Biophysics


Protocols in Current Issue
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0 Q&A 460 Views Jan 20, 2023

Single-particle electron cryo-microscopy (cryo-EM) is an effective tool to determine high-resolution structures of macromolecular complexes. Its lower requirements for sample concentration and purity make it an accessible method to determine structures of low-abundant protein complexes, such as those isolated from native sources. While there are many approaches to protein purification for cryo-EM, attaining suitable particle quality and abundance is generally the major bottleneck to the typical single-particle project workflow. Here, we present a protocol using budding yeast (S. cerevisiae), in which a tractable immunoprecipitation tag (3xFLAG) is appended at the endogenous locus of a gene of interest (GOI). The modified gene is expressed under its endogenous promoter, and cells are grown and harvested using standard procedures. Our protocol describes the steps in which the tagged proteins and their associated complexes are isolated within three hours of thawing cell lysates, after which the recovered proteins are used directly for cryo-EM specimen preparation. The prioritization of speed maximizes the ability to recover intact, scarce complexes. The protocol is generalizable to soluble yeast proteins that tolerate C-terminal epitope tags.


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Overview of lysate-to-grid workflow. Yeast cells are transformed to express a tractable tag on a gene of interest. Following cell culture and lysis, particles of interest are rapidly isolated by co-immunoprecipitation and prepared for cryo-EM imaging (created with BioRender.com).

0 Q&A 490 Views Dec 5, 2022

Cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET) is a formidable technique to observe the inner workings of vitrified cells at a nanometric resolution in near-native conditions and in three-dimensions. One consequent drawback of this technique is the sample thickness, for two reasons: i) achieving proper vitrification of the sample gets increasingly difficult with sample thickness, and ii) cryo-ET relies on transmission electron microscopy (TEM), requiring thin samples for proper electron transmittance (<500 nm). For samples exceeding this thickness limit, thinning methods can be used to render the sample amenable for cryo-ET. Cryo-focused ion beam (cryo-FIB) milling is one of them and despite having hugely benefitted the fields of animal cell biology, virology, microbiology, and even crystallography, plant cells are still virtually unexplored by cryo-ET, in particular because they are generally orders of magnitude bigger than bacteria, viruses, or animal cells (at least 10 μm thick) and difficult to process by cryo-FIB milling. Here, we detail a preparation method where abaxial epidermal onion cell wall peels are separated from the epidermal cells and subsequently plunge frozen, cryo-FIB milled, and screened by cryo-ET in order to acquire high resolution tomographic data for analyzing the organization of the cell wall.

0 Q&A 907 Views Nov 20, 2022

The study and use of decellularized extracellular matrix (dECM) in tissue engineering, regenerative medicine, and pathophysiology have become more prevalent in recent years. To obtain dECM, numerous decellularization procedures have been developed for the entire organ or tissue blocks, employing either perfusion of decellularizing agents through the tissue’s vessels or submersion of large sections in decellularizing solutions. However, none of these protocols are suitable for thin tissue slices (less than 100 µm) or allow side-by-side analysis of native and dECM consecutive tissue slices. Here, we present a detailed protocol to decellularize tissue sections while maintaining the sample attached to a glass slide. This protocol consists of consecutive washes and incubations of simple decellularizing agents: ultrapure water, sodium deoxycholate (SD) 2%, and deoxyribonuclease I solution 0.3 mg/mL (DNase I). This novel method has been optimized for a faster decellularization time (2–3 h) and a better correlation between dECM properties and native tissue-specific biomarkers, and has been tested in different types of tissues and species, obtaining similar results. Furthermore, this method can be used for scarce and valuable samples such as clinical biopsies.

0 Q&A 1148 Views Nov 5, 2022

Cryo-focused ion beam (FIB) milling of vitrified specimens is emerging as a powerful method for in situ specimen preparation. It allows for the preservation of native and near-native conditions in cells, and can reveal the molecular structure of protein complexes when combined with cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET) and sub-tomogram averaging. Cryo-FIB milling is often performed on plunge-frozen specimens of limited thickness. However, this approach may have several disadvantages, including low throughput for cells that are small, or at low concentration, or poorly distributed across accessible areas of the grid, as well as for samples that may adopt a preferred orientation. Here, we present a detailed description of the “Waffle Method” protocol for vitrifying thick specimens followed by a semi-automated milling procedure using the Thermo Fisher Scientific (TFS) Aquilos 2 cryo-FIB/scanning electron microscope (SEM) instrument and AutoTEM Cryo software to produce cryo-lamellae. With this protocol, cryo-lamellae may be generated from specimens, such as microsporidia spores, yeast, bacteria, and mammalian cells, as well as purified proteins and protein complexes. An experienced lab can perform the entire protocol presented here within an 8-hour working day, resulting in two to three cryo-lamellae with target thicknesses of 100–200 nm and dimensions of approximately 12 μm width and 15–20 μm length. For cryo-FIB/SEMs with particularly low-contamination chambers, the protocol can be extended to overnight milling, resulting in up to 16 cryo-lamellae in 24 h.


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0 Q&A 642 Views Nov 5, 2022

Aptamers have been selected with strong affinity and high selectivity for a wide range of targets, as recently highlighted by the development of aptamer-based sensors that can differentiate infectious from non-infectious viruses, including human adenovirus and SARS-CoV-2. Accurate determination of the binding affinity between the DNA aptamers and their viral targets is the first step to understanding the molecular recognition of viral particles and the potential uses of aptamers in various diagnostics and therapeutic applications. Here, we describe protocols to obtain the binding curve of the DNA aptamers to SARS-CoV-2 using Enzyme-Linked Oligonucleotide Assay (ELONA) and MicroScale Thermophoresis (MST). These methods allow for the determination of the binding affinity of the aptamer to the infectious SARS-CoV-2 and the selectivity of this aptamer against the same SARS-CoV-2 that has been rendered non-infectious by UV inactivation, and other viruses. Compared to other techniques like Electrophoretic Mobility Shift Assay (EMSA), Surface Plasmon Resonance (SPR), and Isothermal Titration Calorimetry (ITC), these methods have advantages for working with larger particles like viruses and with samples that require biosafety level 2 facilities.

0 Q&A 557 Views Nov 5, 2022

Reconstitution of membrane proteins into large unilamellar vesicles is an essential approach for their functional analysis under chemically defined conditions. The orientation of the protein in the liposomal membrane after reconstitution depends on many parameters, and its assessment is important prior to functional measurements. Common approaches for determining the orientation of a membrane-inserted protein are based on limited proteolytic digest, impermeable labeling reagents for specific amino acids, or membrane-impermeable quenchers for fluorescent proteins. Here, we describe a simple site-specific fluorescent assay based on self-labeling enzyme tags to determine the orientation of membrane proteins after reconstitution, exemplified on a reconstituted SNAP-tag plant H+-ATPase. This versatile method should benefit the optimization of reconstitution conditions and the analysis of many types of membrane proteins.


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0 Q&A 588 Views Nov 5, 2022

Cytochrome P450 reductase (CPR) is a multi-domain protein that acts as a redox partner of cytochrome P450s. The CPR contains a flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD)–binding domain, a flavin mononucleotide (FMN)-binding domain, and a connecting domain. To achieve catalytic events, the FMN-binding domain needs to move relative to the FAD-binding domain, and this high flexibility complicates structural determination in high-resolution by X-ray crystallography. Here, we demonstrate a seeding technique of sorghum CPR crystals for resolution improvement, which can be applied to other poorly diffracting protein crystals. Protein expression is completed using an E. coli cell line with a high protein yield and purified using chromatography techniques. Crystals are screened using an automated 96-well plating robot. Poorly diffracting crystals are originally grown using a hanging drop method from successful trials observed in sitting drops. A macro seeding technique is applied by transferring crystal clusters to fresh conditions without nucleation to increase crystal size. Prior to diffraction, a dehydration technique is applied by serial transfer to higher precipitant concentrations. Thus, an increase in resolution by 7 Å is achieved by limiting the inopportune effects of the flexibility inherent to the domains of CPR, and secondary structures of SbCPR2c are observed.


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0 Q&A 933 Views Oct 20, 2022

The transmembrane receptor–ligand interactions play a vital role in the physiological and pathological processes of living cells, such as immune cell activation, neural synapse formation, or viral invasion into host cells. Mounting evidence suggests that these processes involve mechanosensing and mechanotransduction, which are directly mediated by the force-dependent transmembrane receptor–ligand interactions. Some single-molecule force spectroscopy techniques have been applied to investigate force-dependent kinetics of receptor–ligand interactions. Among these, the biomembrane force probe (BFP), a unique and powerful technique, can quantitatively and accurately determine the force-dependent parameters of transmembrane receptor–ligand interactions at the single-molecule level on living cells. The stiffness, spatial resolution, force, and bond lifetime range of BFP are 0.1–3 pN/nm, 2–3 nm, 1–103 pN, and 5 × 10-4–200 s, respectively. Therefore, this technique is very suitable for studying transient and weak interactions between transmembrane receptors and their ligands. Here, we share in detail the in situ characterization of the single-molecule force-dependent bond lifetime of transmembrane receptor–ligand interactions, based on a force-clamp assay with BFP.

0 Q&A 707 Views Oct 20, 2022

Single-molecule measurements provide statistical distributions of molecular properties, in addition to the ensemble averages. Evanescent detection approaches have been widely used for single-molecule detection because the evanescent field can significantly enhance the light-analyte interaction and reduce the background noise. However, current evanescent single-molecule detection systems mostly require specially designed sensing components. Here, we show that single proteins can be imaged on a plain cover glass surface by detecting the evanescent waves scattered by the target molecules. This allows us to quantify the protein–antibody interactions at the single-molecule level. This protocol describes a label-free single-molecule imaging approach with conventional consumables and may pave the road for detecting single molecules with commercial optical microscopy.

0 Q&A 688 Views Oct 20, 2022

The human immunodeficiency virus 1 (HIV-1) consists of a viral membrane surrounding the conical capsid. The capsid is a protein container assembled from approximately 1,500 copies of the viral capsid protein (CA), functioning as a reaction and transport chamber for the viral genome after cell entry. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) is a widely used technique for characterizing the ultrastructure of isolated viral capsids after removal of the viral membrane, which otherwise hinders negative staining of structures inside the viral particle for TEM. Here, we provide a protocol to permeabilize the membrane of HIV-1 particles using a pore-forming toxin for negative staining of capsids, which are stabilized with inositol hexakisphosphate to prevent premature capsid disassembly. This approach revealed the pleomorphic nature of capsids with a partially intact membrane surrounding them. The permeabilization strategy using pore-forming toxins can be readily applied to visualize the internal architecture of other enveloped viruses using TEM.


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