Cryo-electron microscopy (cryoEM) entails flash-freezing a thin layer of sample on a support, and then visualizing the sample in its frozen hydrated state by transmission electron microscopy (TEM). This can be achieved with very low quantity of protein and in the buffer of choice, without the use of any stain, which is very useful to determine structure-function correlations of macromolecules. When combined with single-particle image processing, the technique has found widespread usefulness for 3D structural determination of purified macromolecules.
The protocol presented here explains how to perform cryoEM and examines the causes of most commonly encountered problems for rational troubleshooting; following all these steps should lead to acquisition of high quality cryoEM images. The technique requires access to the electron microscope instrument and to a vitrification device. Knowledge of the 3D reconstruction concepts and software is also needed for computerized image processing. Importantly, high quality results depend on finding the right purification conditions leading to a uniform population of structurally intact macromolecules.
The ability of cryoEM to visualize macromolecules combined with the versatility of single particle image processing has proven very successful for structural determination of large proteins and macromolecular machines in their near-native state, identification of their multiple components by 3D difference mapping, and creation of pseudo-atomic structures by docking of x-ray structures. The relentless development of cryoEM instrumentation and image processing techniques for the last 30 years has resulted in the possibility to generate de novo 3D reconstructions at atomic resolution level.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
Preparation of Artificial Bilayers for Electrophysiology Experiments
Institutions: Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University.
Planar lipid bilayers, also called artificial lipid bilayers, allow you to study ion-conducting channels in a well-defined environment. These bilayers can be used for many different studies, such as the characterization of membrane-active peptides, the reconstitution of ion channels or investigations on how changes in lipid bilayer properties alter the function of bilayer-spanning channels. Here, we show how to form a planar bilayer and how to isolate small patches from the bilayer, and in a second video will also demonstrate a procedure for using gramicidin channels to determine changes in lipid bilayer elastic properties. We also demonstrate the individual steps needed to prepare the bilayer chamber, the electrodes and how to test that the bilayer is suitable for single-channel measurements.
Cellular Biology, Issue 20, Springer Protocols, Artificial Bilayers, Bilayer Patch Experiments, Lipid Bilayers, Bilayer Punch Electrodes, Electrophysiology
Structure and Coordination Determination of Peptide-metal Complexes Using 1D and 2D 1H NMR
Institutions: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Copper (I) binding by metallochaperone transport proteins prevents copper oxidation and release of the toxic ions that may participate in harmful redox reactions. The Cu (I) complex of the peptide model of a Cu (I) binding metallochaperone protein, which includes the sequence MTCSGCSRPG (underlined is conserved), was determined in solution under inert conditions by NMR spectroscopy.
NMR is a widely accepted technique for the determination of solution structures of proteins and peptides. Due to difficulty in crystallization to provide single crystals suitable for X-ray crystallography, the NMR technique is extremely valuable, especially as it provides information on the solution state rather than the solid state. Herein we describe all steps that are required for full three-dimensional structure determinations by NMR. The protocol includes sample preparation in an NMR tube, 1D and 2D data collection and processing, peak assignment and integration, molecular mechanics calculations, and structure analysis. Importantly, the analysis was first conducted without any preset metal-ligand bonds, to assure a reliable structure determination in an unbiased manner.
Chemistry, Issue 82, solution structure determination, NMR, peptide models, copper-binding proteins, copper complexes
Optimized Negative Staining: a High-throughput Protocol for Examining Small and Asymmetric Protein Structure by Electron Microscopy
Institutions: The Molecular Foundry.
Structural determination of proteins is rather challenging for proteins with molecular masses between 40 - 200 kDa. Considering that more than half of natural proteins have a molecular mass between 40 - 200 kDa1,2
, a robust and high-throughput method with a nanometer resolution capability is needed. Negative staining (NS) electron microscopy (EM) is an easy, rapid, and qualitative approach which has frequently been used in research laboratories to examine protein structure and protein-protein interactions. Unfortunately, conventional NS protocols often generate structural artifacts on proteins, especially with lipoproteins that usually form presenting rouleaux artifacts. By using images of lipoproteins from cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) as a standard, the key parameters in NS specimen preparation conditions were recently screened and reported as the optimized NS protocol (OpNS), a modified conventional NS protocol 3
. Artifacts like rouleaux can be greatly limited by OpNS, additionally providing high contrast along with reasonably high‐resolution (near 1 nm) images of small and asymmetric proteins. These high-resolution and high contrast images are even favorable for an individual protein (a single object, no average) 3D reconstruction, such as a 160 kDa antibody, through the method of electron tomography4,5
. Moreover, OpNS can be a high‐throughput tool to examine hundreds of samples of small proteins. For example, the previously published mechanism of 53 kDa cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) involved the screening and imaging of hundreds of samples 6
. Considering cryo-EM rarely successfully images proteins less than 200 kDa has yet to publish any study involving screening over one hundred sample conditions, it is fair to call OpNS a high-throughput method for studying small proteins. Hopefully the OpNS protocol presented here can be a useful tool to push the boundaries of EM and accelerate EM studies into small protein structure, dynamics and mechanisms.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, small and asymmetric protein structure, electron microscopy, optimized negative staining
Proton Transfer and Protein Conformation Dynamics in Photosensitive Proteins by Time-resolved Step-scan Fourier-transform Infrared Spectroscopy
Institutions: Freie Universität Berlin.
Monitoring the dynamics of protonation and protein backbone conformation changes during the function of a protein is an essential step towards understanding its mechanism. Protonation and conformational changes affect the vibration pattern of amino acid side chains and of the peptide bond, respectively, both of which can be probed by infrared (IR) difference spectroscopy. For proteins whose function can be repetitively and reproducibly triggered by light, it is possible to obtain infrared difference spectra with (sub)microsecond resolution over a broad spectral range using the step-scan Fourier transform infrared technique. With ~102
repetitions of the photoreaction, the minimum number to complete a scan at reasonable spectral resolution and bandwidth, the noise level in the absorption difference spectra can be as low as ~10-4
, sufficient to follow the kinetics of protonation changes from a single amino acid. Lower noise levels can be accomplished by more data averaging and/or mathematical processing. The amount of protein required for optimal results is between 5-100 µg, depending on the sampling technique used. Regarding additional requirements, the protein needs to be first concentrated in a low ionic strength buffer and then dried to form a film. The protein film is hydrated prior to the experiment, either with little droplets of water or under controlled atmospheric humidity. The attained hydration level (g of water / g of protein) is gauged from an IR absorption spectrum. To showcase the technique, we studied the photocycle of the light-driven proton-pump bacteriorhodopsin in its native purple membrane environment, and of the light-gated ion channel channelrhodopsin-2 solubilized in detergent.
Biophysics, Issue 88, bacteriorhodopsin, channelrhodopsin, attenuated total reflection, proton transfer, protein dynamics, infrared spectroscopy, time-resolved spectroscopy, step-scan, membrane proteins, singular value decomposition
One-channel Cell-attached Patch-clamp Recording
Institutions: University at Buffalo, SUNY, University at Buffalo, SUNY, The Scripps Research Institute, University at Buffalo, SUNY.
Ion channel proteins are universal devices for fast communication across biological membranes. The temporal signature of the ionic flux they generate depends on properties intrinsic to each channel protein as well as the mechanism by which it is generated and controlled and represents an important area of current research. Information about the operational dynamics of ion channel proteins can be obtained by observing long stretches of current produced by a single molecule. Described here is a protocol for obtaining one-channel cell-attached patch-clamp current recordings for a ligand gated ion channel, the NMDA receptor, expressed heterologously in HEK293 cells or natively in cortical neurons. Also provided are instructions on how to adapt the method to other ion channels of interest by presenting the example of the mechano-sensitive channel PIEZO1. This method can provide data regarding the channel’s conductance properties and the temporal sequence of open-closed conformations that make up the channel’s activation mechanism, thus helping to understand their functions in health and disease.
Neuroscience, Issue 88, biophysics, ion channels, single-channel recording, NMDA receptors, gating, electrophysiology, patch-clamp, kinetic analysis
The Neuromuscular Junction: Measuring Synapse Size, Fragmentation and Changes in Synaptic Protein Density Using Confocal Fluorescence Microscopy
Institutions: University of Sydney, Macquarie University, University of Sydney.
The neuromuscular junction (NMJ) is the large, cholinergic relay synapse through which mammalian motor neurons control voluntary muscle contraction. Structural changes at the NMJ can result in neurotransmission failure, resulting in weakness, atrophy and even death of the muscle fiber. Many studies have investigated how genetic modifications or disease can alter the structure of the mouse NMJ. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to directly compare findings from these studies because they often employed different parameters and analytical methods. Three protocols are described here. The first uses maximum intensity projection confocal images to measure the area of acetylcholine receptor (AChR)-rich postsynaptic membrane domains at the endplate and the area of synaptic vesicle staining in the overlying presynaptic nerve terminal. The second protocol compares the relative intensities of immunostaining for synaptic proteins in the postsynaptic membrane. The third protocol uses Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET) to detect changes in the packing of postsynaptic AChRs at the endplate. The protocols have been developed and refined over a series of studies. Factors that influence the quality and consistency of results are discussed and normative data are provided for NMJs in healthy young adult mice.
Neuroscience, Issue 94, neuromuscular, motor endplate, motor control, sarcopenia, myasthenia gravis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, morphometry, confocal, immunofluorescence
Reconstitution of a Transmembrane Protein, the Voltage-gated Ion Channel, KvAP, into Giant Unilamellar Vesicles for Microscopy and Patch Clamp Studies
Institutions: Université Pierre et Marie Curie, University of California, San Diego, National Institute of Health.
Giant Unilamellar Vesicles (GUVs) are a popular biomimetic system for studying membrane associated phenomena. However, commonly used protocols to grow GUVs must be modified in order to form GUVs containing functional transmembrane proteins. This article describes two dehydration-rehydration methods — electroformation and gel-assisted swelling — to form GUVs containing the voltage-gated potassium channel, KvAP. In both methods, a solution of protein-containing small unilamellar vesicles is partially dehydrated to form a stack of membranes, which is then allowed to swell in a rehydration buffer. For the electroformation method, the film is deposited on platinum electrodes so that an AC field can be applied during film rehydration. In contrast, the gel-assisted swelling method uses an agarose gel substrate to enhance film rehydration. Both methods can produce GUVs in low (e.g.,
5 mM) and physiological (e.g.,
100 mM) salt concentrations. The resulting GUVs are characterized via fluorescence microscopy, and the function of reconstituted channels measured using the inside-out patch-clamp configuration. While swelling in the presence of an alternating electric field (electroformation) gives a high yield of defect-free GUVs, the gel-assisted swelling method produces a more homogeneous protein distribution and requires no special equipment.
Biochemistry, Issue 95, Biomimetic model system, Giant Unilamellar Vesicle, reconstitution, ion channel, transmembrane protein, KvAP, electroformation, gel assisted swelling, agarose, inside-out patch clamp, electrophysiology, fluorescence microscopy
Mass Spectrometric Approaches to Study Protein Structure and Interactions in Lyophilized Powders
Institutions: Purdue University.
Amide hydrogen/deuterium exchange (ssHDX-MS) and side-chain photolytic labeling (ssPL-MS) followed by mass spectrometric analysis can be valuable for characterizing lyophilized formulations of protein therapeutics. Labeling followed by suitable proteolytic digestion allows the protein structure and interactions to be mapped with peptide-level resolution. Since the protein structural elements are stabilized by a network of chemical bonds from the main-chains and side-chains of amino acids, specific labeling of atoms in the amino acid residues provides insight into the structure and conformation of the protein. In contrast to routine methods used to study proteins in lyophilized solids (e.g.
, FTIR), ssHDX-MS and ssPL-MS provide quantitative and site-specific information. The extent of deuterium incorporation and kinetic parameters can be related to rapidly and slowly exchanging amide pools (Nfast
) and directly reflects the degree of protein folding and structure in lyophilized formulations. Stable photolytic labeling does not undergo back-exchange, an advantage over ssHDX-MS. Here, we provide detailed protocols for both ssHDX-MS and ssPL-MS, using myoglobin (Mb) as a model protein in lyophilized formulations containing either trehalose or sorbitol.
Chemistry, Issue 98, Amide hydrogen/deuterium exchange, photolytic labeling, mass spectrometry, lyophilized formulations, photo-leucine, solid-state, protein structure, protein conformation, protein dynamics, secondary structure, protein stability, excipients
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
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
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
Reconstitution of a Kv Channel into Lipid Membranes for Structural and Functional Studies
Institutions: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.
To study the lipid-protein interaction in a reductionistic fashion, it is necessary to incorporate the membrane proteins into membranes of well-defined lipid composition. We are studying the lipid-dependent gating effects in a prototype voltage-gated potassium (Kv) channel, and have worked out detailed procedures to reconstitute the channels into different membrane systems. Our reconstitution procedures take consideration of both detergent-induced fusion of vesicles and the fusion of protein/detergent micelles with the lipid/detergent mixed micelles as well as the importance of reaching an equilibrium distribution of lipids among the protein/detergent/lipid and the detergent/lipid mixed micelles. Our data suggested that the insertion of the channels in the lipid vesicles is relatively random in orientations, and the reconstitution efficiency is so high that no detectable protein aggregates were seen in fractionation experiments. We have utilized the reconstituted channels to determine the conformational states of the channels in different lipids, record electrical activities of a small number of channels incorporated in planar lipid bilayers, screen for conformation-specific ligands from a phage-displayed peptide library, and support the growth of 2D crystals of the channels in membranes. The reconstitution procedures described here may be adapted for studying other membrane proteins in lipid bilayers, especially for the investigation of the lipid effects on the eukaryotic voltage-gated ion channels.
Molecular Biology, Issue 77, Biochemistry, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Structural Biology, Biophysics, Membrane Lipids, Phospholipids, Carrier Proteins, Membrane Proteins, Micelles, Molecular Motor Proteins, life sciences, biochemistry, Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, lipid-protein interaction, channel reconstitution, lipid-dependent gating, voltage-gated ion channel, conformation-specific ligands, lipids
Assessment of Immunologically Relevant Dynamic Tertiary Structural Features of the HIV-1 V3 Loop Crown R2 Sequence by ab initio Folding
Institutions: School of Medicine, New York University.
The antigenic diversity of HIV-1 has long been an obstacle to vaccine design, and this variability is especially pronounced in the V3 loop of the virus' surface envelope glycoprotein. We previously proposed that the crown of the V3 loop, although dynamic and sequence variable, is constrained throughout the population of HIV-1 viruses to an immunologically relevant β-hairpin tertiary structure. Importantly, there are thousands of different V3 loop crown sequences in circulating HIV-1 viruses, making 3D structural characterization of trends across the diversity of viruses difficult or impossible by crystallography or NMR. Our previous successful studies with folding of the V3 crown1, 2
used the ab initio
accessible in the ICM-Pro molecular modeling software package (Molsoft LLC, La Jolla, CA) and suggested that the crown of the V3 loop, specifically from positions 10 to 22, benefits sufficiently from the flexibility and length of its flanking stems to behave to a large degree as if it were an unconstrained peptide freely folding in solution. As such, rapid ab initio
folding of just this portion of the V3 loop of any individual strain of the 60,000+ circulating HIV-1 strains can be informative. Here, we folded the V3 loop of the R2 strain to gain insight into the structural basis of its unique properties. R2 bears a rare V3 loop sequence thought to be responsible for the exquisite sensitivity of this strain to neutralization by patient sera and monoclonal antibodies4, 5
. The strain mediates CD4-independent infection and appears to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies. We demonstrate how evaluation of the results of the folding can be informative for associating observed structures in the folding with the immunological activities observed for R2.
Infection, Issue 43, HIV-1, structure-activity relationships, ab initio simulations, antibody-mediated neutralization, vaccine design
Mutagenesis and Functional Analysis of Ion Channels Heterologously Expressed in Mammalian Cells
Institutions: Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
We will demonstrate how to study the functional effects of introducing a point mutation in an ion channel. We study G protein-gated inwardly rectifying potassium (referred to as GIRK) channels, which are important for regulating the excitability of neurons. There are four different mammalian GIRK channel subunits (GIRK1-GIRK4) - we focus on GIRK2 because it forms a homotetramer. Stimulation of different types of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), such as the muscarinic receptor (M2R), leads to activation of GIRK channels. Alcohol also directly activates GIRK channels. We will show how to mutate one amino acid by specifically changing one or more nucleotides in the cDNA for the GIRK channel. This mutated cDNA sequence will be amplified in bacteria, purified, and the presence of the point mutation will be confirmed by DNA sequencing. The cDNAs for the mutated and wild-type GIRK channels will be transfected into human embryonic kidney HEK293T cells cultured in vitro
. Lastly, whole-cell patch-clamp electrophysiology will be used to study the macroscopic potassium currents through the ectopically expressed wild-type or mutated GIRK channels. In this experiment, we will examine the effect of a L257W mutation in GIRK2 channels on M2R-dependent and alcohol-dependent activation.
Cellular Biology, Issue 44, Ion channels, electrophysiology, patch-clamping, site-directed mutagenesis, biophysics, neuroscience
Membrane Potentials, Synaptic Responses, Neuronal Circuitry, Neuromodulation and Muscle Histology Using the Crayfish: Student Laboratory Exercises
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
The purpose of this report is to help develop an understanding of the effects caused by ion gradients across a biological membrane. Two aspects that influence a cell's membrane potential and which we address in these experiments are: (1) Ion concentration of K+
on the outside of the membrane, and (2) the permeability of the membrane to specific ions. The crayfish abdominal extensor muscles are in groupings with some being tonic (slow) and others phasic (fast) in their biochemical and physiological phenotypes, as well as in their structure; the motor neurons that innervate these muscles are correspondingly different in functional characteristics. We use these muscles as well as the superficial, tonic abdominal flexor muscle to demonstrate properties in synaptic transmission. In addition, we introduce a sensory-CNS-motor neuron-muscle circuit to demonstrate the effect of cuticular sensory stimulation as well as the influence of neuromodulators on certain aspects of the circuit. With the techniques obtained in this exercise, one can begin to answer many questions remaining in other experimental preparations as well as in physiological applications related to medicine and health. We have demonstrated the usefulness of model invertebrate preparations to address fundamental questions pertinent to all animals.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, neurophysiology, muscle, anatomy, electrophysiology
ReAsH/FlAsH Labeling and Image Analysis of Tetracysteine Sensor Proteins in Cells
Institutions: Bio21 Molecular Science and Biotechnology Institute.
Fluorescent proteins and dyes are essential tools for the study of protein trafficking, localization and function in cells. While fluorescent
proteins such as green fluorescence protein (GFP) have been extensively used as fusion partners to proteins to track the properties of a protein of interest1
developments with smaller tags enable new functionalities of proteins to be examined in cells such as conformational change and protein-association 2, 3
. One small
tag system involves a tetracysteine motif (CCXXCC) genetically inserted into a target protein, which binds to biarsenical dyes, ReAsH (red fluorescent) and FlAsH
(green fluorescent), with high specificity even in live cells 2
. The TC/biarsenical dye system offers far less steric constraints to the host protein than
fluorescent proteins which has enabled several new approaches to measure conformational change and protein-protein interactions 4-7
. We recently developed
a novel application of TC tags as sensors of oligomerization in cells expressing mutant huntingtin, which when mutated aggregates in neurons in Huntington
. Huntingtin was tagged with two fluorescent dyes, one a fluorescent protein to track protein location, and the second a TC tag which only
binds biarsenical dyes in monomers. Hence, changes in colocalization between protein and biarsenical dye reactivity enabled submicroscopic oligomer
content to be spatially mapped within cells. Here, we describe how to label TC-tagged proteins fused to a fluorescent protein (Cherry, GFP or CFP)
with FlAsH or ReAsH in live mammalian cells and how to quantify the two color fluorescence (Cherry/FlAsH, CFP/FlAsH or GFP/ReAsH combinations).
Cell Biology, Issue 54, tetracysteine, TC, ReAsH, FlAsH, biarsenical dyes, fluorescence, imaging, confocal microscopy, ImageJ, GFP
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
Spectral Confocal Imaging of Fluorescently tagged Nicotinic Receptors in Knock-in Mice with Chronic Nicotine Administration
Institutions: University of Victoria .
Ligand-gated ion channels in the central nervous system (CNS) are implicated in numerous conditions with serious medical and social consequences. For instance, addiction to nicotine via tobacco smoking is a leading cause of premature death worldwide (World Health Organization) and is likely caused by an alteration of ion channel distribution in the brain1
. Chronic nicotine exposure in both rodents and humans results in increased numbers of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in brain tissue1-3
. Similarly, alterations in the glutamatergic GluN1 or GluA1 channels have been implicated in triggering sensitization to other addictive drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines and opiates4-6
Consequently, the ability to map and quantify distribution and expression patterns of specific ion channels is critically important to understanding the mechanisms of addiction. The study of brain region-specific effects of individual drugs was advanced by the advent of techniques such as radioactive ligands. However, the low spatial resolution of radioactive ligand binding prevents the ability to quantify ligand-gated ion channels in specific subtypes of neurons.
Genetically encoded fluorescent reporters, such as green fluorescent protein (GFP) and its many color variants, have revolutionized the field of biology7
.By genetically tagging a fluorescent reporter to an endogenous protein one can visualize proteins in vivo7-10
. One advantage of fluorescently tagging proteins with a probe is the elimination of antibody use, which have issues of nonspecificity and accessibility to the target protein. We have used this strategy to fluorescently label nAChRs, which enabled the study of receptor assembly using Förster Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET) in transfected cultured cells11
.More recently, we have used the knock-in approach to engineer mice with yellow fluorescent protein tagged α4 nAChR subunits (α4YFP), enabling precise quantification of the receptor ex vivo
at submicrometer resolution in CNS neurons via spectral confocal microscopy12
. The targeted fluorescent knock-in mutation is incorporated in the endogenous locus and under control of its native promoter, producing normal levels of expression and regulation of the receptor when compared to untagged receptors in wildtype mice. This knock-in approach can be extended to fluorescently tag other ion channels and offers a powerful approach of visualizing and quantifying receptors in the CNS.
In this paper we describe a methodology to quantify changes in nAChR expression in specific CNS neurons after exposure to chronic nicotine. Our methods include mini-osmotic pump implantation, intracardiac perfusion fixation, imaging and analysis of fluorescently tagged nicotinic receptor subunits from α4YFP knock-in mice (Fig. 1). We have optimized the fixation technique to minimize autofluorescence from fixed brain tissue.We describe in detail our imaging methodology using a spectral confocal microscope in conjunction with a linear spectral unmixing algorithm to subtract autofluoresent signal in order to accurately obtain α4YFP fluorescence signal. Finally, we show results of chronic nicotine-induced upregulation of α4YFP receptors in the medial perforant path of the hippocampus.
Neuroscience, Issue 60, nicotine addiction, knock-in mice, spectral confocal imaging, yellow fluorescent protein, nicotinic acetylcholine receptors
The ITS2 Database
Institutions: University of Würzburg, University of Würzburg.
The internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS2) has been used as a phylogenetic marker for more than two decades. As ITS2 research mainly focused on the very variable ITS2 sequence, it confined this marker to low-level phylogenetics only. However, the combination of the ITS2 sequence and its highly conserved secondary structure improves the phylogenetic resolution1
and allows phylogenetic inference at multiple taxonomic ranks, including species delimitation2-8
The ITS2 Database9
presents an exhaustive dataset of internal transcribed spacer 2 sequences from NCBI GenBank11
. Following an annotation by profile Hidden Markov Models (HMMs), the secondary structure of each sequence is predicted. First, it is tested whether a minimum energy based fold12
(direct fold) results in a correct, four helix conformation. If this is not the case, the structure is predicted by homology modeling13
. In homology modeling, an already known secondary structure is transferred to another ITS2 sequence, whose secondary structure was not able to fold correctly in a direct fold.
The ITS2 Database is not only a database for storage and retrieval of ITS2 sequence-structures. It also provides several tools to process your own ITS2 sequences, including annotation, structural prediction, motif detection and BLAST14
search on the combined sequence-structure information. Moreover, it integrates trimmed versions of 4SALE15,16
for multiple sequence-structure alignment calculation and Neighbor Joining18
tree reconstruction. Together they form a coherent analysis pipeline from an initial set of sequences to a phylogeny based on sequence and secondary structure.
In a nutshell, this workbench simplifies first phylogenetic analyses to only a few mouse-clicks, while additionally providing tools and data for comprehensive large-scale analyses.
Genetics, Issue 61, alignment, internal transcribed spacer 2, molecular systematics, secondary structure, ribosomal RNA, phylogenetic tree, homology modeling, phylogeny
Analyzing and Building Nucleic Acid Structures with 3DNA
Institutions: Rutgers - The State University of New Jersey, Columbia University .
The 3DNA software package is a popular and versatile bioinformatics tool with capabilities to analyze, construct, and visualize three-dimensional nucleic acid structures. This article presents detailed protocols for a subset of new and popular features available in 3DNA, applicable to both individual structures and ensembles of related structures. Protocol 1 lists the set of instructions needed to download and install the software. This is followed, in Protocol 2, by the analysis of a nucleic acid structure, including the assignment of base pairs and the determination of rigid-body parameters that describe the structure and, in Protocol 3, by a description of the reconstruction of an atomic model of a structure from its rigid-body parameters. The most recent version of 3DNA, version 2.1, has new features for the analysis and manipulation of ensembles of structures, such as those deduced from nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) measurements and molecular dynamic (MD) simulations; these features are presented in Protocols 4 and 5. In addition to the 3DNA stand-alone software package, the w3DNA web server, located at https://w3dna.rutgers.edu, provides a user-friendly interface to selected features of the software. Protocol 6 demonstrates a novel feature of the site for building models of long DNA molecules decorated with bound proteins at user-specified locations.
Genetics, Issue 74, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Bioengineering, Biophysics, Genomics, Chemical Biology, Quantitative Biology, conformational analysis, DNA, high-resolution structures, model building, molecular dynamics, nucleic acid structure, RNA, visualization, bioinformatics, three-dimensional, 3DNA, software
Local Application of Drugs to Study Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor Function in Mouse Brain Slices
Institutions: Purdue University.
Tobacco use leads to numerous health problems, including cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and stroke. Addiction to cigarette smoking is a prevalent neuropsychiatric disorder that stems from the biophysical and cellular actions of nicotine on nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) throughout the central nervous system. Understanding the various nAChR subtypes that exist in brain areas relevant to nicotine addiction is a major priority.
Experiments that employ electrophysiology techniques such as whole-cell patch clamp or two-electrode voltage clamp recordings are useful for pharmacological characterization of nAChRs of interest. Cells expressing nAChRs, such as mammalian tissue culture cells or Xenopus laevis
oocytes, are physically isolated and are therefore easily studied using the tools of modern pharmacology. Much progress has been made using these techniques, particularly when the target receptor was already known and ectopic expression was easily achieved. Often, however, it is necessary to study nAChRs in their native environment: in neurons within brain slices acutely harvested from laboratory mice or rats. For example, mice expressing "hypersensitive" nAChR subunits such as α4 L9′A mice 1
and α6 L9′S mice 2
, allow for unambiguous identification of neurons based on their functional expression of a specific nAChR subunit. Although whole-cell patch clamp recordings from neurons in brain slices is routinely done by the skilled electrophysiologist, it is challenging to locally apply drugs such as acetylcholine or nicotine to the recorded cell within a brain slice. Dilution of drugs into the superfusate (bath application) is not rapidly reversible, and U-tube systems are not easily adapted to work with brain slices.
In this paper, we describe a method for rapidly applying nAChR-activating drugs to neurons recorded in adult mouse brain slices. Standard whole-cell recordings are made from neurons in slices, and a second micropipette filled with a drug of interest is maneuvered into position near the recorded cell. An injection of pressurized air or inert nitrogen into the drug-filled pipette causes a small amount of drug solution to be ejected from the pipette onto the recorded cell. Using this method, nAChR-mediated currents are able to be resolved with millisecond accuracy. Drug application times can easily be varied, and the drug-filled pipette can be retracted and replaced with a new pipette, allowing for concentration-response curves to be created for a single neuron. Although described in the context of nAChR neurobiology, this technique should be useful for studying many types of ligand-gated ion channels or receptors in neurons from brain slices.
Neuroscience, Issue 68, Nicotinic, acetylcholine, neurotransmitter, neuron, patch clamp, brain slice, picospritzer
Live Imaging of Nicotine Induced Calcium Signaling and Neurotransmitter Release Along Ventral Hippocampal Axons
Institutions: Stony Brook University, Stony Brook University.
Sustained enhancement of axonal signaling and increased neurotransmitter release by the activation of pre-synaptic nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) is an important mechanism for neuromodulation by acetylcholine (ACh). The difficulty with access to probing the signaling mechanisms within intact axons and at nerve terminals both in vitro
and in vivo
has limited progress in the study of the pre-synaptic components of synaptic plasticity. Here we introduce a gene-chimeric preparation of ventral hippocampal (vHipp)–accumbens (nAcc) circuit in vitro
that allows direct live imaging to analyze both the pre- and post-synaptic components of transmission while selectively varying the genetic profile of the pre- vs post-synaptic neurons. We demonstrate that projections from vHipp microslices, as pre-synaptic axonal input, form multiple, reliable glutamatergic synapses with post-synaptic targets, the dispersed neurons from nAcc. The pre-synaptic localization of various subtypes of nAChRs are detected and the pre-synaptic nicotinic signaling mediated synaptic transmission are monitored by concurrent electrophysiological recording and live cell imaging. This preparation also provides an informative approach to study the pre- and post-synaptic mechanisms of glutamatergic synaptic plasticity in vitro
Neuroscience, Issue 100, nicotine, nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, calcium imaging, presynaptic axons, neurotransmitter release, synaptic transmission