This post is written by guest blogger, Amy Landreman, PhD, Sr. Product Manger at Promega Corporation.
In December of 1990, Promega first discussed the use of firefly luciferase (luc) as an emerging reporter technology in the article, Firefly Luciferase: A New Tool for Molecular Biologists. At the time, the gene coding chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (cat) was most commonly used by researchers, but it was thought that the bioluminescent properties of firefly luciferase, extreme sensitivity and rapid simple detection, could make a significant difference in how molecular biologists tackled their research. Several months later, the first firefly luciferase reporter vectors and detection reagents became available as products, making this new technology more broadly accessible to the research community. Today firefly luciferase is no longer a “new tool”, with it and many other bioluminescent reporter technologies being standard elements of the modern research toolbox.
Bioluminescent reporter assays are an excellent choice for analyzing gene regulation because they provide higher sensitivity, wider dynamic range and better signal-to-background ratios compared to colorimetric or fluorescent assays. In a typical genetic reporter assay, cells are transfected with a vector that contains the sequence of interest cloned upstream of a reporter gene, and the reporter activity is used to determine how the target sequence influences gene expression under experimental conditions. A second control reporter encoded on the same or a different plasmid is an essential internal control. The secondary reporter is used to normalize the data and compensate for variability caused by differences in cell number, lysis efficiency, cell viability, transfection efficiency, temperature, and measurement time.
For genetic reporter assays, using a secondary control vector with a weak promoter like PGK or TK to ensures that the control does not interfere with activation of your primary reporter vector. Transfection of high amounts of the control plasmid or putting the control reporter under control of a strong promoter like CMV or SV40 often leads to transcriptional squelching or other interference with the experimental promoter (i.e., trans effects). Reporter assays can also be used to quantitatively evaluate microRNA activity by inserting miRNA target sites downstream or 3´ of the reporter gene. For example, the pmirGLO Dual-Luciferase miRNA Target Expression Vector is based on dual-luciferase technology, with firefly luciferase as the primary reporter to monitor mRNA regulation and Renilla luciferase as a control reporter for normalization.
Here in Technical Services we often talk with researchers who are just starting their project and looking for advice on designing their genetic reporter vector. They have questions like:
How much of the upstream promoter region should be included in the vector?
How many copies of a response element will be needed to provide a good response?
Does the location of the element or surrounding sequence alter gene regulation?
Synthetic biology—genetically engineering an organism to do or make something useful—is the central goal of the iGEM competition each year. After teams conquer the challenge of cloning their gene, the next hurdle is demonstrating that the engineered gene is expressing the desired protein (and possibly quantifying the level of expression), which they may do using a reporter gene.
Reporters can also play a more significant role in iGEM projects when teams design their organism with reporter genes to detect and signal the presence of specific molecules, like environmental toxins or biomarkers. Three of the iGEM teams Promega sponsored this year opted to incorporate some version of NanoLuc® Luciferase into their projects.
NanoLuc® luciferase is a small monomeric enzyme (19.1kDa, 171 amino acids) based on the luciferase from the deep sea shrimp Oplophorus gracilirostris. This engineered enzyme uses a novel substrate, furimazine, to produce high-intensity, glow-type luminescence in an ATP-independent reaction. Unlike other molecules for tagging and detecting proteins, NanoLuc® luciferase is less likely to interfere with enzyme activity and affect protein production due to its small size.
NanoLuc® Luciferase has also been engineered into a structural complementation reporter system, NanoBiT® Luciferase, that contains a Large subunit (LgBiT) and two small subunit options: low affinity SmBiT and high affinity HiBiT. Together, these NanoLuc® technologies provide a bioluminescent toolbox that was used by the iGEM teams to address a diverse set of biological challenges.
Here is an overview of each team’s project and how they
incorporated NanoLuc® technology.
Researchers having been sharing plasmids ever since there were plasmids to share. Back when I was in the lab, if you read a paper and saw an interesting construct you wished to use, you could either make it yourself or you could “clone by phone”. One of my professors was excellent at phone cloning with labs around the world and had specific strategies and tactics for getting the plasmids he wanted. Addgene makes this so much easier to share your constructs from lab to lab. Promega supports the Addgene mission statement: Accelerate research and discovery by improving access to useful research materials and information. Many of our technology platforms like HaloTag® Fusion Protein, codon-optimized Firefly luciferase genes (e.g., luc2), and NanoLuc® Luciferase are present in the repository. We encourage people to go to Addgene to get new innovative tools. Afterall, isn’t science better when we share?
I’d like to focus on some tools in the Addgene collection based on NanoLuc® Luciferase (NLuc). The creation of NanoLuc® Luciferase and the optimal substrate furimazine is a good story (1). From a deep sea shrimp to a compact powerhouse of bioluminescence, NLuc is 100-fold brighter than our more common luciferases like firefly (FLuc) and Renilla (RLuc) luciferase. This is important not so much for how bright you can make a reaction but for how sensitive you can make a reaction. NLuc requires 100-fold less protein to produce the same amount of light from a Fluc or RLuc reaction. NLuc lets you work at physiological concentrations. NLuc is bright enough to detect endogenous tagged genes generated through the CRISPR/Cas9 knock-in. NLuc is very inviting for endogenous tagging as it is only 19kDa. An example is the CRISPaint-NLuc construct (Plasmid #67178) for use in the system outlined in Schmid-Burgk, J.L. et al (2).
Luminescent reporter assays are powerful research tools for a variety of applications. Last March we presented a webinar on this topic, Understanding Luminescent Reporter Assay Design, which proved to enlighten many who registered. The webinar addressed the importance of careful experimental design when using a luminescent reporter such as Promega’s Firefly or NanoLuc® Luciferase.
Reporters provide a highly sensitive, quantifiable metric for cellular events such as gene expression, protein function and signal transduction. Luminescent reporters have become even more valuable for live, real-time measurement of various processes in living cells. This is backed by the fact that a growing number of scientific publications reference the use of the NanoLuc® Luciferase reporter and demonstrate its effectiveness as a reporter assay. Continue reading “The Role of the NanoLuc® Reporter in Investigating Ligand-Receptor Interactions”
Today’s blog is from guest blogger Ken Doyle of Loquent, LLC. Here, Ken reviews a 2014 paper highlighting specific considerations for using reporter assays to study miRNA-mediated gene regulation.
The accelerated pace of research into noncoding RNAs has revealed multiple regulatory roles for microRNAs (miRNAs). These diminutive noncoding RNA species—typically 20-24 nucleotides in length—are now known to mediate a broad range of biological functions in plants and animals. In humans, miRNAs have been implicated in various aspects of development, differentiation, and metabolism. They are known to regulate an assortment of genes involved in processes from neuronal development to stem cell division. Dysregulation of miRNA expression is associated with many disease states, including neurodegenerative disorders, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
Typically, miRNAs act as post-transcriptional repressors of gene expression, either by targeted degradation of messenger RNA (mRNA) or by interfering with mRNA translation. Most miRNAs exert these effects by binding to specific sequences called microRNA response elements (MREs). These sequences are found most often within the 3´-untranslated regions (3´-UTRs) of animal genes, while they may occur within coding sequences in plant genes.
Studies of the regulatory roles played by miRNAs often involve cell-based assays that use a reporter gene system, such as luciferase or green fluorescent protein. In a standard assay, the reporter gene is cloned upstream of the 3´-UTR sequence being studied; this construct is then cotransfected with the miRNA into cells in culture. A study by Campos-Melo et al., published in September 2014, examined this experimental approach for miRNAs from spinal cord tissues, using firefly luciferase as the reporter gene and Renilla luciferase as a transfection control. Continue reading “A Normalization Method for Luciferase Reporter Assays of miRNA-Mediated Regulation”
Transient transfection is often used to perform reporter assays. We have advocated using a dual-reporter system for decades to normalize the data obtained and gain a clearer understanding of your results. The experimental reporter should vary with treatment and the control reporter should vary little with treatment. The control reporter thus serves as a marker to help you understand the relative activity of your experimental reporter. The bioluminescent Dual-Luciferase® method allows for sequential detection of the second reporter in a single sample providing a simple two-step normalization method. Here are seven ways in which dual-reporter assays help you avoid misinterpreting results.
Simply comparing the ratio of the experimental to the control reporter can resolve differences in:
Number of Cells/Well: When manually pipeting cells into a 96-well plate, there is always a chance of having variable numbers of cells in each well. This variation is cell number will affect the experimental and control reporters equally, so the ratio of experimental:control reporter activity will eliminate false interpretation of the experimental data–whether it affects an entire row or column on the plate or individual wells.
Transfection Efficiency: The variations in transfection efficiency will equally affect both the experimental and control reporters so the ratio of activity in dual-reporter assays will normalize the data.
Cell Viability: Often, reporter assays look at the dose response curve of a particular compound with regard to gene expression. Ideally, if a compound causes a change in the experimental reporter the control reporter will demonstrate little effect. However, if the compound is toxic, both the experimental and control will be altered and the ratio will tell you whether the compound truly affects reporter activity or just kills the cells.
Lysis Efficiency: When lysing a plate of cells, you could encounter situations where rows or columns lyse differently, especially if you are using manual disruption or get interrupted mid-plate. The difference is lysis will affect the experimental and control equally so the ratio will remove the variation.
Temperature: Ideally, a plate should be equilibrated to ambient room temperature before proceeding to the reporter assay. Plates can cool at different rates or researchers anxious to record data may read the data early. Temperature variations will affect both reporters so the ratio will limit the affect on the data.
Measurement Time: Repetition of data is a hallmark of good science. You are often called upon to repeat experiments sometimes days or weeks apart. Let’s say you repeat your experiment one week after the initial experiment. The first time you measured the response, you waited 10 minutes after reagent addition to read, this week you waited 30 minutes. This will affect both reporters equally and therefore the ratio will allow you to more easily compare the data from this week and last week.
Bonus Benefit from Dual-Luciferase®, Dual-Glo® and the NanoGlo® Dual Luciferase Reporter Systems: NoLysate Splitting: Promega dual-reporter assays are designed for same-well multiplexing so there is no chance of variations creeping into your data due to unequal splitting of the cellular lysate to measure two separate reporter activities.
Since the introduction of the first bioluminescent dual-luciferase assay in 1995, this approach has been used in countless studies to advance our scientific understanding of cellular gene regulation. To learn more about the last 30 years of bioluminescent innovations and research discoveries please visit our 30th anniversary web page.
As a technical services scientist, I get to hear about many amazing experiments at the planning stage, and I often talk to researchers about how to plan a reporter assay. For the uninitiated, reporter assays are used to “report” the ability or the efficacy of the inserted DNA element to induce/ regulate gene expression as a qualitative or quantitative measure. A typical experimental protocol involves cloning of a DNA fragment upstream of a reporter gene in a plasmid, (and of course confirming the clone by sequencing), transfecting a mammalian cell line with the plasmid and assaying for reporter gene expression by measuring fluorescence, luminescence or absorbance signals. A positive signal would indicate that the cloned DNA element is responsible for driving the gene expression of the reporter.