Cell Biology


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Protocols in Current Issue
0 Q&A 60 Views Apr 20, 2024

Cultured mammalian cells are a common model system for the study of epithelial biology and mechanics. Epithelia are often considered as pseudo–two dimensional and thus imaged and analyzed with respect to the apical tissue surface. We found that the three-dimensional architecture of epithelial monolayers can vary widely even within small culture wells, and that layers that appear organized in the plane of the tissue can show gross disorganization in the apical-basal plane. Epithelial cell shapes should be analyzed in 3D to understand the architecture and maturity of the cultured tissue to accurately compare between experiments. Here, we present a detailed protocol for the use of our image analysis pipeline, Automated Layer Analysis (ALAn), developed to quantitatively characterize the architecture of cultured epithelial layers. ALAn is based on a set of rules that are applied to the spatial distributions of DNA and actin signals in the apical-basal (depth) dimension of cultured layers obtained from imaging cultured cell layers using a confocal microscope. ALAn facilitates reproducibility across experiments, investigations, and labs, providing users with quantitative, unbiased characterization of epithelial architecture and maturity.


Key features

• This protocol was developed to spatially analyze epithelial monolayers in an automated and unbiased fashion.

• ALAn requires two inputs: the spatial distributions of nuclei and actin in cultured cells obtained using confocal fluorescence microscopy.

• ALAn code is written in Python3 using the Jupyter Notebook interactive format.

• Optimized for use in Marbin-Darby Canine Kidney (MDCK) cells and successfully applied to characterize human MCF-7 mammary gland–derived and Caco-2 colon carcinoma cells.

• This protocol utilizes Imaris software to segment nuclei but may be adapted for an alternative method. ALAn requires the centroid coordinates and volume of nuclei.


Graphical overview


0 Q&A 83 Views Apr 20, 2024

The advent of single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNAseq) has enabled in-depth gene expression analysis of several thousand cells isolated from tissues. We recently reported the application of scRNAseq toward the dissection of the tumor-infiltrating T-cell repertoire in human pancreatic cancer samples. In this study, we demonstrated that combined whole transcriptome and T-cell receptor (TCR) sequencing provides an effective way to identify tumor-reactive TCR clonotypes on the basis of gene expression signatures. An important aspect in this respect was the experimental validation of TCR-mediated anti-tumor reactivity by means of an in vitro functional assay, which is the subject of the present protocol. This assay involves the transient transfection of mRNA gene constructs encoding TCRα/β pairs into a well-defined human T-cell line, followed by co-cultivation with the tumor cells of interest and detection of T-cell activation by flow cytometry. Due to the high transfectability and the low background reactivity of the mock-transfected T-cell line to a wide variety of tumor cells, this assay offers a highly robust and versatile platform for the functional screening of large numbers of TCR clonotypes as identified in scRNAseq data sets. Whereas the assay was initially developed to test TCRs of human origin, it was more recently also applied successfully for the screening of TCRs of murine origin.

0 Q&A 131 Views Apr 20, 2024

In vivo brain imaging, using a combination of genetically encoded Ca2+ indicators and gradient refractive index (GRIN) lens, is a transformative technology that has become an increasingly potent research tool over the last decade. It allows direct visualisation of the dynamic cellular activity of deep brain neurons and glia in conscious animals and avoids the effect of anaesthesia on the network. This technique provides a step change in brain imaging where fibre photometry combines the whole ensemble of cellular activity, and multiphoton microscopy is limited to imaging superficial brain structures either under anaesthesia or in head-restrained conditions. We have refined the intravital imaging technique to image deep brain nuclei in the ventral medulla oblongata, one of the most difficult brain structures to image due to the movement of brainstem structures outside the cranial cavity during free behaviour (head and neck movement), whose targeting requires GRIN lens insertion through the cerebellum—a key structure for balance and movement. Our protocol refines the implantation method of GRIN lenses, giving the best possible approach to image deep extracranial brainstem structures in awake rodents with improved cell rejection/acceptance criteria during analysis. We have recently reported this method for imaging the activity of retrotrapezoid nucleus and raphe neurons to outline their chemosensitive characteristics. This revised method paves the way to image challenging brainstem structures to investigate their role in complex behaviours such as breathing, circulation, sleep, digestion, and swallowing, and could be extended to image and study the role of cerebellum in balance, movement, motor learning, and beyond.


Key features

• We developed a protocol that allows imaging from brainstem neurons and glia in freely behaving rodents.

• Our refined method of GRIN lenses implantation and cell sorting approach gives the highest number of cells with the least postoperative complications.

• The revised deep brainstem imaging method paves way to understand complex behaviours such as cardiorespiratory regulation, sleep, swallowing, and digestion.

• Our protocol can be implemented to image cerebellar structures to understand their role in key functions such as balance, movement, motor learning, and more.


Graphical overview


0 Q&A 39 Views Apr 20, 2024

Precision-cut lung slices (PCLS), ex vivo 3D lung tissue models, have been widely used for various applications in lung research. PCLS serve as an excellent intermediary between in vitro and in vivo models because they retain all resident cell types within their natural niche while preserving the extracellular matrix environment. This protocol describes the TReATS (TAT-Cre recombinase-mediated floxed allele modification in tissue slices) method that enables rapid and efficient gene modification in PCLS derived from adult floxed animals. Here, we present detailed protocols for the TReATS method, consisting of two simple steps: PCLS generation and incubation in a TAT-Cre recombinase solution. Subsequent validation of gene modification involves live staining and imaging of PCLS, quantitative real-time PCR, and cell viability assessment. This four-day protocol eliminates the need for complex Cre-breeding, circumvents issues with premature lethality related to gene mutation, and significantly reduces the use of animals. The TReATS method offers a simple and reproducible solution for gene modification in complex ex vivo tissue-based models, accelerating the study of gene function, disease mechanisms, and the discovery of drug targets.

Protocols in Past Issues
0 Q&A 227 Views Apr 5, 2024

Stem cell spheroids are rapidly becoming essential tools for a diverse array of applications ranging from tissue engineering to 3D cell models and fundamental biology. Given the increasing prominence of biotechnology, there is a pressing need to develop more accessible, efficient, and reproducible methods for producing these models. Various techniques such as hanging drop, rotating wall vessel, magnetic levitation, or microfluidics have been employed to generate spheroids. However, none of these methods facilitate the easy and efficient production of a large number of spheroids using a standard 6-well plate. Here, we present a novel method based on pellet culture (utilizing U-shaped
microstructures) using a silicon mold produced through 3D printing, along with a detailed and illustrated manufacturing protocol. This technique enables the rapid production of reproducible and controlled spheroids (for 1 × 106 cells, spheroids = 130 ± 10 μm) from human induced pluripotent stem cells (hIPSCs) within a short time frame (24 h). Importantly, the method allows the production of large quantities (2 × 104 spheroids for 1 × 106 cells) in an accessible and cost-effective manner, thanks to the use of a reusable mold. The protocols outlined herein are easily implementable, and all the necessary files for the method replication are freely available.


Key features

• Provision of 3D mold files (STL) to produce silicone induction device of spheroids using 3D printing.

• Cost-effective, reusable, and autoclavable device capable of generating up to 1.2× 104 spheroids of tunable diameters in a 6-well plate.

• Spheroids induction with multiple hIPSC cell lines.

• Robust and reproducible production method suitable for routine laboratory use.


Graphical overview



Spheroid induction process following the pellet method on molded silicon discs

0 Q&A 1014 Views Mar 20, 2024

Stem cell–based therapies have evolved to become a key component of regenerative medicine approaches to human pathologies. Exogenous stem cell transplantation takes advantage of the potential of stem cells to self-renew, differentiate, home to sites of injury, and sufficiently evade the immune system to remain viable for the release of anti-inflammatory cytokines, chemokines, and growth factors. Common to many pathologies is the exacerbation of inflammation at the injury site by proinflammatory macrophages. An increasing body of evidence has demonstrated that mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) can influence the immunophenotype and function of myeloid lineage cells to promote therapeutic effects. Understanding the degree to which MSCs can modulate the phenotype of macrophages within an inflammatory environment is of interest when considering strategies for targeted cell therapies. There is a critical need for potency assays to elucidate these intercellular interactions in vitro and provide insight into potential mechanisms of action attributable to the immunomodulatory and polarizing capacities of MSCs, as well as other cells with immunomodulatory potential. However, the complexity of the responses, in terms of cell phenotypes and characteristics, timing of these interactions, and the degree to which cell contact is involved, have made the study of these interactions challenging. To provide a research tool to study the direct interactions between MSCs and macrophages, we developed a potency assay that directly co-cultures MSCs with naïve macrophages under proinflammatory conditions. Using this assay, we demonstrated changes in the macrophage secretome and phenotype, which can be used to evaluate the abilities of the cell samples to influence the cell microenvironment. These results suggest the immunomodulatory effects of MSCs on macrophages while revealing key cytokines and phenotypic changes that may inform their efficacy as potential cellular therapies.


Key features

• The protocol uses monocytes differentiated into naïve macrophages, which are loosely adherent, have a relatively homogeneous genetic background, and resemble peripheral blood mononuclear cells–derived macrophages.

• The protocol requires a plate reader and a flow cytometer with the ability to detect six fluorophores.

• The protocol provides a quantitative measurement of co-culture conditions by the addition of a fixed number of freshly thawed or culture-rescued MSCs to macrophages.

• This protocol uses assessment of the secretome and cell harvest to independently verify the nature of the interactions between macrophages and MSCs.


Graphical overview


0 Q&A 1316 Views Mar 20, 2024

Proliferating cells need to cope with extensive cytoskeletal and nuclear remodeling as they prepare to divide. These events are tightly regulated by the nuclear translocation of the cyclin B1-CDK1 complex, that is partly dependent on nuclear tension. Standard experimental approaches do not allow the manipulation of forces acting on cells in a time-resolved manner. Here, we describe a protocol that enables dynamic mechanical manipulation of single cells with high spatial and temporal resolution and its application in the context of cell division. In addition, we also outline a method for the manipulation of substrate stiffness using polyacrylamide hydrogels. Finally, we describe a static cell confinement setup, which can be used to study the impact of prolonged mechanical stimulation in populations of cells.


Key features

• Protocol for microfabrication of confinement devices.

• Single-cell dynamic confinement coupled with high-resolution microscopy.

• Static cell confinement protocol that can be combined with super-resolution STED microscopy.

• Analysis of the mechanical control of mitotic entry in a time-resolved manner.


Graphical overview


0 Q&A 1485 Views Mar 20, 2024

CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing is a widely used tool for creating genetic knock-ins, which allow for endogenous tagging of genes. This is in contrast with random insertion using viral vectors, where expression of the inserted transgene changes the total copy number of a gene in a cell and does not reflect the endogenous chromatin environment or any trans-acting regulation experienced at a locus. There are very few protocols for endogenous fluorescent tagging in macrophages. Here, we describe a protocol to design and test CRISPR guide RNAs and donor plasmids, to transfect them into RAW 264.7 mouse macrophage-like cells using the Neon transfection system and to grow up clonal populations of cells containing the endogenous knock-in at various loci. We have used this protocol to create endogenous fluorescent knock-ins in at least six loci, including both endogenously tagging genes and inserting transgenes in the Rosa26 and Tigre safe harbor loci. This protocol uses circular plasmid DNA as the donor template and delivers the sgRNA and Cas9 as an all-in-one expression plasmid. We designed this protocol for fluorescent protein knock-ins; it is best used when positive clones can be identified by fluorescence. However, it may be possible to adapt the protocol for non-fluorescent knock-ins. This protocol allows for the fairly straightforward creation of clonal populations of macrophages with tags at the endogenous loci of genes. We also describe how to set up imaging experiments in 24-well plates to track fluorescence in the edited cells over time.


Key features

• CRISPR knock-in of fluorescent proteins in RAW 264.7 mouse macrophages at diverse genomic loci.

• This protocol is optimized for the use of the Neon transfection system.

• Includes instructions for growing up edited clonal populations from single cells with one single-cell sorting step and efficient growth in conditioned media after cell sorting.

• Designed for knocking in fluorescent proteins and screening transfected cells byFACS, but modification for non-fluorescent knock-ins may be possible.


Graphical overview


0 Q&A 284 Views Mar 20, 2024

Understanding protein–protein interactions is crucial for unravelling subcellular protein distribution, contributing to our understanding of cellular organisation. Moreover, interaction studies can reveal insights into the mechanisms that cover protein trafficking within cells. Although various techniques such as Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET), co-immunoprecipitation, and fluorescence microscopy are commonly employed to detect protein interactions, their limitations have led to more advanced techniques such as the in situ proximity ligation assay (PLA) for spatial co-localisation analysis. The PLA technique, specifically employed in fixed cells and tissues, utilises species-specific secondary PLA probes linked to DNA oligonucleotides. When proteins are within 40 nm of each other, the DNA oligonucleotides on the probes interact, facilitating circular DNA formation through ligation. Rolling-circle amplification then produces DNA circles linked to the PLA probe. Fluorescently labelled oligonucleotides hybridise to the circles, generating detectable signals for precise co-localisation analysis. We employed PLA to examine the co-localisation of dynein with the Kv7.4 channel protein in isolated vascular smooth muscle cells from rat mesenteric arteries. This method enabled us to investigate whether Kv7.4 channels interact with dynein, thereby providing evidence of their retrograde transport by the microtubule network. Our findings illustrate that PLA is a valuable tool for studying potential novel protein interactions with dynein, and the quantifiable approach offers insights into whether these interactions are changed in disease.

0 Q&A 268 Views Mar 5, 2024

The genome of the dengue virus codes for a single polypeptide that yields three structural and seven non-structural (NS) proteins upon post-translational modifications. Among them, NS protein-3 (NS3) possesses protease activity, involved in the processing of the self-polypeptide and in the cleavage of host proteins. Identification and analysis of such host proteins as substrates of this protease facilitate the development of specific drugs. In vitro cleavage analysis has been applied, which requires homogeneously purified components. However, the expression and purification of both S3 and erythroid differentiation regulatory factor 1 (EDRF1) are difficult and unsuccessful on many occasions. EDRF1 was identified as an interacting protein of dengue virus protease (NS3). The amino acid sequence analysis indicates the presence of NS3 cleavage sites in this protein. As EDRF1 is a high-molecular-weight (~138 kDa) protein, it is difficult to express and purify the complete protein. In this protocol, we clone the domain of the EDRF1 protein (C-terminal end) containing the cleavage site and the NS3 into two different eukaryotic expression vectors containing different tags. These recombinant vectors are co-transfected into mammalian cells. The cell lysate is subjected to SDS-PAGE followed by western blotting with anti-tag antibodies. Data suggest the disappearance of the EDRF1 band in the lane co-transfected along with NS3 protease but present in the lane transfected with only EDRF1, suggesting EDRF1 as a novel substrate of NS3 protease. This protocol is useful in identifying the substrates of viral-encoded proteases using ex vivo conditions. Further, this protocol can be used to screen anti-protease molecules.


Key features

• This protocol requires the cloning of protease and substrate into two different eukaryotic expression vectors with different tags.

• Involves the transfection and co-transfection of both the above recombinant vectors individually and together.

• Involves western blotting of the same PVDF membrane containing total proteins of the cell lysate with two different antibodies.

• Does not require purified proteins for the analysis of cleavage of any suspected substrate by the protease.


Graphical overview


0 Q&A 303 Views Mar 5, 2024

The measurement of transepithelial electrical resistance across confluent cell monolayer systems is the most commonly used technique to study intestinal barrier development and integrity. Electric cell substrate impedance sensing (ECIS) is a real-time, label-free, impedance-based method used to study various cell behaviors such as cell growth, viability, migration, and barrier function in vitro. So far, the ECIS technology has exclusively been performed on cell lines. Organoids, however, are cultured from tissue-specific stem cells, which better recapitulate cell functions and the heterogeneity of the parent tissue than cell lines and are therefore more physiologically relevant for research and modeling of human diseases. In this protocol paper, we demonstrate that ECIS technology can be successfully applied on 2D monolayers generated from patient-derived intestinal organoids.


Key features

• We present a protocol that allows the assessment of various cell functions, such as proliferation and barrier formation, with ECIS on organoid-derived monolayers.

• The protocol facilitates intestinal barrier research on patient tissue-derived organoids, providing a valuable tool for disease modeling.

0 Q&A 559 Views Mar 5, 2024

Recent advancements in tissue-clearing techniques and volumetric imaging have greatly facilitated visualization and quantification of biomolecules, organelles, and cells in intact organs or even entire organisms. Generally, there are two types of clearing methods: hydrophobic and hydrophilic (i.e., clearing with organic or aqueous solvents, respectively). The popular iDISCO approach and its modifications are hydrophobic methods that involve dehydration, delipidation, decolorization (optional), decalcification (optional), and refractive-index (RI) matching steps. Cleared samples are often stored for a relatively long period of time and imaged repeatedly. However, cleared tissues can become opaque over time, which prevents accurate reimaging. We reasoned that the resurgent haziness is likely due to rehydration, residual lipids, and uneven RI deep inside those tissue samples. For rescue, we have developed a simple procedure based on iDISCO. Beginning with a methanol dehydration, samples are delipidated using dichloromethane, followed by RI matching with dibenzyl ether (DBE). This simple method effectively re-clears mouse brains that have turned opaque during months of storage, allowing the user to effectively image immunolabeled samples over longer periods of time.


Key features

• This simple protocol rescues previously cleared tissue that has turned opaque.

• The method does not cause detectable loss of immunofluorescence from previously stained samples.


Graphical overview


0 Q&A 608 Views Mar 5, 2024

Autophagy is a conserved homeostatic mechanism involved in cellular homeostasis and many disease processes. Although it was first described in yeast cells undergoing starvation, we have learned over the years that autophagy gets activated in many stress conditions and during development and aging in mammalian cells. Understanding the fundamental mechanisms underlying autophagy effects can bring us closer to better insights into the pathogenesis of many disease conditions (e.g., cardiac muscle necrosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and chronic lung injury). Due to the complex and dynamic nature of the autophagic processes, many different techniques (e.g., western blotting, fluorescent labeling, and genetic modifications of key autophagy proteins) have been developed to delineate autophagy effects. Although these methods are valid, they are not well suited for the assessment of time-dependent autophagy kinetics. Here, we describe a novel approach: the use of DAPRed for autophagic flux measurement via live cell imaging, utilizing A549 cells, that can visualize and quantify autophagic flux in real time in single live cells. This approach is relatively straightforward in comparison to other experimental procedures and should be applicable to any in vitro cell/tissue models.


Key features

• Allows real-time qualitative imaging of autophagic flux at single-cell level.

• Primary cells and cell lines can also be utilized with this technique.

• Use of confocal microscopy allows visualization of autophagy without disturbing cellular functions.

0 Q&A 571 Views Mar 5, 2024

Here, we describe immunofluorescent (IF) staining assay of 3D cell culture colonoids isolated from mice colon as described previously. Primary cultures developed from isolated colonic stem cells are called colonoids. Immunofluorescence can be used to analyze the distribution of proteins, glycans, and small molecules—both biological and non-biological ones. Four-day-old colonoid cell cultures grown on Lab-Tek 8-well plate are fixed by paraformaldehyde. Fixed colonoids are then subjected to antigen retrieval and blocking followed by incubation with primary antibody. A corresponding secondary antibody tagged with desired fluorescence is used to visualize primary antibody–marked protein. Counter staining to stain actin filaments and nucleus to assess cell structure and DNA in nucleus is performed by choosing the other two contrasting fluorescences. IF staining of colonoids can be utilized to visualize molecular markers of cell behavior. This technique can be used for translation research by isolating colonoids from colitis patients’ colons, monitoring the biomarkers, and customizing their treatments.


Key features

• Analysis of molecular markers of cell behavior.

Protocol to visualize proteins in 3D cell culture.

• This protocol requires colonoids isolated from mice colon grown on matrigel support.

• Protocol requires at least eight days to complete.


Graphical overview





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