells. We have reported selective induction of apoptosis in cancer cells by the natural compound pancratistatin (PST). Recently, a novel PST analogue, a C-1 acetoxymethyl derivative of 7-deoxypancratistatin (JCTH-4), was produced by de novo synthesis and it exhibits comparable selective apoptosis inducing activity in several cancer cell lines. Recently, autophagy has been implicated in malignancies as both pro-survival and pro-death mechanisms in response to chemotherapy. Tamoxifen (TAM) has invariably demonstrated induction of pro-survival autophagy in numerous cancers. In this study, the efficacy of JCTH-4 alone and in combination with TAM to induce cell death in human breast cancer (MCF7) and neuroblastoma (SH-SY5Y) cells was evaluated. TAM alone induced autophagy, but insignificant cell death whereas JCTH-4 alone caused significant induction of apoptosis with some induction of autophagy. Interestingly, the combinatory treatment yielded a drastic increase in apoptotic and autophagic induction. We monitored time-dependent morphological changes in MCF7 cells undergoing TAM-induced autophagy, JCTH-4-induced apoptosis and autophagy, and accelerated cell death with combinatorial treatment using time-lapse microscopy. We have demonstrated these compounds to induce apoptosis/autophagy by mitochondrial targeting in these cancer cells. Importantly, these treatments did not affect the survival of noncancerous human fibroblasts. Thus, these results indicate that JCTH-4 in combination with TAM could be used as a safe and very potent anti-cancer therapy against breast cancer and neuroblastoma cells.
Cancer Biology, Issue 63, Medicine, Biochemistry, Breast adenocarcinoma, neuroblastoma, tamoxifen, combination therapy, apoptosis, autophagy
Membrane Potentials, Synaptic Responses, Neuronal Circuitry, Neuromodulation and Muscle Histology Using the Crayfish: Student Laboratory Exercises
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
The purpose of this report is to help develop an understanding of the effects caused by ion gradients across a biological membrane. Two aspects that influence a cell's membrane potential and which we address in these experiments are: (1) Ion concentration of K+
on the outside of the membrane, and (2) the permeability of the membrane to specific ions. The crayfish abdominal extensor muscles are in groupings with some being tonic (slow) and others phasic (fast) in their biochemical and physiological phenotypes, as well as in their structure; the motor neurons that innervate these muscles are correspondingly different in functional characteristics. We use these muscles as well as the superficial, tonic abdominal flexor muscle to demonstrate properties in synaptic transmission. In addition, we introduce a sensory-CNS-motor neuron-muscle circuit to demonstrate the effect of cuticular sensory stimulation as well as the influence of neuromodulators on certain aspects of the circuit. With the techniques obtained in this exercise, one can begin to answer many questions remaining in other experimental preparations as well as in physiological applications related to medicine and health. We have demonstrated the usefulness of model invertebrate preparations to address fundamental questions pertinent to all animals.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, neurophysiology, muscle, anatomy, electrophysiology
Isolation and Functional Characterization of Human Ventricular Cardiomyocytes from Fresh Surgical Samples
Institutions: University of Florence, University of Florence.
Cardiomyocytes from diseased hearts are subjected to complex remodeling processes involving changes in cell structure, excitation contraction coupling and membrane ion currents. Those changes are likely to be responsible for the increased arrhythmogenic risk and the contractile alterations leading to systolic and diastolic dysfunction in cardiac patients. However, most information on the alterations of myocyte function in cardiac diseases has come from animal models.
Here we describe and validate a protocol to isolate viable myocytes from small surgical samples of ventricular myocardium from patients undergoing cardiac surgery operations. The protocol is described in detail. Electrophysiological and intracellular calcium measurements are reported to demonstrate the feasibility of a number of single cell measurements in human ventricular cardiomyocytes obtained with this method.
The protocol reported here can be useful for future investigations of the cellular and molecular basis of functional alterations of the human heart in the presence of different cardiac diseases. Further, this method can be used to identify novel therapeutic targets at cellular level and to test the effectiveness of new compounds on human cardiomyocytes, with direct translational value.
Medicine, Issue 86, cardiology, cardiac cells, electrophysiology, excitation-contraction coupling, action potential, calcium, myocardium, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, cardiac patients, cardiac disease
In Vivo Modeling of the Morbid Human Genome using Danio rerio
Institutions: Duke University Medical Center, Duke University, Duke University Medical Center.
Here, we present methods for the development of assays to query potentially clinically significant nonsynonymous changes using in vivo
complementation in zebrafish. Zebrafish (Danio rerio
) are a useful animal system due to their experimental tractability; embryos are transparent to enable facile viewing, undergo rapid development ex vivo,
and can be genetically manipulated.1
These aspects have allowed for significant advances in the analysis of embryogenesis, molecular processes, and morphogenetic signaling. Taken together, the advantages of this vertebrate model make zebrafish highly amenable to modeling the developmental defects in pediatric disease, and in some cases, adult-onset disorders. Because the zebrafish genome is highly conserved with that of humans (~70% orthologous), it is possible to recapitulate human disease states in zebrafish. This is accomplished either through the injection of mutant human mRNA to induce dominant negative or gain of function alleles, or utilization of morpholino (MO) antisense oligonucleotides to suppress genes to mimic loss of function variants. Through complementation of MO-induced phenotypes with capped human mRNA, our approach enables the interpretation of the deleterious effect of mutations on human protein sequence based on the ability of mutant mRNA to rescue a measurable, physiologically relevant phenotype. Modeling of the human disease alleles occurs through microinjection of zebrafish embryos with MO and/or human mRNA at the 1-4 cell stage, and phenotyping up to seven days post fertilization (dpf). This general strategy can be extended to a wide range of disease phenotypes, as demonstrated in the following protocol. We present our established models for morphogenetic signaling, craniofacial, cardiac, vascular integrity, renal function, and skeletal muscle disorder phenotypes, as well as others.
Molecular Biology, Issue 78, Genetics, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Developmental Biology, Biochemistry, Anatomy, Physiology, Bioengineering, Genomics, Medical, zebrafish, in vivo, morpholino, human disease modeling, transcription, PCR, mRNA, DNA, Danio rerio, animal model
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
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
How to Culture, Record and Stimulate Neuronal Networks on Micro-electrode Arrays (MEAs)
Institutions: Emory University School of Medicine, University School of Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine.
For the last century, many neuroscientists around the world have dedicated their lives to understanding how neuronal networks work and why they stop working in various diseases. Studies have included neuropathological observation, fluorescent microscopy with genetic labeling, and intracellular recording in both dissociated neurons and slice preparations. This protocol discusses another technology, which involves growing dissociated neuronal cultures on micro-electrode arrays (also called multi-electrode arrays, MEAs).
There are multiple advantages to using this system over other technologies. Dissociated neuronal cultures on MEAs provide a simplified model in which network activity can be manipulated with electrical stimulation sequences through the array's multiple electrodes. Because the network is small, the impact of stimulation is limited to observable areas, which is not the case in intact preparations. The cells grow in a monolayer making changes in morphology easy to monitor with various imaging techniques. Finally, cultures on MEAs can survive for over a year in vitro which removes any clear time limitations inherent with other culturing techniques.1
Our lab and others around the globe are utilizing this technology to ask important questions about neuronal networks. The purpose of this protocol is to provide the necessary information for setting up, caring for, recording from and electrically stimulating cultures on MEAs. In vitro
networks provide a means for asking physiologically relevant questions at the network and cellular levels leading to a better understanding of brain function and dysfunction.
Neuroscience, Issue 39, micro-electrode, multi-electrode, neural, MEA, network, plasticity, spike, stimulation, recording, rat
High Content Screening in Neurodegenerative Diseases
Institutions: VU University Medical Center, Neuroscience Campus Amsterdam.
The functional annotation of genomes, construction of molecular networks and novel drug target identification, are important challenges that need to be addressed as a matter of great urgency1-4
. Multiple complementary 'omics' approaches have provided clues as to the genetic risk factors and pathogenic mechanisms underlying numerous neurodegenerative diseases, but most findings still require functional validation5
. For example, a recent genome wide association study for Parkinson's Disease (PD), identified many new loci as risk factors for the disease, but the underlying causative variant(s) or pathogenic mechanism is not known6, 7
. As each associated region can contain several genes, the functional evaluation of each of the genes on phenotypes associated with the disease, using traditional cell biology techniques would take too long.
There is also a need to understand the molecular networks that link genetic mutations to the phenotypes they cause. It is expected that disease phenotypes are the result of multiple interactions that have been disrupted. Reconstruction of these networks using traditional molecular methods would be time consuming. Moreover, network predictions from independent studies of individual components, the reductionism approach, will probably underestimate the network complexity8
. This underestimation could, in part, explain the low success rate of drug approval due to undesirable or toxic side effects. Gaining a network perspective of disease related pathways using HT/HC cellular screening approaches, and identifying key nodes within these pathways, could lead to the identification of targets that are more suited for therapeutic intervention.
High-throughput screening (HTS) is an ideal methodology to address these issues9-12
. but traditional methods were one dimensional whole-well cell assays, that used simplistic readouts for complex biological processes. They were unable to simultaneously quantify the many phenotypes observed in neurodegenerative diseases such as axonal transport deficits or alterations in morphology properties13, 14
. This approach could not be used to investigate the dynamic nature of cellular processes or pathogenic events that occur in a subset of cells. To quantify such features one has to move to multi-dimensional phenotypes termed high-content screening (HCS)4, 15-17
. HCS is the cell-based quantification of several processes simultaneously, which provides a more detailed representation of the cellular response to various perturbations compared to HTS.
HCS has many advantages over HTS18, 19
, but conducting a high-throughput (HT)-high-content (HC) screen in neuronal models is problematic due to high cost, environmental variation and human error. In order to detect cellular responses on a 'phenomics' scale using HC imaging one has to reduce variation and error, while increasing sensitivity and reproducibility.
Herein we describe a method to accurately and reliably conduct shRNA screens using automated cell culturing20
and HC imaging in neuronal cellular models. We describe how we have used this methodology to identify modulators for one particular protein, DJ1, which when mutated causes autosomal recessive parkinsonism21
Combining the versatility of HC imaging with HT methods, it is possible to accurately quantify a plethora of phenotypes. This could subsequently be utilized to advance our understanding of the genome, the pathways involved in disease pathogenesis as well as identify potential therapeutic targets.
Medicine, Issue 59, High-throughput screening, high-content screening, neurodegeneration, automated cell culturing, Parkinson’s disease
Utility of Dissociated Intrinsic Hand Muscle Atrophy in the Diagnosis of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
Institutions: Westmead Hospital, University of Sydney, Australia.
The split hand
phenomenon refers to predominant wasting of thenar muscles and is an early and specific feature of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). A novel split hand index (SI) was developed to quantify the split hand phenomenon, and its diagnostic utility was assessed in ALS patients. The split hand index was derived by dividing the product of the compound muscle action potential (CMAP) amplitude recorded over the abductor pollicis brevis and first dorsal interosseous muscles by the CMAP amplitude recorded over the abductor digiti minimi muscle. In order to assess the diagnostic utility of the split hand index, ALS patients were prospectively assessed and their results were compared to neuromuscular disorder patients. The split hand index was significantly reduced in ALS when compared to neuromuscular disorder patients (P<0.0001). Limb-onset ALS patients exhibited the greatest reduction in the split hand index, and a value of 5.2 or less reliably differentiated ALS from other neuromuscular disorders. Consequently, the split hand index appears to be a novel diagnostic biomarker for ALS, perhaps facilitating an earlier diagnosis.
Medicine, Issue 85, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), dissociated muscle atrophy, hypothenar muscles, motor neuron disease, split-hand index, thenar muscles
Measuring Frailty in HIV-infected Individuals. Identification of Frail Patients is the First Step to Amelioration and Reversal of Frailty
Institutions: University of Arizona, University of Arizona.
A simple, validated protocol consisting of a battery of tests is available to identify elderly patients with frailty syndrome. This syndrome of decreased reserve and resistance to stressors increases in incidence with increasing age. In the elderly, frailty may pursue a step-wise loss of function from non-frail to pre-frail to frail. We studied frailty in HIV-infected patients and found that ~20% are frail using the Fried phenotype using stringent criteria developed for the elderly1,2
. In HIV infection the syndrome occurs at a younger age.
HIV patients were checked for 1) unintentional weight loss; 2) slowness as determined by walking speed; 3) weakness as measured by a grip dynamometer; 4) exhaustion by responses to a depression scale; and 5) low physical activity was determined by assessing kilocalories expended in a week's time. Pre-frailty was present with any two of five criteria and frailty was present if any three of the five criteria were abnormal.
The tests take approximately 10-15 min to complete and they can be performed by medical assistants during routine clinic visits. Test results are scored by referring to standard tables. Understanding which of the five components contribute to frailty in an individual patient can allow the clinician to address relevant underlying problems, many of which are not evident in routine HIV clinic visits.
Medicine, Issue 77, Infection, Virology, Infectious Diseases, Anatomy, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Retroviridae Infections, Body Weight Changes, Diagnostic Techniques and Procedures, Physical Examination, Muscle Strength, Behavior, Virus Diseases, Pathological Conditions, Signs and Symptoms, Diagnosis, Musculoskeletal and Neural Physiological Phenomena, HIV, HIV-1, AIDS, Frailty, Depression, Weight Loss, Weakness, Slowness, Exhaustion, Aging, clinical techniques
Application of MassSQUIRM for Quantitative Measurements of Lysine Demethylase Activity
Institutions: University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences .
Recently, epigenetic regulators have been discovered as key players in many different diseases 1-3
. As a result, these enzymes are prime targets for small molecule studies and drug development 4
. Many epigenetic regulators have only recently been discovered and are still in the process of being classified. Among these enzymes are lysine demethylases which remove methyl groups from lysines on histones and other proteins. Due to the novel nature of this class of enzymes, few assays have been developed to study their activity. This has been a road block to both the classification and high throughput study of histone demethylases. Currently, very few demethylase assays exist. Those that do exist tend to be qualitative in nature and cannot simultaneously discern between the different lysine methylation states (un-, mono-, di- and tri-). Mass spectrometry is commonly used to determine demethylase activity but current mass spectrometric assays do not address whether differentially methylated peptides ionize differently. Differential ionization of methylated peptides makes comparing methylation states difficult and certainly not quantitative (Figure 1A). Thus available assays are not optimized for the comprehensive analysis of demethylase activity.
Here we describe a method called MassSQUIRM (mass spectrometric quantitation using isotopic reductive methylation) that is based on reductive methylation of amine groups with deuterated formaldehyde to force all lysines to be di-methylated, thus making them essentially the same chemical species and therefore ionize the same (Figure 1B). The only chemical difference following the reductive methylation is hydrogen and deuterium, which does not affect MALDI ionization efficiencies. The MassSQUIRM assay is specific for demethylase reaction products with un-, mono- or di-methylated lysines. The assay is also applicable to lysine methyltransferases giving the same reaction products. Here, we use a combination of reductive methylation chemistry and MALDI mass spectrometry to measure the activity of LSD1, a lysine demethylase capable of removing di- and mono-methyl groups, on a synthetic peptide substrate 5
. This assay is simple and easily amenable to any lab with access to a MALDI mass spectrometer in lab or through a proteomics facility. The assay has ~8-fold dynamic range and is readily scalable to plate format 5
Molecular Biology, Issue 61, LSD1, lysine demethylase, mass spectrometry, reductive methylation, demethylase quantification
Adaptation of Semiautomated Circulating Tumor Cell (CTC) Assays for Clinical and Preclinical Research Applications
Institutions: London Health Sciences Centre, Western University, London Health Sciences Centre, Lawson Health Research Institute, Western University.
The majority of cancer-related deaths occur subsequent to the development of metastatic disease. This highly lethal disease stage is associated with the presence of circulating tumor cells (CTCs). These rare cells have been demonstrated to be of clinical significance in metastatic breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers. The current gold standard in clinical CTC detection and enumeration is the FDA-cleared CellSearch system (CSS). This manuscript outlines the standard protocol utilized by this platform as well as two additional adapted protocols that describe the detailed process of user-defined marker optimization for protein characterization of patient CTCs and a comparable protocol for CTC capture in very low volumes of blood, using standard CSS reagents, for studying in vivo
preclinical mouse models of metastasis. In addition, differences in CTC quality between healthy donor blood spiked with cells from tissue culture versus patient blood samples are highlighted. Finally, several commonly discrepant items that can lead to CTC misclassification errors are outlined. Taken together, these protocols will provide a useful resource for users of this platform interested in preclinical and clinical research pertaining to metastasis and CTCs.
Medicine, Issue 84, Metastasis, circulating tumor cells (CTCs), CellSearch system, user defined marker characterization, in vivo, preclinical mouse model, clinical research
Modeling Astrocytoma Pathogenesis In Vitro and In Vivo Using Cortical Astrocytes or Neural Stem Cells from Conditional, Genetically Engineered Mice
Institutions: University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
Current astrocytoma models are limited in their ability to define the roles of oncogenic mutations in specific brain cell types during disease pathogenesis and their utility for preclinical drug development. In order to design a better model system for these applications, phenotypically wild-type cortical astrocytes and neural stem cells (NSC) from conditional, genetically engineered mice (GEM) that harbor various combinations of floxed oncogenic alleles were harvested and grown in culture. Genetic recombination was induced in vitro
using adenoviral Cre-mediated recombination, resulting in expression of mutated oncogenes and deletion of tumor suppressor genes. The phenotypic consequences of these mutations were defined by measuring proliferation, transformation, and drug response in vitro
. Orthotopic allograft models, whereby transformed cells are stereotactically injected into the brains of immune-competent, syngeneic littermates, were developed to define the role of oncogenic mutations and cell type on tumorigenesis in vivo
. Unlike most established human glioblastoma cell line xenografts, injection of transformed GEM-derived cortical astrocytes into the brains of immune-competent littermates produced astrocytomas, including the most aggressive subtype, glioblastoma, that recapitulated the histopathological hallmarks of human astrocytomas, including diffuse invasion of normal brain parenchyma. Bioluminescence imaging of orthotopic allografts from transformed astrocytes engineered to express luciferase was utilized to monitor in vivo
tumor growth over time. Thus, astrocytoma models using astrocytes and NSC harvested from GEM with conditional oncogenic alleles provide an integrated system to study the genetics and cell biology of astrocytoma pathogenesis in vitro
and in vivo
and may be useful in preclinical drug development for these devastating diseases.
Neuroscience, Issue 90, astrocytoma, cortical astrocytes, genetically engineered mice, glioblastoma, neural stem cells, orthotopic allograft
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
Microarray-based Identification of Individual HERV Loci Expression: Application to Biomarker Discovery in Prostate Cancer
Institutions: Joint Unit Hospices de Lyon-bioMérieux, BioMérieux, Hospices Civils de Lyon, Lyon 1 University, BioMérieux, Hospices Civils de Lyon, Hospices Civils de Lyon.
The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is the main diagnostic biomarker for prostate cancer in clinical use, but it lacks specificity and sensitivity, particularly in low dosage values1
. ‘How to use PSA' remains a current issue, either for diagnosis as a gray zone corresponding to a concentration in serum of 2.5-10 ng/ml which does not allow a clear differentiation to be made between cancer and noncancer2
or for patient follow-up as analysis of post-operative PSA kinetic parameters can pose considerable challenges for their practical application3,4
. Alternatively, noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs) are emerging as key molecules in human cancer, with the potential to serve as novel markers of disease, e.g.
PCA3 in prostate cancer5,6
and to reveal uncharacterized aspects of tumor biology. Moreover, data from the ENCODE project published in 2012 showed that different RNA types cover about 62% of the genome. It also appears that the amount of transcriptional regulatory motifs is at least 4.5x higher than the one corresponding to protein-coding exons. Thus, long terminal repeats (LTRs) of human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) constitute a wide range of putative/candidate transcriptional regulatory sequences, as it is their primary function in infectious retroviruses. HERVs, which are spread throughout the human genome, originate from ancestral and independent infections within the germ line, followed by copy-paste propagation processes and leading to multicopy families occupying 8% of the human genome (note that exons span 2% of our genome). Some HERV loci still express proteins that have been associated with several pathologies including cancer7-10
. We have designed a high-density microarray, in Affymetrix format, aiming to optimally characterize individual HERV loci expression, in order to better understand whether they can be active, if they drive ncRNA transcription or modulate coding gene expression. This tool has been applied in the prostate cancer field (Figure 1
Medicine, Issue 81, Cancer Biology, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Prostate, Retroviridae, Biomarkers, Pharmacological, Tumor Markers, Biological, Prostatectomy, Microarray Analysis, Gene Expression, Diagnosis, Human Endogenous Retroviruses, HERV, microarray, Transcriptome, prostate cancer, Affymetrix
The Multiple Sclerosis Performance Test (MSPT): An iPad-Based Disability Assessment Tool
Institutions: Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland Clinic Foundation.
Precise measurement of neurological and neuropsychological impairment and disability in multiple sclerosis is challenging. We report a new test, the Multiple Sclerosis Performance Test (MSPT), which represents a new approach to quantifying MS related disability. The MSPT takes advantage of advances in computer technology, information technology, biomechanics, and clinical measurement science. The resulting MSPT represents a computer-based platform for precise, valid measurement of MS severity. Based on, but extending the Multiple Sclerosis Functional Composite (MSFC), the MSPT provides precise, quantitative data on walking speed, balance, manual dexterity, visual function, and cognitive processing speed. The MSPT was tested by 51 MS patients and 49 healthy controls (HC). MSPT scores were highly reproducible, correlated strongly with technician-administered test scores, discriminated MS from HC and severe from mild MS, and correlated with patient reported outcomes. Measures of reliability, sensitivity, and clinical meaning for MSPT scores were favorable compared with technician-based testing. The MSPT is a potentially transformative approach for collecting MS disability outcome data for patient care and research. Because the testing is computer-based, test performance can be analyzed in traditional or novel ways and data can be directly entered into research or clinical databases. The MSPT could be widely disseminated to clinicians in practice settings who are not connected to clinical trial performance sites or who are practicing in rural settings, drastically improving access to clinical trials for clinicians and patients. The MSPT could be adapted to out of clinic settings, like the patient’s home, thereby providing more meaningful real world data. The MSPT represents a new paradigm for neuroperformance testing. This method could have the same transformative effect on clinical care and research in MS as standardized computer-adapted testing has had in the education field, with clear potential to accelerate progress in clinical care and research.
Medicine, Issue 88, Multiple Sclerosis, Multiple Sclerosis Functional Composite, computer-based testing, 25-foot walk test, 9-hole peg test, Symbol Digit Modalities Test, Low Contrast Visual Acuity, Clinical Outcome Measure
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
Assessment and Evaluation of the High Risk Neonate: The NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale
Institutions: Brown University, Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, University of Massachusetts, Boston.
There has been a long-standing interest in the assessment of the neurobehavioral integrity of the newborn infant. The NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale (NNNS) was developed as an assessment for the at-risk infant. These are infants who are at increased risk for poor developmental outcome because of insults during prenatal development, such as substance exposure or prematurity or factors such as poverty, poor nutrition or lack of prenatal care that can have adverse effects on the intrauterine environment and affect the developing fetus. The NNNS assesses the full range of infant neurobehavioral performance including neurological integrity, behavioral functioning, and signs of stress/abstinence. The NNNS is a noninvasive neonatal assessment tool with demonstrated validity as a predictor, not only of medical outcomes such as cerebral palsy diagnosis, neurological abnormalities, and diseases with risks to the brain, but also of developmental outcomes such as mental and motor functioning, behavior problems, school readiness, and IQ. The NNNS can identify infants at high risk for abnormal developmental outcome and is an important clinical tool that enables medical researchers and health practitioners to identify these infants and develop intervention programs to optimize the development of these infants as early as possible. The video shows the NNNS procedures, shows examples of normal and abnormal performance and the various clinical populations in which the exam can be used.
Behavior, Issue 90, NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale, NNNS, High risk infant, Assessment, Evaluation, Prediction, Long term outcome
Tumor Treating Field Therapy in Combination with Bevacizumab for the Treatment of Recurrent Glioblastoma
Institutions: Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.
A novel device that employs TTF therapy has recently been developed and is currently in use for the treatment of recurrent glioblastoma (rGBM). It was FDA approved in April 2011 for the treatment of patients 22 years or older with rGBM. The device delivers alternating electric fields and is programmed to ensure maximal tumor cell kill1
Glioblastoma is the most common type of glioma and has an estimated incidence of approximately 10,000 new cases per year in the United States alone2
. This tumor is particularly resistant to treatment and is uniformly fatal especially in the recurrent setting3-5
. Prior to the approval of the TTF System, the only FDA approved treatment for rGBM was bevacizumab6
. Bevacizumab is a humanized monoclonal antibody targeted against the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) protein that drives tumor angiogenesis7
. By blocking the VEGF pathway, bevacizumab can result in a significant radiographic response (pseudoresponse), improve progression free survival and reduce corticosteroid requirements in rGBM patients8,9
. Bevacizumab however failed to prolong overall survival in a recent phase III trial26
. A pivotal phase III trial (EF-11) demonstrated comparable overall survival between physicians’ choice chemotherapy and TTF Therapy but better quality of life were observed in the TTF arm10
There is currently an unmet need to develop novel approaches designed to prolong overall survival and/or improve quality of life in this unfortunate patient population. One appealing approach would be to combine the two currently approved treatment modalities namely bevacizumab and TTF Therapy. These two treatments are currently approved as monotherapy11,12
, but their combination has never been evaluated in a clinical trial. We have developed an approach for combining those two treatment modalities and treated 2 rGBM patients. Here we describe a detailed methodology outlining this novel treatment protocol and present representative data from one of the treated patients.
Medicine, Issue 92, Tumor Treating Fields, TTF System, TTF Therapy, Recurrent Glioblastoma, Bevacizumab, Brain Tumor
Feeder-free Derivation of Neural Crest Progenitor Cells from Human Pluripotent Stem Cells
Institutions: Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, The Rockefeller University.
Human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) have great potential for studying human embryonic development, for modeling human diseases in the dish and as a source of transplantable cells for regenerative applications after disease or accidents. Neural crest (NC) cells are the precursors for a large variety of adult somatic cells, such as cells from the peripheral nervous system and glia, melanocytes and mesenchymal cells. They are a valuable source of cells to study aspects of human embryonic development, including cell fate specification and migration. Further differentiation of NC progenitor cells into terminally differentiated cell types offers the possibility to model human diseases in vitro
, investigate disease mechanisms and generate cells for regenerative medicine. This article presents the adaptation of a currently available in vitro
differentiation protocol for the derivation of NC cells from hPSCs. This new protocol requires 18 days of differentiation, is feeder-free, easily scalable and highly reproducible among human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines as well as human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) lines. Both old and new protocols yield NC cells of equal identity.
Neuroscience, Issue 87, Embryonic Stem Cells (ESCs), Pluripotent Stem Cells, Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs), Neural Crest, Peripheral Nervous System (PNS), pluripotent stem cells, neural crest cells, in vitro differentiation, disease modeling, differentiation protocol, human embryonic stem cells, human pluripotent stem cells
DNA Methylation: Bisulphite Modification and Analysis
Institutions: Garvan Institute of Medical Research, University of NSW.
Epigenetics describes the heritable changes in gene function that occur independently to the DNA sequence. The molecular basis of epigenetic gene regulation is complex, but essentially involves modifications to the DNA itself or the proteins with which DNA associates. The predominant epigenetic modification of DNA in mammalian genomes is methylation of cytosine nucleotides (5-MeC). DNA methylation provides instruction to gene expression machinery as to where and when the gene should be expressed. The primary target sequence for DNA methylation in mammals is 5'-CpG-3' dinucleotides (Figure 1). CpG dinucleotides are not uniformly distributed throughout the genome, but are concentrated in regions of repetitive genomic sequences and CpG "islands" commonly associated with gene promoters (Figure 1). DNA methylation patterns are established early in development, modulated during tissue specific differentiation and disrupted in many disease states including cancer. To understand the biological role of DNA methylation and its role in human disease, precise, efficient and reproducible methods are required to detect and quantify individual 5-MeCs.
This protocol for bisulphite conversion is the "gold standard" for DNA methylation analysis and facilitates identification and quantification of DNA methylation at single nucleotide resolution. The chemistry of cytosine deamination by sodium bisulphite involves three steps (Figure 2). (1) Sulphonation: The addition of bisulphite to the 5-6 double bond of cytosine (2) Hydrolic Deamination: hydrolytic deamination of the resulting cytosine-bisulphite derivative to give a uracil-bisulphite derivative (3) Alkali Desulphonation: Removal of the sulphonate group by an alkali treatment, to give uracil. Bisulphite preferentially deaminates cytosine to uracil in single stranded DNA, whereas 5-MeC, is refractory to bisulphite-mediated deamination. Upon PCR amplification, uracil is amplified as thymine while 5-MeC residues remain as cytosines, allowing methylated CpGs to be distinguished from unmethylated CpGs by presence of a cytosine "C" versus thymine "T" residue during sequencing.
DNA modification by bisulphite conversion is a well-established protocol that can be exploited for many methods of DNA methylation analysis. Since the detection of 5-MeC by bisulphite conversion was first demonstrated by Frommer et al.1
and Clark et al.2
, methods based around bisulphite conversion of genomic DNA account for the majority of new data on DNA methylation. Different methods of post PCR analysis may be utilized, depending on the degree of specificity and resolution of methylation required. Cloning and sequencing is still the most readily available method that can give single nucleotide resolution for methylation across the DNA molecule.
Genetics, Issue 56, epigenetics, DNA methylation, Bisulphite, 5-methylcytosine (5-MeC), PCR
Isolation of Pulmonary Artery Smooth Muscle Cells from Neonatal Mice
Institutions: Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Pulmonary hypertension is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in infants. Historically, there has been significant study of the signaling pathways involved in vascular smooth muscle contraction in PASMC from fetal sheep. While sheep make an excellent model of term pulmonary hypertension, they are very expensive and lack the advantage of genetic manipulation found in mice. Conversely, the inability to isolate PASMC from mice was a significant limitation of that system. Here we described the isolation of primary cultures of mouse PASMC from P7, P14, and P21 mice using a variation of the previously described technique of Marshall et al.26
that was previously used to isolate rat PASMC. These murine PASMC represent a novel tool for the study of signaling pathways in the neonatal period. Briefly, a slurry of 0.5% (w/v) agarose + 0.5% iron particles in M199 media is infused into the pulmonary vascular bed via the right ventricle (RV). The iron particles are 0.2 μM in diameter and cannot pass through the pulmonary capillary bed. Thus, the iron lodges in the small pulmonary arteries (PA). The lungs are inflated with agarose, removed and dissociated. The iron-containing vessels are pulled down with a magnet. After collagenase (80 U/ml) treatment and further dissociation, the vessels are put into a tissue culture dish in M199 media containing 20% fetal bovine serum (FBS), and antibiotics (M199 complete media) to allow cell migration onto the culture dish. This initial plate of cells is a 50-50 mixture of fibroblasts and PASMC. Thus, the pull down procedure is repeated multiple times to achieve a more pure PASMC population and remove any residual iron. Smooth muscle cell identity is confirmed by immunostaining for smooth muscle myosin and desmin.
Basic Protocol, Issue 80, Muscle, Smooth, Vascular, Cardiovascular Abnormalities, Hypertension, Pulmonary, vascular smooth muscle, pulmonary hypertension, development, phosphodiesterases, cGMP, immunostaining
A New Single Chamber Implantable Defibrillator with Atrial Sensing: A Practical Demonstration of Sensing and Ease of Implantation
Institutions: University Hospital of Rostock, Germany.
Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs) terminate ventricular tachycardia (VT) and ventricular fibrillation (VF) with high efficacy and can protect patients from sudden cardiac death (SCD). However, inappropriate shocks may occur if tachycardias are misdiagnosed. Inappropriate shocks are harmful and impair patient quality of life. The risk of inappropriate therapy increases with lower detection rates programmed in the ICD. Single-chamber detection poses greater risks for misdiagnosis when compared with dual-chamber devices that have the benefit of additional atrial information. However, using a dual-chamber device merely for the sake of detection is generally not accepted, since the risks associated with the second electrode may outweigh the benefits of detection. Therefore, BIOTRONIK developed a ventricular lead called the LinoxSMART
S DX, which allows for the detection of atrial signals from two electrodes positioned at the atrial part of the ventricular electrode. This device contains two ring electrodes; one that contacts the atrial wall at the junction of the superior vena cava (SVC) and one positioned at the free floating part of the electrode in the atrium. The excellent signal quality can only be achieved by a special filter setting in the ICD (Lumax 540 and 740 VR-T DX, BIOTRONIK). Here, the ease of implantation of the system will be demonstrated.
Medicine, Issue 60, Implantable defibrillator, dual chamber, single chamber, tachycardia detection
Pyrosequencing: A Simple Method for Accurate Genotyping
Institutions: Washington University in St. Louis.
Pharmacogenetic research benefits first-hand from the abundance of information provided by the completion of the Human Genome Project. With such a tremendous amount of data available comes an explosion of genotyping methods. Pyrosequencing(R) is one of the most thorough yet simple methods to date used to analyze polymorphisms. It also has the ability to identify tri-allelic, indels, short-repeat polymorphisms, along with determining allele percentages for methylation or pooled sample assessment. In addition, there is a standardized control sequence that provides internal quality control. This method has led to rapid and efficient single-nucleotide polymorphism evaluation including many clinically relevant polymorphisms. The technique and methodology of Pyrosequencing is explained.
Cellular Biology, Issue 11, Springer Protocols, Pyrosequencing, genotype, polymorphism, SNP, pharmacogenetics, pharmacogenomics, PCR
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