Site-specific recombinase (SSR) technology allows the manipulation of gene structure to explore gene function and has become an integral tool of molecular biology. Site-specific recombinases are proteins that bind to distinct DNA target sequences. The Cre/lox system was first described in bacteriophages during the 1980's. Cre recombinase is a Type I topoisomerase that catalyzes site-specific recombination of DNA between two loxP (locus of X-over P1) sites. The Cre/lox system does not require any cofactors. LoxP sequences contain distinct binding sites for Cre recombinases that surround a directional core sequence where recombination and rearrangement takes place. When cells contain loxP sites and express the Cre recombinase, a recombination event occurs. Double-stranded DNA is cut at both loxP sites by the Cre recombinase, rearranged, and ligated ("scissors and glue"). Products of the recombination event depend on the relative orientation of the asymmetric sequences.
SSR technology is frequently used as a tool to explore gene function. Here the gene of interest is flanked with Cre target sites loxP ("floxed"). Animals are then crossed with animals expressing the Cre recombinase under the control of a tissue-specific promoter. In tissues that express the Cre recombinase it binds to target sequences and excises the floxed gene. Controlled gene deletion allows the investigation of gene function in specific tissues and at distinct time points. Analysis of gene function employing SSR technology --- conditional mutagenesis -- has significant advantages over traditional knock-outs where gene deletion is frequently lethal.
27 Related JoVE Articles!
High Resolution Whole Mount In Situ Hybridization within Zebrafish Embryos to Study Gene Expression and Function
Institutions: Royal Victoria Hospital, McGill University Health Centre Research Institute.
This article focuses on whole-mount in situ
hybridization (WISH) of zebrafish embryos. The WISH technology facilitates the assessment of gene expression both in terms of tissue distribution and developmental stage. Protocols are described for the use of WISH of zebrafish embryos using antisense RNA probes labeled with digoxigenin. Probes are generated by incorporating digoxigenin-linked nucleotides through in vitro
transcription of gene templates that have been cloned and linearized. The chorions of embryos harvested at defined developmental stages are removed before incubation with specific probes. Following a washing procedure to remove excess probe, embryos are incubated with anti-digoxigenin antibody conjugated with alkaline phosphatase. By employing a chromogenic substrate for alkaline phosphatase, specific gene expression can be assessed. Depending on the level of gene expression the entire procedure can be completed within 2-3 days.
Neuroscience, Issue 80, Blood Cells, Endoderm, Motor Neurons, life sciences, animal models in situ hybridization, morpholino knockdown, progranulin, neuromast, proprotein convertase, anti-sense transcripts, intermediate cell mass, pronephric duct, somites
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
Mouse Hindbrain Ex Vivo Culture to Study Facial Branchiomotor Neuron Migration
Institutions: University College London, Centre for Cancer Biology, South Australia.
Embryonic neurons are born in the ventricular zone of the brain, but subsequently migrate to new destinations to reach appropriate targets. Deciphering the molecular signals that cooperatively guide neuronal migration in the embryonic brain is therefore important to understand how the complex neural networks form which later support postnatal life. Facial branchiomotor (FBM) neurons in the mouse embryo hindbrain migrate from rhombomere (r) 4 caudally to form the paired facial nuclei in the r6-derived region of the hindbrain. Here we provide a detailed protocol for wholemount ex vivo
culture of mouse embryo hindbrains suitable to investigate the signaling pathways that regulate FBM migration. In this method, hindbrains of E11.5 mouse embryos are dissected and cultured in an open book preparation on cell culture inserts for 24 hr. During this time, FBM neurons migrate caudally towards r6 and can be exposed to function-blocking antibodies and small molecules in the culture media or heparin beads loaded with recombinant proteins to examine roles for signaling pathways implicated in guiding neuronal migration.
Medicine, Issue 85, Neuroscience, Neuronal migration, hindbrain, mouse, facial branchiomotor neuron, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)
A Restriction Enzyme Based Cloning Method to Assess the In vitro Replication Capacity of HIV-1 Subtype C Gag-MJ4 Chimeric Viruses
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University.
The protective effect of many HLA class I alleles on HIV-1 pathogenesis and disease progression is, in part, attributed to their ability to target conserved portions of the HIV-1 genome that escape with difficulty. Sequence changes attributed to cellular immune pressure arise across the genome during infection, and if found within conserved regions of the genome such as Gag, can affect the ability of the virus to replicate in vitro
. Transmission of HLA-linked polymorphisms in Gag to HLA-mismatched recipients has been associated with reduced set point viral loads. We hypothesized this may be due to a reduced replication capacity of the virus. Here we present a novel method for assessing the in vitro
replication of HIV-1 as influenced by the gag
gene isolated from acute time points from subtype C infected Zambians. This method uses restriction enzyme based cloning to insert the gag
gene into a common subtype C HIV-1 proviral backbone, MJ4. This makes it more appropriate to the study of subtype C sequences than previous recombination based methods that have assessed the in vitro
replication of chronically derived gag-pro
sequences. Nevertheless, the protocol could be readily modified for studies of viruses from other subtypes. Moreover, this protocol details a robust and reproducible method for assessing the replication capacity of the Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses on a CEM-based T cell line. This method was utilized for the study of Gag-MJ4 chimeric viruses derived from 149 subtype C acutely infected Zambians, and has allowed for the identification of residues in Gag that affect replication. More importantly, the implementation of this technique has facilitated a deeper understanding of how viral replication defines parameters of early HIV-1 pathogenesis such as set point viral load and longitudinal CD4+ T cell decline.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, HIV-1, Gag, viral replication, replication capacity, viral fitness, MJ4, CEM, GXR25
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
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
DNA-affinity-purified Chip (DAP-chip) Method to Determine Gene Targets for Bacterial Two component Regulatory Systems
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
methods such as ChIP-chip are well-established techniques used to determine global gene targets for transcription factors. However, they are of limited use in exploring bacterial two component regulatory systems with uncharacterized activation conditions. Such systems regulate transcription only when activated in the presence of unique signals. Since these signals are often unknown, the in vitro
microarray based method described in this video article can be used to determine gene targets and binding sites for response regulators. This DNA-affinity-purified-chip method may be used for any purified regulator in any organism with a sequenced genome. The protocol involves allowing the purified tagged protein to bind to sheared genomic DNA and then affinity purifying the protein-bound DNA, followed by fluorescent labeling of the DNA and hybridization to a custom tiling array. Preceding steps that may be used to optimize the assay for specific regulators are also described. The peaks generated by the array data analysis are used to predict binding site motifs, which are then experimentally validated. The motif predictions can be further used to determine gene targets of orthologous response regulators in closely related species. We demonstrate the applicability of this method by determining the gene targets and binding site motifs and thus predicting the function for a sigma54-dependent response regulator DVU3023 in the environmental bacterium Desulfovibrio vulgaris
Genetics, Issue 89, DNA-Affinity-Purified-chip, response regulator, transcription factor binding site, two component system, signal transduction, Desulfovibrio, lactate utilization regulator, ChIP-chip
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
Inhibitory Synapse Formation in a Co-culture Model Incorporating GABAergic Medium Spiny Neurons and HEK293 Cells Stably Expressing GABAA Receptors
Institutions: University College London.
Inhibitory neurons act in the central nervous system to regulate the dynamics and spatio-temporal co-ordination of neuronal networks. GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) is the predominant inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It is released from the presynaptic terminals of inhibitory neurons within highly specialized intercellular junctions known as synapses, where it binds to GABAA
Rs) present at the plasma membrane of the synapse-receiving, postsynaptic neurons. Activation of these GABA-gated ion channels leads to influx of chloride resulting in postsynaptic potential changes that decrease the probability that these neurons will generate action potentials.
During development, diverse types of inhibitory neurons with distinct morphological, electrophysiological and neurochemical characteristics have the ability to recognize their target neurons and form synapses which incorporate specific GABAA
Rs subtypes. This principle of selective innervation of neuronal targets raises the question as to how the appropriate synaptic partners identify each other.
To elucidate the underlying molecular mechanisms, a novel in vitro
co-culture model system was established, in which medium spiny GABAergic neurons, a highly homogenous population of neurons isolated from the embryonic striatum, were cultured with stably transfected HEK293 cell lines that express different GABAA
R subtypes. Synapses form rapidly, efficiently and selectively in this system, and are easily accessible for quantification. Our results indicate that various GABAA
R subtypes differ in their ability to promote synapse formation, suggesting that this reduced in vitro
model system can be used to reproduce, at least in part, the in vivo
conditions required for the recognition of the appropriate synaptic partners and formation of specific synapses. Here the protocols for culturing the medium spiny neurons and generating HEK293 cells lines expressing GABAA
Rs are first described, followed by detailed instructions on how to combine these two cell types in co-culture and analyze the formation of synaptic contacts.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, Developmental neuroscience, synaptogenesis, synaptic inhibition, co-culture, stable cell lines, GABAergic, medium spiny neurons, HEK 293 cell line
Subcloning Plus Insertion (SPI) - A Novel Recombineering Method for the Rapid Construction of Gene Targeting Vectors
Institutions: University of Leicester, Center for Fisheries, Environment and Aquaculture Sciences, University of Leicester.
Gene targeting refers to the precise modification of a genetic locus using homologous recombination. The generation of novel cell lines and transgenic mouse models using this method necessitates the construction of a ‘targeting’ vector, which contains homologous DNA sequences to the target gene, and has for many years been a limiting step in the process. Vector construction can be performed in vivo
in Escherichia coli
cells using homologous recombination mediated by phage recombinases using a technique termed recombineering. Recombineering is the preferred technique to subclone the long homology sequences (>4kb) and various targeting elements including selection markers that are required to mediate efficient allelic exchange between a targeting vector and its cognate genomic locus. Typical recombineering protocols follow an iterative scheme of step-wise integration of the targeting elements and require intermediate purification and transformation steps. Here, we present a novel recombineering methodology of vector assembly using a multiplex approach. Plasmid gap repair is performed by the simultaneous capture of genomic sequence from mouse Bacterial Artificial Chromosome libraries and the insertion of dual bacterial and mammalian selection markers. This subcloning plus insertion method is highly efficient and yields a majority of correct recombinants. We present data for the construction of different types of conditional gene knockout, or knock-in, vectors and BAC reporter vectors that have been constructed using this method. SPI vector construction greatly extends the repertoire of the recombineering toolbox and provides a simple, rapid and cost-effective method of constructing these highly complex vectors.
Molecular Biology, Issue 95, recombineering, gap-repair, subcloning plus insertion, transgene, knockout, mouse
Genome-wide Snapshot of Chromatin Regulators and States in Xenopus Embryos by ChIP-Seq
Institutions: MRC National Institute for Medical Research.
The recruitment of chromatin regulators and the assignment of chromatin states to specific genomic loci are pivotal to cell fate decisions and tissue and organ formation during development. Determining the locations and levels of such chromatin features in vivo
will provide valuable information about the spatio-temporal regulation of genomic elements, and will support aspirations to mimic embryonic tissue development in vitro
. The most commonly used method for genome-wide and high-resolution profiling is chromatin immunoprecipitation followed by next-generation sequencing (ChIP-Seq). This protocol outlines how yolk-rich embryos such as those of the frog Xenopus
can be processed for ChIP-Seq experiments, and it offers simple command lines for post-sequencing analysis. Because of the high efficiency with which the protocol extracts nuclei from formaldehyde-fixed tissue, the method allows easy upscaling to obtain enough ChIP material for genome-wide profiling. Our protocol has been used successfully to map various DNA-binding proteins such as transcription factors, signaling mediators, components of the transcription machinery, chromatin modifiers and post-translational histone modifications, and for this to be done at various stages of embryogenesis. Lastly, this protocol should be widely applicable to other model and non-model organisms as more and more genome assemblies become available.
Developmental Biology, Issue 96, Chromatin immunoprecipitation, next-generation sequencing, ChIP-Seq, developmental biology, Xenopus embryos, cross-linking, transcription factor, post-sequencing analysis, DNA occupancy, metagene, binding motif, GO term
A Method for Selecting Structure-switching Aptamers Applied to a Colorimetric Gold Nanoparticle Assay
Institutions: Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, The Henry M. Jackson Foundation, UES, Inc..
Small molecules provide rich targets for biosensing applications due to their physiological implications as biomarkers of various aspects of human health and performance. Nucleic acid aptamers have been increasingly applied as recognition elements on biosensor platforms, but selecting aptamers toward small molecule targets requires special design considerations. This work describes modification and critical steps of a method designed to select structure-switching aptamers to small molecule targets. Binding sequences from a DNA library hybridized to complementary DNA capture probes on magnetic beads are separated from nonbinders via a target-induced change in conformation. This method is advantageous because sequences binding the support matrix (beads) will not be further amplified, and it does not require immobilization of the target molecule. However, the melting temperature of the capture probe and library is kept at or slightly above RT, such that sequences that dehybridize based on thermodynamics will also be present in the supernatant solution. This effectively limits the partitioning efficiency (ability to separate target binding sequences from nonbinders), and therefore many selection rounds will be required to remove background sequences. The reported method differs from previous structure-switching aptamer selections due to implementation of negative selection steps, simplified enrichment monitoring, and extension of the length of the capture probe following selection enrichment to provide enhanced stringency. The selected structure-switching aptamers are advantageous in a gold nanoparticle assay platform that reports the presence of a target molecule by the conformational change of the aptamer. The gold nanoparticle assay was applied because it provides a simple, rapid colorimetric readout that is beneficial in a clinical or deployed environment. Design and optimization considerations are presented for the assay as proof-of-principle work in buffer to provide a foundation for further extension of the work toward small molecule biosensing in physiological fluids.
Molecular Biology, Issue 96, Aptamer, structure-switching, SELEX, small molecule, cortisol, next generation sequencing, gold nanoparticle, assay
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (https://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
Generation of Dispersed Presomitic Mesoderm Cell Cultures for Imaging of the Zebrafish Segmentation Clock in Single Cells
Institutions: Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics.
Segmentation is a periodic and sequential morphogenetic process in vertebrates. This rhythmic formation of blocks of tissue called somites along the body axis is evidence of a genetic oscillator patterning the developing embryo. In zebrafish, the intracellular clock driving segmentation is comprised of members of the Her/Hes transcription factor family organized into negative feedback loops. We have recently generated transgenic fluorescent reporter lines for the cyclic gene her1
that recapitulate the spatio-temporal pattern of oscillations in the presomitic mesoderm (PSM). Using these lines, we developed an in vitro
culture system that allows real-time analysis of segmentation clock oscillations within single, isolated PSM cells. By removing PSM tissue from transgenic embryos and then dispersing cells from oscillating regions onto glass-bottom dishes, we generated cultures suitable for time-lapse imaging of fluorescence signal from individual clock cells. This approach provides an experimental and conceptual framework for direct manipulation of the segmentation clock with unprecedented single-cell resolution, allowing its cell-autonomous and tissue-level properties to be distinguished and dissected.
Developmental Biology, Issue 89, Zebrafish, Primary Cell Culture, Biological Clocks, Somitogenesis, Oscillator, In Vitro, Time-lapse Imaging, Primary Culture, Fluorescence
Interview: Protein Folding and Studies of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In this interview, Dr. Lindquist describes relationships between protein folding, prion diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. The problem of the protein folding is at the core of the modern biology. In addition to their traditional biochemical functions, proteins can mediate transfer of biological information and therefore can be considered a genetic material. This recently discovered function of proteins has important implications for studies of human disorders. Dr. Lindquist also describes current experimental approaches to investigate the mechanism of neurodegenerative diseases based on genetic studies in model organisms.
Neuroscience, issue 17, protein folding, brain, neuron, prion, neurodegenerative disease, yeast, screen, Translational Research
Molecular Evolution of the Tre Recombinase
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Here we report the generation of Tre recombinase through directed, molecular evolution. Tre recombinase recognizes a pre-defined target sequence within the LTR sequences of the HIV-1 provirus, resulting in the excision and eradication of the provirus from infected human cells.
We started with Cre, a 38-kDa recombinase, that recognizes a 34-bp double-stranded DNA sequence known as loxP. Because Cre can effectively eliminate genomic sequences, we set out to tailor a recombinase that could remove the sequence between the 5'-LTR and 3'-LTR of an integrated HIV-1 provirus. As a first step we identified sequences within the LTR sites that were similar to loxP and tested for recombination activity. Initially Cre and mutagenized Cre libraries failed to recombine the chosen loxLTR sites of the HIV-1 provirus. As the start of any directed molecular evolution process requires at least residual activity, the original asymmetric loxLTR sequences were split into subsets and tested again for recombination activity. Acting as intermediates, recombination activity was shown with the subsets. Next, recombinase libraries were enriched through reiterative evolution cycles. Subsequently, enriched libraries were shuffled and recombined. The combination of different mutations proved synergistic and recombinases were created that were able to recombine loxLTR1 and loxLTR2. This was evidence that an evolutionary strategy through intermediates can be successful. After a total of 126 evolution cycles individual recombinases were functionally and structurally analyzed. The most active recombinase -- Tre -- had 19 amino acid changes as compared to Cre. Tre recombinase was able to excise the HIV-1 provirus from the genome HIV-1 infected HeLa cells (see "HIV-1 Proviral DNA Excision Using an Evolved Recombinase", Hauber J., Heinrich-Pette-Institute for Experimental Virology and Immunology, Hamburg, Germany). While still in its infancy, directed molecular evolution will allow the creation of custom enzymes that will serve as tools of "molecular surgery" and molecular medicine.
Cell Biology, Issue 15, HIV-1, Tre recombinase, Site-specific recombination, molecular evolution
Mosaic Zebrafish Transgenesis for Evaluating Enhancer Sequences
Institutions: University of Pennsylvania .
The completion of the human genome sequence, along with that of many other species, has highlighted the challenge of ascribing specific function to non coding sequences. One prominent function carried out by the non coding fraction of the genome is to regulate gene transcription; however, there are no effective methods to broadly predict cis-regulatory elements from primary DNA sequence. We have developed an efficient protocol to functionally evaluate potential cis-regulatory elements through zebrafish transgenesis. Our approach offers significant advantages over cell-culture based techniques for developmentally important genes, since it provides information on spatial and temporal gene regulation. Conversely, it is faster and less expensive than similar experiments in transgenic mice, and we routinely apply it to sequences isolated from the human genome. Here we demonstrate our approach to selecting elements for testing based on sequence conservation and our protocol for cloning sequences and microinjecting them into zebrafish embryos.
Cellular Biology, Issue 41, zebrafish, transgenesis, microinjection, GFP, enhancers, transposon
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
Genomic MRI - a Public Resource for Studying Sequence Patterns within Genomic DNA
Institutions: University of Toledo Health Science Campus.
Non-coding genomic regions in complex eukaryotes, including intergenic areas, introns, and untranslated segments of exons, are profoundly non-random in their nucleotide composition and consist of a complex mosaic of sequence patterns. These patterns include so-called Mid-Range Inhomogeneity (MRI) regions -- sequences 30-10000 nucleotides in length that are enriched by a particular base or combination of bases (e.g. (G+T)-rich, purine-rich, etc.). MRI regions are associated with unusual (non-B-form) DNA structures that are often involved in regulation of gene expression, recombination, and other genetic processes (Fedorova & Fedorov 2010). The existence of a strong fixation bias within MRI regions against mutations that tend to reduce their sequence inhomogeneity additionally supports the functionality and importance of these genomic sequences (Prakash et al.
Here we demonstrate a freely available Internet resource -- the Genomic MRI
program package -- designed for computational analysis of genomic sequences in order to find and characterize various MRI patterns within them (Bechtel et al.
2008). This package also allows generation of randomized sequences with various properties and level of correspondence to the natural input DNA sequences. The main goal of this resource is to facilitate examination of vast regions of non-coding DNA that are still scarcely investigated and await thorough exploration and recognition.
Genetics, Issue 51, bioinformatics, computational biology, genomics, non-randomness, signals, gene regulation, DNA conformation
Using SCOPE to Identify Potential Regulatory Motifs in Coregulated Genes
Institutions: Dartmouth College.
SCOPE is an ensemble motif finder that uses three component algorithms in parallel to identify potential regulatory motifs by over-representation and motif position preference1
. Each component algorithm is optimized to find a different kind of motif. By taking the best of these three approaches, SCOPE performs better than any single algorithm, even in the presence of noisy data1
. In this article, we utilize a web version of SCOPE2
to examine genes that are involved in telomere maintenance. SCOPE has been incorporated into at least two other motif finding programs3,4
and has been used in other studies5-8
The three algorithms that comprise SCOPE are BEAM9
, which finds non-degenerate motifs (ACCGGT), PRISM10
, which finds degenerate motifs (ASCGWT), and SPACER11
, which finds longer bipartite motifs (ACCnnnnnnnnGGT). These three algorithms have been optimized to find their corresponding type of motif. Together, they allow SCOPE to perform extremely well.
Once a gene set has been analyzed and candidate motifs identified, SCOPE can look for other genes that contain the motif which, when added to the original set, will improve the motif score. This can occur through over-representation or motif position preference. Working with partial gene sets that have biologically verified transcription factor binding sites, SCOPE was able to identify most of the rest of the genes also regulated by the given transcription factor.
Output from SCOPE shows candidate motifs, their significance, and other information both as a table and as a graphical motif map. FAQs and video tutorials are available at the SCOPE web site which also includes a "Sample Search" button that allows the user to perform a trial run.
Scope has a very friendly user interface that enables novice users to access the algorithm's full power without having to become an expert in the bioinformatics of motif finding. As input, SCOPE can take a list of genes, or FASTA sequences. These can be entered in browser text fields, or read from a file. The output from SCOPE contains a list of all identified motifs with their scores, number of occurrences, fraction of genes containing the motif, and the algorithm used to identify the motif. For each motif, result details include a consensus representation of the motif, a sequence logo, a position weight matrix, and a list of instances for every motif occurrence (with exact positions and "strand" indicated). Results are returned in a browser window and also optionally by email. Previous papers describe the SCOPE algorithms in detail1,2,9-11
Genetics, Issue 51, gene regulation, computational biology, algorithm, promoter sequence motif
Targeting Olfactory Bulb Neurons Using Combined In Vivo Electroporation and Gal4-Based Enhancer Trap Zebrafish Lines
Institutions: Pace University, University of California, San Diego, Braunschweig University of Technology.
electroporation is a powerful method for delivering DNA expression plasmids, RNAi reagents, and morpholino anti-sense oligonucleotides to specific regions of developing embryos, including those of C. elegans
, chick, Xenopus
, zebrafish, and mouse 1
. In zebrafish, in vivo
electroporation has been shown to have excellent spatial and temporal resolution for the delivery of these reagents 2-7
. The temporal resolution of this method is important because it allows for incorporation of these reagents at specific stages in development. Furthermore, because expression from electroporated vectors occurs within 6 hours 7
, this method is more timely than transgenic approaches. While the spatial resolution can be extremely precise when targeting a single cell 2, 6
, it is often preferable to incorporate reagents into a specific cell population within a tissue or structure. When targeting multiple cells, in vivo
electroporation is efficient for delivery to a specific region of the embryo; however, particularly within the developing nervous system, it is difficult to target specific cell types solely through spatially discrete electroporation. Alternatively, enhancer trap transgenic lines offer excellent cell type-specific expression of transgenes 8
. Here we describe an approach that combines transgenic Gal4-based enhancer trap lines 8
with spatially discrete in vivo
electroporation 7, 9
to specifically target developing neurons of the zebrafish olfactory bulb. The Et(zic4:Gal4TA4,UAS:mCherry)hzm5
(formerly GA80_9) enhancer trap line previously described 8
, displays targeted transgenic expression of mCherry mediated by a zebrafish optimized Gal4 (KalTA4) transcriptional activator in multiple regions of the developing brain including hindbrain, cerebellum, forebrain, and the olfactory bulb. To target GFP expression specifically to the olfactory bulb, a plasmid with the coding sequence of GFP under control of multiple Gal4 binding sites (UAS) was electroporated into the anterior end of the forebrain at 24-28 hours post-fertilization (hpf). Although this method incorporates plasmid DNA into multiple regions of the forebrain, GFP expression is only induced in cells transgenically expressing the KalTA4 transcription factor. Thus, by using the GA080_9 transgenic line, this approach led to GFP expression exclusively in the developing olfactory bulb. GFP expressing cells targeted through this approach showed typical axonal projections, as previously described for mitral cells of the olfactory bulb 10
. This method could also be used for targeted delivery of other reagents including short-hairpin RNA interference expression plasmids, which would provide a method for spatially and temporally discrete loss-of-function analysis.
Neuroscience, Issue 54, electroporation, zebrafish, olfactory bulb, Gal4 enhancer trap
A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
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.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
Quantitative Comparison of cis-Regulatory Element (CRE) Activities in Transgenic Drosophila melanogaster
Institutions: University of Dayton, University of Dayton.
Gene expression patterns are specified by cis
-regulatory element (CRE) sequences, which are also called enhancers or cis-regulatory modules. A typical CRE possesses an arrangement of binding sites for several transcription factor proteins that confer a regulatory logic specifying when, where, and at what level the regulated gene(s) is expressed. The full set of CREs within an animal genome encodes the organism′s program for development1
, and empirical as well as theoretical studies indicate that mutations in CREs played a prominent role in morphological evolution2-4
. Moreover, human genome wide association studies indicate that genetic variation in CREs contribute substantially to phenotypic variation5,6
. Thus, understanding regulatory logic and how mutations affect such logic is a central goal of genetics.
Reporter transgenes provide a powerful method to study the in vivo
function of CREs. Here a known or suspected CRE sequence is coupled to heterologous promoter and coding sequences for a reporter gene encoding an easily observable protein product. When a reporter transgene is inserted into a host organism, the CRE′s activity becomes visible in the form of the encoded reporter protein. P-element mediated transgenesis in the fruit fly species Drosophila (D.) melanogaster7
has been used for decades to introduce reporter transgenes into this model organism, though the genomic placement of transgenes is random. Hence, reporter gene activity is strongly influenced by the local chromatin and gene environment, limiting CRE comparisons to being qualitative. In recent years, the phiC31 based integration system was adapted for use in D. melanogaster
to insert transgenes into specific genome landing sites8-10
. This capability has made the quantitative measurement of gene and, relevant here, CRE activity11-13
feasible. The production of transgenic fruit flies can be outsourced, including phiC31-based integration, eliminating the need to purchase expensive equipment and/or have proficiency at specialized transgene injection protocols.
Here, we present a general protocol to quantitatively evaluate a CRE′s activity, and show how this approach can be used to measure the effects of an introduced mutation on a CRE′s activity and to compare the activities of orthologous CREs. Although the examples given are for a CRE active during fruit fly metamorphosis, the approach can be applied to other developmental stages, fruit fly species, or model organisms. Ultimately, a more widespread use of this approach to study CREs should advance an understanding of regulatory logic and how logic can vary and evolve.
Developmental Biology, Issue 58, Cis-regulatory element, CRE, cis-regulatory module, enhancer, site-specific integration, reporter transgenes, confocal microscopy, regulatory logic, transcription factors, binding sites, Drosophila melanogaster, Drosophila
Monitoring Cell-autonomous Circadian Clock Rhythms of Gene Expression Using Luciferase Bioluminescence Reporters
Institutions: The University of Memphis.
In mammals, many aspects of behavior and physiology such as sleep-wake cycles and liver metabolism are regulated by endogenous circadian clocks (reviewed1,2
). The circadian time-keeping system is a hierarchical multi-oscillator network, with the central clock located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) synchronizing and coordinating extra-SCN and peripheral clocks elsewhere1,2
. Individual cells are the functional units for generation and maintenance of circadian rhythms3,4
, and these oscillators of different tissue types in the organism share a remarkably similar biochemical negative feedback mechanism. However, due to interactions at the neuronal network level in the SCN and through rhythmic, systemic cues at the organismal level, circadian rhythms at the organismal level are not necessarily cell-autonomous5-7
. Compared to traditional studies of locomotor activity in vivo
and SCN explants ex vivo
, cell-based in vitro
assays allow for discovery of cell-autonomous circadian defects5,8
. Strategically, cell-based models are more experimentally tractable for phenotypic characterization and rapid discovery of basic clock mechanisms5,8-13
Because circadian rhythms are dynamic, longitudinal measurements with high temporal resolution are needed to assess clock function. In recent years, real-time bioluminescence recording using firefly luciferase
as a reporter has become a common technique for studying circadian rhythms in mammals14,15
, as it allows for examination of the persistence and dynamics of molecular rhythms. To monitor cell-autonomous circadian rhythms of gene expression, luciferase reporters can be introduced into cells via transient transfection13,16,17
or stable transduction5,10,18,19
. Here we describe a stable transduction protocol using lentivirus-mediated gene delivery. The lentiviral vector system is superior to traditional methods such as transient transfection and germline transmission because of its efficiency and versatility: it permits efficient delivery and stable integration into the host genome of both dividing and non-dividing cells20
. Once a reporter cell line is established, the dynamics of clock function can be examined through bioluminescence recording. We first describe the generation of P(Per2
reporter lines, and then present data from this and other circadian reporters. In these assays, 3T3 mouse fibroblasts and U2OS human osteosarcoma cells are used as cellular models. We also discuss various ways of using these clock models in circadian studies. Methods described here can be applied to a great variety of cell types to study the cellular and molecular basis of circadian clocks, and may prove useful in tackling problems in other biological systems.
Genetics, Issue 67, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Chemical Biology, Circadian clock, firefly luciferase, real-time bioluminescence technology, cell-autonomous model, lentiviral vector, RNA interference (RNAi), high-throughput screening (HTS)
Gene Trapping Using Gal4 in Zebrafish
Institutions: Temple University .
Large clutch size and external development of optically transparent embryos make zebrafish an exceptional vertebrate model system for in vivo
insertional mutagenesis using fluorescent reporters to tag expression of mutated genes. Several laboratories have constructed and tested enhancer- and gene-trap vectors in zebrafish, using fluorescent proteins, Gal4- and lexA- based transcriptional activators as reporters 1-7
. These vectors had two potential drawbacks: suboptimal stringency (e.g.
lack of ability to differentiate between enhancer- and gene-trap events) and low mutagenicity (e.g.
integrations into genes rarely produced null alleles). Gene Breaking Transposon (GBTs) were developed to address these drawbacks 8-10
. We have modified one of the first GBT vectors, GBT-R15, for use with Gal4-VP16 as the primary gene trap reporter and added UAS:eGFP as the secondary reporter for direct detection of gene trap events. Application of Gal4-VP16 as the primary gene trap reporter provides two main advantages. First, it increases sensitivity for genes expressed at low expression levels. Second, it enables researchers to use gene trap lines as Gal4 drivers to direct expression of other transgenes in very specific tissues. This is especially pertinent for genes with non-essential or redundant functions, where gene trap integration may not result in overt phenotypes. The disadvantage of using Gal4-VP16 as the primary gene trap reporter is that genes coding for proteins with N-terminal signal sequences are not amenable to trapping, as the resulting Gal4-VP16 fusion proteins are unlikely to be able to enter the nucleus and activate transcription. Importantly, the use of Gal4-VP16 does not pre-select for nuclear proteins: we recovered gene trap mutations in genes encoding proteins which function in the nucleus, the cytoplasm and the plasma membrane.
Developmental Biology, Issue 79, Zebrafish, Mutagenesis, Genetics, genetics (animal and plant), Gal4, transposon, gene trap, insertional mutagenesis
Electroporation of the Hindbrain to Trace Axonal Trajectories and Synaptic Targets in the Chick Embryo
Institutions: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Electroporation of the chick embryonic neural tube has many advantages such as being quick and efficient for the expression of foreign genes into neuronal cells. In this manuscript we provide a method that demonstrates uniquely how to electroporate DNA into the avian hindbrain at E2.75 in order to specifically label a subset of neuronal progenitors, and how to follow their axonal projections and synaptic targets at much advanced stages of development, up to E14.5. We have utilized novel genetic tools including specific enhancer elements, Cre/Lox - based plasmids and the PiggyBac-mediated DNA transposition system to drive GFP expression in a subtype of hindbrain cells (the dorsal most subgroup of interneurons, dA1). Axonal trajectories and targets of dA1 axons are followed at early and late embryonic stages at various brainstem regions. This strategy contributes advanced techniques for targeting cells of interest in the embryonic hindbrain and for tracing circuit formation at multiple stages of development.
Neuroscience, Issue 75, Neurobiology, Developmental Biology, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Genetics, Electroporation, Chick, Hindbrain, Axon, Interneuron, dA1, PiggyBac, Enhancer, Synapse, neurons, axons, GFP expression, in ovo, embryonic hindbrain, brain, animal model
Microbead Implantation in the Zebrafish Embryo
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish has emerged as a valuable genetic model system for the study of developmental biology and disease. Zebrafish share a high degree of genomic conservation, as well as similarities in cellular, molecular, and physiological processes, with other vertebrates including humans. During early ontogeny, zebrafish embryos are optically transparent, allowing researchers to visualize the dynamics of organogenesis using a simple stereomicroscope. Microbead implantation is a method that enables tissue manipulation through the alteration of factors in local environments. This allows researchers to assay the effects of any number of signaling molecules of interest, such as secreted peptides, at specific spatial and temporal points within the developing embryo. Here, we detail a protocol for how to manipulate and implant beads during early zebrafish development.
Developmental Biology, Issue 101, zebrafish, embryo, bead implantation, tissue manipulation, development, organogenesis