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.
23 Related JoVE Articles!
Investigating the Three-dimensional Flow Separation Induced by a Model Vocal Fold Polyp
Institutions: The George Washington University, Clarkson University.
The fluid-structure energy exchange process for normal speech has been studied extensively, but it is not well understood for pathological conditions. Polyps and nodules, which are geometric abnormalities that form on the medial surface of the vocal folds, can disrupt vocal fold dynamics and thus can have devastating consequences on a patient's ability to communicate. Our laboratory has reported particle image velocimetry (PIV) measurements, within an investigation of a model polyp located on the medial surface of an in vitro
driven vocal fold model, which show that such a geometric abnormality considerably disrupts the glottal jet behavior. This flow field adjustment is a likely reason for the severe degradation of the vocal quality in patients with polyps. A more complete understanding of the formation and propagation of vortical structures from a geometric protuberance, such as a vocal fold polyp, and the resulting influence on the aerodynamic loadings that drive the vocal fold dynamics, is necessary for advancing the treatment of this pathological condition. The present investigation concerns the three-dimensional flow separation induced by a wall-mounted prolate hemispheroid with a 2:1 aspect ratio in cross flow, i.e.
a model vocal fold polyp, using an oil-film visualization technique. Unsteady, three-dimensional flow separation and its impact of the wall pressure loading are examined using skin friction line visualization and wall pressure measurements.
Bioengineering, Issue 84, oil-flow visualization, vocal fold polyp, three-dimensional flow separation, aerodynamic pressure loadings
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
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
Scalable Nanohelices for Predictive Studies and Enhanced 3D Visualization
Institutions: University of California Merced, University of California Merced.
Spring-like materials are ubiquitous in nature and of interest in nanotechnology for energy harvesting, hydrogen storage, and biological sensing applications. For predictive simulations, it has become increasingly important to be able to model the structure of nanohelices accurately. To study the effect of local structure on the properties of these complex geometries one must develop realistic models. To date, software packages are rather limited in creating atomistic helical models. This work focuses on producing atomistic models of silica glass (SiO2
) nanoribbons and nanosprings for molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. Using an MD model of “bulk” silica glass, two computational procedures to precisely create the shape of nanoribbons and nanosprings are presented. The first method employs the AWK programming language and open-source software to effectively carve various shapes of silica nanoribbons from the initial bulk model, using desired dimensions and parametric equations to define a helix. With this method, accurate atomistic silica nanoribbons can be generated for a range of pitch values and dimensions. The second method involves a more robust code which allows flexibility in modeling nanohelical structures. This approach utilizes a C++ code particularly written to implement pre-screening methods as well as the mathematical equations for a helix, resulting in greater precision and efficiency when creating nanospring models. Using these codes, well-defined and scalable nanoribbons and nanosprings suited for atomistic simulations can be effectively created. An added value in both open-source codes is that they can be adapted to reproduce different helical structures, independent of material. In addition, a MATLAB graphical user interface (GUI) is used to enhance learning through visualization and interaction for a general user with the atomistic helical structures. One application of these methods is the recent study of nanohelices via MD simulations for mechanical energy harvesting purposes.
Physics, Issue 93, Helical atomistic models; open-source coding; graphical user interface; visualization software; molecular dynamics simulations; graphical processing unit accelerated simulations.
Semi-automated Optical Heartbeat Analysis of Small Hearts
Institutions: The Sanford Burnham Institute for Medical Research, The Sanford Burnham Institute for Medical Research, San Diego State University.
We have developed a method for analyzing high speed optical recordings from Drosophila
, zebrafish and embryonic mouse hearts (Fink, et. al., 2009). Our Semi-automatic Optical Heartbeat Analysis (SOHA) uses a novel movement detection algorithm that is able to detect cardiac movements associated with individual contractile and relaxation events. The program provides a host of physiologically relevant readouts including systolic and diastolic intervals, heart rate, as well as qualitative and quantitative measures of heartbeat arrhythmicity. The program also calculates heart diameter measurements during both diastole and systole from which fractional shortening and fractional area changes are calculated. Output is provided as a digital file compatible with most spreadsheet programs. Measurements are made for every heartbeat in a record increasing the statistical power of the output. We demonstrate each of the steps where user input is required and show the application of our methodology to the analysis of heart function in all three genetically tractable heart models.
Physiology, Issue 31, Drosophila, zebrafish, mouse, heart, myosin, dilated, restricted, cardiomyopathy, KCNQ, movement detection
In Vitro Aggregation Assays Using Hyperphosphorylated Tau Protein
Institutions: Michigan State University.
Alzheimer's disease is one of a large group of neurodegenerative disorders known as tauopathies that are manifested by the neuronal deposits of hyperphosphorylated tau protein in the form of neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs). The density of NFT correlates well with cognitive impairment and other neurodegenerative symptoms, thus prompting the endeavor of developing tau aggregation-based therapeutics. Thus far, however, tau aggregation assays use recombinant or synthetic tau that is devoid of the pathology-related phosphorylation marks. Here we describe two assays using recombinant, hyperphosphorylated tau as the subject. These assays can be scaled up for high-throughput screens for compounds that can modulate the kinetics or stability of hyperphosphorylated tau aggregates. Novel therapeutics for Alzheimer's disease and other tauopathies can potentially be discovered using hyperphosphorylated tau isoforms.
Biochemistry, Issue 95, tau, Alzheimer's Disease, tauopathy, phosphorylation, amyloid, Zippers-Assisted Catalysis, protein aggregation, neurofibrillary tangles
Using Caenorhabditis elegans as a Model System to Study Protein Homeostasis in a Multicellular Organism
Institutions: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
The folding and assembly of proteins is essential for protein function, the long-term health of the cell, and longevity of the organism. Historically, the function and regulation of protein folding was studied in vitro
, in isolated tissue culture cells and in unicellular organisms. Recent studies have uncovered links between protein homeostasis (proteostasis), metabolism, development, aging, and temperature-sensing. These findings have led to the development of new tools for monitoring protein folding in the model metazoan organism Caenorhabditis elegans
. In our laboratory, we combine behavioral assays, imaging and biochemical approaches using temperature-sensitive or naturally occurring metastable proteins as sensors of the folding environment to monitor protein misfolding. Behavioral assays that are associated with the misfolding of a specific protein provide a simple and powerful readout for protein folding, allowing for the fast screening of genes and conditions that modulate folding. Likewise, such misfolding can be associated with protein mislocalization in the cell. Monitoring protein localization can, therefore, highlight changes in cellular folding capacity occurring in different tissues, at various stages of development and in the face of changing conditions. Finally, using biochemical tools ex vivo
, we can directly monitor protein stability and conformation. Thus, by combining behavioral assays, imaging and biochemical techniques, we are able to monitor protein misfolding at the resolution of the organism, the cell, and the protein, respectively.
Biochemistry, Issue 82, aging, Caenorhabditis elegans, heat shock response, neurodegenerative diseases, protein folding homeostasis, proteostasis, stress, temperature-sensitive
Investigating the Spreading and Toxicity of Prion-like Proteins Using the Metazoan Model Organism C. elegans
Institutions: Northwestern University.
Prions are unconventional self-propagating proteinaceous particles, devoid of any coding nucleic acid. These proteinaceous seeds serve as templates for the conversion and replication of their benign cellular isoform. Accumulating evidence suggests that many protein aggregates can act as self-propagating templates and corrupt the folding of cognate proteins. Although aggregates can be functional under certain circumstances, this process often leads to the disruption of the cellular protein homeostasis (proteostasis), eventually leading to devastating diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), Parkinson’s disease (PD), Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). The exact mechanisms of prion propagation and cell-to-cell spreading of protein aggregates are still subjects of intense investigation. To further this knowledge, recently a new metazoan model in Caenorhabditis elegans
, for expression of the prion domain of the cytosolic yeast prion protein Sup35 has been established. This prion model offers several advantages, as it allows direct monitoring of the fluorescently tagged prion domain in living animals and ease of genetic approaches. Described here are methods to study prion-like behavior of protein aggregates and to identify modifiers of prion-induced toxicity using C. elegans
Cellular Biology, Issue 95, Caenorhabditis elegans, neurodegenerative diseases, protein misfolding diseases, prion-like spreading, cell-to-cell transmission, protein aggregation, non-cell autonomous toxicity, proteostasis
Determining Membrane Protein Topology Using Fluorescence Protease Protection (FPP)
Institutions: Chicago Medical School.
The correct topology and orientation of integral membrane proteins are essential for their proper function, yet such information has not been established for many membrane proteins. A simple technique called fluorescence protease protection (FPP) is presented, which permits the determination of membrane protein topology in living cells. This technique has numerous advantages over other methods for determining protein topology, in that it does not require the availability of multiple antibodies against various domains of the membrane protein, does not require large amounts of protein, and can be performed on living cells. The FPP method employs the spatially confined actions of proteases on the degradation of green fluorescent protein (GFP) tagged membrane proteins to determine their membrane topology and orientation. This simple approach is applicable to a wide variety of cell types, and can be used to determine membrane protein orientation in various subcellular organelles such as the mitochondria, Golgi, endoplasmic reticulum and components of the endosomal/recycling system. Membrane proteins, tagged on either the N-termini or C-termini with a GFP fusion, are expressed in a cell of interest, which is subject to selective permeabilization using the detergent digitonin. Digitonin has the ability to permeabilize the plasma membrane, while leaving intracellular organelles intact. GFP moieties exposed to the cytosol can be selectively degraded through the application of protease, whereas GFP moieties present in the lumen of organelles are protected from the protease and remain intact. The FPP assay is straightforward, and results can be obtained rapidly.
Cellular Biology, Issue 98, Membrane protein, topology, GFP, fluorescence assay, protease, proteolysis, Digitonin
Design, Surface Treatment, Cellular Plating, and Culturing of Modular Neuronal Networks Composed of Functionally Inter-connected Circuits
Institutions: Tel-Aviv University, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, Tel-Aviv University, Tel-Aviv University, University of Genova.
The brain operates through the coordinated activation and the dynamic communication of neuronal assemblies. A major open question is how a vast repertoire of dynamical motifs, which underlie most diverse brain functions, can emerge out of a fixed topological and modular organization of brain circuits. Compared to in vivo
studies of neuronal circuits which present intrinsic experimental difficulties, in vitro
preparations offer a much larger possibility to manipulate and probe the structural, dynamical and chemical properties of experimental neuronal systems. This work describes an in vitro
experimental methodology which allows growing of modular networks composed by spatially distinct, functionally interconnected neuronal assemblies. The protocol allows controlling the two-dimensional (2D) architecture of the neuronal network at different levels of topological complexity.
A desired network patterning can be achieved both on regular cover slips and substrate embedded micro electrode arrays. Micromachined structures are embossed on a silicon wafer and used to create biocompatible polymeric stencils, which incorporate the negative features of the desired network architecture. The stencils are placed on the culturing substrates during the surface coating procedure with a molecular layer for promoting cellular adhesion. After removal of the stencils, neurons are plated and they spontaneously redirected to the coated areas. By decreasing the inter-compartment distance, it is possible to obtain either isolated or interconnected neuronal circuits. To promote cell survival, cells are co-cultured with a supporting neuronal network which is located at the periphery of the culture dish. Electrophysiological and optical recordings of the activity of modular networks obtained respectively by using substrate embedded micro electrode arrays and calcium imaging are presented. While each module shows spontaneous global synchronizations, the occurrence of inter-module synchronization is regulated by the density of connection among the circuits.
Neuroscience, Issue 98, In vitro, patterning, PDMS stencils, SU8-2075, silicon wafer, calcium imaging, Micro Electrode Array
High Efficiency Differentiation of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells to Cardiomyocytes and Characterization by Flow Cytometry
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin, Stanford University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin, Hong Kong University, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin.
There is an urgent need to develop approaches for repairing the damaged heart, discovering new therapeutic drugs that do not have toxic effects on the heart, and improving strategies to accurately model heart disease. The potential of exploiting human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) technology to generate cardiac muscle “in a dish” for these applications continues to generate high enthusiasm. In recent years, the ability to efficiently generate cardiomyogenic cells from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) has greatly improved, offering us new opportunities to model very early stages of human cardiac development not otherwise accessible. In contrast to many previous methods, the cardiomyocyte differentiation protocol described here does not require cell aggregation or the addition of Activin A or BMP4 and robustly generates cultures of cells that are highly positive for cardiac troponin I and T (TNNI3, TNNT2), iroquois-class homeodomain protein IRX-4 (IRX4), myosin regulatory light chain 2, ventricular/cardiac muscle isoform (MLC2v) and myosin regulatory light chain 2, atrial isoform (MLC2a) by day 10 across all human embryonic stem cell (hESC) and hiPSC lines tested to date. Cells can be passaged and maintained for more than 90 days in culture. The strategy is technically simple to implement and cost-effective. Characterization of cardiomyocytes derived from pluripotent cells often includes the analysis of reference markers, both at the mRNA and protein level. For protein analysis, flow cytometry is a powerful analytical tool for assessing quality of cells in culture and determining subpopulation homogeneity. However, technical variation in sample preparation can significantly affect quality of flow cytometry data. Thus, standardization of staining protocols should facilitate comparisons among various differentiation strategies. Accordingly, optimized staining protocols for the analysis of IRX4, MLC2v, MLC2a, TNNI3, and TNNT2 by flow cytometry are described.
Cellular Biology, Issue 91, human induced pluripotent stem cell, flow cytometry, directed differentiation, cardiomyocyte, IRX4, TNNI3, TNNT2, MCL2v, MLC2a
Designing and Implementing Nervous System Simulations on LEGO Robots
Institutions: Northeastern University, Bremen University of Applied Sciences.
We present a method to use the commercially available LEGO Mindstorms NXT robotics platform to test systems level neuroscience hypotheses. The first step of the method is to develop a nervous system simulation of specific reflexive behaviors of an appropriate model organism; here we use the American Lobster. Exteroceptive reflexes mediated by decussating (crossing) neural connections can explain an animal's taxis towards or away from a stimulus as described by Braitenberg and are particularly well suited for investigation using the NXT platform.1
The nervous system simulation is programmed using LabVIEW software on the LEGO Mindstorms platform. Once the nervous system is tuned properly, behavioral experiments are run on the robot and on the animal under identical environmental conditions. By controlling the sensory milieu experienced by the specimens, differences in behavioral outputs can be observed. These differences may point to specific deficiencies in the nervous system model and serve to inform the iteration of the model for the particular behavior under study. This method allows for the experimental manipulation of electronic nervous systems and serves as a way to explore neuroscience hypotheses specifically regarding the neurophysiological basis of simple innate reflexive behaviors. The LEGO Mindstorms NXT kit provides an affordable and efficient platform on which to test preliminary biomimetic robot control schemes. The approach is also well suited for the high school classroom to serve as the foundation for a hands-on inquiry-based biorobotics curriculum.
Neuroscience, Issue 75, Neurobiology, Bioengineering, Behavior, Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science, Marine Biology, Biomimetics, Marine Science, Neurosciences, Synthetic Biology, Robotics, robots, Modeling, models, Sensory Fusion, nervous system, Educational Tools, programming, software, lobster, Homarus americanus, animal model
T-wave Ion Mobility-mass Spectrometry: Basic Experimental Procedures for Protein Complex Analysis
Institutions: Weizmann Institute of Science.
Ion mobility (IM) is a method that measures the time taken for an ion to travel through a pressurized cell under the influence of a weak electric field. The speed by which the ions traverse the drift region depends on their size: large ions will experience a greater number of collisions with the background inert gas (usually N2
) and thus travel more slowly through the IM device than those ions that comprise a smaller cross-section. In general, the time it takes for the ions to migrate though the dense gas phase separates them, according to their collision cross-section (Ω).
Recently, IM spectrometry was coupled with mass spectrometry and a traveling-wave (T-wave) Synapt ion mobility mass spectrometer (IM-MS) was released. Integrating mass spectrometry with ion mobility enables an extra dimension of sample separation and definition, yielding a three-dimensional spectrum (mass to charge, intensity, and drift time). This separation technique allows the spectral overlap to decrease, and enables resolution of heterogeneous complexes with very similar mass, or mass-to-charge ratios, but different drift times. Moreover, the drift time measurements provide an important layer of structural information, as Ω is related to the overall shape and topology of the ion. The correlation between the measured drift time values and Ω is calculated using a calibration curve generated from calibrant proteins with defined cross-sections1
The power of the IM-MS approach lies in its ability to define the subunit packing and overall shape of protein assemblies at micromolar concentrations, and near-physiological conditions1
. Several recent IM studies of both individual proteins2,3
and non-covalent protein complexes4-9
, successfully demonstrated that protein quaternary structure is maintained in the gas phase, and highlighted the potential of this approach in the study of protein assemblies of unknown geometry. Here, we provide a detailed description of IMS-MS analysis of protein complexes using the Synapt (Quadrupole-Ion Mobility-Time-of-Flight) HDMS instrument (Waters Ltd; the only commercial IM-MS instrument currently available)10
. We describe the basic optimization steps, the calibration of collision cross-sections, and methods for data processing and interpretation. The final step of the protocol discusses methods for calculating theoretical Ω values. Overall, the protocol does not attempt to cover every aspect of IM-MS characterization of protein assemblies; rather, its goal is to introduce the practical aspects of the method to new researchers in the field.
cellular biology, Issue 41, mass spectrometry, ion-mobility, protein complexes, non-covalent interactions, structural biology
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (http://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g.
, signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation.
The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
Using an Automated 3D-tracking System to Record Individual and Shoals of Adult Zebrafish
Like many aquatic animals, zebrafish (Danio rerio
) moves in a 3D space. It is thus preferable to use a 3D recording system to study its behavior. The presented automatic video tracking system accomplishes this by using a mirror system and a calibration procedure that corrects for the considerable error introduced by the transition of light from water to air. With this system it is possible to record both single and groups of adult zebrafish. Before use, the system has to be calibrated. The system consists of three modules: Recording, Path Reconstruction, and Data Processing. The step-by-step protocols for calibration and using the three modules are presented. Depending on the experimental setup, the system can be used for testing neophobia, white aversion, social cohesion, motor impairments, novel object exploration etc
. It is especially promising as a first-step tool to study the effects of drugs or mutations on basic behavioral patterns. The system provides information about vertical and horizontal distribution of the zebrafish, about the xyz-components of kinematic parameters (such as locomotion, velocity, acceleration, and turning angle) and it provides the data necessary to calculate parameters for social cohesions when testing shoals.
Behavior, Issue 82, neuroscience, Zebrafish, Danio rerio, anxiety, Shoaling, Pharmacology, 3D-tracking, MK801
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
Automated Quantification of Hematopoietic Cell – Stromal Cell Interactions in Histological Images of Undecalcified Bone
Institutions: German Rheumatism Research Center, a Leibniz Institute, German Rheumatism Research Center, a Leibniz Institute, Max-Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, Wimasis GmbH, Charité - University of Medicine.
Confocal microscopy is the method of choice for the analysis of localization of multiple cell types within complex tissues such as the bone marrow. However, the analysis and quantification of cellular localization is difficult, as in many cases it relies on manual counting, thus bearing the risk of introducing a rater-dependent bias and reducing interrater reliability. Moreover, it is often difficult to judge whether the co-localization between two cells results from random positioning, especially when cell types differ strongly in the frequency of their occurrence. Here, a method for unbiased quantification of cellular co-localization in the bone marrow is introduced. The protocol describes the sample preparation used to obtain histological sections of whole murine long bones including the bone marrow, as well as the staining protocol and the acquisition of high-resolution images. An analysis workflow spanning from the recognition of hematopoietic and non-hematopoietic cell types in 2-dimensional (2D) bone marrow images to the quantification of the direct contacts between those cells is presented. This also includes a neighborhood analysis, to obtain information about the cellular microenvironment surrounding a certain cell type. In order to evaluate whether co-localization of two cell types is the mere result of random cell positioning or reflects preferential associations between the cells, a simulation tool which is suitable for testing this hypothesis in the case of hematopoietic as well as stromal cells, is used. This approach is not limited to the bone marrow, and can be extended to other tissues to permit reproducible, quantitative analysis of histological data.
Developmental Biology, Issue 98, Image analysis, neighborhood analysis, bone marrow, stromal cells, bone marrow niches, simulation, bone cryosectioning, bone histology
Microcontact Printing of Proteins for Cell Biology
Institutions: Columbia University.
The ability to pattern proteins and other biomolecules onto substrates is important for capturing the spatial complexity of the extracellular environment. Development of microcontact printing by the Whitesides group (http://gmwgroup.harvard.edu/) in the mid-1990s revolutionalized this field by making microelectronics/microfabrication techniques accessible to laboratories focused on the life sciences. Initial implementations of this method used polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) stamps to create patterns of functionalized chemicals on material surfaces1
. Since then, a range of innovative approaches have been developed to pattern other molecules, including proteins2
. This video demonstrates the basic process of creating PDMS stamps and uses them to pattern proteins, as these steps are difficult to accurately express in words. We focus on patterning the extracellular matrix protein fibronectin onto glass coverslips as a specific example of patterning.
An important component of the microcontact printing process is a topological master, from which the stamps are cast; the raised and lowered regions of the master are mirrored into the stamp and define the final pattern. Typically, a master consists of a silicon wafer coated with photoresist and then patterned by photolithography, as is done here. Creation of masters containing a specific pattern requires specialized equipment, and is best approached in consultation with a fabrication center or facility. However, almost any substrate with topology can be used as a master, such as plastic diffraction gratings (see Reagents for one example), and such serendipitous masters provide readily available, simple patterns. This protocol begins at the point of having a master in hand.
Cellular Biology, Issue 22, micropatterning, proteins, cell biology, microcontact
Automated Interactive Video Playback for Studies of Animal Communication
Institutions: Texas A&M University (TAMU), Texas A&M University (TAMU).
Video playback is a widely-used technique for the controlled manipulation and presentation of visual signals in animal communication. In particular, parameter-based computer animation offers the opportunity to independently manipulate any number of behavioral, morphological, or spectral characteristics in the context of realistic, moving images of animals on screen. A major limitation of conventional playback, however, is that the visual stimulus lacks the ability to interact with the live animal. Borrowing from video-game technology, we have created an automated, interactive system for video playback that controls animations in response to real-time signals from a video tracking system. We demonstrated this method by conducting mate-choice trials on female swordtail fish, Xiphophorus birchmanni
. Females were given a simultaneous choice between a courting male conspecific and a courting male heterospecific (X. malinche
) on opposite sides of an aquarium. The virtual male stimulus was programmed to track the horizontal position of the female, as courting males do in the wild. Mate-choice trials on wild-caught X. birchmanni
females were used to validate the prototype's ability to effectively generate a realistic visual stimulus.
Neuroscience, Issue 48, Computer animation, visual communication, mate choice, Xiphophorus birchmanni, tracking
Generation of Human Cardiomyocytes: A Differentiation Protocol from Feeder-free Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells
Institutions: Humanitas Clinical and Research Center, Italy, National Research Council (CNR).
In order to investigate the events driving heart development and to determine the molecular mechanisms leading to myocardial diseases in humans, it is essential first to generate functional human cardiomyocytes (CMs). The use of these cells in drug discovery and toxicology studies would also be highly beneficial, allowing new pharmacological molecules for the treatment of cardiac disorders to be validated pre-clinically on cells of human origin. Of the possible sources of CMs, induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells are among the most promising, as they can be derived directly from readily accessible patient tissue and possess an intrinsic capacity to give rise to all cell types of the body 1
. Several methods have been proposed for differentiating iPS cells into CMs, ranging from the classical embryoid bodies (EBs) aggregation approach to chemically defined protocols 2,3
. In this article we propose an EBs-based protocol and show how this method can be employed to efficiently generate functional CM-like cells from feeder-free iPS cells.
Stem Cell Biology, Issue 76, Developmental Biology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Medicine, Bioengineering, Biomedical Engineering, Genetics, Cardiology, Stem Cell Research, Cardiovascular Diseases, Human cardiomyocytes, iPS cells, induced pluripotent stem cells, stem cells, cardiac differentiation, disease modeling, embryoid bodies, cell lines, cell culture