Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
26 Related JoVE Articles!
Planarian Immobilization, Partial Irradiation, and Tissue Transplantation
Institutions: University of Utah School of Medicine, UCSB, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Stowers Institute for Medical Research.
The planarian, a freshwater flatworm, has proven to be a powerful system for dissecting metazoan regeneration and stem cell biology1,2
. Planarian regeneration of any missing or damaged tissues is made possible by adult stem cells termed neoblasts3
. Although these stem cells have been definitively shown to be pluripotent and singularly capable of reconstituting an entire animal4
, the heterogeneity within the stem cell population and the dynamics of their cellular behaviors remain largely unresolved. Due to the large number and wide distribution of stem cells throughout the planarian body plan, advanced methods for manipulating subpopulations of stem cells for molecular and functional study in vivo
Tissue transplantation and partial irradiation are two methods by which a subpopulation of planarian stem cells can be isolated for further study. Each technique has distinct advantages. Tissue transplantation allows for the introduction of stem cells, into a naïve host, that are either inherently genetically distinct or have been previously treated pharmacologically. Alternatively, partial irradiation allows for the isolation of stem cells within a host, juxtaposed to tissue devoid of stem cells, without the introduction of a wound or any breech in tissue integrity. Using these two methods, one can investigate the cell autonomous and non-autonomous factors that control stem cell functions, such as proliferation, differentiation, and migration.
Both tissue transplantation5,6
and partial irradiation7
have been used historically in defining many of the questions about planarian regeneration that remain under study today. However, these techniques have remained underused due to the laborious and inconsistent nature of previous methods. The protocols presented here represent a large step forward in decreasing the time and effort necessary to reproducibly generate large numbers of grafted or partially irradiated animals with efficacies approaching 100 percent. We cover the culture of large animals, immobilization, preparation for partial irradiation, tissue transplantation, and the optimization of animal recovery. Furthermore, the work described here demonstrates the first application of the partial irradiation method for use with the most widely studied planarian, Schmidtea mediterranea
. Additionally, efficient tissue grafting in planaria opens the door for the functional testing of subpopulations of naïve or treated stem cells in repopulation assays, which has long been the gold-standard method of assaying adult stem cell potential in mammals8
. Broad adoption of these techniques will no doubt lead to a better understanding of the cellular behaviors of adult stem cells during tissue homeostasis and regeneration.
Developmental Biology, Issue 66, Neuroscience, Molecular Biology, Medicine, transplantation, partial irradiation, rescue, immobilization, planaria, flatworm, stem cell, regeneration
Experimental Manipulation of Body Size to Estimate Morphological Scaling Relationships in Drosophila
Institutions: University of Houston, Michigan State University.
The scaling of body parts is a central feature of animal morphology1-7
. Within species, morphological traits need to be correctly proportioned to the body for the organism to function; larger individuals typically have larger body parts and smaller individuals generally have smaller body parts, such that overall body shape is maintained across a range of adult body sizes. The requirement for correct proportions means that individuals within species usually exhibit low variation in relative trait size. In contrast, relative trait size can vary dramatically among species and is a primary mechanism by which morphological diversity is produced. Over a century of comparative work has established these intra- and interspecific patterns3,4
Perhaps the most widely used approach to describe this variation is to calculate the scaling relationship between the size of two morphological traits using the allometric equation y=bxα, where x and y are the size of the two traits, such as organ and body size8,9
. This equation describes the within-group (e.g., species, population) scaling relationship between two traits as both vary in size. Log-transformation of this equation produces a simple linear equation, log(y) = log(b) + αlog(x) and log-log plots of the size of different traits among individuals of the same species typically reveal linear scaling with an intercept of log(b) and a slope of α, called the 'allometric coefficient'9,10
. Morphological variation among groups is described by differences in scaling relationship intercepts or slopes for a given trait pair. Consequently, variation in the parameters of the allometric equation (b and α) elegantly describes the shape variation captured in the relationship between organ and body size within and among biological groups (see 11,12
Not all traits scale linearly with each other or with body size (e.g., 13,14
) Hence, morphological scaling relationships are most informative when the data are taken from the full range of trait sizes. Here we describe how simple experimental manipulation of diet can be used to produce the full range of body size in insects. This permits an estimation of the full scaling relationship for any given pair of traits, allowing a complete description of how shape covaries with size and a robust comparison of scaling relationship parameters among biological groups. Although we focus on Drosophila
, our methodology should be applicable to nearly any fully metamorphic insect.
Developmental Biology, Issue 56, Drosophila, allometry, morphology, body size, scaling, insect
Heart Dissection in Larval, Juvenile and Adult Zebrafish, Danio rerio
Institutions: Queens College, City University of New York.
Zebrafish have become a beneficial and practical model organism for the study of embryonic heart development (see recent reviews1-6
), however, work examining post-embryonic through adult cardiac development has been limited7-10
. Examining the changing morphology of the maturing and aging heart are restricted by the lack of techniques available for staging and isolating juvenile and adult hearts. In order to analyze heart development over the fish's lifespan, we dissect zebrafish hearts at numerous stages and photograph them for further analysis11
. The morphological features of the heart can easily be quantified and individual hearts can be further analyzed by a host of standard methods. Zebrafish grow at variable rates and maturation correlates better with fish size than age, thus, post-fixation, we photograph and measure fish length as a gauge of fish maturation. This protocol explains two distinct, size dependent dissection techniques for zebrafish, ranging from larvae 3.5mm standard length (SL) with hearts of 100μm ventricle length (VL), to adults, with SL of 30mm and VL 1mm or larger. Larval and adult fish have quite distinct body and organ morphology. Larvae are not only significantly smaller, they have less pigment and each organ is visually very difficult to identify. For this reason, we use distinct dissection techniques.
We used pre-dissection fixation procedures, as we discovered that hearts dissected directly after euthanization have a more variable morphology, with very loose and balloon like atria compared with hearts removed following fixation. The fish fixed prior to dissection, retain in vivo
morphology and chamber position (data not shown). In addition, for demonstration purposes, we take advantage of the heart (myocardial) specific GFP transgenic Tg(myl7
, which allows us to visualize the entire heart and is particularly useful at early stages in development when the cardiac morphology is less distinct from surrounding tissues. Dissection of the heart makes further analysis of the cell and molecular biology underlying heart development and maturation using in situ hybridization, immunohistochemistry, RNA extraction or other analytical methods easier in post-embryonic zebrafish. This protocol will provide a valuable technique for the study of cardiac development maturation and aging.
Developmental Biology, Issue 55, zebrafish, Danio rerio, heart, dissection, cardiac, morphology, anatomy, juvenile, adult
A Simple Protocol for Extracting Hemocytes from Wild Caterpillars
Institutions: The George Washington University.
Insect hemocytes (equivalent to mammalian white blood cells) play an important role in several physiological processes throughout an insect's life cycle 1
. In larval stages of insects belonging to the orders of Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) and Diptera (true flies), hemocytes are formed from the lymph gland (a specialized hematopoietic organ) or embryonic cells and can be carried through to the adult stage. Embryonic hemocytes are involved in cell migration during development and chemotaxis regulation during inflammation. They also take part in cell apoptosis and are essential for embryogenesis 2
. Hemocytes mediate the cellular arm of the insect innate immune response that includes several functions, such as cell spreading, cell aggregation, formation of nodules, phagocytosis and encapsulation of foreign invaders 3
. They are also responsible for orchestrating specific insect humoral defenses during infection, such as the production of antimicrobial peptides and other effector molecules 4, 5
. Hemocyte morphology and function have mainly been studied in genetic or physiological insect models, including the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster 6, 7
, the mosquitoes Aedes aegypti
and Anopheles gambiae 8, 9
and the tobacco hornworm, Manduca sexta 10, 11
. However, little information currently exists about the diversity, classification, morphology and function of hemocytes in non-model insect species, especially those collected from the wild 12
Here we describe a simple and efficient protocol for extracting hemocytes from wild caterpillars. We use penultimate instar Lithacodes fasciola
(yellow-shouldered slug moth) (Figure 1
) and Euclea delphinii
(spiny oak slug) caterpillars (Lepidoptera: Limacodidae) and show that sufficient volumes of hemolymph (insect blood) can be isolated and hemocyte numbers counted from individual larvae. This method can be used to efficiently study hemocyte types in these species as well as in other related lepidopteran caterpillars harvested from the field, or it can be readily combined with immunological assays designed to investigate hemocyte function following infection with microbial or parasitic organisms 13
Cellular Biology, Issue 69, Anatomy, Immunology, Biology, Zoology, Entomology, Cellular immunity, hemocytes, wild caterpillars, non-model insects, Lepidoptera, Lithacodes fasciola, Euclea delphinii, hemolymph, ecoimmunology
Multimodal Optical Microscopy Methods Reveal Polyp Tissue Morphology and Structure in Caribbean Reef Building Corals
Institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
An integrated suite of imaging techniques has been applied to determine the three-dimensional (3D) morphology and cellular structure of polyp tissues comprising the Caribbean reef building corals Montastraeaannularis
and M. faveolata
. These approaches include fluorescence microscopy (FM), serial block face imaging (SBFI), and two-photon confocal laser scanning microscopy (TPLSM). SBFI provides deep tissue imaging after physical sectioning; it details the tissue surface texture and 3D visualization to tissue depths of more than 2 mm. Complementary FM and TPLSM yield ultra-high resolution images of tissue cellular structure. Results have: (1) identified previously unreported lobate tissue morphologies on the outer wall of individual coral polyps and (2) created the first surface maps of the 3D distribution and tissue density of chromatophores and algae-like dinoflagellate zooxanthellae
endosymbionts. Spectral absorption peaks of 500 nm and 675 nm, respectively, suggest that M. annularis
and M. faveolata
contain similar types of chlorophyll and chromatophores. However, M. annularis
and M. faveolata
exhibit significant differences in the tissue density and 3D distribution of these key cellular components. This study focusing on imaging methods indicates that SBFI is extremely useful for analysis of large mm-scale samples of decalcified coral tissues. Complimentary FM and TPLSM reveal subtle submillimeter scale changes in cellular distribution and density in nondecalcified coral tissue samples. The TPLSM technique affords: (1) minimally invasive sample preparation, (2) superior optical sectioning ability, and (3) minimal light absorption and scattering, while still permitting deep tissue imaging.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 91, Serial block face imaging, two-photon fluorescence microscopy, Montastraea annularis, Montastraea faveolata, 3D coral tissue morphology and structure, zooxanthellae, chromatophore, autofluorescence, light harvesting optimization, environmental change
Quantitative Analysis of Chromatin Proteomes in Disease
Institutions: David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Nora Eccles Harrison Cardiovascular Research and Training Institute, University of Utah.
In the nucleus reside the proteomes whose functions are most intimately linked with gene regulation. Adult mammalian cardiomyocyte nuclei are unique due to the high percentage of binucleated cells,1
the predominantly heterochromatic state of the DNA, and the non-dividing nature of the cardiomyocyte which renders adult nuclei in a permanent state of interphase.2
Transcriptional regulation during development and disease have been well studied in this organ,3-5
but what remains relatively unexplored is the role played by the nuclear proteins responsible for DNA packaging and expression, and how these proteins control changes in transcriptional programs that occur during disease.6
In the developed world, heart disease is the number one cause of mortality for both men and women.7
Insight on how nuclear proteins cooperate to regulate the progression of this disease is critical for advancing the current treatment options.
Mass spectrometry is the ideal tool for addressing these questions as it allows for an unbiased annotation of the nuclear proteome and relative quantification for how the abundance of these proteins changes with disease. While there have been several proteomic studies for mammalian nuclear protein complexes,8-13
there has been only one study examining the cardiac nuclear proteome, and it considered the entire nucleus, rather than exploring the proteome at the level of nuclear sub compartments.15
In large part, this shortage of work is due to the difficulty of isolating cardiac nuclei. Cardiac nuclei occur within a rigid and dense actin-myosin apparatus to which they are connected via multiple extensions from the endoplasmic reticulum, to the extent that myocyte contraction alters their overall shape.16
Additionally, cardiomyocytes are 40% mitochondria by volume17
which necessitates enrichment of the nucleus apart from the other organelles. Here we describe a protocol for cardiac nuclear enrichment and further fractionation into biologically-relevant compartments. Furthermore, we detail methods for label-free quantitative mass spectrometric dissection of these fractions-techniques amenable to in vivo
experimentation in various animal models and organ systems where metabolic labeling is not feasible.
Medicine, Issue 70, Molecular Biology, Immunology, Genetics, Genomics, Physiology, Protein, DNA, Chromatin, cardiovascular disease, proteomics, mass spectrometry
In vivo Clonal Tracking of Hematopoietic Stem and Progenitor Cells Marked by Five Fluorescent Proteins using Confocal and Multiphoton Microscopy
Institutions: NHLBI/NIH, NHLBI/NIH.
We developed and validated a fluorescent marking methodology for clonal tracking of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs) with high spatial and temporal resolution to study in vivo
hematopoiesis using the murine bone marrow transplant experimental model. Genetic combinatorial marking using lentiviral vectors encoding fluorescent proteins (FPs) enabled cell fate mapping through advanced microscopy imaging. Vectors encoding five different FPs: Cerulean, EGFP, Venus, tdTomato, and mCherry were used to concurrently transduce HSPCs, creating a diverse palette of color marked cells. Imaging using confocal/two-photon hybrid microscopy enables simultaneous high resolution assessment of uniquely marked cells and their progeny in conjunction with structural components of the tissues. Volumetric analyses over large areas reveal that spectrally coded HSPC-derived cells can be detected non-invasively in various intact tissues, including the bone marrow (BM), for extensive periods of time following transplantation. Live studies combining video-rate multiphoton and confocal time-lapse imaging in 4D demonstrate the possibility of dynamic cellular and clonal tracking in a quantitative manner.
Stem Cell Biology, Issue 90, LeGO imaging, clonal tracking, fluorescent proteins, confocal microscopy, multiphoton microscopy, hematopoiesis, lentiviral vectors, hematopoietic stem cells
A Laser-induced Mouse Model of Chronic Ocular Hypertension to Characterize Visual Defects
Institutions: Northwestern University, Northwestern University.
Glaucoma, frequently associated with elevated intraocular pressure (IOP), is one of the leading causes of blindness. We sought to establish a mouse model of ocular hypertension to mimic human high-tension glaucoma. Here laser illumination is applied to the corneal limbus to photocoagulate the aqueous outflow, inducing angle closure. The changes of IOP are monitored using a rebound tonometer before and after the laser treatment. An optomotor behavioral test is used to measure corresponding changes in visual capacity. The representative result from one mouse which developed sustained IOP elevation after laser illumination is shown. A decreased visual acuity and contrast sensitivity is observed in this ocular hypertensive mouse. Together, our study introduces a valuable model system to investigate neuronal degeneration and the underlying molecular mechanisms in glaucomatous mice.
Medicine, Issue 78, Biomedical Engineering, Neurobiology, Anatomy, Physiology, Neuroscience, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Ophthalmology, Retinal Neurons, Retinal Neurons, Retinal Ganglion Cells, Neurodegenerative Diseases, Ocular Hypertension, Retinal Degeneration, Vision Tests, Visual Acuity, Eye Diseases, Retinal Ganglion Cell (RGC), Ocular Hypertension, Laser Photocoagulation, Intraocular pressure (IOP), Tonometer; Visual Acuity, Contrast Sensitivity, Optomotor, animal model
A Simple Protocol for Platelet-mediated Clumping of Plasmodium falciparum-infected Erythrocytes in a Resource Poor Setting
Institutions: Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Programme, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, New York University School of Medicine.
causes the majority of severe malarial infections. The pathophysiological mechanisms underlying cerebral malaria (CM) are not fully understood and several hypotheses have been put forward, including mechanical obstruction of microvessels by P. falciparum
-parasitized red blood cells (pRBC). Indeed, during the intra-erythrocytic stage of its life cycle, P. falciparum
has the unique ability to modify the surface of the infected erythrocyte by exporting surface antigens with varying adhesive properties onto the RBC membrane. This allows the sequestration of pRBC in multiple tissues and organs by adhesion to endothelial cells lining the microvasculature of post-capillary venules 1
. By doing so, the mature forms of the parasite avoid splenic clearance of the deformed infected erythrocytes 2
and restrict their environment to a more favorable low oxygen pressure 3
. As a consequence of this sequestration, it is only immature asexual parasites and gametocytes that can be detected in peripheral blood.
Cytoadherence and sequestration of mature pRBC to the numerous host receptors expressed on microvascular beds occurs in severe and uncomplicated disease. However, several lines of evidence suggest that only specific adhesive phenotypes are likely to be associated with severe pathological outcomes of malaria. One example of such specific host-parasite interactions has been demonstrated in vitro
, where the ability of intercellular adhesion molecule-1 to support binding of pRBC with particular adhesive properties has been linked to development of cerebral malaria 4,5
. The placenta has also been recognized as a site of preferential pRBC accumulation in malaria-infected pregnant women, with chondrotin sulphate A expressed on syncytiotrophoblasts that line the placental intervillous space as the main receptor 6
. Rosetting of pRBC to uninfected erythrocytes via the complement receptor 1 (CD35)7,8
has also been associated with severe disease 9
One of the most recently described P. falciparum
cytoadherence phenotypes is the ability of the pRBC to form platelet-mediated clumps in vitro
. The formation of such pRBC clumps requires CD36, a glycoprotein expressed on the surface of platelets. Another human receptor, gC1qR/HABP1/p32, expressed on diverse cell types including endothelial cells and platelets, has also been shown to facilitate pRBC adhesion on platelets to form clumps 10
. Whether clumping occurs in vivo
remains unclear, but it may account for the significant accumulation of platelets described in brain microvasculature of Malawian children who died from CM 11
. In addition, the ability of clinical isolate cultures to clump in vitro
was directly linked to the severity of disease in Malawian 12
and Mozambican patients 13
, (although not in Malian 14
With several aspects of the pRBC clumping phenotype poorly characterized, current studies on this subject have not followed a standardized procedure. This is an important issue because of the known high variability inherent in the assay 15
. Here, we present a method for in vitro
platelet-mediated clumping of P. falciparum
with hopes that it will provide a platform for a consistent method for other groups and raise awareness of the limitations in investigating this phenotype in future studies. Being based in Malawi, we provide a protocol specifically designed for a limited resource setting, with the advantage that freshly collected clinical isolates can be examined for phenotype without need for cryopreservation.
Infection, Issue 75, Infectious Diseases, Immunology, Medicine, Microbiology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Parasitology, Clumping, platelets, Plasmodium falciparum, CD36, malaria, malarial infections, parasites, red blood cells, plasma, limited resources, clinical techniques, assay
Generation of Transgenic Hydra by Embryo Microinjection
Institutions: Yale University School of Medicine, University of California, Irvine.
As a member of the phylum Cnidaria, the sister group to all bilaterians, Hydra
can shed light on fundamental biological processes shared among multicellular animals. Hydra
is used as a model for the study of regeneration, pattern formation, and stem cells. However, research efforts have been hampered by lack of a reliable method for gene perturbations to study molecular function. The development of transgenic methods has revitalized the study of Hydra
. Transgenic Hydra
allow for the tracking of live cells, sorting to yield pure cell populations for biochemical analysis, manipulation of gene function by knockdown and over-expression, and analysis of promoter function. Plasmid DNA injected into early stage embryos randomly integrates into the genome early in development. This results in hatchlings that express transgenes in patches of tissue in one or more of the three lineages (ectodermal epithelial, endodermal epithelial, or interstitial). The success rate of obtaining a hatchling with transgenic tissue is between 10% and 20%. Asexual propagation of the transgenic hatchling is used to establish a uniformly transgenic line in a particular lineage. Generating transgenic Hydra
is surprisingly simple and robust, and here we describe a protocol that can be easily implemented at low cost.
Molecular Biology, Issue 91,
Hydra, transgenic, microinjection, gene overexpression, gene knockdown
Dissection of the Adult Zebrafish Kidney
Institutions: University of Notre Dame .
Researchers working in the burgeoning field of adult stem cell biology seek to understand the signals that regulate the behavior and function of stem cells during normal homeostasis and disease states. The understanding of adult stem cells has broad reaching implications for the future of regenerative medicine1
. For example, better knowledge about adult stem cell biology can facilitate the design of therapeutic strategies in which organs are triggered to heal themselves or even the creation of methods for growing organs in vitro
that can be transplanted into humans1
. The zebrafish has become a powerful animal model for the study of vertebrate cell biology2
. There has been extensive documentation and analysis of embryonic development in the zebrafish3
. Only recently have scientists sought to document adult anatomy and surgical dissection techniques4
, as there has been a progressive movement within the zebrafish community to broaden the applications of this research organism to adult studies. For example, there are expanding interests in using zebrafish to investigate the biology of adult stem cell populations and make sophisticated adult models of diseases such as cancer5
. Historically, isolation of the zebrafish adult kidney has been instrumental for studying hematopoiesis, as the kidney is the anatomical location of blood cell production in fish6,7
. The kidney is composed of nephron functional units found in arborized arrangements, surrounded by hematopoietic tissue that is dispersed throughout the intervening spaces. The hematopoietic component consists of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) and their progeny that inhabit the kidney until they terminally differentiate8
. In addition, it is now appreciated that a group of renal stem/progenitor cells (RPCs) also inhabit the zebrafish kidney organ and enable both kidney regeneration and growth, as observed in other fish species9-11
. In light of this new discovery, the zebrafish kidney is one organ that houses the location of two exciting opportunities for adult stem cell biology studies. It is clear that many outstanding questions could be well served with this experimental system. To encourage expansion of this field, it is beneficial to document detailed methods of visualizing and then isolating the adult zebrafish kidney organ. This protocol details our procedure for dissection of the adult kidney from both unfixed and fixed animals.
Dissection of the kidney organ can be used to isolate and characterize hematopoietic and renal stem cells and their offspring using established techniques such as histology, fluorescence activated cell sorting (FACS)11,12
, expression profiling13,14
, and transplantation11,15
We hope that dissemination of this protocol will provide researchers with the knowledge to implement broader use of zebrafish studies that ultimately can be translated for human application.
Developmental Biology, Issue 54, kidney, blood, zebrafish, regeneration, adult stem cell, dissection
Analysis of Tubular Membrane Networks in Cardiac Myocytes from Atria and Ventricles
Institutions: Heart Research Center Goettingen, University Medical Center Goettingen, German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) partner site Goettingen, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
In cardiac myocytes a complex network of membrane tubules - the transverse-axial tubule system (TATS) - controls deep intracellular signaling functions. While the outer surface membrane and associated TATS membrane components appear to be continuous, there are substantial differences in lipid and protein content. In ventricular myocytes (VMs), certain TATS components are highly abundant contributing to rectilinear tubule networks and regular branching 3D architectures. It is thought that peripheral TATS components propagate action potentials from the cell surface to thousands of remote intracellular sarcoendoplasmic reticulum (SER) membrane contact domains, thereby activating intracellular Ca2+
release units (CRUs). In contrast to VMs, the organization and functional role of TATS membranes in atrial myocytes (AMs) is significantly different and much less understood. Taken together, quantitative structural characterization of TATS membrane networks in healthy and diseased myocytes is an essential prerequisite towards better understanding of functional plasticity and pathophysiological reorganization. Here, we present a strategic combination of protocols for direct quantitative analysis of TATS membrane networks in living VMs and AMs. For this, we accompany primary cell isolations of mouse VMs and/or AMs with critical quality control steps and direct membrane staining protocols for fluorescence imaging of TATS membranes. Using an optimized workflow for confocal or superresolution TATS image processing, binarized and skeletonized data are generated for quantitative analysis of the TATS network and its components. Unlike previously published indirect regional aggregate image analysis strategies, our protocols enable direct characterization of specific components and derive complex physiological properties of TATS membrane networks in living myocytes with high throughput and open access software tools. In summary, the combined protocol strategy can be readily applied for quantitative TATS network studies during physiological myocyte adaptation or disease changes, comparison of different cardiac or skeletal muscle cell types, phenotyping of transgenic models, and pharmacological or therapeutic interventions.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cardiac myocyte, atria, ventricle, heart, primary cell isolation, fluorescence microscopy, membrane tubule, transverse-axial tubule system, image analysis, image processing, T-tubule, collagenase
Production of Haploid Zebrafish Embryos by In Vitro Fertilization
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish has become a mainstream vertebrate model that is relevant for many disciplines of scientific study. Zebrafish are especially well suited for forward genetic analysis of developmental processes due to their external fertilization, embryonic size, rapid ontogeny, and optical clarity – a constellation of traits that enable the direct observation of events ranging from gastrulation to organogenesis with a basic stereomicroscope. Further, zebrafish embryos can survive for several days in the haploid state. The production of haploid embryos in vitro
is a powerful tool for mutational analysis, as it enables the identification of recessive mutant alleles present in first generation (F1) female carriers following mutagenesis in the parental (P) generation. This approach eliminates the necessity to raise multiple generations (F2, F3, etc.
) which involves breeding of mutant families, thus saving the researcher time along with reducing the needs for zebrafish colony space, labor, and the husbandry costs. Although zebrafish have been used to conduct forward screens for the past several decades, there has been a steady expansion of transgenic and genome editing tools. These tools now offer a plethora of ways to create nuanced assays for next generation screens that can be used to further dissect the gene regulatory networks that drive vertebrate ontogeny. Here, we describe how to prepare haploid zebrafish embryos. This protocol can be implemented for novel future haploid screens, such as in enhancer and suppressor screens, to address the mechanisms of development for a broad number of processes and tissues that form during early embryonic stages.
Developmental Biology, Issue 89, zebrafish, haploid, in vitro fertilization, forward genetic screen, saturation, recessive mutation, mutagenesis
Flat Mount Preparation for Observation and Analysis of Zebrafish Embryo Specimens Stained by Whole Mount In situ Hybridization
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish embryo is now commonly used for basic and biomedical research to investigate the genetic control of developmental processes and to model congenital abnormalities. During the first day of life, the zebrafish embryo progresses through many developmental stages including fertilization, cleavage, gastrulation, segmentation, and the organogenesis of structures such as the kidney, heart, and central nervous system. The anatomy of a young zebrafish embryo presents several challenges for the visualization and analysis of the tissues involved in many of these events because the embryo develops in association with a round yolk mass. Thus, for accurate analysis and imaging of experimental phenotypes in fixed embryonic specimens between the tailbud and 20 somite stage (10 and 19 hours post fertilization (hpf), respectively), such as those stained using whole mount in situ
hybridization (WISH), it is often desirable to remove the embryo from the yolk ball and to position it flat on a glass slide. However, performing a flat mount procedure can be tedious. Therefore, successful and efficient flat mount preparation is greatly facilitated through the visual demonstration of the dissection technique, and also helped by using reagents that assist in optimal tissue handling. Here, we provide our WISH protocol for one or two-color detection of gene expression in the zebrafish embryo, and demonstrate how the flat mounting procedure can be performed on this example of a stained fixed specimen. This flat mounting protocol is broadly applicable to the study of many embryonic structures that emerge during early zebrafish development, and can be implemented in conjunction with other staining methods performed on fixed embryo samples.
Developmental Biology, Issue 89, animals, vertebrates, fishes, zebrafish, growth and development, morphogenesis, embryonic and fetal development, organogenesis, natural science disciplines, embryo, whole mount in situ hybridization, flat mount, deyolking, imaging
Analysis of Nephron Composition and Function in the Adult Zebrafish Kidney
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish model has emerged as a relevant system to study kidney development, regeneration and disease. Both the embryonic and adult zebrafish kidneys are composed of functional units known as nephrons, which are highly conserved with other vertebrates, including mammals. Research in zebrafish has recently demonstrated that two distinctive phenomena transpire after adult nephrons incur damage: first, there is robust regeneration within existing nephrons that replaces the destroyed tubule epithelial cells; second, entirely new nephrons are produced from renal progenitors in a process known as neonephrogenesis. In contrast, humans and other mammals seem to have only a limited ability for nephron epithelial regeneration. To date, the mechanisms responsible for these kidney regeneration phenomena remain poorly understood. Since adult zebrafish kidneys undergo both nephron epithelial regeneration and neonephrogenesis, they provide an outstanding experimental paradigm to study these events. Further, there is a wide range of genetic and pharmacological tools available in the zebrafish model that can be used to delineate the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate renal regeneration. One essential aspect of such research is the evaluation of nephron structure and function. This protocol describes a set of labeling techniques that can be used to gauge renal composition and test nephron functionality in the adult zebrafish kidney. Thus, these methods are widely applicable to the future phenotypic characterization of adult zebrafish kidney injury paradigms, which include but are not limited to, nephrotoxicant exposure regimes or genetic methods of targeted cell death such as the nitroreductase mediated cell ablation technique. Further, these methods could be used to study genetic perturbations in adult kidney formation and could also be applied to assess renal status during chronic disease modeling.
Cellular Biology, Issue 90,
zebrafish; kidney; nephron; nephrology; renal; regeneration; proximal tubule; distal tubule; segment; mesonephros; physiology; acute kidney injury (AKI)
Quantification of Orofacial Phenotypes in Xenopus
Institutions: Virginia Commonwealth University.
has become an important tool for dissecting the mechanisms governing craniofacial development and defects. A method to quantify orofacial development will allow for more rigorous analysis of orofacial phenotypes upon abrogation with substances that can genetically or molecularly manipulate gene expression or protein function. Using two dimensional images of the embryonic heads, traditional size dimensions-such as orofacial width, height and area- are measured. In addition, a roundness measure of the embryonic mouth opening is used to describe the shape of the mouth. Geometric morphometrics of these two dimensional images is also performed to provide a more sophisticated view of changes in the shape of the orofacial region. Landmarks are assigned to specific points in the orofacial region and coordinates are created. A principle component analysis is used to reduce landmark coordinates to principle components that then discriminate the treatment groups. These results are displayed as a scatter plot in which individuals with similar orofacial shapes cluster together. It is also useful to perform a discriminant function analysis, which statistically compares the positions of the landmarks between two treatment groups. This analysis is displayed on a transformation grid where changes in landmark position are viewed as vectors. A grid is superimposed on these vectors so that a warping pattern is displayed to show where significant landmark positions have changed. Shape changes in the discriminant function analysis are based on a statistical measure, and therefore can be evaluated by a p-value. This analysis is simple and accessible, requiring only a stereoscope and freeware software, and thus will be a valuable research and teaching resource.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, Orofacial quantification, geometric morphometrics, Xenopus, orofacial development, orofacial defects, shape changes, facial dimensions
Using Microfluidics Chips for Live Imaging and Study of Injury Responses in Drosophila Larvae
Institutions: University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan, University of Michigan.
Live imaging is an important technique for studying cell biological processes, however this can be challenging in live animals. The translucent cuticle of the Drosophila
larva makes it an attractive model organism for live imaging studies. However, an important challenge for live imaging techniques is to noninvasively immobilize and position an animal on the microscope. This protocol presents a simple and easy to use method for immobilizing and imaging Drosophila
larvae on a polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) microfluidic device, which we call the 'larva chip'. The larva chip is comprised of a snug-fitting PDMS microchamber that is attached to a thin glass coverslip, which, upon application of a vacuum via a syringe, immobilizes the animal and brings ventral structures such as the nerve cord, segmental nerves, and body wall muscles, within close proximity to the coverslip. This allows for high-resolution imaging, and importantly, avoids the use of anesthetics and chemicals, which facilitates the study of a broad range of physiological processes. Since larvae recover easily from the immobilization, they can be readily subjected to multiple imaging sessions. This allows for longitudinal studies over time courses ranging from hours to days. This protocol describes step-by-step how to prepare the chip and how to utilize the chip for live imaging of neuronal events in 3rd
instar larvae. These events include the rapid transport of organelles in axons, calcium responses to injury, and time-lapse studies of the trafficking of photo-convertible proteins over long distances and time scales. Another application of the chip is to study regenerative and degenerative responses to axonal injury, so the second part of this protocol describes a new and simple procedure for injuring axons within peripheral nerves by a segmental nerve crush.
Bioengineering, Issue 84, Drosophila melanogaster, Live Imaging, Microfluidics, axonal injury, axonal degeneration, calcium imaging, photoconversion, laser microsurgery
Using Whole Mount in situ Hybridization to Link Molecular and Organismal Biology
Institutions: Syracuse University, Syracuse University.
Whole mount in situ
hybridization (WISH) is a common technique in molecular biology laboratories used to study gene expression through the localization of specific mRNA transcripts within whole mount specimen. This technique (adapted from Albertson and Yelick, 2005) was used in an upper level undergraduate Comparative Vertebrate Biology laboratory classroom at Syracuse University. The first two thirds of the Comparative Vertebrate Biology lab course gave students the opportunity to study the embryology and gross anatomy of several organisms representing various chordate taxa primarily via traditional dissections and the use of models. The final portion of the course involved an innovative approach to teaching anatomy through observation of vertebrate development employing molecular techniques in which WISH was performed on zebrafish embryos. A heterozygous fibroblast growth factor 8 a (fgf8a
) mutant line, ace
, was used. Due to Mendelian inheritance, ace intercrosses produced wild type, heterozygous, and homozygous ace/fgf8a
mutants in a 1:2:1 ratio. RNA probes with known expression patterns in the midline and in developing anatomical structures such as the heart, somites, tailbud, myotome, and brain were used. WISH was performed using zebrafish at the 13 somite and prim-6 stages, with students performing the staining reaction in class. The study of zebrafish embryos at different stages of development gave students the ability to observe how these anatomical structures changed over ontogeny. In addition, some ace/fgf8a
mutants displayed improper heart looping, and defects in somite and brain development. The students in this lab observed the normal development of various organ systems using both external anatomy as well as gene expression patterns. They also identified and described embryos displaying improper anatomical development and gene expression (i.e., putative mutants).
For instructors at institutions that do not already own the necessary equipment or where funds for lab and curricular innovation are limited, the financial cost of the reagents and apparatus may be a factor to consider, as will the time and effort required on the part of the instructor regardless of the setting. Nevertheless, we contend that the use of WISH in this type of classroom laboratory setting can provide an important link between developmental genetics and anatomy. As technology advances and the ability to study organismal development at the molecular level becomes easier, cheaper, and increasingly popular, many evolutionary biologists, ecologists, and physiologists are turning to research strategies in the field of molecular biology. Using WISH in a Comparative Vertebrate Biology laboratory classroom is one example of how molecules and anatomy can converge within a single course. This gives upper level college students the opportunity to practice modern biological research techniques, leading to a more diversified education and the promotion of future interdisciplinary scientific research.
Developmental Biology, Issue 49, in situ hybridization, genetics, development, anatomy, vertebrate, undergraduate, education, interdisciplinary
Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1
. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2
, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3
In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis.
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials
Proprioception and Tension Receptors in Crab Limbs: Student Laboratory Exercises
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Kentucky, University of Oregon.
The primary purpose of these procedures is to demonstrate for teaching and research purposes how to record the activity of living primary sensory neurons responsible for proprioception as they are detecting joint position and movement, and muscle tension. Electrical activity from crustacean proprioceptors and tension receptors is recorded by basic neurophysiological instrumentation, and a transducer is used to simultaneously measure force that is generated by stimulating a motor nerve. In addition, we demonstrate how to stain the neurons for a quick assessment of their anatomical arrangement or for permanent fixation. Staining reveals anatomical organization that is representative of chordotonal organs in most crustaceans. Comparing the tension nerve responses to the proprioceptive responses is an effective teaching tool in determining how these sensory neurons are defined functionally and how the anatomy is correlated to the function. Three staining techniques are presented allowing researchers and instructors to choose a method that is ideal for their laboratory.
Neuroscience, Issue 80, Crustacean, joint, Muscle, sensory, teaching, educational, neuroscience
A Manual Small Molecule Screen Approaching High-throughput Using Zebrafish Embryos
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
Zebrafish have become a widely used model organism to investigate the mechanisms that underlie developmental biology and to study human disease pathology due to their considerable degree of genetic conservation with humans. Chemical genetics entails testing the effect that small molecules have on a biological process and is becoming a popular translational research method to identify therapeutic compounds. Zebrafish are specifically appealing to use for chemical genetics because of their ability to produce large clutches of transparent embryos, which are externally fertilized. Furthermore, zebrafish embryos can be easily drug treated by the simple addition of a compound to the embryo media. Using whole-mount in situ
hybridization (WISH), mRNA expression can be clearly visualized within zebrafish embryos. Together, using chemical genetics and WISH, the zebrafish becomes a potent whole organism context in which to determine the cellular and physiological effects of small molecules. Innovative advances have been made in technologies that utilize machine-based screening procedures, however for many labs such options are not accessible or remain cost-prohibitive. The protocol described here explains how to execute a manual high-throughput chemical genetic screen that requires basic resources and can be accomplished by a single individual or small team in an efficient period of time. Thus, this protocol provides a feasible strategy that can be implemented by research groups to perform chemical genetics in zebrafish, which can be useful for gaining fundamental insights into developmental processes, disease mechanisms, and to identify novel compounds and signaling pathways that have medically relevant applications.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, zebrafish, chemical genetics, chemical screen, in vivo small molecule screen, drug discovery, whole mount in situ hybridization (WISH), high-throughput screening (HTS), high-content screening (HCS)
Dissection of Organs from the Adult Zebrafish
Institutions: University of Pennsylvania-School of Medicine.
Over the last 20 years, the zebrafish has become a powerful model organism for understanding vertebrate development and disease. Although experimental analysis of the embryo and larva is extensive and the morphology has been well documented, descriptions of adult zebrafish anatomy and studies of development of the adult structures and organs, together with techniques for working with adults are lacking. The organs of the larva undergo significant changes in their overall structure, morphology, and anatomical location during the larval to adult transition. Externally, the transparent larva develops its characteristic adult striped pigment pattern and paired pelvic fins, while internally, the organs undergo massive growth and remodeling. In addition, the bipotential gonad primordium develops into either testis or ovary. This protocol identifies many of the organs of the adult and demonstrates methods for dissection of the brain, gonads, gastrointestinal system, heart, and kidney of the adult zebrafish. The dissected organs can be used for in situ hybridization, immunohistochemistry, histology, RNA extraction, protein analysis, and other molecular techniques. This protocol will assist in the broadening of studies in the zebrafish to include the remodeling of larval organs, the morphogenesis of organs specific to the adult and other investigations of the adult organ systems.
Developmental Biology, Issue 37, adult, zebrafish, organs, dissection, anatomy
Placing Growth Factor-Coated Beads on Early Stage Chicken Embryos
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
The neural tube expresses many proteins in specific spatiotemporal patterns during development. These proteins have been shown to be critical for cell fate determination, cell migration, and formation of neural circuits. Neuronal induction and patterning involve bone morphogenetic protein (BMP), sonic hedgehog (SHH), fibroblast growth factor (FGF), among others. In particular, the expression pattern of Fgf8 is in close proximity to regions expressing BMP4 and SHH. This expression pattern is consistent with developmental interactions that facilitate patterning in the telencephalon.
Here we provide a visual demonstration of a method in which an in ovo preparation can be used to test the effects of Fgfs in the formation of the forebrain. Beads are coated with protein and placed in the developing neural tube to provide sustained exposure. Because the procedure uses small, carefully placed beads, it is minimally invasive and allows several beads to be placed within a single neural tube. Moreover, the method allows for continued development so that embryos can be analyzed at a more mature stage to detect changes in anatomy and in neural patterning. This simple but useful protocol allows for real time imaging. It provides a means to make spatially and temporally limited changes to endogenous protein levels.
Developmental Biology, Issue 8, Neuroscience, Growth Factor, Heparin-Coated Beads, Chicken, Embryos
Dissection of Imaginal Discs from 3rd Instar Drosophila Larvae
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
Developmental Biology, Issue 2, Drosophila, Imaginal Disks, Dissection Technique
Reaggregate Thymus Cultures
Institutions: University of Birmingham .
Stromal cells within lymphoid tissues are organized into three-dimensional structures that provide a scaffold that is thought to control the migration and development of haemopoeitic cells. Importantly, the maintenance of this three-dimensional organization appears to be critical for normal stromal cell function, with two-dimensional monolayer cultures often being shown to be capable of supporting only individual fragments of lymphoid tissue function. In the thymus, complex networks of cortical and medullary epithelial cells act as a framework that controls the recruitment, proliferation, differentiation and survival of lymphoid progenitors as they undergo the multi-stage process of intrathymic T-cell development. Understanding the functional role of individual stromal compartments in the thymus is essential in determining how the thymus imposes self/non-self discrimination. Here we describe a technique in which we exploit the plasticity of fetal tissues to re-associate into intact three-dimensional structures in vitro
, following their enzymatic disaggregation. The dissociation of fetal thymus lobes into heterogeneous cellular mixtures, followed by their separation into individual cellular components, is then combined with the in vitro
re-association of these desired cell types into three-dimensional reaggregate structures at defined ratios, thereby providing an opportunity to investigate particular aspects of T-cell development under defined cellular conditions. (This article is based on work first reported Methods in Molecular Biology 2007, Vol. 380 pages 185-196).
Immunology, Issue 18, Springer Protocols, Thymus, 2-dGuo, Thymus Organ Cultures, Immune Tolerance, Positive and Negative Selection, Lymphoid Development
Dissection of Larval CNS in Drosophila Melanogaster
Institutions: Princeton University.
The central nervous system (CNS) of Drosophila larvae is complex and poorly understood. One way to investigate the CNS is to use immunohistochemistry to examine the expression of various novel and marker proteins. Staining of whole larvae is impractical because the tough cuticle prevents antibodies from penetrating inside the body cavity. In order to stain these tissues it is necessary to dissect the animal prior to fixing and staining. In this article we demonstrate how to dissect Drosophila larvae without damaging the CNS. Begin by tearing the larva in half with a pair of fine forceps, and then turn the cuticle "inside-out" to expose the CNS. If the dissection is performed carefully the CNS will remain attached to the cuticle. We usually keep the CNS attached to the cuticle throughout the fixation and staining steps, and only completely remove the CNS from the cuticle just prior to mounting the samples on glass slides. We also show some representative images of a larval CNS stained with Eve, a transcription factor expressed in a subset of neurons in the CNS. The article concludes with a discussion of some of the practical uses of this technique and the potential difficulties that may arise.
Developmental Biology, Issue 1, Drosophila, fly, CNS, larvae