The trapping or immobilization of individual cells at specific locations in microfluidic platforms is essential for single cell studies, especially those requiring cell stimulation and downstream analysis of cellular content. Selectivity for individual cell types is required when mixtures of cells are analyzed in heterogeneous and complex matrices, such as the selection of metastatic cells within blood samples. Here, we demonstrate a microfluidic device based on direct current (DC) insulator-based dielectrophoresis (iDEP) for selective trapping of single MCF-7 breast cancer cells from mixtures with both mammalian peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) as well MDA-MB-231 as a second breast cancer cell type. The microfluidic device has a teardrop iDEP design optimized for the selective capture of single cells based on their differential DEP behavior under DC conditions. Numerical simulations adapted to experimental device geometries and buffer conditions predicted the trapping condition in which the dielectrophoretic force overcomes electrokinetic forces for MCF-7 cells, whereas PBMCs were not trapped. Experimentally, selective trapping of viable MCF-7 cells in mixtures with PBMCs was demonstrated in good agreement with simulations. A similar approach was also executed to demonstrate the selective trapping of MCF-7 cells in a mixture with MDA-MB-231 cells, indicating the selectivity of the device for weakly invasive and highly invasive breast cancer cells. The DEP studies were complemented with cell viability tests indicating acceptable cell viability over the course of an iDEP trapping experiment.
To investigate the transition from non-cancerous to metastatic from a physical sciences perspective, the Physical Sciences-Oncology Centers (PS-OC) Network performed molecular and biophysical comparative studies of the non-tumorigenic MCF-10A and metastatic MDA-MB-231 breast epithelial cell lines, commonly used as models of cancer metastasis. Experiments were performed in 20 laboratories from 12 PS-OCs. Each laboratory was supplied with identical aliquots and common reagents and culture protocols. Analyses of these measurements revealed dramatic differences in their mechanics, migration, adhesion, oxygen response, and proteomic profiles. Model-based multi-omics approaches identified key differences between these cells regulatory networks involved in morphology and survival. These results provide a multifaceted description of cellular parameters of two widely used cell lines and demonstrate the value of the PS-OC Network approach for integration of diverse experimental observations to elucidate the phenotypes associated with cancer metastasis.
Medical implants, like cardiovascular devices, improve the quality of life for countless individuals but may become infected with bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus. Such infections take the form of a biofilm, a structured community of bacterial cells adherent to the surface of a solid substrate. Every biofilm begins with an attractive force or bond between bacterium and substratum. We used atomic force microscopy to probe experimentally forces between a fibronectin-coated surface (i.e., proxy for an implanted cardiac device) and fibronectin-binding receptors on the surface of individual living bacteria from each of 80 clinical isolates of S. aureus. These isolates originated from humans with infected cardiac devices (CDI; n = 26), uninfected cardiac devices (n = 20), and the anterior nares of asymptomatic subjects (n = 34). CDI isolates exhibited a distinct binding-force signature and had specific single amino acid polymorphisms in fibronectin-binding protein A corresponding to E652D, H782Q, and K786N. In silico molecular dynamics simulations demonstrate that residues D652, Q782, and N786 in fibronectin-binding protein A form extra hydrogen bonds with fibronectin, complementing the higher binding force and energy measured by atomic force microscopy for the CDI isolates. This study is significant, because it links pathogenic bacteria biofilms from the length scale of bonds acting across a nanometer-scale space to the clinical presentation of disease at the human dimension.
Force spectroscopy and recognition imaging are important techniques for characterizing and mapping molecular interactions. In both cases, an antibody is pulled away from its target in times that are much less than the normal residence time of the antibody on its target. The distribution of pulling lengths in force spectroscopy shows the development of additional peaks at high loading rates, indicating that part of the antibody frequently unfolds. This propensity to unfold is reversible, indicating that exposure to high loading rates induces a structural transition to a metastable state. Weakened interactions of the antibody in this metastable state could account for reduced specificity in recognition imaging where the loading rates are always high. The much weaker interaction between the partially unfolded antibody and target, while still specific (as shown by control experiments), results in unbinding on millisecond timescales, giving rise to rapid switching noise in the recognition images. At the lower loading rates used in force spectroscopy, we still find discrepancies between the binding kinetics determined by force spectroscopy and those determined by surface plasmon resonance-possibly a consequence of the short tethers used in recognition imaging. Recognition imaging is nonetheless a powerful tool for interpreting complex atomic force microscopy images, so long as specificity is calibrated in situ, and not inferred from equilibrium binding kinetics.
The deposition of a multilayered fibrinogen matrix on various surfaces results in a dramatic reduction of integrin-mediated cell adhesion and outside-in signaling in platelets and leukocytes. The conversion of a highly adhesive, low-density fibrinogen substrate to the nonadhesive high-density fibrinogen matrix occurs within a very narrow range of fibrinogen coating concentrations. The molecular events responsible for this transition are not well understood. Herein, single-cell and molecular force spectroscopy were used to determine the early steps in the formation of nonadhesive fibrinogen substrates. We show that the adsorption of fibrinogen in the form of a molecular bilayer coincides with a several-fold reduction in the adhesion forces generated between the AFM tip and the substrate as well as between a cell and the substrate. The subsequent deposition of new layers at higher coating concentrations of fibrinogen results in a small additional decrease in adhesion forces. The poorly adhesive fibrinogen bilayer is more extensible under an applied tensile force than is the surface-bound fibrinogen monolayer. Following chemical cross-linking, the stabilized bilayer displays the mechanical and adhesive properties characteristic of a more adhesive fibrinogen monolayer. We propose that a greater compliance of the bi- and multilayer fibrinogen matrices has its origin in the interaction between the molecules forming the adjacent layers. Understanding the mechanical properties of nonadhesive fibrinogen matrices should be of importance in the therapeutic control of pathological thrombosis and in biomaterials science.
It has been proposed that single molecules of DNA could be sequenced by measuring the physical properties of the bases as they pass through a nanopore. Theoretical calculations suggest that electron tunnelling can identify bases in single-stranded DNA without enzymatic processing, and it was recently experimentally shown that tunnelling can sense individual nucleotides and nucleosides. Here, we report that tunnelling electrodes functionalized with recognition reagents can identify a single base flanked by other bases in short DNA oligomers. The residence time of a single base in a recognition junction is on the order of a second, but pulling the DNA through the junction with a force of tens of piconewtons would yield reading speeds of tens of bases per second.
The quantitative analysis of molecular interactions is of high interest in medical research. Most methods for the investigation of ligand-receptor complexes deal with huge ensembles of biomolecules, but often neglect interactions with low affinity or small subpopulations with different binding properties. Single-molecule force spectroscopy offers fascinating possibilities for the quantitative analysis of ligand-receptor interactions in a wide affinity range and the sensitivity to detect point mutations. Furthermore, this technique allows one to address questions about the related binding energy landscape. In this article, we introduce single-molecule force spectroscopy with a focus on novel developments in both data analysis and theoretical models for the technique. We also demonstrate two examples of the capabilities of this method.
We demonstrate the synthesis of near-IR-emitting zinc blende CdTe/CdS tetrahedral-shaped nanocrystals with a magic-sized (approximately 0.8 nm radius) CdTe core and a thick CdS shell (up to 5 nm). These high-quality water-soluble nanocrystals were obtained by a simple but reliable aqueous method at low temperature. During the growth of the shell over the magic core, the core/shell nanocrystals change from type I to type II, as revealed by their enormous photoluminescence (PL) emission peak shift (from 480 to 820 nm) and significant increase in PL lifetime (from approximately 1 to approximately 245 ns). These thick-shell nanocrystals have a high PL quantum yield, high photostability, compact size (hydrodynamic diameter less than 11.0 nm), and reduced blinking behavior. The magic-core/thick-shell nanocrystals may represent an important step toward the synthesis and application of next-generation colloidal nanocrystals from solar cell conversion to intracellular imaging.
RNA-binding proteins impact gene expression at the posttranscriptional level by interacting with cognate cis elements within the transcripts. Here, we apply dynamic single-molecule force spectroscopy to study the interaction of the Arabidopsis glycine-rich RNA-binding protein AtGRP8 with its RNA target. A dwell-time-dependent analysis of the single-molecule data in combination with competition assays and site-directed mutagenesis of both the RNA target and the RNA-binding domain of the protein allowed us to distinguish and quantify two different binding modes. For dwell times <0.21 s an unspecific complex with a lifetime of 0.56 s is observed, whereas dwell times >0.33 s result in a specific interaction with a lifetime of 208 s. The corresponding reaction lengths are 0.28 nm for the unspecific and 0.55 nm for the specific AtGRP8-RNA interactions, indicating formation of a tighter complex with increasing dwell time. These two binding modes cannot be dissected in ensemble experiments. Quantitative titration in RNA bandshift experiments yields an ensemble-averaged equilibrium constant of dissociation of KD = 2 x 10(-7) M. Assuming comparable on-rates for the specific and nonspecific binding modes allows us to estimate their free energies as DeltaG0 = -42 kJ/mol and DeltaG0 = -28 kJ/mol for the specific and nonspecific binding modes, respectively. Thus, we show that single-molecule force spectroscopy with a refined statistical analysis is a potent tool for the analysis of protein-RNA interactions without the drawback of ensemble averaging. This makes it possible to discriminate between different binding modes or sites and to analyze them quantitatively. We propose that this method could be applied to complex interactions of biomolecules in general, and be of particular interest for the investigation of multivalent binding reactions.
Interactions between proteins and DNA are essential for the regulation of cellular processes in all living organisms. In this context, it is of special interest to investigate the sequence-specific molecular recognition between transcription factors and their cognate DNA sequences. As a model system, peptide and protein epitopes of the DNA-binding domain (DBD) of the transcription factor PhoB from Escherichia coli are analyzed with respect to DNA binding at the single-molecule level. Peptides representing the amphiphilic recognition helix of the PhoB DBD (amino acids 190-209) are chemically synthesized and C-terminally modified with a linker for atomic force microscopy-dynamic force spectroscopy experiments (AFM-DFS). For comparison, the entire PhoB DBD is overexpressed in E. coli and purified using an intein-mediated protein purification method. To facilitate immobilization for AFM-DFS experiments, an additional cysteine residue is ligated to the protein. Quantitative AFM-DFS analysis proves the specificity of the interaction and yields force-related properties and kinetic data, such as thermal dissociation rate constants. An alanine scan for strategic residues in both peptide and protein sequences is performed to reveal the contributions of single amino acid residues to the molecular-recognition process. Additionally, DNA binding is substantiated by electrophoretic mobility-shift experiments. Structural differences of the peptides, proteins, and DNA upon complex formation are analyzed by circular dichroism spectroscopy. This combination of techniques eventually provides a concise picture of the contribution of epitopes or single amino acids in PhoB to DNA binding.
Adsorption of fibrinogen on fibrin clots and other surfaces strongly reduces integrin-mediated adhesion of platelets and leukocytes with implications for the surface-mediated control of thrombus growth and blood compatibility of biomaterials. The underlying mechanism of this process is surface-induced aggregation of fibrinogen, resulting in the assembly of a nanoscale multilayered matrix. The matrix is extensible, which makes it incapable of transducing strong mechanical forces via cellular integrins, resulting in insufficient intracellular signaling and weak cell adhesion. To determine the mechanism of the multilayer formation, the physical and adhesive properties of fibrinogen matrices prepared from human plasma fibrinogen (hFg), recombinant normal (rFg), and fibrinogen with the truncated ?C regions (FgA?251) were compared. Using atomic force microscopy and force spectroscopy, we show that whereas hFg and rFg generated the matrices with a thickness of ?8 nm consisting of 7-8 molecular layers, the deposition of FgA?251 was terminated at two layers, indicating that the ?C regions are essential for the multilayer formation. The extensibility of the matrix prepared from FgA?251 was 2-fold lower than that formed from hFg and rFg. In agreement with previous findings that cell adhesion inversely correlates with the extensibility of the fibrinogen matrix, the less extensible FgA?251 matrix and matrices generated from human fibrinogen variants lacking the ?C regions supported sustained adhesion of leukocytes and platelets. The persistent adhesiveness of matrices formed from fibrinogen derivatives without the ?C regions may have implications for conditions in which elevated levels of these molecules are found, including vascular pathologies, diabetes, thrombolytic therapy, and dysfibrinogenemia.
The mechanical and adhesive properties of cancer cells significantly change during tumor progression. Here we assess the functional consequences of mismatched stiffness and adhesive properties between neighboring normal cells on cancer cell migration in an epithelial-like cell monolayer. Using an in vitro coculture system and live-cell imaging, we find that the speed of single, mechanically soft breast carcinoma cells is dramatically enhanced by surrounding stiff nontransformed cells compared with single cells or a monolayer of carcinoma cells. Soft tumor cells undergo a mode of pulsating migration that is distinct from conventional mesenchymal and amoeboid migration, whereby long-lived episodes of slow, random migration are interlaced with short-lived episodes of extremely fast, directed migration, whereas the surrounding stiff cells show little net migration. This bursty migration is induced by the intermittent, myosin II-mediated deformation of the soft nucleus of the cancer cell, which is induced by the transient crowding of the stiff nuclei of the surrounding nontransformed cells, whose movements depend directly on the cadherin-mediated mismatched adhesion between normal and cancer cells as well as ?-catenin-based intercellular adhesion of the normal cells. These results suggest that a mechanical and adhesive mismatch between transformed and nontransformed cells in a cell monolayer can trigger enhanced pulsating migration. These results shed light on the role of stiff epithelial cells that neighbor individual cancer cells in early steps of cancer dissemination.
Electron-tunneling data suggest that a noncovalently-bonded complex of three molecules, two recognition molecules that present hydrogen-bond donor and acceptor sites via a carboxamide group, and a DNA base, remains bound for seconds. This is surprising, given that imino-proton exchange rates show that basepairs in a DNA double helix open on millisecond timescales. The long lifetime of the three-molecule complex was confirmed using force spectroscopy, but measurements on DNA basepairs are required to establish a comparison with the proton-exchange data. Here, we report on a dynamic force spectroscopy study of complexes between the bases adenine and thymine (A-T, two-hydrogen bonds) and 2-aminoadenine and thymine (2AA-T, three-hydrogen bonds). Bases were tethered to an AFM probe and mica substrate via long, covalently linked polymer tethers. Data for bond-survival probability versus force and the rupture-force distributions were well fitted by the Bell model. The resulting lifetime of the complexes at zero pulling force was ~2 s for two-hydrogen bonds (A-T) and ~4 s for three-hydrogen bonds (2AA-T). Thus, DNA basepairs in an AFM pulling experiment remain bonded for long times, even without the stabilizing influence of base-stacking in a double helix. This result suggests that the pathways for opening, and perhaps the open states themselves, are very different in the AFM and proton-exchange measurements.
The majority of protein spectroelectrochemical methods utilize a diffusing, chemical mediator to exchange electrons between the electrode and the protein. In such methods, electrochemical potential control is limited by mediator choice and its ability to interact with the protein of interest. We report an approach for unmediated, protein spectroelectrochemistry that overcomes this limitation by adsorbing protein directly to thiol self-assembled monolayer (SAM) modified, thin (10 nm), semitransparent gold. The viability of the method is demonstrated with two diverse and important redox proteins: cytochrome c and azurin. Fast, reversible electrochemical signals comparable to those previously reported for these proteins on ordinary disk gold electrodes were observed. Although the quantity of protein in a submonolayer adsorbed at an electrode is expected to be insufficient for detection of UV-vis absorption bands based on bulk extinction coefficients, excellent spectra were detected for each of the proteins in the adsorbed state. Furthermore, AFM imaging confirmed that only a single layer of protein was adsorbed to the electrode. We hypothesize that interaction of the relatively broad gold surface plasmon with the proteins electronic transitions results in surface signal enhancement of the molecular transitions of between 8 and 112 times, allowing detection of the proteins at much lower than expected concentrations. Since many other proteins are known to interact with gold SAMs and the technical requirements for implementation of these experiments are simple, this approach is expected to be very generally applicable to exploring mechanisms of redox proteins and enzymes as well as development of sensors and other redox protein based applications.
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