The lysis/lysogeny switch of bacteriophage lambda serves as a paradigm for binary cell fate decision, long-term maintenance of cellular state and stimulus-triggered switching between states. In the literature, the system is often referred to as "bistable." However, it remains unclear whether this term provides an accurate description or is instead a misnomer. Here we address this question directly. We first quantify transcriptional regulation governing lysogenic maintenance using a single-cell fluorescence reporter. We then use the single-cell data to derive a stochastic theoretical model for the underlying regulatory network. We use the model to predict the steady states of the system and then validate these predictions experimentally. Specifically, a regime of bistability, and the resulting hysteretic behavior, are observed. Beyond the steady states, the theoretical model successfully predicts the kinetics of switching from lysogeny to lysis. Our results show how the physics-inspired concept of bistability can be reliably used to describe cellular phenotype, and how an experimentally-calibrated theoretical model can have accurate predictive power for cell-state switching.
Determining the growth patterns of single cells offers answers to some of the most elusive questions in contemporary cell biology: how cell growth is regulated and how cell size distributions are maintained. For example, a linear growth in time implies that there is no regulation required to maintain homeostasis; an exponential pattern indicates the opposite. Recently, there has been great effort to measure single cells using microelectromechanical systems technology, and several important questions have been explored. However, a unified, easy-to-use methodology to measure the growth rate of individual adherent cells of various sizes has been lacking. Here we demonstrate that a newly developed optical interferometric technique, known as spatial light interference microscopy, can measure the cell dry mass of many individual adherent cells in various conditions, over spatial scales from micrometers to millimeters, temporal scales ranging from seconds to days, and cell types ranging from bacteria to mammalian cells. We found evidence of exponential growth in Escherichia coli, which agrees very well with other recent reports. Perhaps most importantly, combining spatial light interference microscopy with fluorescence imaging provides a unique method for studying cell cycle-dependent growth. Thus, by using a fluorescent reporter for the S phase, we measured single cell growth over each phase of the cell cycle in human osteosarcoma U2OS cells and found that the G2 phase exhibits the highest growth rate, which is mass-dependent and can be approximated by an exponential.
Studying the 3D sub-cellular structure of living cells is essential to our understanding of biological function. However, tomographic imaging of live cells is challenging mainly because they are transparent, i.e., weakly scattering structures. Therefore, this type of imaging has been implemented largely using fluorescence techniques. While confocal fluorescence imaging is a common approach to achieve sectioning, it requires fluorescence probes that are often harmful to the living specimen. On the other hand, by using the intrinsic contrast of the structures it is possible to study living cells in a non-invasive manner. One method that provides high-resolution quantitative information about nanoscale structures is a broadband interferometric technique known as Spatial Light Interference Microscopy (SLIM). In addition to rendering quantitative phase information, when combined with a high numerical aperture objective, SLIM also provides excellent depth sectioning capabilities. However, like in all linear optical systems, SLIMs resolution is limited by diffraction. Here we present a novel 3D field deconvolution algorithm that exploits the sparsity of phase images and renders images with resolution beyond the diffraction limit. We employ this label-free method, called deconvolution Spatial Light Interference Tomography (dSLIT), to visualize coiled sub-cellular structures in E. coli cells which are most likely the cytoskeletal MreB protein and the division site regulating MinCDE proteins. Previously these structures have only been observed using specialized strains and plasmids and fluorescence techniques. Our results indicate that dSLIT can be employed to study such structures in a practical and non-invasive manner.
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