In Healthy Eating Less is More: The Science Behind Intermittent Fasting

Mix a love of eating with a desire to live a long, healthy life what do you get? Probably the average 21st century person looking for a way to continue enjoying food despite insufficient exercise and/or an age-related decline in caloric needs.

Enter intermittent fasting, a topic that has found it’s way into most news sources, from National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences publications to WebMD and even the popular press. For instance, National Public Radio’s “The Salt” writers have tried and written about their experiences with dietary restriction.

While fasting has enjoyed fad-like popularity the past several years, it is not new. Fasting, whether purposely not eating or eating a restricted diet, has been practiced for 1,000s of years. What is new is research studies from which we are learning the physiologic effects of fasting and other forms of decreased nutrient intake.

You may have heard the claims that fasting makes people smarter, more focused and thinner? Researchers today are using cell and animal models, and even human subjects, to measure biochemical responses at the cellular level to restricted nutrient intake and meal timing, in part to prove/disprove such claims (1,2). Continue reading

Making BRET the Bright Choice for In vivo Imaging: Use of NanoLuc® Luciferase with Fluorescent Protein Acceptors

13305818-cr-da-nanoluc-application_ligundLive animal in vivo imaging is a common and useful tool for research, but current tools could be better. Two recent papers discuss adaptations of BRET technology combining the brightness of fluorescence with the low background of a bioluminescence reaction to create enhanced in vivo imaging capabilities.

The key is to image photons at wavelengths above 600nm, as lower wavelengths are absorbed by heme-containing proteins (Chu, J., et al., 2016 ). Fluorescent protein use in vivo is limited because the proteins must be excited by an external light source, which generates autofluorescence and has limited penetration due to absorption by tissues. Bioluminescence imaging continues to be a solution, especially firefly luciferase (612nm emission at 37°C), but its use typically requires long image acquisition times. Other luciferases, like NanoLuc, Renilla, and Gaussia, etc. either do not produce enough light or the wavelengths are readily absorbed by tissues, limiting their use to near- surface imaging.

The two papers discussed here illustrate how researchers have combined NanoLuc® luciferase with a fluorescent protein to harness bioluminescent resonance energy transfer (BRET) for brighter in vivo imaging reporters. Continue reading

Don’t Let These Three Common Issues Hurt Your Luminescent Assay Results

4621CAThere is a lot riding on your luminescent assay results. Each plate represents precious time, effort and resources. Did you know that there are three things about your detection instrument that can impact how much useful information you get from each plate?  Instruments with poor sensitivity may cause you to miss low-level samples that could be the “hit” you are looking for.  Instruments with a narrow detection range limit the accuracy or reproducibility you needed to repeat your work.  Finally, instruments that let the signal from bright wells spill into adjacent wells allow crosstalk to occur and skew experimental results, costing you time and leading to failed or repeated experiments. Continue reading

Researchers Gather at Promega Madison Campus for Annual Stem Cell Symposium

stemcell header

Since the derivation of human-derived embryonic stem cells (ES cells) in the 1990’s, the world of stem cell biology and engineering has proceeded at an amazing pace. The isolation pluripotent cells (iPS) cells that have most of the properties of embryonic stem cells from somatic tissues has been possible for nearly a decade. Engineered human cells, tissues, and organ-like structures are becoming a reality and may soon play a part in treating diseases. ES and iPS cells are teaching us much about how cells become specialized during normal development and the pathologies that result when those specialization decisions go wrong.

At the 12th Annual Wisconsin Stem Cell Symposium held at the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center institute, leading researchers from around the world will be gathered to discuss the latest progress, roadblocks and issues around Engineering Cells and Tissues for Discovery and Therapy.

The Symposium is co-coordinated by the Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center Institute and is open to the public. Registration is $100.00 ($50.00 for students and post-doctoral researchers). The Symposium will be held at Promega Corporation’s BioPharmaceutical Technology Center, 5445 E. Cheryl Parkway, Fitchburg, WI.

Topics to be discussed include: Continue reading

ViaFect™ Reagent: Building Assays in Difficult Cells

The story of ViaFect begins with Promega Custom Assay Services (CAS), a group that uses Promega technologies to construct made-to-order assays, typically in a cell line. Many projects from the CAS group involve transfecting cells with expression vectors and reporter vectors. In some instances, customers contact CAS to have an assay constructed in a difficult cell line, after attempting and failing, or experiencing difficulty building the assay themselves.

CAS projects start with a proof-of-concept experiment using transient transfection before moving on to production of a clonal, stable cell line. For difficult cell lines, the CAS group previously turned to electroporation after exhausting lipid-based transfection options. Electroporation often worked, but success came with a price—cytotoxicity. The CAS group challenged R&D to find a better solution—better transfection with low toxicity for difficult-to-use cells. The result of that challenge is the ViaFect™ Transfection Reagent. Continue reading

Improving the Success of Your Transfection

12150558-plasmid_with_cell_membrane3Not every lab has a tried and true transfection protocol that can be used by all lab members. Few researchers will use the same cell type and same construct to generate data. Many times, a scientist may need to transfect different constructs or even different molecules (e.g., short-interfering RNA [siRNA]) into the same cell line, or test a single construct in different cultured cell lines. One construct could be easily transfected into several different cell lines or a transfection protocol may work for several different constructs. However, some cells like primary cells can be difficult to transfect and some nucleic acids will need to be optimized for successful transfection. Here are some tips that may help you improve your transfection success.

Transfect healthy, actively dividing cells at a consistent cell density. Cells should be at a low passage number and 50–80% confluent when transfected. Using the same cell density reduces variability for replicates. Keep cells Mycoplasma-free to ensure optimal growth.

Transfect using high-quality DNA. Transfection-quality DNA is free from protein, RNA and chemical contamination with an A260/A280 ratio of 1.7–1.9. Prepare purified DNA in sterile water or TE buffer at a final concentration of 0.2–1mg/ml. Continue reading

Inflammasomes and Pyroptosis

In today’s post, guest blogger,  Martha O’Brien, PhD, provides a preview of her upcoming AAI poster and block symposium talk on the inflammasome, caspase-1 activity and pyroptosis.

Schematic of the Caspase-Glo 1 Inflammasome Assay.

Schematic of the Caspase-Glo 1 Inflammasome Assay.

Responding rapidly to microbial pathogens and damage-associated molecular markers is critical to our innate immune system. Caspase-1 is pivotal in this process leading to processing and release of essential cytokines and an immunogenic form of cell death, termed pyroptosis. Upon sensing pathogen-associated and damage-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs and DAMPs), innate immune cells form inflammasome protein complexes that recruit and activate caspase-1 (canonical inflammasomes). In addition, other inflammatory caspases, 4 and 5 in humans and 11 in mice, directly bind bacterial lipopolysaccharides (LPS), triggering pyroptosis (non-canonical inflammasome). LPS-triggered non-canonical inflammasomes in mice and humans ultimately lead to canonical inflammasome engagement and caspase-1 activation (1–3).  Caspase-1 was originally termed interleukin converting enzyme (ICE) for its well-established role in processing IL-1ß and IL-18, two important inflammation cytokines. How caspase-1 mediates pyroptosis is less well understood, but is beginning to be delineated. Recently, a substrate of the inflammatory caspases, gasdermin D, was identified and its processed fragment, gasdermin-N domain, was shown to be required for pyroptosis in non-canonical inflammasome circumstances (4, 5). The precise role of gasdermin D in canonical inflammasome-triggered pyroptosis is still under investigation. Linking inflammatory caspases directly to pyroptosis is a notable step in understanding the mechanism of this important form of cell death.

Pyroptosis is clearly one means of releasing processed IL-1ß and IL-18 from the cell. However depending on the cell type and stimulus, there is evidence for inflammasome engagement, caspase-1 activation, and release of IL-1ß in the absence of cell death (6, 7). On the flip-side there is also evidence for caspase-1 mediated pyroptosis that helps clear bacteria, independent of IL-1ß and IL-18 involvement (8). To enable further studies on the inflammasome and in particular, assessing the connections between caspase-1 activation, pyroptosis, and cytokine release, Promega developed a new tool to conveniently monitor caspase-1 activation, the Caspase-Glo® 1 Inflammasome Assay.  This bioluminescent, plate-based assay is used to measure caspase-1 activity directly in cell cultures or to monitor released caspase-1 activity in culture medium from treated cells. This flexibility allows easy multiplexing to monitor all three outcomes of inflammasome stimulation; caspase-1 activity, pyroptosis, and release of IL-1ß and IL-18. Caspase-1 activation typically is monitored indirectly with western blots of processed caspase-1. Now the activity of the enzyme can be monitored directly, providing accurate information on temporal aspects of the inflammasome. The assay can be readily combined with real-time measures of cell death (e.g., CellTox™ Green Cytotoxicity Assay) and some of the culture medium can be removed for IL-1ß/IL-18 assessment, leaving the cells and remaining culture medium for caspase-1 activity measurements. At the upcoming meeting of the American Association of Immunologists (AAI) in Seattle, May 13th-17th, oral and poster presentations will highlight use of the Caspase-Glo® 1 Inflammasome Assay and its value for exploring the relationship between inflammasomes and pyroptosis.

References

  1. Schmid-Burgk et al. (2015) Caspase-4 mediates non-canonical activation of the NLRP3 inflammasome in human myeloid cells. J. Immunol. 45, 2911–7.
  2. Baker et al. (2015) NLRP3 inflammasome activation downstream of cytoplasmic LPS recognition by both caspase-4 and caspase-5. J. Immunol. 45, 2918–26.
  3. Ruhl, S. and P. Broz (2015) Caspase-11 activates a canonical NLRP3 inflammasome by promoting K+ Eur. J. Immunol. 45, 2927–36.
  4. Shi et al. (2015) Cleavage of GSDMD by inflammatory caspases determines pyroptotic cell death. Nature 526, 660–5.
  5. Kayagaki et al. (2015) Caspase-11 cleaves gasdermin D for non-canonical inflammasome signaling. Nature 526, 666–71.
  6. Gaidt et al. (2016) Human monocytes engage an alternative inflammasome pathway. Immunity 44, 833–46.
  7. Chen et al. (2014) The neutrophil NLRC4 inflammasome selectively promotes IL-1ß maturation without pyroptosis during acuteSalmonella Cell Reports 8, 570–82.
  8. Miao et al. (2010) Caspase-1-induced pyroptosis is an innate immune effector mechanism against intracellular bacteria. Nature Immunology 11, 1136–42.

Inflammasome Research: A Tool to Aid Progress

Inflammasomes: A Few Basics

Inflammasomes are protein complexes composed of immune system receptors and sensor molecules. These complexes can respond to both infectious organisms and molecules derived from host proteins. When activated, a series of receptors and molecules signal via either pathogen-associate molecular patterns (PAMPs) induced by microbial pathogens, or danger-associated molecular patterns (DAMPs) induced as a result of endogenous stressors; the common next step in signaling is through pattern recognition receptors (PRR).

Inflammasome diagram.

Innate immune response in inflammation; a basic diagram.

Inflammasome activation is integral to the host immune response in mice and humans (1). The activation results in signaling that activates the caspase-1 scaffold, causing release of immune mediators such as interleukins IL-1β and IL-18. So, whether inflammation is host tissue- or pathogen-induced, inflammasome activation results in a cascade of receptor signaling and mediator release, of which caspase-1 is a critical component.

Continue reading

About the Development of an Improved BRET Assay: NanoBRET

"Protein BRD4 PDB 2oss" by Emw - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Protein_BRD4_PDB_2oss.png#/media/File:Protein_BRD4_PDB_2oss.png

“Protein BRD4 PDB 2oss” by Emw – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Protein_BRD4_PDB_2oss.png#/media/File:Protein_BRD4_PDB_2oss.png

One of the more exciting reporter molecules technologies available came online in the past year, with the launch of the Promega NanoBRET™ technology. While it’s easy for me, a science writer at Promega, to brag, seriously, this is a very cool protein interactions tool.

A few of the challenges facing protein-protein interactions researchers include:

  • The ability to quantitatively characterize protein-protein interactions
  • Ability to examine protein-protein interactions in situ, in the context of the living cell

A goal of the NanoBRET™ developers was to improve the sensitivity and dynamic range of traditional BRET technology, in order to address these challenges.

In May 2015 these researchers published an article outlining their efforts to create NanoBRET technology in ACS Chemical Biology, in an article entitled, “NanoBRET—A Novel BRET Platform for the Analysis of Protein-Protein Interactions”. Here is a brief look at their work.

Continue reading

Rewriting the Histone Code: Searching for Treatments for Stage IV Thyroid Cancers

Chromatin fiberOften a diagnosis of thyroid cancer is associated with a good prognosis and fairly straightforward surgical treatments to remove the tumor followed by radioactive iodine ablation. Such treatment works well in tumors that have not metastasized and retain enough of their thyroid cell “identity” that they can still accumulate radioactive iodine.

However, aggressive thyroid cancers, which often metastasize and recur, do not respond to standard treatments because they are generally too dedifferentiated to accumulate iodine, so alternative treatments are needed.

One approach is to look for compounds that will reverse dedifferentiation, making tumor cells more likely to take up and concentrate radioactive iodine regardless of their location in the body. One possible target to effect dedifferentiation is epigenetic modification of histone proteins.

Histone proteins are more than the structural components of the nucleosome that organizes the chromatin inside cells. Histone proteins are subject to a host of protein modifications on their N-terminal tails such as acetylation, phosphorylation, methylation, ubiquitination and ADP-ribosylation. These various modifications are seen as creating a “histone code” that is read by other proteins and protein complexes (1). This code regulates patterns of gene expression and activity for a cell—in part resulting in a differentiated phenotype. Previous studies have suggested that some histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors (e.g., valproic acid) can reverse some of the dedifferentiation associated with aggressive cancers (2).

Jang, et al. in a recent paper (3) published in Cancer Gene Therapy synthesized a group of HDAC inhibitor analogs (AB1–AB13) and tested them for their ability to inhibit growth of three aggressive human thyroid cancer cell lines and induce partial re-differentiation to the thyroid cell phenotype. Continue reading