A Tale of Two Toxins: the mechanisms of cell death in Clostridium difficile infections

When someone is admitted to a hospital for an illness, the hope is that medical care and treatment will help them them feel better. However, nosocomial infections—infections acquired in a health-care setting—are becoming more prevalent and are associated with an increased mortality rate worldwide. This is largely due to the misuse of antibiotics, allowing some bacteria to become resistant. Furthermore, when an antibiotic wipes out the “good” bacteria that comprise the human microbiome, it leaves a patient vulnerable to opportunistic infections that take advantage of disruptions to the gut microbiota.

One such bacteria, Clostridium difficile, is of growing concern world-wide since it is resistant to many different antibiotics. When a patient is treated with an antibiotic, C. difficile can thrive in the intestinal tract without other bacteria populating the gut. C. difficile infection is the leading cause of antibiotic-associated diarrhea. While symptoms can be mild, aggressive infection can lead to pseudomembranous colitis—a severe inflammation of the colon which can be life-threatening.

C. difficile causes disease by releasing two large toxins, TcdA and TcdB. Understanding the role these toxins play in colonic disease is important for treatment strategies. However, most published research data only report the effects of the toxins independently. A 2016 study demonstrated a method of comparing the toxins side-by-side using the same time points and cell assays to investigate the role each toxin plays in the cell death that leads to disease of the colon. Continue reading

A Better Way to Understand How and Why Cells Die

Real-time, up-to-the-minute access to information provides new opportunities for scientists to monitor cellular events in ever more meaningful ways. Real-time cytotoxicity and cell viability assay reagents now allow constant monitoring of cell health status without the need to lyse or remove aliquots from plates for measurement. With a real-time approach, data can be collected from cell cultures or microtissues at multiple time points after addition of a drug compound or other event, and the response to treatment continually observed.

The CellTox™ Green assay is a real-time assay that monitors cytotoxicity using a fluorescent DNA binding dye, which binds DNA released from cells upon loss of membrane integrity. The dye cannot enter intact, live cells and so fluorescence only occurs upon cell death, correlating with cytotoxicity. Here’s a quick overview showing how the assay works:

More Data Using Fewer Samples and Reagents
The ability to continually monitor cytotoxicity in this way makes it easy to conduct more than one type of analysis on a single sample. Assays can be combined to determine not only the timing of cytotoxicity, but to also understand related events happening in the same cell population. As long as the readouts can be distinguished from one another multiple assays can be performed in the same well, providing more informative data while using less cells, plates and reagents.

Combining assays in this way can reveal critical information regarding mechanism of cell death. For example, assay combinations can be used to determine whether cells are dying from apoptosis or necrosis, or to distinguish nonproliferation from cell death. Combining CellTox Green with an endpoint luminescent caspase assay or a real-time apoptosis assay allows you to determine whether observed cytotoxic effects are due to apoptosis. Cytotoxic and anti-proliferative effects can be distinguished by combining the cytotoxicity assay with a luminescent or fluorescent cell viability assay. Continue reading

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

2 Ways to Save Your Single Reporter Data

Reporter assays using a single reporter, be it from a stable cell line or transient transfection, can benefit from normalization. Obviously, we are not talking about adding a second control reporter but normalizing to the number of live or dead cells in the well.  Two cell health assays, CellTiter-Fluor™ Cell Viability Assay and CellTox™ Green Cytotoxicity Assay, are ideally suited for multiplexing with reporter assays.  Continue reading

Choosing the Right Cell Health Assay

artists view inside a cell

Based on the Illuminations article by Dr. Terry Riss, from our Cellular Analysis group.

Choosing the most appropriate cell health assay for your experiment can be difficult.  There are several factors to consider when choosing an assay: the question you are asking, the nature of your sample, the number of samples being tested, the required sensitivity, the nature of the sample, the plates and plate readers and the reagent costs.

What question are you asking?

The first, and perhaps most important factor to consider, is the question you need answered. What do you want to know at the end of the experiment? There are cell health assays available that specifically detect the number of living cells, the number of dead cells, and for assessing stress response mechanisms or pathways that may lead to cell death. Matching the assay endpoint to the information you need is vital to choosing the appropriate cell health assay. Continue reading

NAD: A Renaissance Molecule and its Role in Cell Health

Promega NAD/NADH-Glo system and how to prepare samples for  identification of NAD or NADH.

Promega NAD/NADH-Glo system and how to prepare samples for identification of NAD or NADH.

NAD is a pyridine nucleotide. It provides the oxidation and reduction power for generation of ATP by mitochondria. For many years it was believed that the primary function of NAD/NADH in cells was to harness and transfer energy  from glucose, fatty and amino acids through pathways like glycolysis, beta-oxidation and the citric acid cycle.

Today, however, NAD is recognized as an important cell signaling molecule and substrate. The many regulatory pathways now known to use NAD+ in signaling include multiple aspects of cellular homeostasis, energy metabolism, lifespan regulation, apoptosis, DNA repair and telomere maintenance.

This resurrection of NAD importance is due in no small part to the discovery of NAD-using enzymes, especially the sirtuins. Continue reading

Considerations for Successful Cell-Based Assays I: Choosing Your Cells

For those of us entering the world of cell-based assays from a classical or molecular genetics background, the world of cell culture can be daunting. Yet to truly understand how the genetic mutation behind a particular phenotype works, we need to look at the biochemistry and cell biology where it all occurs: the cell.

This series of blogs will cover several topics to consider when designing your cell-based assays. In this first installment, we discuss the basics of choosing the cell type for your assay. Continue reading

Predictive In Vitro Cytotoxicity Testing

Cell culture cytotoxicity testing is used as a predictor for animal toxicity. High-throughput cytotoxicity screening using ATP levels as an indicator of cell viability is the current gold standard for such predictive cytotoxicity testing. Multiplexing assay chemistries allows researchers to measure multiple parameters on a single sample in order to get a more complete picture of what is happening when cells are exposed to a treatment compound. For example multiplex assays using three protease activities as markers of viable, necrotic and apoptotic cells give researchers a tool for uncovering the mechanism of cell death when toxicity is observed and control for assay artifacts. In their book chapter, “Cytotoxicity Testing: Measuring Viable Cells, Dead Cells and Detecting Mechanism of Cell Death”, Riss, Moravec and Niles, describe protocols for in vitro toxicity testing using ATP-based assays and multiplex assays. The chapter provides protocols, an extensive materials required list, example data, and a thorough notes section describing appropriate controls, issues of assay timing, and other considerations that affect assay success. You can find it in Methods in Molecular Biology Vol. 740, Mammalian Cell Viability Methods and Protocols (Humana Press).