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.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
A Chromatin Assay for Human Brain Tissue
Institutions: University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Chronic neuropsychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disease and autism are thought to result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors that might result in epigenetic alterations of gene expression and other molecular pathology. Traditionally, however, expression studies in postmortem brain were confined to quantification of mRNA or protein. The limitations encountered in postmortem brain research such as variabilities in autolysis time and tissue integrities are also likely to impact any studies of higher order chromatin structures. However, the nucleosomal organization of genomic DNA including DNA:core histone binding - appears to be largely preserved in representative samples provided by various brain banks. Therefore, it is possible to study the methylation pattern and other covalent modifications of the core histones at defined genomic loci in postmortem brain. Here, we present a simplified native chromatin immunoprecipitation (NChIP) protocol for frozen (never-fixed) human brain specimens. Starting with micrococcal nuclease digestion of brain homogenates, NChIP followed by qPCR can be completed within three days. The methodology presented here should be useful to elucidate epigenetic mechanisms of gene expression in normal and diseased human brain.
Neuroscience, Issue 13, Postmortem brain, Nucleosome, Histone, Methylation, Epigenetic, Chromatin, Human Brain
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
Determination of DNA Methylation of Imprinted Genes in Arabidopsis Endosperm
Institutions: Saint Louis University.
is an excellent model organism for studying epigenetic mechanisms. One of the reasons is the loss-of-function null mutant of DNA methyltransferases is viable, thus providing a system to study how loss of DNA methylation in a genome affects growth and development. Imprinting refers to differential expression of maternal and paternal alleles and plays an important role in reproduction development in both mammal and plants. DNA methylation is critical for determining whether the maternal or paternal alleles of an imprinted gene is expressed or silenced. In flowering plants, there is a double fertilization event in reproduction: one sperm cell fertilizes the egg cell to form embryo and a second sperm fuses with the central cell to give rise to endosperm. Endosperm is the tissue where imprinting occurs in plants. MEDEA
, a SET domain Polycomb group gene, and FWA
, a transcription factor regulating flowering, are the first two genes shown to be imprinted in endosperm and their expression is controlled by DNA methylation and demethylation in plants. In order to determine imprinting status of a gene and methylation pattern in endosperm, we need to be able to isolate endosperm first. Since seed is tiny in Arabidopsis
, it remains challenging to isolate Arabidopsis
endosperm and examine its methylation. In this video protocol, we report how to conduct a genetic cross, to isolate endosperm tissue from seeds, and to determine the methylation status by bisulfite sequencing.
Plant Biology, Issue 47, DNA methylation, imprinting, bisulfite sequencing, endosperm, Arabidopsis
Assessment of Age-related Changes in Cognitive Functions Using EmoCogMeter, a Novel Tablet-computer Based Approach
Institutions: Freie Universität Berlin, Charité Berlin, Freie Universität Berlin, Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich.
The main goal of this study was to assess the usability of a tablet-computer-based application (EmoCogMeter) in investigating the effects of age on cognitive functions across the lifespan in a sample of 378 healthy subjects (age range 18-89 years). Consistent with previous findings we found an age-related cognitive decline across a wide range of neuropsychological domains (memory, attention, executive functions), thereby proving the usability of our tablet-based application. Regardless of prior computer experience, subjects of all age groups were able to perform the tasks without instruction or feedback from an experimenter. Increased motivation and compliance proved to be beneficial for task performance, thereby potentially increasing the validity of the results. Our promising findings underline the great clinical and practical potential of a tablet-based application for detection and monitoring of cognitive dysfunction.
Behavior, Issue 84, Neuropsychological Testing, cognitive decline, age, tablet-computer, memory, attention, executive functions
Continuous High-resolution Microscopic Observation of Replicative Aging in Budding Yeast
Institutions: University of Groningen, University Medical Centre Groningen, University of Groningen, ETH Zurich, ETH Zurich, ETH Zurich.
We demonstrate the use of a simple microfluidic setup, in which single budding yeast cells can be tracked throughout their entire lifespan. The microfluidic chip exploits the size difference between mother and daughter cells using an array of micropads. Upon loading, cells are trapped underneath these micropads, because the distance between the micropad and cover glass is similar to the diameter of a yeast cell (3-4 μm). After the loading procedure, culture medium is continuously flushed through the chip, which not only creates a constant and defined environment throughout the entire experiment, but also flushes out the emerging daughter cells, which are not retained underneath the pads due to their smaller size. The setup retains mother cells so efficiently that in a single experiment up to 50 individual cells can be monitored in a fully automated manner for 5 days or, if necessary, longer. In addition, the excellent optical properties of the chip allow high-resolution imaging of cells during the entire aging process.
Bioengineering, Issue 78, Microbiology, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Genetics, Anatomy, Physiology, Lifespan analysis, Live-cell imaging, Microfluidics, Aging, Microscopy, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, microfluidic chip, yeast, cell culture, cells, imaging
Measuring Caenorhabditis elegans Life Span in 96 Well Microtiter Plates
Institutions: The Scripps Research Institute, The Scripps Research Institute.
Lifespan is a biological process regulated by several genetic pathways. One strategy to investigate the biology of aging is to study animals that harbor mutations in components of age-regulatory pathways. If these mutations perturb the function of the age-regulatory pathway and therefore alter the lifespan of the entire organism, they provide important mechanistic insights1-3
Another strategy to investigate the regulation of lifespan is to use small molecules to perturb age-regulatory pathways. To date, a number of molecules are known to extend lifespan in various model organisms and are used as tools to study the biology of aging4-16
. The number of molecules identified thus far is small compared to the genetic "toolset" that is available to study the biology of aging.
is one of the principle models used to study aging because of its excellent genetics and short lifespan of three weeks. More recently, C.elegans
has emerged as a model organism for phenotype based drug screens5,7,16-20
because of its small size and its ability to grow in microtiter plates.
Here we present an assay to measure C.elegans
lifespan in 96 well microtiter plates. The assay was developed and successfully used to screen large libraries for molecules that extend C.elegans
. The reliability of the assay was evaluated in multiple tests: first, by measuring the lifespan of wild type animals grown at different temperatures; second, by measuring the lifespan of mutants with altered lifespans; third, by measuring changes in lifespan in response to different concentrations of the antidepressant Mirtazepine. Mirtazepine has previously been shown to extend lifespan in C.elegans7
. The results of these tests show that the assay is able to replicate previous findings from other assays and is quantitative. The microtiter format also makes this lifespan assay compatible with automated liquid handling systems and allows integration into automated platforms.
Cellular Biology, Issue 49, High-throughput screening, aging, lifespan, phenotype based screening, drug discovery, age-related disease
Measurement of Lifespan in Drosophila melanogaster
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Michigan .
Aging is a phenomenon that results in steady physiological deterioration in nearly all organisms in which it has been examined, leading to reduced physical performance and increased risk of disease. Individual aging is manifest at the population level as an increase in age-dependent mortality, which is often measured in the laboratory by observing lifespan in large cohorts of age-matched individuals. Experiments that seek to quantify the extent to which genetic or environmental manipulations impact lifespan in simple model organisms have been remarkably successful for understanding the aspects of aging that are conserved across taxa and for inspiring new strategies for extending lifespan and preventing age-associated disease in mammals.
The vinegar fly, Drosophila melanogaster
, is an attractive model organism for studying the mechanisms of aging due to its relatively short lifespan, convenient husbandry, and facile genetics. However, demographic measures of aging, including age-specific survival and mortality, are extraordinarily susceptible to even minor variations in experimental design and environment, and the maintenance of strict laboratory practices for the duration of aging experiments is required. These considerations, together with the need to practice careful control of genetic background, are essential for generating robust measurements. Indeed, there are many notable controversies surrounding inference from longevity experiments in yeast, worms, flies and mice that have been traced to environmental or genetic artifacts1-4
. In this protocol, we describe a set of procedures that have been optimized over many years of measuring longevity in Drosophila
using laboratory vials. We also describe the use of the dLife software, which was developed by our laboratory and is available for download (https://sitemaker.umich.edu/pletcherlab/software). dLife accelerates throughput and promotes good practices by incorporating optimal experimental design, simplifying fly handling and data collection, and standardizing data analysis. We will also discuss the many potential pitfalls in the design, collection, and interpretation of lifespan data, and we provide steps to avoid these dangers.
Developmental Biology, Issue 71, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Entomology, longevity, lifespan, aging, Drosophila melanogaster, fruit fly, Drosophila, mortality, animal model
Ratiometric Biosensors that Measure Mitochondrial Redox State and ATP in Living Yeast Cells
Institutions: Columbia University, Columbia University.
Mitochondria have roles in many cellular processes, from energy metabolism and calcium homeostasis to control of cellular lifespan and programmed cell death. These processes affect and are affected by the redox status of and ATP production by mitochondria. Here, we describe the use of two ratiometric, genetically encoded biosensors that can detect mitochondrial redox state and ATP levels at subcellular resolution in living yeast cells. Mitochondrial redox state is measured using redox-sensitive Green Fluorescent Protein (roGFP) that is targeted to the mitochondrial matrix. Mito-roGFP contains cysteines at positions 147 and 204 of GFP, which undergo reversible and environment-dependent oxidation and reduction, which in turn alter the excitation spectrum of the protein. MitGO-ATeam is a Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) probe in which the ε subunit of the Fo
-ATP synthase is sandwiched between FRET donor and acceptor fluorescent proteins. Binding of ATP to the ε subunit results in conformation changes in the protein that bring the FRET donor and acceptor in close proximity and allow for fluorescence resonance energy transfer from the donor to acceptor.
Bioengineering, Issue 77, Microbiology, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, life sciences, roGFP, redox-sensitive green fluorescent protein, GO-ATeam, ATP, FRET, ROS, mitochondria, biosensors, GFP, ImageJ, microscopy, confocal microscopy, cell, imaging
Obtaining Specimens with Slowed, Accelerated and Reversed Aging in the Honey Bee Model
Institutions: Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Arizona State University.
Societies of highly social animals feature vast lifespan differences between closely related individuals. Among social insects, the honey bee is the best established model to study how plasticity in lifespan and aging is explained by social factors.
The worker caste of honey bees includes nurse bees, which tend the brood, and forager bees, which collect nectar and pollen. Previous work has shown that brain functions and flight performance senesce more rapidly in foragers than in nurses. However, brain functions can recover, when foragers revert back to nursing tasks. Such patterns of accelerated and reversed functional senescence are linked to changed metabolic resource levels, to alterations in protein abundance and to immune function. Vitellogenin, a yolk protein with adapted functions in hormonal control and cellular defense, may serve as a major regulatory element in a network that controls the different aging dynamics in workers.
Here we describe how the emergence of nurses and foragers can be monitored, and manipulated, including the reversal from typically short-lived foragers into longer-lived nurses. Our representative results show how individuals with similar chronological age differentiate into foragers and nurse bees under experimental conditions. We exemplify how behavioral reversal from foragers back to nurses can be validated. Last, we show how different cellular senescence can be assessed by measuring the accumulation of lipofuscin, a universal biomarker of senescence.
For studying mechanisms that may link social influences and aging plasticity, this protocol provides a standardized tool set to acquire relevant sample material, and to improve data comparability among future studies.
Developmental Biology, Issue 78, Insects, Microscopy, Confocal, Aging, Gerontology, Neurobiology, Insect, Invertebrate, Brain, Lipofuscin, Confocal Microscopy
Using Caenorhabditis elegans as a Model System to Study Protein Homeostasis in a Multicellular Organism
Institutions: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
The folding and assembly of proteins is essential for protein function, the long-term health of the cell, and longevity of the organism. Historically, the function and regulation of protein folding was studied in vitro
, in isolated tissue culture cells and in unicellular organisms. Recent studies have uncovered links between protein homeostasis (proteostasis), metabolism, development, aging, and temperature-sensing. These findings have led to the development of new tools for monitoring protein folding in the model metazoan organism Caenorhabditis elegans
. In our laboratory, we combine behavioral assays, imaging and biochemical approaches using temperature-sensitive or naturally occurring metastable proteins as sensors of the folding environment to monitor protein misfolding. Behavioral assays that are associated with the misfolding of a specific protein provide a simple and powerful readout for protein folding, allowing for the fast screening of genes and conditions that modulate folding. Likewise, such misfolding can be associated with protein mislocalization in the cell. Monitoring protein localization can, therefore, highlight changes in cellular folding capacity occurring in different tissues, at various stages of development and in the face of changing conditions. Finally, using biochemical tools ex vivo
, we can directly monitor protein stability and conformation. Thus, by combining behavioral assays, imaging and biochemical techniques, we are able to monitor protein misfolding at the resolution of the organism, the cell, and the protein, respectively.
Biochemistry, Issue 82, aging, Caenorhabditis elegans, heat shock response, neurodegenerative diseases, protein folding homeostasis, proteostasis, stress, temperature-sensitive
Methylated DNA Immunoprecipitation
Institutions: BC Cancer Research Centre, University of British Columbia - UBC, These authors contributed equally., University of British Columbia - UBC, BC Cancer Agency, University of British Columbia - UBC.
The identification of DNA methylation patterns is a common procedure in the study of epigenetics, as methylation is known to have significant effects on gene expression, and is involved with normal development as well as disease 1-4
. Thus, the ability to discriminate between methylated DNA and non-methylated DNA is essential for generating methylation profiles for such studies. Methylated DNA immunoprecipitation (MeDIP) is an efficient technique for the extraction of methylated DNA from a sample of interest 5-7
. A sample of as little as 200 ng of DNA is sufficient for the antibody, or immunoprecipitation (IP), reaction. DNA is sonicated into fragments ranging in size from 300-1000 bp, and is divided into immunoprecipitated (IP) and input (IN) portions. IP DNA is subsequently heat denatured and then incubated with anti-5'mC, allowing the monoclonal antibody to bind methylated DNA. After this, magnetic beads containing a secondary antibody with affinity for the primary antibody are added, and incubated. These bead-linked antibodies will bind the monoclonal antibody used in the first step. DNA bound to the antibody complex (methylated DNA) is separated from the rest of the DNA by using a magnet to pull the complexes out of solution. Several washes using IP buffer are then performed to remove the unbound, non-methylated DNA. The methylated DNA/antibody complexes are then digested with Proteinase K to digest the antibodies leaving only the methylated DNA intact. The enriched DNA is purified by phenol:chloroform extraction to remove the protein matter and then precipitated and resuspended in water for later use. PCR techniques can be used to validate the efficiency of the MeDIP procedure by analyzing the amplification products of IP and IN DNA for regions known to lack and known to contain methylated sequences. The purified methylated DNA can then be used for locus-specific (PCR) or genome-wide (microarray and sequencing) methylation studies, and is particularly useful when applied in conjunction with other research tools such as gene expression profiling and array comparative genome hybridization (CGH) 8
. Further investigation into DNA methylation will lead to the discovery of new epigenetic targets, which in turn, may be useful in developing new therapeutic or prognostic research tools for diseases such as cancer that are characterized by aberrantly methylated DNA 2, 4, 9-11
Cell Biology, Issue 23, DNA methylation, immunoprecipitation, epigenomics, epigenetics, methylcytosine, MeDIP protocol, 5-methylcytosine antibody, anti-5-methylcytosine, microarray
High Sensitivity 5-hydroxymethylcytosine Detection in Balb/C Brain Tissue
Institutions: New England Biolabs.
DNA hydroxymethylation is a long known modification of DNA, but has recently become a focus in epigenetic research. Mammalian DNA is enzymatically modified at the 5th
carbon position of cytosine (C) residues to 5-mC, predominately in the context of CpG dinucleotides. 5-mC is amenable to enzymatic oxidation to 5-hmC by the Tet family of enzymes, which are believed to be involved in development and disease. Currently, the biological role of 5-hmC is not fully understood, but is generating a lot of interest due to its potential as a biomarker. This is due to several groundbreaking studies identifying 5-hydroxymethylcytosine in mouse embryonic stem (ES) and neuronal cells. Research techniques, including bisulfite sequencing methods, are unable to easily distinguish between 5-mC and 5-hmC . A few protocols exist that can measure global amounts of 5-hydroxymethylcytosine in the genome, including liquid chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry analysis or thin layer chromatography of single nucleosides digested from genomic DNA. Antibodies that target 5-hydroxymethylcytosine also exist, which can be used for dot blot analysis, immunofluorescence, or precipitation of hydroxymethylated DNA, but these antibodies do not have single base resolution.In addition, resolution depends on the size of the immunoprecipitated DNA and for microarray experiments, depends on probe design. Since it is unknown exactly where 5-hydroxymethylcytosine exists in the genome or its role in epigenetic regulation, new techniques are required that can identify locus specific hydroxymethylation. The EpiMark 5-hmC and 5-mC Analysis Kit provides a solution for distinguishing between these two modifications at specific loci. The EpiMark 5-hmC and 5-mC Analysis Kit is a simple and robust method for the identification and quantitation of 5-methylcytosine and 5-hydroxymethylcytosine within a specific DNA locus. This enzymatic approach utilizes the differential methylation sensitivity of the isoschizomers MspI and HpaII in a simple 3-step protocol. Genomic DNA of interest is treated with T4-BGT, adding a glucose moeity to 5-hydroxymethylcytosine. This reaction is sequence-independent, therefore all 5-hmC will be glucosylated; unmodified or 5-mC containing DNA will not be affected. This glucosylation is then followed by restriction endonuclease digestion. MspI and HpaII recognize the same sequence (CCGG) but are sensitive to different methylation states. HpaII cleaves only a completely unmodified site: any modification (5-mC, 5-hmC or 5-ghmC) at either cytosine blocks cleavage. MspI recognizes and cleaves 5-mC and 5-hmC, but not 5-ghmC. The third part of the protocol is interrogation of the locus by PCR. As little as 20 ng of input DNA can be used. Amplification of the experimental (glucosylated and digested) and control (mock glucosylated and digested) target DNA with primers flanking a CCGG site of interest (100-200 bp) is performed. If the CpG site contains 5-hydroxymethylcytosine, a band is detected after glucosylation and digestion, but not in the non-glucosylated control reaction. Real time PCR will give an approximation of how much hydroxymethylcytosine is in this particular site. In this experiment, we will analyze the 5-hydroxymethylcytosine amount in a mouse Babl/C brain sample by end point PCR.
Neuroscience, Issue 48, EpiMark, Epigenetics, 5-hydroxymethylcytosine, 5-methylcytosine, methylation, hydroxymethylation
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
Single Oocyte Bisulfite Mutagenesis
Institutions: Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Western Ontario, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Western Ontario, Children's Health Research Institute.
Epigenetics encompasses all heritable and reversible modifications to chromatin that alter gene accessibility, and thus are the primary mechanisms for regulating gene transcription1
. DNA methylation is an epigenetic modification that acts predominantly as a repressive mark. Through the covalent addition of a methyl group onto cytosines in CpG dinucleotides, it can recruit additional repressive proteins and histone modifications to initiate processes involved in condensing chromatin and silencing genes2
. DNA methylation is essential for normal development as it plays a critical role in developmental programming, cell differentiation, repression of retroviral elements, X-chromosome inactivation and genomic imprinting.
One of the most powerful methods for DNA methylation analysis is bisulfite mutagenesis. Sodium bisulfite is a DNA mutagen that deaminates cytosines into uracils. Following PCR amplification and sequencing, these conversion events are detected as thymines. Methylated cytosines are protected from deamination and thus remain as cytosines, enabling identification of DNA methylation at the individual nucleotide level3
. Development of the bisulfite mutagenesis assay has advanced from those originally reported4-6
towards ones that are more sensitive and reproducible7
. One key advancement was embedding smaller amounts of DNA in an agarose bead, thereby protecting DNA from the harsh bisulfite treatment8
. This enabled methylation analysis to be performed on pools of oocytes and blastocyst-stage embryos9
. The most sophisticated bisulfite mutagenesis protocol to date is for individual blastocyst-stage embryos10
. However, since blastocysts have on average 64 cells (containing 120-720 pg of genomic DNA), this method is not efficacious for methylation studies on individual oocytes or cleavage-stage embryos.
Taking clues from agarose embedding of minute DNA amounts including oocytes11
, here we present a method whereby oocytes are directly embedded in an agarose and lysis solution bead immediately following retrieval and removal of the zona pellucida from the oocyte. This enables us to bypass the two main challenges of single oocyte bisulfite mutagenesis: protecting a minute amount of DNA from degradation, and subsequent loss during the numerous protocol steps. Importantly, as data are obtained from single oocytes, the issue of PCR bias within pools is eliminated. Furthermore, inadvertent cumulus cell contamination is detectable by this method since any sample with more than one methylation pattern may be excluded from analysis12
. This protocol provides an improved method for successful and reproducible analyses of DNA methylation at the single-cell level and is ideally suited for individual oocytes as well as cleavage-stage embryos.
Genetics, Issue 64, Developmental Biology, Biochemistry, Bisulfite mutagenesis, DNA methylation, individual oocyte, individual embryo, mouse model, PCR, epigenetics
Combining Magnetic Sorting of Mother Cells and Fluctuation Tests to Analyze Genome Instability During Mitotic Cell Aging in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Institutions: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
has been an excellent model system for examining mechanisms and consequences of genome instability. Information gained from this yeast model is relevant to many organisms, including humans, since DNA repair and DNA damage response factors are well conserved across diverse species. However, S. cerevisiae
has not yet been used to fully address whether the rate of accumulating mutations changes with increasing replicative (mitotic) age due to technical constraints. For instance, measurements of yeast replicative lifespan through micromanipulation involve very small populations of cells, which prohibit detection of rare mutations. Genetic methods to enrich for mother cells in populations by inducing death of daughter cells have been developed, but population sizes are still limited by the frequency with which random mutations that compromise the selection systems occur. The current protocol takes advantage of magnetic sorting of surface-labeled yeast mother cells to obtain large enough populations of aging mother cells to quantify rare mutations through phenotypic selections. Mutation rates, measured through fluctuation tests, and mutation frequencies are first established for young cells and used to predict the frequency of mutations in mother cells of various replicative ages. Mutation frequencies are then determined for sorted mother cells, and the age of the mother cells is determined using flow cytometry by staining with a fluorescent reagent that detects bud scars formed on their cell surfaces during cell division. Comparison of predicted mutation frequencies based on the number of cell divisions to the frequencies experimentally observed for mother cells of a given replicative age can then identify whether there are age-related changes in the rate of accumulating mutations. Variations of this basic protocol provide the means to investigate the influence of alterations in specific gene functions or specific environmental conditions on mutation accumulation to address mechanisms underlying genome instability during replicative aging.
Microbiology, Issue 92, Aging, mutations, genome instability, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, fluctuation test, magnetic sorting, mother cell, replicative aging
Telomere Length and Telomerase Activity; A Yin and Yang of Cell Senescence
Institutions: Albert Einstein College of Medicine , Albert Einstein College of Medicine , Albert Einstein College of Medicine .
Telomeres are repeating DNA sequences at the tip ends of the chromosomes that are diverse in length and in humans can reach a length of 15,000 base pairs. The telomere serves as a bioprotective mechanism of chromosome attrition at each cell division. At a certain length, telomeres become too short to allow replication, a process that may lead to chromosome instability or cell death. Telomere length is regulated by two opposing mechanisms: attrition and elongation. Attrition occurs as each cell divides. In contrast, elongation is partially modulated by the enzyme telomerase, which adds repeating sequences to the ends of the chromosomes. In this way, telomerase could possibly reverse an aging mechanism and rejuvenates cell viability. These are crucial elements in maintaining cell life and are used to assess cellular aging. In this manuscript we will describe an accurate, short, sophisticated and cheap method to assess telomere length in multiple tissues and species. This method takes advantage of two key elements, the tandem repeat of the telomere sequence and the sensitivity of the qRT-PCR to detect differential copy numbers of tested samples. In addition, we will describe a simple assay to assess telomerase activity as a complementary backbone test for telomere length.
Genetics, Issue 75, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Genomics, Telomere length, telomerase activity, telomerase, telomeres, telomere, DNA, PCR, polymerase chain reaction, qRT-PCR, sequencing, aging, telomerase assay
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
Sequence-specific Labeling of Nucleic Acids and Proteins with Methyltransferases and Cofactor Analogues
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University.
-Adenosyl-l-methionine (AdoMet or SAM)-dependent methyltransferases (MTase) catalyze the transfer of the activated methyl group from AdoMet to specific positions in DNA, RNA, proteins and small biomolecules. This natural methylation reaction can be expanded to a wide variety of alkylation reactions using synthetic cofactor analogues. Replacement of the reactive sulfonium center of AdoMet with an aziridine ring leads to cofactors which can be coupled with DNA by various DNA MTases. These aziridine cofactors can be equipped with reporter groups at different positions of the adenine moiety and used for S
of DNA (SMILing DNA). As a typical example we give a protocol for biotinylation of pBR322 plasmid DNA at the 5’-ATCGA
T-3’ sequence with the DNA MTase M.BseCI and the aziridine cofactor 6BAz in one step. Extension of the activated methyl group with unsaturated alkyl groups results in another class of AdoMet analogues which are used for m
ransfer of A
roups (mTAG). Since the extended side chains are activated by the sulfonium center and the unsaturated bond, these cofactors are called double-activated AdoMet analogues. These analogues not only function as cofactors for DNA MTases, like the aziridine cofactors, but also for RNA, protein and small molecule MTases. They are typically used for enzymatic modification of MTase substrates with unique functional groups which are labeled with reporter groups in a second chemical step. This is exemplified in a protocol for fluorescence labeling of histone H3 protein. A small propargyl group is transferred from the cofactor analogue SeAdoYn to the protein by the histone H3 lysine 4 (H3K4) MTase Set7/9 followed by click labeling of the alkynylated histone H3 with TAMRA azide. MTase-mediated labeling with cofactor analogues is an enabling technology for many exciting applications including identification and functional study of MTase substrates as well as DNA genotyping and methylation detection.
Biochemistry, Issue 93, S-adenosyl-l-methionine, AdoMet, SAM, aziridine cofactor, double activated cofactor, methyltransferase, DNA methylation, protein methylation, biotin labeling, fluorescence labeling, SMILing, mTAG
The ChroP Approach Combines ChIP and Mass Spectrometry to Dissect Locus-specific Proteomic Landscapes of Chromatin
Institutions: European Institute of Oncology.
Chromatin is a highly dynamic nucleoprotein complex made of DNA and proteins that controls various DNA-dependent processes. Chromatin structure and function at specific regions is regulated by the local enrichment of histone post-translational modifications (hPTMs) and variants, chromatin-binding proteins, including transcription factors, and DNA methylation. The proteomic characterization of chromatin composition at distinct functional regions has been so far hampered by the lack of efficient protocols to enrich such domains at the appropriate purity and amount for the subsequent in-depth analysis by Mass Spectrometry (MS). We describe here a newly designed chromatin proteomics strategy, named ChroP (Chromatin Proteomics
), whereby a preparative chromatin immunoprecipitation is used to isolate distinct chromatin regions whose features, in terms of hPTMs, variants and co-associated non-histonic proteins, are analyzed by MS. We illustrate here the setting up of ChroP for the enrichment and analysis of transcriptionally silent heterochromatic regions, marked by the presence of tri-methylation of lysine 9 on histone H3. The results achieved demonstrate the potential of ChroP
in thoroughly characterizing the heterochromatin proteome and prove it as a powerful analytical strategy for understanding how the distinct protein determinants of chromatin interact and synergize to establish locus-specific structural and functional configurations.
Biochemistry, Issue 86, chromatin, histone post-translational modifications (hPTMs), epigenetics, mass spectrometry, proteomics, SILAC, chromatin immunoprecipitation , histone variants, chromatome, hPTMs cross-talks
Specificity Analysis of Protein Lysine Methyltransferases Using SPOT Peptide Arrays
Institutions: Stuttgart University.
Lysine methylation is an emerging post-translation modification and it has been identified on several histone and non-histone proteins, where it plays crucial roles in cell development and many diseases. Approximately 5,000 lysine methylation sites were identified on different proteins, which are set by few dozens of protein lysine methyltransferases. This suggests that each PKMT methylates multiple proteins, however till now only one or two substrates have been identified for several of these enzymes. To approach this problem, we have introduced peptide array based substrate specificity analyses of PKMTs. Peptide arrays are powerful tools to characterize the specificity of PKMTs because methylation of several substrates with different sequences can be tested on one array. We synthesized peptide arrays on cellulose membrane using an Intavis SPOT synthesizer and analyzed the specificity of various PKMTs. Based on the results, for several of these enzymes, novel substrates could be identified. For example, for NSD1 by employing peptide arrays, we showed that it methylates K44 of H4 instead of the reported H4K20 and in addition H1.5K168 is the highly preferred substrate over the previously known H3K36. Hence, peptide arrays are powerful tools to biochemically characterize the PKMTs.
Biochemistry, Issue 93, Peptide arrays, solid phase peptide synthesis, SPOT synthesis, protein lysine methyltransferases, substrate specificity profile analysis, lysine methylation
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
A Protocol to Infect Caenorhabditis elegans with Salmonella typhimurium
Institutions: Florida Atlantic University.
In the last decade, C. elegans
has emerged as an invertebrate organism to study interactions between hosts and pathogens, including the host defense against gram-negative bacterium Salmonella typhimurium. Salmonella
establishes persistent infection in the intestine of C. elegans
and results in early death of infected animals. A number of immunity mechanisms have been identified in C. elegans
to defend against Salmonella
infections. Autophagy, an evolutionarily conserved lysosomal degradation pathway, has been shown to limit the Salmonella
replication in C. elegans
and in mammals. Here, a protocol is described to infect C. elegans
with Salmonella typhimurium
, in which the worms are exposed to Salmonella
for a limited time, similar to Salmonella
infection in humans. Salmonella
infection significantly shortens the lifespan of C. elegans
. Using the essential autophagy gene bec-1
as an example, we combined this infection method with C. elegans
RNAi feeding approach and showed this protocol can be used to examine the function of C. elegans
host genes in defense against Salmonella
infection. Since C. elegans
whole genome RNAi libraries are available, this protocol makes it possible to comprehensively screen for C. elegans
genes that protect against Salmonella
and other intestinal pathogens using genome-wide RNAi libraries.
Immunology, Issue 88, C. elegans, Salmonella typhimurium, autophagy, infection, pathogen, host, RNAi
Neuronal Nuclei Isolation from Human Postmortem Brain Tissue
Institutions: University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Neurons in the human brain become postmitotic largely during prenatal development, and thus maintain their nuclei throughout the full lifespan. However, little is known about changes in neuronal chromatin and nuclear organization during the course of development and aging, or in chronic neuropsychiatric disease. However, to date most chromatin and DNA based assays (other than FISH) lack single cell resolution. To this end, the considerable cellular heterogeneity of brain tissue poses a significant limitation, because typically various subpopulations of neurons are intermingled with different types of glia and other non-neuronal cells. One possible solution would be to grow cell-type specific cultures, but most CNS cells, including neurons, are ex vivo sustainable, at best, for only a few weeks and thus would provide an incomplete model for epigenetic mechanisms potentially operating across the full lifespan. Here, we provide a protocol to extract and purify nuclei from frozen (never fixed) human postmortem brain. The method involves extraction of nuclei in hypotonic lysis buffer, followed by ultracentrifugation and immunotagging with anti-NeuN antibody. Labeled neuronal nuclei are then collected separately using fluorescence-activated sorting. This method should be applicable to any brain region in a wide range of species and suitable for chromatin immunoprecipitation studies with site- and modification-specific anti-histone antibodies, and for DNA methylation and other assays.
Neuroscience, Issue 20, FACS, postmortem brain, epigenetic, human brain, nueronal nuclei, immunotagging
Principles of Site-Specific Recombinase (SSR) Technology
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Site-specific recombinase (SSR) technology allows the manipulation of gene structure to explore gene function and has become an integral tool of molecular biology. Site-specific recombinases are proteins that bind to distinct DNA target sequences. The Cre/lox system was first described in bacteriophages during the 1980's. Cre recombinase is a Type I topoisomerase that catalyzes site-specific recombination of DNA between two loxP (locus of X-over P1) sites. The Cre/lox system does not require any cofactors. LoxP sequences contain distinct binding sites for Cre recombinases that surround a directional core sequence where recombination and rearrangement takes place. When cells contain loxP sites and express the Cre recombinase, a recombination event occurs. Double-stranded DNA is cut at both loxP sites by the Cre recombinase, rearranged, and ligated ("scissors and glue"). Products of the recombination event depend on the relative orientation of the asymmetric sequences.
SSR technology is frequently used as a tool to explore gene function. Here the gene of interest is flanked with Cre target sites loxP ("floxed"). Animals are then crossed with animals expressing the Cre recombinase under the control of a tissue-specific promoter. In tissues that express the Cre recombinase it binds to target sequences and excises the floxed gene. Controlled gene deletion allows the investigation of gene function in specific tissues and at distinct time points. Analysis of gene function employing SSR technology --- conditional mutagenesis -- has significant advantages over traditional knock-outs where gene deletion is frequently lethal.
Cellular Biology, Issue 15, Molecular Biology, Site-Specific Recombinase, Cre recombinase, Cre/lox system, transgenic animals, transgenic technology