At the time of writing this post, no scientist had yet discovered the secret to immortality. In our world, we’ve come to accept that living things are born, grow old and die—the circle of life.
And yet, for many years, life scientists believed that the circle of life did not apply to our constituent cells when cultured in a laboratory. That is, cultured normal human cells were immortal, and they would continue to grow and proliferate forever, as long as they were provided with the necessary nutrients.
Pioneering work published in 1961 by Leonard Hayflick and Paul Moorhead challenged that theory (reviewed in 1). Their research showed that normal cells in culture have a finite capacity to replicate. After they reach a certain number of replicative cycles, cells stop dividing. Hayflick and Moorhead made the important distinction between normal human cells and cultured cancer cells, which are truly immortal. In later years, the limit to the number of replicative cycles normal human cells can undergo became known as the Hayflick limit. Although some scientists still express skepticism about these findings, the Hayflick limit is widely recognized as a fundamental principle of cell biology.
A graduate student believes he has mastered the art of “the assay”. No need to run duplicates, he knows exactly which one will get him the answers he needs right away.
To challenge this, his PI proposes an exercise. He asks of the graduate student, “What happens when you treat cells with doxorubicin?”
The graduate student raises his cells, treats them accordingly, and decides to run a cell viability assay to determine their fate. He returns to the PI with the final verdict: his cells are dead.
The PI takes a look at the data and asks the graduate student to repeat the experiment with an additional assay for cytotoxicity―but the cytotoxicity assay shows that the cell membranes are intact, which only puzzles the graduate student. The PI asks him to run a third assay for apoptosis, and when the student does so, it becomes clear that the cells are dying.
The PI uses this opportunity to make his point: “Now do you see why I ask for more than one assay?”
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.
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.
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 “A Better Way to Understand How and Why Cells Die”
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 its 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 over 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).
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 “Choosing the Right Cell Health Assay”
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.
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).
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