Protocols in Current Issue
0 Q&A 62 Views Feb 20, 2024

Coiled-coil domains (CCDs) are structural motifs observed in proteins in all organisms that perform several crucial functions. The computational identification of CCD segments over a protein sequence is of great importance for its functional characterization. This task can essentially be divided into three separate steps: the detection of segment boundaries, the annotation of the heptad repeat pattern along the segment, and the classification of its oligomerization state. Several methods have been proposed over the years addressing one or more of these predictive steps. In this protocol, we illustrate how to make use of CoCoNat, a novel approach based on protein language models, to characterize CCDs. CoCoNat is, at its release (August 2023), the state of the art for CCD detection. The web server allows users to submit input protein sequences and visualize the predicted domains after a few minutes. Optionally, precomputed segments can be provided to the model, which will predict the oligomerization state for each of them. CoCoNat can be easily integrated into biological pipelines by downloading the standalone version, which provides a single executable script to produce the output.

Key features

• Web server for the prediction of coiled-coil segments from a protein sequence.

• Three different predictions from a single tool (segment position, heptad repeat annotation, oligomerization state).

• Possibility to visualize the results online or to download the predictions in different formats for further processing.

• Easy integration in automated pipelines with the local version of the tool.

Graphical overview

0 Q&A 55 Views Feb 20, 2024

Mechanosensory organelles (MOs) are specialized subcellular entities where force-sensitive channels and supporting structures (e.g., microtubule cytoskeleton) are organized in an orderly manner. The delicate structure of MOs needs to be resolved to understand the mechanisms by which they detect forces and how they are formed. Here, we describe a protocol that allows obtaining detailed information about the nanoscopic ultrastructure of fly MOs by using serial section electron tomography (SS-ET). To preserve fine structural details, the tissues are cryo-immobilized using a high-pressure freezer followed by freeze-substitution at low temperature and embedding in resin at room temperature. Then, sample sections are prepared and used to acquire the dual-axis tilt series images, which are further processed for tomographic reconstruction. Finally, tomograms of consecutive sections are combined into a single larger volume using microtubules as fiducial markers. Using this protocol, we managed to reconstruct the sensory organelles, which provide novel molecular insights as to how fly mechanosensory organelles work and are formed. Based on our experience, we think that, with minimal modifications, this protocol can be adapted to a wide range of applications using different cell and tissue samples.

Key features

• Resolving the high-resolution 3D ultrastructure of subcellular organelles using serial section electron tomography (SS-ET).

• Compared with single-axis tilt series, dual-axis tilt series provides a much wider coverage of Fourier space, improving resolution and features in the reconstructed tomograms.

• The use of high-pressure freezing and freeze-substitution maximally preserves the fine structural details.

Graphical overview

Protocols in Past Issues
0 Q&A 258 Views Jan 5, 2024

Proteolysis is a critical biochemical process yet a challenging field to study experimentally due to the self-degradation of a protease and the complex, dynamic degradation steps of a substrate. Mass spectrometry (MS) is the traditional way for proteolytic studies, yet it is challenging when time-resolved, step-by-step details of the degradation process are needed. We recently found a way to resolve the cleavage site, preference/selectivity of cleavage regions, and proteolytic kinetics by combining site-directed spin labeling (SDSL) of protein substrate, time-resolved two-dimensional (2D) electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopy, protease immobilization via metal–organic materials (MOMs), and MS. The method has been demonstrated on a model substrate and protease, yet there is a lack of details on the practical operations to carry out our strategy. Thus, this protocol summarizes the key steps and considerations when carrying out the EPR/MS study on proteolytic processes, which can be generalized to study other protein/polypeptide substrates in proteolysis. Details for the experimental operation and cautions of each step are reported with figures illustrating the concepts. This protocol provides an effective approach to understanding the proteolytic process with the advantages of offering time-resolved, residue-level resolution of structural basis underlying the process. Such information is important for revealing the cleavage site and proteolytic mechanisms of unknown proteases. The advantage of EPR, probing the target substrate regardless of the complexities caused by the proteases and their self-degradation, offers a practically effective, rapid, and easy-to-operate approach to studying proteolysis.

Key features

• Combining protease immobilization, EPR, spin labeling, and MS experimental methods allows for the analysis of proteolysis process in real time.

• Reveals cleavage site, kinetics of product generation, and preference of cleavage regions via time-resolved SDSL-EPR.

• MS confirms EPR findings and helps depict the sequences and populations of the cleaved segments in real time.

• The demonstrated method can be generalized to other proteins or polypeptide substrates upon proteolysis by other proteases.

Graphical overview

0 Q&A 1759 Views Dec 20, 2023

In situ cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET) is the most current, state-of-the-art technique to study cell machinery in its hydrated near-native state. The method provides ultrastructural details at sub-nanometer resolution for many components within the cellular context. Making use of recent advances in sample preparation techniques and combining this method with correlative light and electron microscopy (CLEM) approaches have enabled targeted molecular visualization. Nevertheless, the implementation has also added to the complexity of the workflow and introduced new obstacles in the way of streamlining and achieving high throughput, sample yield, and sample quality. Here, we report a detailed protocol by combining multiple newly available technologies to establish an integrated, high-throughput, optimized, and streamlined cryo-CLEM workflow for improved sample yield.

Key features

• PRIMO micropatterning allows precise cell positioning and maximum number of cell targets amenable to thinning with cryo focused-ion-beam–scanning electron microscopy.

• CERES ice shield ensures that the lamellae remain free of ice contamination during the batch milling process.

• METEOR in-chamber fluorescence microscope facilitates the targeted cryo focused-ion-beam (cryo FIB) milling of these targets.

• Combining the three technologies into one cryo-CLEM workflow maximizes sample yield, throughput, and efficiency.

Graphical overview

0 Q&A 331 Views Nov 20, 2023

The relative ease of genetic manipulation in S. cerevisiae is one of its greatest strengths as a model eukaryotic organism. Researchers have leveraged this quality of the budding yeast to study the effects of a variety of genetic perturbations, such as deletion or overexpression, in a high-throughput manner. This has been accomplished by producing a number of strain libraries that can contain hundreds or even thousands of distinct yeast strains with unique genetic alterations. While these strategies have led to enormous increases in our understanding of the functions and roles that genes play within cells, the techniques used to screen genetically modified libraries of yeast strains typically rely on plate or sequencing-based assays that make it difficult to analyze gene expression changes over time. Microfluidic devices, combined with fluorescence microscopy, can allow gene expression dynamics of different strains to be captured in a continuous culture environment; however, these approaches often have significantly lower throughput compared to traditional techniques. To address these limitations, we have developed a microfluidic platform that uses an array pinning robot to allow for up to 48 different yeast strains to be transferred onto a single device. Here, we detail a validated methodology for constructing and setting up this microfluidic device, starting with the photolithography steps for constructing the wafer, then the soft lithography steps for making polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) microfluidic devices, and finally the robotic arraying of strains onto the device for experiments. We have applied this device for dynamic screens of a protein aggregation library; however, this methodology has the potential to enable complex and dynamic screens of yeast libraries for a wide range of applications.

Key features

• Major steps of this protocol require access to specialized equipment (i.e., microfabrication tools typically found in a cleanroom facility and an array pinning robot).

• Construction of microfluidic devices with multiple different feature heights using photolithography and soft lithography with PDMS.

• Robotic spotting of up to 48 different yeast strains onto microfluidic devices.

0 Q&A 162 Views Nov 5, 2023

Measuring the action potential (AP) propagation velocity in axons is critical for understanding neuronal computation. This protocol describes the measurement of propagation velocity using a combination of somatic whole cell and axonal loose patch recordings in brain slice preparations. The axons of neurons filled with fluorescent dye via somatic whole-cell pipette can be targeted under direct optical control using the fluorophore-filled pipette. The propagation delays between the soma and 5–7 axonal locations can be obtained by analyzing the ensemble averages of 500–600 sweeps of somatic APs aligned at times of maximal rate-of-rise (dV/dtmax) and axonal action currents from these locations. By plotting the propagation delays against the distance, the location of the AP initiation zone becomes evident as the site exhibiting the greatest delay relative to the soma. Performing linear fitting of the delays obtained from sites both proximal and distal from the trigger zone allows the determination of the velocities of AP backward and forward propagation, respectively.

Key features

• Ultra-thin axons in cortical slices are targeted under direct optical control using the SBFI-filled pipette.

• Dual somatic whole cell and axonal loose patch recordings from 5–7 axonal locations.

• Ensemble averaging of 500–600 sweeps of somatic APs and axonal action currents.

• Plotting the propagation delays against the distance enables the determination of the trigger zone's position and velocities of AP backward and forward propagation.

0 Q&A 301 Views Oct 5, 2023

Disruptions and perturbations of the cellular plasma membrane by peptides have garnered significant interest in the elucidation of biological phenomena. Typically, these complex processes are studied using liposomes as model membranes—either by encapsulating a fluorescent dye or by other spectroscopic approaches, such as nuclear magnetic resonance. Despite incorporating physiologically relevant lipids, no synthetic model truly recapitulates the full complexity and molecular diversity of the plasma membrane. Here, biologically representative membrane models, giant plasma membrane vesicles (GPMVs), are prepared from eukaryotic cells by inducing a budding event with a chemical stressor. The GPMVs are then isolated, and bilayers are labelled with fluorescent lipophilic tracers and incubated in a microplate with a membrane-active peptide. As the membranes become damaged and/or aggregate, the resulting fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) between the two tracers increases and is measured periodically in a microplate. This approach offers a particularly useful way to detect perturbations when the membrane complexity is an important variable to consider. Additionally, it provides a way to kinetically detect damage to the plasma membrane, which can be correlated with the kinetics of peptide self-assembly or structural rearrangements.

Key features

• Allows testing of various peptide–membrane interaction conditions (peptide:phospholipid ratio, ionic strength, buffer, etc.) at once.

• Uses intact plasma membrane vesicles that can be prepared from a variety of cell lines.

• Can offer comparable throughput as with traditional synthetic lipid models (e.g., dye-encapsulated liposomes).

Graphical overview

0 Q&A 411 Views Oct 5, 2023

Tracking macrophages by non-invasive molecular imaging can provide useful insights into the immunobiology of inflammatory disorders in preclinical disease models. Perfluorocarbon nanoemulsions (PFC-NEs) have been well documented in their ability to be taken up by macrophages through phagocytosis and serve as 19F magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tracers of inflammation in vivo and ex vivo. Incorporation of near-infrared fluorescent (NIRF) dyes in PFC-NEs can help monitor the spatiotemporal distribution of macrophages in vivo during inflammatory processes, using NIRF imaging as a complementary methodology to MRI. Here, we discuss in depth how both colloidal and fluorescence stabilities of the PFC-NEs are essential for successful and reliable macrophage tracking in vivo and for their detection in excised tissues ex vivo by NIRF imaging. Furthermore, PFC-NE quality assures NIRF imaging reproducibility and reliability across preclinical studies, providing insights into inflammation progression and therapeutic response. Previous studies focused on assessments of colloidal property changes in response to stress and during storage as a means of quality control. We recently focused on the joint evaluation of both colloidal and fluorescence properties and their relationship to NIRF imaging outcomes. In this protocol, we summarize the key assessments of the fluorescent dye–labeled nanoemulsions, which include long-term particle size distribution monitoring as the measure of colloidal stability and monitoring of the fluorescence signal. Due to its simplicity and reproducibility, our protocols are easy to adopt for researchers to assess the quality of PFC-NEs for in vivo NIRF imaging applications.

0 Q&A 395 Views Sep 20, 2023

Device-induced thrombosis remains a major complication of extracorporeal life support (ECLS). To more thoroughly understand how blood components interact with the artificial surfaces of ECLS circuit components, assessment of clot deposition on these surfaces following clinical use is urgently needed. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM), which produces high-resolution images at nanoscale level, allows visualization and characterization of thrombotic deposits on ECLS circuitry. However, methodologies to increase the quantifiability of SEM analysis of ECLS circuit components have yet to be applied clinically. To address these issues, we developed a protocol to quantify clot deposition on ECLS membrane oxygenator gas transfer fiber sheets through digital and SEM imaging techniques. In this study, ECLS membrane oxygenator fiber sheets were obtained, fixed, and imaged after use. Following a standardized process, the percentage of clot deposition on both digital images and SEM images was quantified using ImageJ through blind reviews. The interrater reliability of quantitative analysis among reviewers was evaluated. Although this protocol focused on the analysis of ECLS membrane oxygenators, it is also adaptable to other components of the ECLS circuits such as catheters and tubing.

Key features

• Quantitative analysis of clot deposition using digital and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) techniques

• High-resolution images at nanoscale level

• Extracorporeal life support (ECLS) devices

• Membrane oxygenators

• Blood-contacting surfaces

Graphical overview

0 Q&A 582 Views Aug 20, 2023

Intracellular signaling pathways directly and indirectly regulate neuronal activity. In cellular electrophysiological measurements with sharp electrodes or whole-cell patch clamp recordings, there is a great risk that these signaling pathways are disturbed, significantly altering the electrophysiological properties of the measured neurons. Perforated-patch clamp recordings circumvent this issue, allowing long-term electrophysiological recordings with minimized impairment of the intracellular milieu. Based on previous studies, we describe a superstition-free protocol that can be used to routinely perform perforated patch clamp recordings for current and voltage measurements.

0 Q&A 691 Views Jul 20, 2023

Hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection is a global public health concern. During chronic infection, the HBV small-surface antigen is expressed in large excess as non-infectious spherical subviral particles (SVPs), which possess strong immunogenicity. To date, attempts at understanding the structure of HBV spherical SVP have been restricted to 12–30 Å with contradictory conclusions regarding its architecture. We have used cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) and 3D image reconstruction to solve the HBV spherical SVP to 6.3 Å. Here, we present an extended protocol on combining AlphaFold2 prediction with a moderate-resolution cryo-EM density map to build a reliable 3D model. This protocol utilizes multiple software packages that are routinely used in the cryo-EM community. The workflow includes 3D model prediction, model evaluation, rigid-body fitting, flexible fitting, real-space refinement, model validation, and model adjustment. Finally, the described protocol can also be applied to high-resolution cryo-EM datasets (2–4 Å).

0 Q&A 528 Views Jul 20, 2023

Synapses provide the main route of signal transduction within neuronal networks. Many factors regulate critical synaptic functions. These include presynaptic calcium channels, triggering neurotransmitter release, and postsynaptic ionotropic receptors, mediating excitatory and inhibitory postsynaptic potentials. The key features of synaptic transmission and plasticity can be studied in primary cultured hippocampal neurons. Here, we describe a protocol for the preparation and electrophysiological analysis of paired hippocampal neurons. This model system allows the selective genetic manipulation of one neuron in a simple neuronal network formed by only two hippocampal neurons. Bi-directionally analyzing synaptic transmission and short-term synaptic plasticity allows the analysis of both pre- and postsynaptic effects on synaptic transmission. For example, with one single paired network synaptic responses induced by both, a wild-type neuron and a genetically modified neuron can be directly compared. Ultimately, this protocol allows experimental modulation and hence investigation of synaptic mechanisms and thereby improves previously developed methods of studying synaptic transmission and plasticity in ex vivo cultured neurons.

Key features

• Preparation of ex vivo paired cultured hippocampal neurons.

• Bi-directional electrophysiological recordings of synaptic transmission and plasticity.

• Genetic modulation of synaptic network formation (demonstrated by presynaptic viral overexpression of the auxiliary calcium channel α2δ-2 subunit).

Graphical overview

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