Cell Biology


Protocols in Current Issue
0 Q&A 334 Views Feb 20, 2024

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is characterized by an aberrant immune response against microbiota. It is well established that T cells play a critical role in mediating the pathology. Assessing the contribution of each subset of T cells in mediating the pathology is crucial in order to design better therapeutic strategies. This protocol presents a method to identify the specific effector T-cell population responsible for intestinal immunopathologies in bone marrow–engrafted mouse models. Here, we used anti-CD4 and anti-CD8β depleting antibodies in bone marrow–engrafted mouse models to identify the effector T-cell population responsible for intestinal damage in a genetic mouse model of chronic intestinal inflammation..

Key features

• This protocol allows addressing the role of CD4+ or CD8αβ+ in an engrafted model of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

• This protocol can easily be adapted to address the role of other immune cells or molecules that may play a role in IBD.

0 Q&A 969 Views Feb 20, 2024

Astrocytes are increasingly recognized for their important role in neurodegenerative diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In ALS, astrocytes shift from their primary function of providing neuronal homeostatic support towards a reactive and toxic role, which overall contributes to neuronal toxicity and cell death. Currently, our knowledge on these processes is incomplete, and time-efficient and reproducible model systems in a human context are therefore required to understand and therapeutically modulate the toxic astrocytic response for future treatment options. Here, we present an efficient and straightforward protocol to generate human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC)-derived astrocytes implementing a differentiation scheme based on small molecules. Through an initial 25 days, hiPSCs are differentiated into astrocytes, which are matured for 4+ weeks. The hiPSC-derived astrocytes can be cryopreserved at every passage during differentiation and maturation. This provides convenient pauses in the protocol as well as cell banking opportunities, thereby limiting the need to continuously start from hiPSCs. The protocol has already proven valuable in ALS research but can be adapted to any desired research field where astrocytes are of interest.

Key features

• This protocol requires preexisting experience in hiPSC culturing for a successful outcome.

• The protocol relies on a small molecule differentiation scheme and an easy-to-follow methodology, which can be paused at several time points.

• The protocol generates >50 × 106 astrocytes per differentiation, which can be cryopreserved at every passage, ensuring a large-scale experimental output.

Graphical overview

0 Q&A 294 Views Feb 20, 2024

Dopaminergic (DAergic) neurodegeneration in the substantia nigra pars compacta of the human brain is the pathological feature associated with Parkinson’s disease (PD). Drosophila also exhibits mobility defects and diminished levels of brain dopamine on exposure to neurotoxicants mimicking PD. Our laboratory demonstrated in a Drosophila model of sporadic PD that there is no decrease in DAergic neuronal number; instead, there is a significant reduction in tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) fluorescence intensity (FI). Here, we present a sensitive assay based on the quantification of FI of the secondary antibody (ab). As the FI is directly proportional to the amount of TH synthesis, its reduction under PD conditions denotes the decrease in the TH synthesis, suggesting DAergic neuronal dysfunction. Therefore, FI quantification is a refined and sensitive method to understand the early stages of DAergic neurodegeneration. FI quantification is performed using the ZEN 2012 SP2 single-user software; a license must be acquired to utilize the imaging system to interactively control image acquisition, image processing, and analysis. This method will be of good use to biologists, as it can also be used with little modification to characterize the extent of degeneration and changes in the level of degeneration in response to drugs in different cell types. Unlike the expensive and cumbersome confocal microscopy, the present method will be an affordable option for fund-constrained neurobiology laboratories.

Key features

• Allows characterizing the incipient DAergic and other catecholaminergic neurodegeneration, even in the absence of loss of neuronal cell body.

• Great alternative for the fund-constrained neurobiology laboratories in developing countries to utilize this method in different cell types and their response to drugs/nutraceuticals.

Graphical overview

0 Q&A 414 Views Feb 20, 2024

Structural and functional changes in vascular networks play a vital role during development, causing or contributing to the pathophysiology of injury and disease. Current methods to trace and image the vasculature in laboratory settings have proven inconsistent, inaccurate, and labor intensive, lacking the inherent three-dimensional structure of vasculature. Here, we provide a robust and highly reproducible method to image and quantify changes in vascular networks down to the capillary level. The method combines vasculature tracing, tissue clearing, and three-dimensional imaging techniques with vessel segmentation using AI-based convolutional reconstruction to rapidly process large, unsectioned tissue specimens throughout the body with high fidelity. The practicality and scalability of our protocol offer application across various fields of biomedical sciences. Obviating the need for sectioning of samples, this method will expedite qualitative and quantitative analyses of vascular networks. Preparation of the fluorescent gel perfusate takes < 30 min per study. Transcardiac perfusion and vasculature tracing takes approximately 20 min, while dissection of tissue samples ranges from 5 to 15 min depending on the tissue of interest. The tissue clearing protocol takes approximately 24–48 h per whole-tissue sample. Lastly, three-dimensional imaging and analysis can be completed in one day. The entire procedure can be carried out by a competent graduate student or experienced technician.

Key features

• This robust and highly reproducible method allows users to image and quantify changes in vascular networks down to the capillary level.

• Three-dimensional imaging techniques with vessel segmentation enable rapid processing of large, unsectioned tissue specimens throughout the body.

• It takes approximately 2–3 days for sample preparation, three-dimensional imaging, and analysis.

• The user-friendly pipeline can be completed by experienced and non-experienced users.

Graphical overview

0 Q&A 654 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

0 Q&A 737 Views Feb 20, 2024

Signaling pathways are involved in key cellular functions from embryonic development to pathological conditions, with a pivotal role in tissue homeostasis and transformation. Although most signaling pathways have been intensively examined, most studies have been carried out in murine models or simple cell culture. We describe the dissection of the TGF-β signaling pathway in human tissue using CRISPR-Cas9 genetically engineered human keratinocytes (N/TERT-1) in a 3D organotypic skin model combined with quantitative proteomics and phosphoproteomics mass spectrometry. The use of human 3D organotypic cultures and genetic engineering combined with quantitative proteomics and phosphoproteomics is a powerful tool providing insight into signaling pathways in a human setting. The methods are applicable to other gene targets and 3D cell and tissue models.

Key features

• 3D organotypic models with genetically engineered human cells.

• In-depth quantitative proteomics and phosphoproteomics in 2D cell culture.

• Careful handling of cell cultures is critical for the successful formation of theorganotypic cultures.

• For complete details on the use of this protocol, please refer to Ye et al. 2022.

Protocols in Past Issues
0 Q&A 290 Views Feb 5, 2024

Vertebrate embryogenesis is a highly dynamic process involving coordinated cell and tissue movements that generate the final embryonic body plan. Many of these movements are difficult to image at high resolution because they occur deep within the embryo along the midline, causing light scattering and requiring longer working distances. Here, we present an explant-based method to image transverse cross sections of living zebrafish embryos. This method allows for the capture of all cell movements at high-resolution throughout the embryonic trunk, including hard-to-image deep tissues. This technique offers an alternative to expensive or computationally difficult microscopy methods.

Key features

• Generates intact zebrafish explants with minimal tissue disturbance.

• Allows for live imaging of deep tissues normally obscured by common confocal microscopy techniques.

• Immobilizes tissues for extended periods required for time-lapse imaging.

• Utilizes readily available reagents and tools, which can minimize the time and cost of the procedure.

Graphical overview

0 Q&A 253 Views Feb 5, 2024

Macrophages are at the center of innate immunity and iron metabolism. In the case of an infection, macrophages adapt their cellular iron metabolism to deprive iron from invading bacteria to combat intracellular bacterial proliferation. A concise evaluation of the cellular iron content upon an infection with bacterial pathogens and diverse cellular stimuli is necessary to identify underlying mechanisms concerning iron homeostasis in macrophages. For the characterization of cellular iron levels during infection, we established an in vitro infection model where the murine macrophage cell line J774A.1 is infected with Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium (S.tm), the mouse counterpart to S. enterica serovar Typhi, under normal and iron-overload conditions using ferric chloride (FeCl3) treatment. To evaluate the effect of infection and iron stimulation on cellular iron levels, the macrophages are stained with FerroOrange. This fluorescent probe specifically detects Fe2+ ions and its fluorescence can be quantified photometrically in a plate reader. Importantly, FerroOrange fluorescence does not increase with chelated iron or other bivalent metal ions. In this protocol, we present a simple and reliable method to quantify cellular Fe2+ levels in cultured macrophages by applying a highly specific fluorescence probe (FerroOrange) in a TECAN Spark microplate reader. Compared to already established techniques, our protocol allows assessing cellular iron levels in innate immune cells without the use of radioactive iron isotopes or extensive sample preparation, exposing the cells to stress.

Key features

• Easy quantification of Fe2+ in cultured macrophages with a fluorescent probe.

• Analysis of iron in living cells without the need for fixation.

• Performed on a plate reader capable of 540 nm excitation and 585 nm emission by trained employees for handling biosafety level 2 bacteria.

Graphical overview

0 Q&A 481 Views Feb 5, 2024

Recombinant adeno-associated viruses (rAAVs) are valuable viral vectors for in vivo gene transfer, also having significant ex vivo therapeutic potential. Continued efforts have focused on various gene therapy applications, capsid engineering, and scalable manufacturing processes. Adherent cells are commonly used for virus production in most basic science laboratories because of their efficiency and cost. Although suspension cells are easier to handle and scale up compared to adherent cells, their use in virus production is hampered by poor transfection efficiency. In this protocol, we developed a simple scalable AAV production protocol using serum-free-media-adapted HEK293T suspension cells and VirusGEN transfection reagent. The established protocol allows AAV production from transfection to quality analysis of purified AAV within two weeks. Typical vector yields for the described suspension system followed by iodixanol purification range from a total of 1 × 1013 to 1.5 × 1013 vg (vector genome) using 90 mL of cell suspension vs. 1 × 1013 to 2 × 1013 vg using a regular adherent cell protocol (10 × 15 cm dishes).

Key features

• Adeno-associated virus (AAV) production using serum-free-media-adapted HEK293T suspension cells.

• Efficient transfection with VirusGEN.

• High AAV yield from small-volume cell culture.

Graphical overview

0 Q&A 755 Views Jan 20, 2024

All living organisms require the division of a cell into daughter cells for their growth and maintenance. During cell division, both genetic and cytoplasmic contents are equally distributed between the two daughter cells. At the end of cell division, cytoplasmic contents and the plasma membrane are physically separated between the two daughter cells via a process known as cytokinesis. Hundreds of proteins and lipids involved in the cytokinetic process have been identified; however, much less is known about the mechanisms by which these molecules regulate cytokinesis, being therefore an intense area of current research. Male meiotic cytokinesis in Drosophila melanogaster testes has been shown to be an excellent model to study cytokinesis in vivo. Currently, several excellent protocols are available to study cytokinesis in Drosophila testes. However, improved methods are required to study cytokinesis under in vitro and ex vivo conditions. Here, we demonstrate a simple method to perform live imaging on individual spermatocyte cysts isolated from adult testes. We evaluate amenability of this in vitro method for treatment with pharmacological agents. We show that cytokinesis is strongly inhibited upon treatment with Dynasore, a dynamin inhibitor known to block clathrin-mediated endocytosis. In addition, we also demonstrate an ex vivo method to perform live imaging on whole mount adult testes on gas permeable membrane chambers. We believe the protocols described here are valuable tools to study cytokinetic mechanisms under various genetic and treatment conditions.

Key features

• In vitro method to study male meiotic cytokinesis in dissected spermatocyte cysts.

• In vitro method allows acute treatment with various pharmacological agents to study cytokinesis.

• Ex vivo method to image male meiosis cytokinesis in intact adult testes.

• Requires 15–60 min to set up and could be imaged up to 6–12 h.

Graphical overview

In vitro and ex vivo live imaging of male meiotic cytokinesis in adult Drosophila testes

0 Q&A 620 Views Jan 20, 2024

Human skin reconstruction on immune-deficient mice has become indispensable for in vivo studies performed in basic research and translational laboratories. Further advancements in making sustainable, prolonged skin equivalents to study new therapeutic interventions rely on reproducible models utilizing patient-derived cells and natural three-dimensional culture conditions mimicking the structure of living skin. Here, we present a novel step-by-step protocol for grafting human skin cells onto immunocompromised mice that requires low starting cell numbers, which is essential when primary patient cells are limited for modeling skin conditions. The core elements of our method are the sequential transplantation of fibroblasts followed by keratinocytes seeded into a fibrin-based hydrogel in a silicone chamber. We optimized the fibrin gel formulation, timing for gel polymerization in vivo, cell culture conditions, and seeding density to make a robust and efficient grafting protocol. Using this approach, we can successfully engraft as few as 1.0 × 106 fresh and 2.0 × 106 frozen-then-thawed keratinocytes per 1.4 cm2 of the wound area. Additionally, it was concluded that a successful layer-by-layer engraftment of skin cells in vivo could be obtained without labor-intensive and costly methodologies such as bioprinting or engineering complex skin equivalents.

Key features

• Expands upon the conventional skin chamber assay method (Wang et al., 2000) to generate high-quality skin grafts using a minimal number of cultured skin cells.

• The proposed approach allows the use of frozen-then-thawed keratinocytes and fibroblasts in surgical procedures.

• This system holds promise for evaluating the functionality of skin cells derived from induced pluripotent stem cells and replicating various skin phenotypes.

• The entire process, from thawing skin cells to establishing the graft, requires 54 days.

Graphical overview

Generation of a human skin equivalent on an immunodeficient mouse using a fibrin-based grafting system. A schematic of the protocol is shown. Cultured keratinocytes and fibroblasts resuspended in a fibrin-based gel are delivered as layers into a silicon chamber inserted underneath the skin of an immunocompromised mouse. First, a fibrin gel containing encapsulated fibroblasts (up to 2 × 106 per 1.4 cm2 wound) is delivered into the chamber and allowed to solidify for 15 minutes. Second, a fibrin gel containing 1.0–2.0 × 106 keratinocytes is applied on top of the fibroblast layer. On day 7 post-grafting, the chamber is removed, and the wound with the graft is allowed to heal for 4–5 weeks. During healing, a scab forms and eventually falls off. By day 54, the graft is fully established.

0 Q&A 577 Views Jan 20, 2024

The central nervous system (CNS) relies on the complex interaction of neuroglial cells to carry out vital physiological functions. To comprehensively understand the structural and functional interplay between these neuroglial cells, it is essential to establish an appropriate in vitro system that can be utilized for thorough investigation. Traditional protocols for establishing primary neuronal and mixed glial cultures from prenatal mice or neural stem cells require sacrificing pregnant mice and have the drawback of yielding only specific types of cells. Our current protocol overcomes these drawbacks by utilizing the brain from day-0 pups to isolate CNS resident neuroglial cells including astrocytes, microglia, oligodendrocytes [oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) and differentiated oligodendrocytes], and meningeal fibroblasts, as well as hippocampal neurons, avoiding sacrificing pregnant mice, which makes this procedure efficient and cost effective. Furthermore, through this protocol, we aim to provide step-by-step instructions for isolating and establishing different primary neuroglial cells and their characterization using cell-specific markers. This study presents an opportunity to isolate, culture, and establish all major CNS resident cells individually. These cells can be utilized in various cell-based and biochemical assays to comprehensively investigate the cell-specific roles and behaviors of brain resident cells in a reductionist approach.

Key features

• Efficient isolation of major neuroglial cells like meningeal fibroblasts, neurons, astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, and microglia from a single day-0 neonatal mouse pup’s brain.

• Circumvents the sacrifice of pregnant female mice.

• Acts as a bridging experimental method between secondary cell lines and in vivo systems.

• Isolated cells can be used for performing various cell-based and biochemical assays.

Graphical overview

Steps for isolation of meningeal fibroblast and neuroglial cells from day 0 pups of mice (Created using BioRender.com)

0 Q&A 246 Views Jan 20, 2024

Capillary density in skeletal muscles is key to estimate exercise capacity in healthy individuals, athletes, and those with muscle-related pathologies. Here, we present a step-by-step, high-throughput semi-automated method for quantifying capillary density from whole human skeletal muscle cross-sections, in areas of the muscle occupied by myofibers. We provide a detailed protocol for immunofluorescence staining, image acquisition, processing, and quantification. Image processing is performed in ImageJ, and data analysis is conducted in R. The provided protocol allows high-throughput quantification of capillary density.

Key features

• This protocol builds upon the method and results described in Abbassi-Daloii et al. (2023b).

• It includes step-by-step details on image acquisition and image processing of the entire muscle section.

• It enables high-throughput and semi-automated image quantification of capillary density.

• It provides a robust analysis for determining capillary density over the entire muscle cross section.

Graphical overview

0 Q&A 715 Views Jan 20, 2024

The auxin-inducible degron (AID) system is a versatile tool in cell biology and genetics, enabling conditional protein regulation through auxin-induced degradation. Integrating CRISPR/Cas9 with AID expedites tagging and depletion of a required protein in human and mouse cells. The mechanism of AID involves interactions between receptors like TIR1 and the AID tag fused to the target protein. The presence of auxin triggers protein ubiquitination, leading to proteasome-mediated degradation. We have used AID to explore the mitotic functions of the replication licensing protein CDT1. Swift CDT1 degradation via AID upon auxin addition achieves precise mitotic inhibition, revealing defects in mitotic spindle structure and chromosome misalignment. Using live imaging, we found that mitosis-specific degradation of CDT1 delayed progression and chromosome mis-segregation. AID-mediated CDT1 inhibition surpasses siRNA-based methods, offering a robust approach to probe CDT1’s mitotic roles. The advantages of AID include targeted degradation and temporal control, facilitating rapid induction and reversal of degradation—contrasting siRNA’s delayed RNA degradation and protein turnover. In summary, the AID technique enhances precision, control, and efficiency in studying protein function and regulation across diverse cellular contexts. In this article, we provide a step-by-step methodology for generating an efficient AID-tagging system, keeping in mind the important considerations that need to be adopted to use it for investigating or characterizing protein function in a temporally controlled manner.

Key features

• The auxin-inducible degron (AID) system serves as a versatile tool, enabling conditional protein regulation through auxin-induced degradation in cell biology and genetics.

• Integration of CRISPR/Cas9 knock-in technology with AID expedites the tagging and depletion of essential proteins in mammalian cells.

• AID’s application extends to exploring the mitotic functions of the replication licensing protein CDT1, achieving precise mitotic inhibition and revealing spindle defects and chromosome misalignment.

• The AID system and its diverse applications advance the understanding of protein function and cellular processes, contributing to the study of protein regulation and function.

Graphical overview

Cdt1–auxin-inducible degron (AID) tagging workflow. (A) Schematic of the cloned Cdt1 gRNA vector and the repair template generated to endogenously tag the Cdt1 genomic locus with YFP and AID at the C-terminal using CRISPR/CAS9-based genome editing. The two plasmids are transfected into DLD1-TIR1 stable cells, followed by sorting and scaling up of YFP-positive single cells. (B) The molecular mechanism of auxin-induced proteasome-mediated degradation of the target protein (CDT1) shown at the bottom of the figure is well worked out.

0 Q&A 402 Views Jan 20, 2024

Cell-based liver therapies utilizing functionally stabilized engineered hepatic tissue hold promise in improving host liver functions and are emerging as a potential alternative to whole-organ transplantation. Owing to the ability to accommodate a large ex vivo engineered hepatocyte mass and dense vascularization, the mesenteric parametrial fat pad in female nude mice forms an ideal anatomic microenvironment for ectopic hepatocyte transplantation. However, the lack of any reported protocol detailing the presurgical preparation and construction of the engineered hepatic hydrogel, fat pad surgery, and postsurgical care and bioluminescence imaging to confirm in vivo hepatocyte implantation makes it challenging to reliably perform and test engraftment and integration with the host. In this report, we provide a step-by-step protocol for in vivo hepatocyte implantation, including preparation of hepatic tissue for implantation, the surgery process, and bioluminescence imaging to assess survival of functional hepatocytes. This will be a valuable protocol for researchers in the fields of tissue engineering, transplantation, and regenerative medicine.

Key features

• Primary human hepatocytes transduced ex vivo with a lentiviral vector carrying firefly luciferase are surgically implanted onto the fat pad.

• Bioluminescence helps monitor survival of transplanted hepatic tissue over time.

• Applicable for assessment of graft survival, graft-host integration, and liver regeneration.

Graphical overview

0 Q&A 399 Views Jan 5, 2024

Tears contain numerous secreted factors, enzymes, and proteins that help in maintaining the homeostatic condition of the eye and also protect it from the external environment. However, alterations to these enzymes and/or proteins during pathologies such as mechanical injury and viral or fungal infections can disrupt the normal ocular homeostasis, further contributing to disease development. Several tear film components have a significant role in curbing disease progression and promoting corneal regeneration. Additionally, several factors related to disease progression are secreted into the tear film, thereby serving as a valuable reservoir of biomarkers. Tears are readily available and can be collected via non-invasive techniques or simply from contact lenses. Tears can thus serve as a valuable and easy source for studying disease-specific biomarkers. Significant advancements have been made in recent years in the field of tear film proteomics, lipidomics, and transcriptomics to allow a better understanding of how tears can be utilized to gain insight into the etiology of diseases. These advancements have enabled us to study the pathophysiology of various disease states using tear samples. However, the mechanisms by which tears help to maintain corneal homeostasis and how they are able to form the first line of defense against pathogens remain poorly understood and warrant detailed in vitro studies. Herein, we have developed an in vitro assay to characterize the functional importance of patient isolated tears and their components on corneal epithelial cells. This novel approach closely mimics real physiological conditions and could help the researchers gain insight into the underlying mechanisms of ocular pathologies and develop new treatments.

Key features

• This method provides a new technique for analyzing the effect of tear components on human corneal epithelial cells.

• The components of the tears that are altered in response to diseases can be used as a biomarker for detecting ocular complications.

• This procedure can be further employed as an in vitro model for assessing the efficacy of drugs and discover potential therapeutic interventions.

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