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.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
Determining the Contribution of the Energy Systems During Exercise
Institutions: University of Sao Paulo, University of Sao Paulo, University of Sao Paulo, University of Sao Paulo.
One of the most important aspects of the metabolic demand is the relative contribution of the energy systems to the total energy required for a given physical activity. Although some sports are relatively easy to be reproduced in a laboratory (e.g., running and cycling), a number of sports are much more difficult to be reproduced and studied in controlled situations. This method presents how to assess the differential contribution of the energy systems in sports that are difficult to mimic in controlled laboratory conditions. The concepts shown here can be adapted to virtually any sport.
The following physiologic variables will be needed: rest oxygen consumption, exercise oxygen consumption, post-exercise oxygen consumption, rest plasma lactate concentration and post-exercise plasma peak lactate. To calculate the contribution of the aerobic metabolism, you will need the oxygen consumption at rest and during the exercise. By using the trapezoidal method, calculate the area under the curve of oxygen consumption during exercise, subtracting the area corresponding to the rest oxygen consumption. To calculate the contribution of the alactic anaerobic metabolism, the post-exercise oxygen consumption curve has to be adjusted to a mono or a bi-exponential model (chosen by the one that best fits). Then, use the terms of the fitted equation to calculate anaerobic alactic metabolism, as follows: ATP-CP metabolism = A1
(mL . s-1
) x t1
(s). Finally, to calculate the contribution of the lactic anaerobic system, multiply peak plasma lactate by 3 and by the athlete’s body mass (the result in mL is then converted to L and into kJ).
The method can be used for both continuous and intermittent exercise. This is a very interesting approach as it can be adapted to exercises and sports that are difficult to be mimicked in controlled environments. Also, this is the only available method capable of distinguishing the contribution of three different energy systems. Thus, the method allows the study of sports with great similarity to real situations, providing desirable ecological validity to the study.
Physiology, Issue 61, aerobic metabolism, anaerobic alactic metabolism, anaerobic lactic metabolism, exercise, athletes, mathematical model
Heterotopic Heart Transplantation in Mice
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco - UCSF.
The mouse heterotopic heart transplantation has been used widely since it was introduced by Drs. Corry and Russell in 1973. It is particularly valuable for studying rejection and immune response now that newer transgenic and gene knockout mice are available, and a large number of immunologic reagents have been developed. The heart transplant model is less stringent than the skin transplant models, although technically more challenging. We have developed a modified technique and have completed over 1000 successful cases of heterotopic heart transplantation in mice. When making anastomosis of the ascending aorta and abdominal aorta, two stay sutures are placed at the proximal and distal apexes of recipient abdominal aorta with the donor s ascending aorta, then using 11-0 suture for anastomosis on both side of aorta with continuing sutures. The stay sutures make the anastomosis easier and 11-0 is an ideal suture size to avoid bleeding and thrombosis.
When making anastomosis of pulmonary artery and inferior vena cava, two stay sutures are made at the proximal apex and distal apex of the recipient s inferior vena cava with the donor s pulmonary artery. The left wall of the inferior vena cava and donor s pulmonary artery is closed with continuing sutures in the inside of the inferior vena cava after, one knot with the proximal apex stay suture the right wall of the inferior vena cava and the donor s pulmonary artery are closed with continuing sutures outside the inferior vena cave with 10-0 sutures. This method is easier to perform because anastomosis is made just on the one side of the inferior vena cava and 10-0 sutures is the right size to avoid bleeding and thrombosis. In this article, we provide details of the technique to supplement the video.
Developmental Biology, Issue 6, Microsurgical Techniques, Heart Transplant, Allograft Rejection Model
Sigma's Non-specific Protease Activity Assay - Casein as a Substrate
Institutions: Sigma Aldrich.
Proteases break peptide bonds. In the lab, it is often necessary to measure and/or compare the activity of proteases. Sigma's non-specific protease activity assay may be used as a standardized procedure to determine the activity of proteases, which is what we do during our quality control procedures. In this assay, casein acts as a substrate. When the protease we are testing digests casein, the amino acid tyrosine is liberated along with other amino acids and peptide fragments. Folin and Ciocalteus Phenol, or Folin's reagent primarily reacts with free tyrosine to produce a blue colored chromophore, which is quantifiable and measured as an absorbance value on the spectrophotometer. The more tyrosine that is released from casein, the more the chromophores are generated and the stronger the activity of the protease. Absorbance values generated by the activity of the protease are compared to a standard curve, which is generated by reacting known quantities of tyrosine with the F-C reagent to correlate changes in absorbance with the amount of tyrosine in micromoles. From the standard curve the activity of protease samples can be determined in terms of Units, which is the amount in micromoles of tyrosine equivalents released from casein per minute.
To view this article in Chinese, click here
biochemistry, Issue 19, protease, casein, quality control assay, folin and ciocalteu's reagent, folin's reagent, colorimetric detection, spectrophotometer, Sigma-Aldrich
Characterization of Thermal Transport in One-dimensional Solid Materials
Institutions: Iowa State University.
The TET (transient electro-thermal) technique is an effective approach developed to measure the thermal diffusivity of solid materials, including conductive, semi-conductive or nonconductive one-dimensional structures. This technique broadens the measurement scope of materials (conductive and nonconductive) and improves the accuracy and stability. If the sample (especially biomaterials, such as human head hair, spider silk, and silkworm silk) is not conductive, it will be coated with a gold layer to make it electronically conductive. The effect of parasitic conduction and radiative losses on the thermal diffusivity can be subtracted during data processing. Then the real thermal conductivity can be calculated with the given value of volume-based specific heat (ρcp
), which can be obtained from calibration, noncontact photo-thermal technique or measuring the density and specific heat separately. In this work, human head hair samples are used to show how to set up the experiment, process the experimental data, and subtract the effect of parasitic conduction and radiative losses.
Physics, Issue 83, thermal transport, thermal diffusivity, thermal conductivity, transient electro-thermal technique, volume-based specific heat, human head hair
Substernal Thyroid Biopsy Using Endobronchial Ultrasound-guided Transbronchial Needle Aspiration
Institutions: State University of New York, Buffalo, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, State University of New York, Buffalo.
Substernal thyroid goiter (STG) represents about 5.8% of all mediastinal lesions1
. There is a wide variation in the published incidence rates due to the lack of a standardized definition for STG. Biopsy is often required to differentiate benign from malignant lesions. Unlike cervical thyroid, the overlying sternum precludes ultrasound-guided percutaneous fine needle aspiration of STG. Consequently, surgical mediastinoscopy is performed in the majority of cases, causing significant procedure related morbidity and cost to healthcare. Endobronchial Ultrasound-guided Transbronchial Needle Aspiration (EBUS-TBNA) is a frequently used procedure for diagnosis and staging of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Minimally invasive needle biopsy for lesions adjacent to the airways can be performed under real-time ultrasound guidance using EBUS. Its safety and efficacy is well established with over 90% sensitivity and specificity. The ability to perform EBUS as an outpatient procedure with same-day discharges offers distinct morbidity and financial advantages over surgery. As physicians performing EBUS gained procedural expertise, they have attempted to diversify its role in the diagnosis of non-lymph node thoracic pathologies. We propose here a role for EBUS-TBNA in the diagnosis of substernal thyroid lesions, along with a step-by-step protocol for the procedure.
Medicine, Issue 93, substernal thyroid, retrosternal thyroid, intra-thoracic thyroid, goiter, endobronchial ultrasound, EBUS, transbronchial needle aspiration, TBNA, biopsy, needle biopsy
Micropunching Lithography for Generating Micro- and Submicron-patterns on Polymer Substrates
Institutions: University of Texas at Arlington .
Conducting polymers have attracted great attention since the discovery of high conductivity in doped polyacetylene in 19771
. They offer the advantages of low weight, easy tailoring of properties and a wide spectrum of applications2,3
. Due to sensitivity of conducting polymers to environmental conditions (e.g., air, oxygen, moisture, high temperature and chemical solutions), lithographic techniques present significant technical challenges when working with these materials4
. For example, current photolithographic methods, such as ultra-violet (UV), are unsuitable for patterning the conducting polymers due to the involvement of wet and/or dry etching processes in these methods. In addition, current micro/nanosystems mainly have a planar form5,6
. One layer of structures is built on the top surfaces of another layer of fabricated features. Multiple layers of these structures are stacked together to form numerous devices on a common substrate. The sidewall surfaces of the microstructures have not been used in constructing devices. On the other hand, sidewall patterns could be used, for example, to build 3-D circuits, modify fluidic channels and direct horizontal growth of nanowires and nanotubes.
A macropunching method has been applied in the manufacturing industry to create macropatterns in a sheet metal for over a hundred years. Motivated by this approach, we have developed a micropunching lithography method (MPL) to overcome the obstacles of patterning conducting polymers and generating sidewall patterns. Like the macropunching method, the MPL also includes two operations (Fig. 1
): (i) cutting; and (ii) drawing. The "cutting" operation was applied to pattern three conducting polymers4
, polypyrrole (PPy), Poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophen)-poly(4-styrenesulphonate) (PEDOT) and polyaniline (PANI). It was also employed to create Al microstructures7
. The fabricated microstructures of conducting polymers have been used as humidity8
, and glucose sensors9
. Combined microstructures of Al and conducting polymers have been employed to fabricate capacitors and various heterojunctions9,10,11
. The "cutting" operation was also applied to generate submicron-patterns, such as 100- and 500-nm-wide PPy lines as well as 100-nm-wide Au wires. The "drawing" operation was employed for two applications: (i) produce Au sidewall patterns on high density polyethylene (HDPE) channels which could be used for building 3D microsystems12,13,14
, and (ii) fabricate polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) micropillars on HDPE substrates to increase the contact angle of the channel15
Mechanical Engineering, Issue 65, Physics, micropunching lithography, conducting polymers, nanowires, sidewall patterns, microlines
Studying DNA Looping by Single-Molecule FRET
Institutions: Georgia Institute of Technology.
Bending of double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) is associated with many important biological processes such as DNA-protein recognition and DNA packaging into nucleosomes. Thermodynamics of dsDNA bending has been studied by a method called cyclization which relies on DNA ligase to covalently join short sticky ends of a dsDNA. However, ligation efficiency can be affected by many factors that are not related to dsDNA looping such as the DNA structure surrounding the joined sticky ends, and ligase can also affect the apparent looping rate through mechanisms such as nonspecific binding. Here, we show how to measure dsDNA looping kinetics without ligase by detecting transient DNA loop formation by FRET (Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer). dsDNA molecules are constructed using a simple PCR-based protocol with a FRET pair and a biotin linker. The looping probability density known as the J factor is extracted from the looping rate and the annealing rate between two disconnected sticky ends. By testing two dsDNAs with different intrinsic curvatures, we show that the J factor is sensitive to the intrinsic shape of the dsDNA.
Molecular Biology, Issue 88, DNA looping, J factor, Single molecule, FRET, Gel mobility shift, DNA curvature, Worm-like chain
Electric Cell-substrate Impedance Sensing for the Quantification of Endothelial Proliferation, Barrier Function, and Motility
Institutions: Institute for Cardiovascular Research, VU University Medical Center, Institute for Cardiovascular Research, VU University Medical Center.
Electric Cell-substrate Impedance Sensing (ECIS) is an in vitro
impedance measuring system to quantify the behavior of cells within adherent cell layers. To this end, cells are grown in special culture chambers on top of opposing, circular gold electrodes. A constant small alternating current is applied between the electrodes and the potential across is measured. The insulating properties of the cell membrane create a resistance towards the electrical current flow resulting in an increased electrical potential between the electrodes. Measuring cellular impedance in this manner allows the automated study of cell attachment, growth, morphology, function, and motility. Although the ECIS measurement itself is straightforward and easy to learn, the underlying theory is complex and selection of the right settings and correct analysis and interpretation of the data is not self-evident. Yet, a clear protocol describing the individual steps from the experimental design to preparation, realization, and analysis of the experiment is not available. In this article the basic measurement principle as well as possible applications, experimental considerations, advantages and limitations of the ECIS system are discussed. A guide is provided for the study of cell attachment, spreading and proliferation; quantification of cell behavior in a confluent layer, with regard to barrier function, cell motility, quality of cell-cell and cell-substrate adhesions; and quantification of wound healing and cellular responses to vasoactive stimuli. Representative results are discussed based on human microvascular (MVEC) and human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC), but are applicable to all adherent growing cells.
Bioengineering, Issue 85, ECIS, Impedance Spectroscopy, Resistance, TEER, Endothelial Barrier, Cell Adhesions, Focal Adhesions, Proliferation, Migration, Motility, Wound Healing
Measurement and Analysis of Atomic Hydrogen and Diatomic Molecular AlO, C2, CN, and TiO Spectra Following Laser-induced Optical Breakdown
Institutions: University of Tennessee Space Institute.
In this work, we present time-resolved measurements of atomic and diatomic spectra following laser-induced optical breakdown. A typical LIBS arrangement is used. Here we operate a Nd:YAG laser at a frequency of 10 Hz at the fundamental wavelength of 1,064 nm. The 14 nsec pulses with anenergy of 190 mJ/pulse are focused to a 50 µm spot size to generate a plasma from optical breakdown or laser ablation in air. The microplasma is imaged onto the entrance slit of a 0.6 m spectrometer, and spectra are recorded using an 1,800 grooves/mm grating an intensified linear diode array and optical multichannel analyzer (OMA) or an ICCD. Of interest are Stark-broadened atomic lines of the hydrogen Balmer series to infer electron density. We also elaborate on temperature measurements from diatomic emission spectra of aluminum monoxide (AlO), carbon (C2
), cyanogen (CN), and titanium monoxide (TiO).
The experimental procedures include wavelength and sensitivity calibrations. Analysis of the recorded molecular spectra is accomplished by the fitting of data with tabulated line strengths. Furthermore, Monte-Carlo type simulations are performed to estimate the error margins. Time-resolved measurements are essential for the transient plasma commonly encountered in LIBS.
Physics, Issue 84, Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy, Laser Ablation, Molecular Spectroscopy, Atomic Spectroscopy, Plasma Diagnostics
Constructing a Low-budget Laser Axotomy System to Study Axon Regeneration in C. elegans
Institutions: University of Utah.
Laser axotomy followed by time-lapse microscopy is a sensitive assay for axon regeneration phenotypes in C. elegans1
. The main difficulty of this assay is the perceived cost ($25-100K) and technical expertise required for implementing a laser ablation system2,3
. However, solid-state pulse lasers of modest costs (<$10K) can provide robust performance for laser ablation in transparent preparations where target axons are "close" to the tissue surface. Construction and alignment of a system can be accomplished in a day. The optical path provided by light from the focused condenser to the ablation laser provides a convenient alignment guide. An intermediate module with all optics removed can be dedicated to the ablation laser and assures that no optical elements need be moved during a laser ablation session. A dichroic in the intermediate module allows simultaneous imaging and laser ablation. Centering the laser beam to the outgoing beam from the focused microscope condenser lens guides the initial alignment of the system. A variety of lenses are used to condition and expand the laser beam to fill the back aperture of the chosen objective lens. Final alignment and testing is performed with a front surface mirrored glass slide target. Laser power is adjusted to give a minimum size ablation spot (<1um). The ablation spot is centered with fine adjustments of the last kinematically mounted mirror to cross hairs fixed in the imaging window. Laser power for axotomy will be approximately 10X higher than needed for the minimum ablation spot on the target slide (this may vary with the target you use). Worms can be immobilized for laser axotomy and time-lapse imaging by mounting on agarose pads (or in microfluidic chambers4
). Agarose pads are easily made with 10% agarose in balanced saline melted in a microwave. A drop of molten agarose is placed on a glass slide and flattened with another glass slide into a pad approximately 200 um thick (a single layer of time tape on adjacent slides is used as a spacer). A "Sharpie" cap is used to cut out a uniformed diameter circular pad of 13mm. Anesthetic (1ul Muscimol 20mM) and Microspheres (Chris Fang-Yen personal communication) (1ul 2.65% Polystyrene 0.1 um in water) are added to the center of the pad followed by 3-5 worms oriented so they are lying on their left sides. A glass coverslip is applied and then Vaseline is used to seal the coverslip and prevent evaporation of the sample.
Neuroscience, Issue 57, laser axotomy, regeneration, growth cone, time lapse, C. elegans, neuroscience, Nd:Yag laser
Imaging Plasma Membrane Deformations With pTIRFM
Institutions: Wayne State University.
To gain novel insights into the dynamics of exocytosis, our group focuses on the changes in lipid bilayer shape that must be precisely regulated during the fusion of vesicle and plasma membranes. These rapid and localized changes are achieved by dynamic interactions between lipids and specialized proteins that control membrane curvature. The absence of such interactions would not only have devastating consequences for vesicle fusion, but a host of other cellular functions that involve control of membrane shape. In recent years, the identity of a number of proteins with membrane-shaping properties has been determined. What remains missing is a roadmap of when, where, and how they act as fusion and content release progress.
Our understanding of the molecular events that enable membrane remodeling has historically been limited by a lack of analytical methods that are sensitive to membrane curvature or have the temporal resolution to track rapid changes. PTIRFM satisfies both of these criteria. We discuss how pTIRFM is implemented to visualize and interpret rapid, submicron changes in the orientation of chromaffin cell membranes during dense core vesicle (DCV) fusion. The chromaffin cells we use are isolated from bovine adrenal glands. The membrane is stained with a lipophilic carbocyanine dye,1,1'-dioctadecyl-3,3,3',3'-tetramethylindodicarbocyanine, 4-chlorobenzenesulfonate, or diD. DiD intercalates in the membrane plane with a "fixed" orientation and is therefore sensitive to the polarization of the evanescent field. The diD-stained cell membrane is sequentially excited with orthogonal polarizations of a 561 nm laser (p-pol, s-pol). A 488 nm laser is used to visualize vesicle constituents and time the moment of fusion. Exocytosis is triggered by locally perfusing cells with a depolarizing KCl solution. Analysis is performed offline using custom-written software to understand how diD emission intensity changes relate to fusion pore dilation.
Biochemistry, Issue 86, Chromaffin Cells, Lipid Bilayers, Microscopy, Fluorescence, Polarization, Exocytosis, membrane, TIRF, pTIRF, chromaffin, polarization, vesicle
Detection of Architectural Distortion in Prior Mammograms via Analysis of Oriented Patterns
Institutions: University of Calgary , University of Calgary .
We demonstrate methods for the detection of architectural distortion in prior mammograms of interval-cancer cases based on analysis of the orientation of breast tissue patterns in mammograms. We hypothesize that architectural distortion modifies the normal orientation of breast tissue patterns in mammographic images before the formation of masses or tumors. In the initial steps of our methods, the oriented structures in a given mammogram are analyzed using Gabor filters and phase portraits to detect node-like sites of radiating or intersecting tissue patterns. Each detected site is then characterized using the node value, fractal dimension, and a measure of angular dispersion specifically designed to represent spiculating patterns associated with architectural distortion.
Our methods were tested with a database of 106 prior mammograms of 56 interval-cancer cases and 52 mammograms of 13 normal cases using the features developed for the characterization of architectural distortion, pattern classification via
quadratic discriminant analysis, and validation with the leave-one-patient out procedure. According to the results of free-response receiver operating characteristic analysis, our methods have demonstrated the capability to detect architectural distortion in prior mammograms, taken 15 months (on the average) before clinical diagnosis of breast cancer, with a sensitivity of 80% at about five false positives per patient.
Medicine, Issue 78, Anatomy, Physiology, Cancer Biology, angular spread, architectural distortion, breast cancer, Computer-Assisted Diagnosis, computer-aided diagnosis (CAD), entropy, fractional Brownian motion, fractal dimension, Gabor filters, Image Processing, Medical Informatics, node map, oriented texture, Pattern Recognition, phase portraits, prior mammograms, spectral analysis
Diffusion Tensor Magnetic Resonance Imaging in the Analysis of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Institutions: University of Ulm.
Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) techniques provide information on the microstructural processes of the cerebral white matter (WM) in vivo
. The present applications are designed to investigate differences of WM involvement patterns in different brain diseases, especially neurodegenerative disorders, by use of different DTI analyses in comparison with matched controls.
DTI data analysis is performed in a variate fashion, i.e.
voxelwise comparison of regional diffusion direction-based metrics such as fractional anisotropy (FA), together with fiber tracking (FT) accompanied by tractwise fractional anisotropy statistics (TFAS) at the group level in order to identify differences in FA along WM structures, aiming at the definition of regional patterns of WM alterations at the group level. Transformation into a stereotaxic standard space is a prerequisite for group studies and requires thorough data processing to preserve directional inter-dependencies. The present applications show optimized technical approaches for this preservation of quantitative and directional information during spatial normalization in data analyses at the group level. On this basis, FT techniques can be applied to group averaged data in order to quantify metrics information as defined by FT. Additionally, application of DTI methods, i.e.
differences in FA-maps after stereotaxic alignment, in a longitudinal analysis at an individual subject basis reveal information about the progression of neurological disorders. Further quality improvement of DTI based results can be obtained during preprocessing by application of a controlled elimination of gradient directions with high noise levels.
In summary, DTI is used to define a distinct WM pathoanatomy of different brain diseases by the combination of whole brain-based and tract-based DTI analysis.
Medicine, Issue 77, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Anatomy, Physiology, Neurodegenerative Diseases, nuclear magnetic resonance, NMR, MR, MRI, diffusion tensor imaging, fiber tracking, group level comparison, neurodegenerative diseases, brain, imaging, clinical techniques
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
Polymerase Chain Reaction: Basic Protocol Plus Troubleshooting and Optimization Strategies
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
In the biological sciences there have been technological advances that catapult the discipline into golden ages of discovery. For example, the field of microbiology was transformed with the advent of Anton van Leeuwenhoek's microscope, which allowed scientists to visualize prokaryotes for the first time. The development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is one of those innovations that changed the course of molecular science with its impact spanning countless subdisciplines in biology. The theoretical process was outlined by Keppe and coworkers in 1971; however, it was another 14 years until the complete PCR procedure was described and experimentally applied by Kary Mullis while at Cetus Corporation in 1985. Automation and refinement of this technique progressed with the introduction of a thermal stable DNA polymerase from the bacterium Thermus aquaticus
, consequently the name Taq
PCR is a powerful amplification technique that can generate an ample supply of a specific segment of DNA (i.e., an amplicon) from only a small amount of starting material (i.e., DNA template or target sequence). While straightforward and generally trouble-free, there are pitfalls that complicate the reaction producing spurious results. When PCR fails it can lead to many non-specific DNA products of varying sizes that appear as a ladder or smear of bands on agarose gels. Sometimes no products form at all. Another potential problem occurs when mutations are unintentionally introduced in the amplicons, resulting in a heterogeneous population of PCR products. PCR failures can become frustrating unless patience and careful troubleshooting are employed to sort out and solve the problem(s). This protocol outlines the basic principles of PCR, provides a methodology that will result in amplification of most target sequences, and presents strategies for optimizing a reaction. By following this PCR guide, students should be able to:
● Set up reactions and thermal cycling conditions for a conventional PCR experiment
● Understand the function of various reaction components and their overall effect on a PCR experiment
● Design and optimize a PCR experiment for any DNA template
● Troubleshoot failed PCR experiments
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, PCR, optimization, primer design, melting temperature, Tm, troubleshooting, additives, enhancers, template DNA quantification, thermal cycler, molecular biology, genetics
Creating Dynamic Images of Short-lived Dopamine Fluctuations with lp-ntPET: Dopamine Movies of Cigarette Smoking
Institutions: Yale University, Yale University, Yale University, Yale University, Massachusetts General Hospital, University of California, Irvine.
We describe experimental and statistical steps for creating dopamine movies of the brain from dynamic PET data. The movies represent minute-to-minute fluctuations of dopamine induced by smoking a cigarette. The smoker is imaged during a natural smoking experience while other possible confounding effects (such as head motion, expectation, novelty, or aversion to smoking repeatedly) are minimized.
We present the details of our unique analysis. Conventional methods for PET analysis estimate time-invariant kinetic model parameters which cannot capture short-term fluctuations in neurotransmitter release. Our analysis - yielding a dopamine movie - is based on our work with kinetic models and other decomposition techniques that allow for time-varying parameters 1-7
. This aspect of the analysis - temporal-variation - is key to our work. Because our model is also linear in parameters, it is practical, computationally, to apply at the voxel level. The analysis technique is comprised of five main steps: pre-processing, modeling, statistical comparison, masking and visualization. Preprocessing is applied to the PET data with a unique 'HYPR' spatial filter 8
that reduces spatial noise but preserves critical temporal information. Modeling identifies the time-varying function that best describes the dopamine effect on 11
C-raclopride uptake. The statistical step compares the fit of our (lp-ntPET) model 7
to a conventional model 9
. Masking restricts treatment to those voxels best described by the new model. Visualization maps the dopamine function at each voxel to a color scale and produces a dopamine movie. Interim results and sample dopamine movies of cigarette smoking are presented.
Behavior, Issue 78, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Image Processing, Computer-Assisted, Receptors, Dopamine, Dopamine, Functional Neuroimaging, Binding, Competitive, mathematical modeling (systems analysis), Neurotransmission, transient, dopamine release, PET, modeling, linear, time-invariant, smoking, F-test, ventral-striatum, clinical techniques
A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli
and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9
addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments.
A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli
to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2
) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia
were transformed into E. coli
. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA
gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans
was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH
and ALDH (
originating from G. thermodenitrificans
) were introduced10,11
. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed.
To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli
K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources.
The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii
OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g.
under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n
-hexane in the culture medium were observed.
Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli
to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
Setting Limits on Supersymmetry Using Simplified Models
Institutions: University College London, CERN, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories.
Experimental limits on supersymmetry and similar theories are difficult to set because of the enormous available parameter space and difficult to generalize because of the complexity of single points. Therefore, more phenomenological, simplified models are becoming popular for setting experimental limits, as they have clearer physical interpretations. The use of these simplified model limits to set a real limit on a concrete theory has not, however, been demonstrated. This paper recasts simplified model limits into limits on a specific and complete supersymmetry model, minimal supergravity. Limits obtained under various physical assumptions are comparable to those produced by directed searches. A prescription is provided for calculating conservative and aggressive limits on additional theories. Using acceptance and efficiency tables along with the expected and observed numbers of events in various signal regions, LHC experimental results can be recast in this manner into almost any theoretical framework, including nonsupersymmetric theories with supersymmetry-like signatures.
Physics, Issue 81, high energy physics, particle physics, Supersymmetry, LHC, ATLAS, CMS, New Physics Limits, Simplified Models
Microwave-assisted Functionalization of Poly(ethylene glycol) and On-resin Peptides for Use in Chain Polymerizations and Hydrogel Formation
Institutions: University of Rochester, University of Rochester, University of Rochester Medical Center.
One of the main benefits to using poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) macromers in hydrogel formation is synthetic versatility. The ability to draw from a large variety of PEG molecular weights and configurations (arm number, arm length, and branching pattern) affords researchers tight control over resulting hydrogel structures and properties, including Young’s modulus and mesh size. This video will illustrate a rapid, efficient, solvent-free, microwave-assisted method to methacrylate PEG precursors into poly(ethylene glycol) dimethacrylate (PEGDM). This synthetic method provides much-needed starting materials for applications in drug delivery and regenerative medicine. The demonstrated method is superior to traditional methacrylation methods as it is significantly faster and simpler, as well as more economical and environmentally friendly, using smaller amounts of reagents and solvents. We will also demonstrate an adaptation of this technique for on-resin methacrylamide functionalization of peptides. This on-resin method allows the N-terminus of peptides to be functionalized with methacrylamide groups prior to deprotection and cleavage from resin. This allows for selective addition of methacrylamide groups to the N-termini of the peptides while amino acids with reactive side groups (e.g.
primary amine of lysine, primary alcohol of serine, secondary alcohols of threonine, and phenol of tyrosine) remain protected, preventing functionalization at multiple sites. This article will detail common analytical methods (proton Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy (;
H-NMR) and Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization Time of Flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-ToF)) to assess the efficiency of the functionalizations. Common pitfalls and suggested troubleshooting methods will be addressed, as will modifications of the technique which can be used to further tune macromer functionality and resulting hydrogel physical and chemical properties. Use of synthesized products for the formation of hydrogels for drug delivery and cell-material interaction studies will be demonstrated, with particular attention paid to modifying hydrogel composition to affect mesh size, controlling hydrogel stiffness and drug release.
Chemistry, Issue 80, Poly(ethylene glycol), peptides, polymerization, polymers, methacrylation, peptide functionalization, 1H-NMR, MALDI-ToF, hydrogels, macromer synthesis
Low-stress Route Learning Using the Lashley III Maze in Mice
Institutions: Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania State University, University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, Los Angeles.
Many behavior tests designed to assess learning and memory in rodents, particularly mice, rely on visual cues, food and/or water deprivation, or other aversive stimuli to motivate task acquisition. As animals age, sensory modalities deteriorate. For example, many strains of mice develop hearing deficits or cataracts. Changes in the sensory systems required to guide mice during task acquisition present potential confounds in interpreting learning changes in aging animals. Moreover, the use of aversive stimuli to motivate animals to learn tasks is potentially confounding when comparing mice with differential sensitivities to stress. To minimize these types of confounding effects, we have implemented a modified version of the Lashley III maze. This maze relies on route learning, whereby mice learn to navigate a maze via repeated exposure under low stress conditions, e.g. dark phase, no food/water deprivation, until they navigate a path from the start location to a pseudo-home cage with 0 or 1 error(s) on two consecutive trials. We classify this as a low-stress behavior test because it does not rely on aversive stimuli to encourage exploration of the maze and learning of the task. The apparatus consists of a modular start box, a 4-arm maze body, and a goal box. At the end of the goal box is a pseudo-home cage that contains bedding similar to that found in the animal’s home cage and is specific to each animal for the duration of maze testing. It has been demonstrated previously that this pseudo-home cage provides sufficient reward to motivate mice to learn to navigate the maze1
. Here, we present the visualization of the Lashley III maze procedure in the context of evaluating age-related differences in learning and memory in mice along with a comparison of learning behavior in two different background strains of mice. We hope that other investigators interested in evaluating the effects of aging or stress vulnerability in mice will consider this maze an attractive alternative to behavioral tests that involve more stressful learning tasks and/or visual cues.
Neuroscience, Issue 39, mouse, behavior testing, learning, memory, neuroscience, phenotyping, aging
A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Institutions: Arizona State University.
Insects modify their responses to stimuli through experience of associating those stimuli with events important for survival (e.g.
, food, mates, threats). There are several behavioral mechanisms through which an insect learns salient associations and relates them to these events. It is important to understand this behavioral plasticity for programs aimed toward assisting insects that are beneficial for agriculture. This understanding can also be used for discovering solutions to biomedical and agricultural problems created by insects that act as disease vectors and pests. The Proboscis Extension Response (PER) conditioning protocol was developed for honey bees (Apis mellifera
) over 50 years ago to study how they perceive and learn about floral odors, which signal the nectar and pollen resources a colony needs for survival. The PER procedure provides a robust and easy-to-employ framework for studying several different ecologically relevant mechanisms of behavioral plasticity. It is easily adaptable for use with several other insect species and other behavioral reflexes. These protocols can be readily employed in conjunction with various means for monitoring neural activity in the CNS via electrophysiology or bioimaging, or for manipulating targeted neuromodulatory pathways. It is a robust assay for rapidly detecting sub-lethal effects on behavior caused by environmental stressors, toxins or pesticides.
We show how the PER protocol is straightforward to implement using two procedures. One is suitable as a laboratory exercise for students or for quick assays of the effect of an experimental treatment. The other provides more thorough control of variables, which is important for studies of behavioral conditioning. We show how several measures for the behavioral response ranging from binary yes/no to more continuous variable like latency and duration of proboscis extension can be used to test hypotheses. And, we discuss some pitfalls that researchers commonly encounter when they use the procedure for the first time.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, PER, conditioning, honey bee, olfaction, olfactory processing, learning, memory, toxin assay
Linearization of the Bradford Protein Assay
Institutions: Tel Aviv University.
Determination of microgram quantities of protein in the Bradford Coomassie brilliant blue assay is accomplished by measurement of absorbance at 590 nm. This most common assay enables rapid and simple protein quantification in cell lysates, cellular fractions, or recombinant protein samples, for the purpose of normalization of biochemical measurements. However, an intrinsic nonlinearity compromises the sensitivity and accuracy of this method. It is shown that under standard assay conditions, the ratio of the absorbance measurements at 590 nm and 450 nm is strictly linear with protein concentration. This simple procedure increases the accuracy and improves the sensitivity of the assay about 10-fold, permitting quantification down to 50 ng of bovine serum albumin. Furthermore, the interference commonly introduced by detergents that are used to create the cell lysates is greatly reduced by the new protocol. A linear equation developed on the basis of mass action and Beer's law perfectly fits the experimental data.
Cellular Biology, Issue 38, Bradford, protein assay, protein quantification, Coomassie brilliant blue
Denaturing Urea Polyacrylamide Gel Electrophoresis (Urea PAGE)
Institutions: Nanyang Technological University, Singapore - NTU, Singapore-MIT Alliance for Reserach and Technology (SMART).
Urea PAGE or denaturing urea polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis employs 6-8 M urea, which denatures secondary DNA or RNA structures and is used for their separation in a polyacrylamide gel matrix based on the molecular weight. Fragments between 2 to 500 bases, with length differences as small as a single nucleotide, can be separated using this method1
. The migration of the sample is dependent on the chosen acrylamide concentration. A higher percentage of polyacrylamide resolves lower molecular weight fragments. The combination of urea and temperatures of 45-55 °C during the gel run allows for the separation of unstructured DNA or RNA molecules.
In general this method is required to analyze or purify single stranded DNA or RNA fragments, such as synthesized or labeled oligonucleotides or products from enzymatic cleavage reactions.
In this video article we show how to prepare and run the denaturing urea polyacrylamide gels. Technical tips are included, in addition to the original protocol 1,2
Molecular Biology, Issue 32, DNA & RNA analysis, denaturing urea polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, Protocols
VisualEyes: A Modular Software System for Oculomotor Experimentation
Institutions: New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Eye movement studies have provided a strong foundation forming an understanding of how the brain acquires visual information in both the normal and dysfunctional brain.1
However, development of a platform to stimulate and store eye movements can require substantial programming, time and costs. Many systems do not offer the flexibility to program numerous stimuli for a variety of experimental needs. However, the VisualEyes System has a flexible architecture, allowing the operator to choose any background and foreground stimulus, program one or two screens for tandem or opposing eye movements and stimulate the left and right eye independently. This system can significantly reduce the programming development time needed to conduct an oculomotor study. The VisualEyes System will be discussed in three parts: 1) the oculomotor recording device to acquire eye movement responses, 2) the VisualEyes software written in LabView, to generate an array of stimuli and store responses as text files and 3) offline data analysis. Eye movements can be recorded by several types of instrumentation such as: a limbus tracking system, a sclera search coil, or a video image system. Typical eye movement stimuli such as saccadic steps, vergent ramps and vergent steps with the corresponding responses will be shown. In this video report, we demonstrate the flexibility of a system to create numerous visual stimuli and record eye movements that can be utilized by basic scientists and clinicians to study healthy as well as clinical populations.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, Eye Movement Recording, Neuroscience, Visual Stimulation, Saccade, Vergence, Smooth Pursuit, Central Vision, Attention, Heterophoria