December 18, 2014

You might not want the dreaded tube socks in your Christmas stocking this year, but you do appreciate the actual tubes that your body depends on in just about every organ system. A recent paper in PLOS Biology describes tube formation in the fly renal system and the signals that regulate it.

Tubes generally start as buds that dramatically elongate during development, but the cell rearrangements that occur during tubulogenesis are not completely understood. Saxena and colleagues recently used the developing fly renal system to track cell movements during tube formation. Tubule elongation primarily occurs through convergent extension, during which cells intercalate along the length of the tube. During these rearrangements, the number of cells around the circumference of the tube drops as the number of cells along the tube increases. Saxena and colleagues show that epidermal growth factor localized at the tip cells of the distal end of the tube guides the polarity of cell rearrangements, via polarization of Myosin II within individual cells. Finally, without proper tube elongation, animals have abnormal excretory function and osmoregulation, leading to lethality. In the images above, the top row shows failure of tube elongation after laser ablation of the distal tip cells (arrowheads). Bottom row shows normal tube elongation without laser ablation of tip cells (arrowheads).

Saxena, A., Denholm, B., Bunt, S., Bischoff, M., VijayRaghavan, K., & Skaer, H. (2014). Epidermal Growth Factor Signalling Controls Myosin II Planar Polarity to Orchestrate Convergent Extension Movements during Drosophila Tubulogenesis PLoS Biology, 12 (12) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1002013

November 26, 2014

Patterns are soothing for left-brained folks like me, with the exception being those terrible patterned holiday sweaters that will come out of mothball-ridden closets soon (unsettling for everyone, really). Today’s images are from a paper describing a new micropatterning technique to look at plasma membrane proteins. 

The plasma membrane of a cell is riddled with many multi-protein complexes that facilitate communication and transport. These complexes provide a challenge to biologists due to their ubiquitous localization around the cell, their large, complex size, and their transient interactions with proteins. A recent paper describes a technique to study signaling complexes at the plasma membrane, using micropatterns within the plasma membrane. Löchte and colleagues expressed a protein bait in a micropattern in a living cell’s plasma membrane. Dynamics of the interactions between the protein bait and ligand target can then be quantified using live microscopy and on a single-molecule level. Löchte and colleagues used the IFN interferon signaling complex, using one of the receptor units (IFNAR2) as bait. In the top images above, the micropatterned receptor bait (IFNAR2) was able to recruit the other IFN receptor subunit (IFNAR1, green) after the addition of the ligand (red; time represents the addition of the ligand). Bottom image shows a closer view of the high-affinity, micropatterned binding that requires simultaneous interaction of the ligand (red) with both receptor subunits.

Lochte, S., Waichman, S., Beutel, O., You, C., & Piehler, J. (2014). Live cell micropatterning reveals the dynamics of signaling complexes at the plasma membrane originally published in the Journal of Cell Biology, 207 (3), 407-418 DOI: 10.1083/jcb.201406032

November 19, 2014

You might not be able to get rid of the bad guys, but you can still win the battle if you cripple their mobility. Today’s image is from a paper describing how a tumor’s microenvironment can predict the motility of individual tumor cells.

Metastasis is the spread of cancer cells throughout the body. The motility of tumor cells depends on the microenvironment around them, and a recent paper systematically looks at how that microenvironment can predict or alter the behavior of tumor cells. Gligorijevic and colleagues tracked the motility of individual mouse mammary carcinoma cells in vivo using high-resolution multi-photon microscopy, and found that tumor cells exhibited either fast or slow locomotion. Those tumor cells with slow locomotion also exhibited invadopodia, protrusions that Gligorijevic and colleagues directly link to degradation of the underlying extracellular matrix and metastasis. While no single parameter of the tumor’s microenvironment could predict the locomotion of tumor cells, a support vector machine algorithm indicated how combinations of many parameters could predict tumor cell phenotype and behavior. By characterizing the heterogeneous microenvironment of a tumor and predicting the location and behavior of metastatic tumor cells, researchers can better understand treatment of tumors and the varying responses. Images above show protrusions (arrowheads, over 30 minutes) on two different tumor cells with slow locomotion, with protrusions facing collagen fibers (purple).

BONUS!! Check out a movie of these protrusions below. Note that some protrusion face collagen fibers (purple, panels a and b), and some protrude into blood vessels (red, panels c and d).

BONUS!! Check out Bojana Gligorijevic ‘s interview with SciArt about her images, research, and art here.

Gligorijevic, B., Bergman, A., & Condeelis, J. (2014). Multiparametric Classification Links Tumor Microenvironments with Tumor Cell Phenotype PLoS Biology, 12 (11) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001995

November 12, 2014

You might think that the “kiss-and-hop” is a dance move strictly forbidden at a Duggar homeschool prom, but it refers to the quick dynamics of the microtubule-associated protein tau. Today’s image is from a paper describing unexpected results about how tau resides on and regulate microtubules without physically impeding microtubule motors. 

The microtubule-associate protein tau binds to and stabilizes the microtubules within an axon. As most tau is believed to decorate axonal microtubules, it was previously unclear how tau can function in its non-microtubule-dependent roles, or how the presence of tau does not interfere with microtubule motors and axonal transport. A recent paper by Janning and colleagues describes the use of single-molecule tracking of tau in living cells. Janning and colleagues found that tau resides on a single microtubule for 40ms before hopping to the next microtubule, and that this unexpectedly short residence time is sufficient to affect microtubule stability. This “kiss-and-hop” mechanism allows for normal axonal transport, and suggests how some tau functions away from microtubules. In the images above, tau (red) is labeled in mouse cortical neurons, as are microtubules (green) and the nucleus (blue).  

Janning, D., Igaev, M., Sundermann, F., Bruhmann, J., Beutel, O., Heinisch, J., Bakota, L., Piehler, J., Junge, W., & Brandt, R. (2014). Single-molecule tracking of tau reveals fast kiss-and-hop interaction with microtubules in living neurons Molecular Biology of the Cell, 25 (22), 3541-3551 DOI: 10.1091/mbc.E14-06-1099

October 28, 2014

If you’ve ever tried to get your kids to share a donut, you understand the importance to dividing things equally (and learning crucial lessons…just buy more donuts next time...I mean, seriously!). Cell division is no different—chromosomes and organelles must all get divided equally. Today’s images are from a paper showing how mitochondria are positioned during cell division in order to allow equal segregation.

Many years of research have focused on the equal segregation of chromosomes during cell division. Organelles such as mitochondria must also be segregated equally in a dividing cell, and errors in this process can lead to disease. A recent paper identifies the actin motor Myosin-XIX (Myo19) as a key player in mitochondrial partitioning during cell division. Myo19 is localized to mitochondria, and cells depleted of Myo19 have an abnormal distribution of mitochondria. Rohn and colleagues found that cells lacking Myo19 experience stochastic division failure, suggesting that mitochondria are physically preventing successful cell division. The images above show dividing cells labeled to visualize mitochondria (green) and the mitotic spindle (red) in control cells (top two rows) and cells depleted of Myo19 (bottom two rows). Without Myo19, mitochondria moved towards spindle poles at the onset of anaphase, causing an asymmetric distribution at division when compared with control cells.

BONUS!! Here is a rotating 3D reconstruction of an A549 stained to visualize microtubules (green), mitochondria (red), and DNA (blue). Omar Quintero, HighMag friend and a co-author from today’s paper, loves this image: “I like it because it reminds me of the scenes in StarWars where the Rebels are planning their attack on the Death Star.”

Rohn, J., Patel, J., Neumann, B., Bulkescher, J., Mchedlishvili, N., McMullan, R., Quintero, O., Ellenberg, J., & Baum, B. (2014). Myo19 Ensures Symmetric Partitioning of Mitochondria and Coupling of Mitochondrial Segregation to Cell Division Current Biology DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.09.045

Copyright ©2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

October 24, 2014

There is a party going on at the ends of microtubules, but I wasn’t invited. That won’t stop me, or countless cell biologists out there, from peeping in the window to check out all of the microtubule shenanigans. Today’s image is from a paper describing how Doublecortin binds to microtubule ends.

The plus end of a microtubule is the primary site for growth and shrinkage, and interaction with several microtubule-associate proteins. Different microtubule end-binding proteins may interact with microtubules using different mechanisms: the end-binding protein EB1 relies on the nucleotide state of the tubulin at the microtubule end, while a recent paper shows how another protein, Doublecortin (DCX), relies on the curvature of microtubule ends for binding. DCX is a neuronal microtubule-associate protein that plays an important role throughout development, yet how it interacted with microtubule ends was previously unclear. Bechstedt and colleagues used single-molecule microscopy to show that DCX (images above, green in merged) binds with higher affinity to curved microtubules (magenta) than to straight microtubules. DCX mutations, which are found in patients with double cortex syndrome, prevent the protein from binding to curved regions of microtubules.

Bechstedt, S., Lu, K., & Brouhard, G. (2014). Doublecortin Recognizes the Longitudinal Curvature of the Microtubule End and Lattice Current Biology, 24 (20), 2366-2375 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.08.039
Copyright ©2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

October 17, 2014

For years, the prettiest cells to image were flat cells in a dish. Thanks to the tireless work of many, beautiful high-resolution images can now come from tissue within a living organism. Today’s image is from a paper showing improved techniques for imaging fine cellular processes within large volumes, from the lab of recent Nobel prize winner, Eric Betzig. 

A material’s refractive index refers to how light travels through it; the simplest example being how light bends when passed through water. The refractive index heterogeneities stemming from the many cell types, morphologies, and subdomains within a living organism are a challenge to microscopists. As described in a paper from earlier this year, Wang and colleagues improved on previous techniques for imaging within large volumes. Wang and colleagues use adaptive optics (AO), which corrects for the microscope’s aberrations that limit image resolution, in a mode fast enough to correct for the various aberrations within a large sample, without inducing photodamage or photobleaching. The image above shows a 3D rendering from deep within a living zebrafish brain, with oligodendrocytes (magenta) and neuronal nuclei (green) visible.

Wang, K., Milkie, D., Saxena, A., Engerer, P., Misgeld, T., Bronner, M., Mumm, J., & Betzig, E. (2014). Rapid adaptive optical recovery of optimal resolution over large volumes Nature Methods, 11 (6), 625-628 DOI: 10.1038/nmeth.2925
Adapted by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd, copyright ©2014

Nobel, Nobel, Nobel!!!!

Last week the Chemistry Nobel Prize went to three amazing biologists who have been steadily and remarkably improving the world of imaging.  Eric Betzig, Stefan Hell, and W.E. Moerner made Abbe's diffraction limit a mere hurdle to leap over, not a finish line.  We'll feature some work from Eric Betzig's lab later in the week, but until then check out the links below:

Great popular science descriptions of Betzig, Hell, and Moerner's accomplisments:
Beaming with Pride - From Slate, by Boer Deng
How the optical microscope became a nanoscope - Popular Science Background from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

We've featured work from Eric Betzig before:  here and here.
We've also featured stunning images using STORM: here.

October 9, 2014

As Tom and Jerry have proven time and time again, repulsive forces are serious business and highly entertaining. Today’s image is from a paper describing how different cell types repel one another to help create boundaries between tissues. 

The study of how cells adhere to or repel one another is an important field of study in developmental biology. Ephrin ligands and their respective Eph receptors trigger repulsive cues between cells of different types. Many different tissue types express the same ephrins and Eph receptors, yet only those cells at the tissue interface repel one another. A recent study tests how these signals are integrated to provide repulsion at only the tissue interface, and not between cells of the same tissue. Rohani and colleagues used the dorsal ectoderm-mesoderm boundary of early frog embryos to find Eph-ephrin pairs that are expressed in complementary tissues. The cells at the boundary of the tissues have a combined Eph-ephrin repulsive signal that is sufficient for a repulsive force, suggesting a simple model of repulsion based on relative concentrations and binding affinities of Eph receptors and ephrins at tissue boundaries. The image above shows the higher concentration of EphB receptors (green) at the ectoderm-mesoderm boundary.

Rohani, N., Parmeggiani, A., Winklbauer, R., & Fagotto, F. (2014). Variable Combinations of Specific Ephrin Ligand/Eph Receptor Pairs Control Embryonic Tissue Separation PLoS Biology, 12 (9) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001955

September 25, 2014

While taking an awesome cell biology course in college, I was coming to terms with my mother’s recent ovarian cancer diagnosis. The scientist in my head couldn’t shake the curiosity about how my mother’s cells could have betrayed her so royally. This intersection of basic cell biology and cancer kick-started my interest in cell biology research. Today’s image is from a paper showing a role for the ARF tumor suppressor in maintaining chromosomal stability. THIS paper is one of the million billion reasons why basic research is necessary and important. 

The ARF tumor suppressor is mutated or absent in many cancers, and is known to stabilize p53 in response to cellular stress. Other, p53-independent roles for ARF contribute to its role as a tumor suppressor, but are not well understood. A recent paper describes ARF’s function in chromosome segregation during mitosis, via Aurora B regulation. Britigan and colleagues show that loss of ARF results in aneuploidy, or an incorrect number of chromosomes, stemming from chromosome segregation and spindle organization defects. These defects can be rescued through overexpression of the Aurora B kinase, which helps ensure proper kinetochore-spindle interactions and is overexpressed in some cancers. In the images above, ARF-/- cells (right column) show defects throughout mitosis, when compared to normal cells (left). Defects include misaligned chromosomes during metaphase (top, middle rows), and lagging chromosomes during anaphase (bottom).

Britigan, E., Wan, J., Zasadil, L., Ryan, S., & Weaver, B. (2014). The ARF tumor suppressor prevents chromosomal instability and ensures mitotic checkpoint fidelity through regulation of Aurora B Molecular Biology of the Cell, 25 (18), 2761-2773 DOI: 10.1091/mbc.E14-05-0966

September 17, 2014

All good things must end—even the focal adhesions that are so key to cell migration. Today’s notable image is the first live cell visualization of ECM degradation at focal adhesions, in a recent paper that reports the link between CLASPs, exocytosis, and focal adhesion turnover. 

Cell migration depends on the precisely-timed formation of focal adhesions (FAs) that link the crawling cell to the extracellular matrix (ECM). FAs serve as anchor points for the crawling cell, yet must later disassemble in order to allow continued movement of the cell. A recent paper describes how CLASP proteins link FA-associated microtubules, exocytosis, and FA turnover. CLASP proteins are +TIP proteins, which means that they are found on the growing ends of microtubules. Stehbens and colleagues found that the clustering of CLASPs around FAs correlates with the timing of FA disassembly, and that CLASPs are required for ECM degradation. Stehbens and colleagues also found that the tethering of microtubules to FAs, via CLASPs, serve as a transport pathway for exocytic vesicles at FAs. The images above are the first live cell images of ECM degradation (visualized as dark regions, top panel) at FAs (magenta).

BONUS! For more information on the scanning angle interference microscopy used in this paper, check out Matthew Paszek’s Nature Methods paper here.

Stehbens, S., Paszek, M., Pemble, H., Ettinger, A., Gierke, S., & Wittmann, T. (2014). CLASPs link focal-adhesion-associated microtubule capture to localized exocytosis and adhesion site turnover Nature Cell Biology, 16 (6), 561-573 DOI: 10.1038/ncb2975
Adapted by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd, copyright ©2014

September 11, 2014

As your therapist likely tells you, understanding where you came from is key to accepting where you are now. Take that therapist’s task and multiply it by several million—you now understand the tough job ahead of developmental biologists trying to track cell lineages in complex organisms. Today’s colorful image is from a paper describing a new computational framework for reconstructing cell lineages. 

The successful tracking of cell position, division, and movement in a developing organism has been a goal for countless developmental biologists. Reconstructing cell lineages in organisms like fruit flies and mice, however, is difficult due to the complexity of cell organization and behavior, poor image quality of thick embryos, the enormous size of the data sets, and an uncompromising need for accuracy. A recent paper by Amat and colleagues describes the development and use of a new open-source framework that reconstructs cell lineages with high accuracy and speed. Their system uses four dimensional and terabyte-sized image data sets of nuclei-tracked embryos, imaged using three different types of fluorescence microscopy. The images above show the first reconstruction of early fruit fly nervous system development (S1 neuroblasts), with precursor cell tracks color-coded for time (purple to yellow).

Amat, F., Lemon, W., Mossing, D., McDole, K., Wan, Y., Branson, K., Myers, E., & Keller, P. (2014). Fast, accurate reconstruction of cell lineages from large-scale fluorescence microscopy data Nature Methods, 11 (9), 951-958 DOI: 10.1038/nmeth.3036
Adapted by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd, copyright ©2014

September 5, 2014

It is so nice to have a friend who truly complements you…someone similar to you, but different enough to pick up the slack of your own shortcomings. Today’s image is from a paper about the Laverne and Shirley partnership of Ena/VASP and mDia2. 

Crawling cells extend finger-like filopodia to probe the environment for cues and to establish adhesion of the cell to the substrate. Filopodia are composed of parallel bundles of actin that are quickly dynamic. Countless actin regulators affect filopodia formation, some of which have seemingly similar functions. The Enabled (Ena)/VASP and Diaphanous 2 (mDia2) proteins are both actin polymerases, but as a recent paper by Barzik and colleagues describes, they support filopodia formation in distinct, non-redundant ways. By using mouse embryonic fibroblasts lacking both Ena/VASP and mDia2, Barzik and colleagues found that filopodia formed using either Ena/VASP or mDia2 alone differed in number, actin filament organization, lifetime, and other parameters. Filopodia generated using mDia2 alone were not able to initiate integrin-dependent adhesion and lamellipodial protrusions. The image above shows a cell with both mDia2 (red) and Ena/VASP (green), with the two proteins colocalizing on a subset of filopodia (arrows).

Barzik, M., McClain, L., Gupton, S., & Gertler, F. (2014). Ena/VASP regulates mDia2-initiated filopodial length, dynamics, and function Molecular Biology of the Cell, 25 (17), 2604-2619 DOI: 10.1091/mbc.E14-02-0712

August 29, 2014

Stem cells in adults are responsible for tissue renewal and many cancers. So, the hunt for stem cells is important and has already been successful, with stem cell populations identified in countless types of tissues. Stem cells in the ovary, however, were shy to show themselves until a recent study using a marker for the Wnt protein Lgr5.

In adults, stem cells are responsible for maintaining homeostasis during normal wear and tear of a tissue. The ovary and its ovary surface epithelium (OSE) experience remodeling during adulthood, yet stem cells of the ovary have been hard to find. A recent paper by Ng and colleagues describes the identification of stem cells in the ovary using markers for the Wnt target protein Lgr5. Lgr5 marks stem cells in several epithelial tissues. Ng and colleagues identified Lgr5+ cells in the mouse ovary starting from ovary organogenesis and lasting into adulthood. Using lineage tracing, Ng and colleagues confirmed that Lgr5+ cells are, in fact, stem cells that contribute to development, homeostasis, and repair of the OSE and associated structures. In the images above, Lgr5+ cells (green) are visible in embryonic (left) and postnatal (middle, right) ovarian tissue.

Ng, A., Tan, S., Singh, G., Rizk, P., Swathi, Y., Tan, T., Huang, R., Leushacke, M., & Barker, N. (2014). Lgr5 marks stem/progenitor cells in ovary and tubal epithelia Nature Cell Biology, 16 (8), 745-757 DOI: 10.1038/ncb3000
Adapted by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd, copyright ©2014

August 26, 2014

If you have little ones in your house, you might assume that the phrase “randomly fluctuating forces” is referring to your home. This phrase actually refers to the background force in a cell coming from active and motor-driven cell processes. Today’s image is from a study that developed a way to measure these forces. 

Actin- and microtubule-based motors move many types of material around a cell to drive critical cellular events. These motor-driven movements and other active processes in the cell contribute to a background of fluctuating forces in a cell. These stochastic forces collectively drive random motion of organelles and proteins within a cell, in turn affecting the dynamics and metabolic state of a cell. To measure these forces, Guo and colleagues developed force spectrum microscopy (FSM) to directly quantify the fluctuating forces in a cell’s cytoplasm, specifically by measuring the movements of individual injected particles. Guo and colleagues found that these forces are strong enough to move both large and small components, and that malignant cells have a higher level of fluctuating forces compared to benign cells. Image above shows a cell with injected particles (green), with the 2-minute trajectories (black) superimposed.

Guo, M., Ehrlicher, A., Jensen, M., Renz, M., Moore, J., Goldman, R., Lippincott-Schwartz, J., Mackintosh, F., & Weitz, D. (2014). Probing the Stochastic, Motor-Driven Properties of the Cytoplasm Using Force Spectrum Microscopy Cell, 158 (4), 822-832 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2014.06.051
Copyright ©2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

August 21, 2014

Microtubules are known for their fascinating dynamics, but some cellular processes require a more stable microtubule cytoskeleton. Thankfully, these stable, acetylated microtubules are just as photogenic as their non-modified microtubule pals. Today’s image is from a paper describing the role of the protein paxillin in microtubule acetylation. 

Crawling cells require coordination of adhesive forces, cytoskeletal rearrangements, and cell polarization. Cell polarization helps to direct newly synthesized proteins to the leading edge of the crawling cell, relying on both a stable microtubule cytoskeleton and positioning of the Golgi apparatus in front of the nucleus. The stability of these long-lived microtubules is due to acetylation—a post-translational modification of α-tubulin. A recent study by Deakin and Turner uncovered a role for the focal adhesion scaffolding protein paxillin in regulating microtubule acetylation, which in turn regulates Golgi integrity and cell polarization. Paxillin modulates microtubule stability through its inhibition of HDAC6, an α-tubulin deacetylase, and does so in both normal and transformed cells. In the images above, depletion of paxillin (bottom) in malignant (left column) and normal (right column) cell types resulted in a drop of microtubule acetylation (yellow), compared to control cells (top).

Deakin, N., & Turner, C. (2014). Paxillin inhibits HDAC6 to regulate microtubule acetylation, Golgi structure, and polarized migration originally published in the Journal of Cell Biology, 206 (3), 395-413 DOI: 10.1083/jcb.201403039

August 19, 2014

Think of life without tubes for a moment. Not only would our huge bodies cease to exist, but our homes’ plumbing would be a mess and my 5-year old’s marble run would be pretty boring. The formation of tubes during development is a fascinating topic. Today’s image is from a paper describing the role of endocytosis in seamless tube formation.

The trachea of the fruit fly is a simple tubular system that functions as the respiratory system of the fly. The star-shaped tracheal terminal cells form seamless tubes that extend the length of long cellular extensions. Schottenfeld-Roames and colleagues recently published a study investigating the mutations in the braided gene. Tracheal terminal cells in braided mutants have tubular cysts and fewer branches, as seen in the images above (top is wild-type; bottom is mutant). braided encodes Syntaxin7, a endocytosis protein that promotes fusion of vesicles to early endosomes. Schottenfeld-Roames and colleagues found that mutations in other early endosome proteins cause similar terminal cell tube defects. Additional data showing increased levels of the apical protein Crumbs in braided terminal cells suggests that early endocytosis regulates levels of Crumbs, which in turn affects tube formation through actin cytoskeleton modulation. The images above show the luminal membrane (green) and an apical protein (magenta) in tracheal tubes. The tubes in braided mutants are cystic and abnormal, and the tube tips are disorganized (higher magnified views of the boxed regions are on the left).

Schottenfeld-Roames, J., Rosa, J., & Ghabrial, A. (2014). Seamless Tube Shape Is Constrained by Endocytosis-Dependent Regulation of Active Moesin Current Biology, 24 (15), 1756-1764 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.06.029
Copyright ©2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

All the images were acquired by Dr. Jodi Schottenfeld-Roames.

August 14, 2014

Astrocytes used to be the red-headed stepchild of the neurobiology world, but no more! Once considered to be just filler material, astrocytes are now known to function in the development and function of synapses, though the mechanisms are unclear. Today’s stunning image is from a paper showing how astrocytes can stabilize synapses, possibly serving as an important component of learning and memory. 

The synapses of neurons in the central nervous system are dynamic in response to learning and memory. The synapses are enveloped by perisynaptic astrocytic processes (PAPs), which are intricate processes of astrocytes. This close association of PAPs with synapses suggests an important role for astrocytes in synaptic development, transmission, and plasticity—the focus of a recent paper by Bernardinelli and colleagues. In this study, time-lapse imaging of brain slices revealed that long-term potentiation increased PAP motility and astrocyte coverage of the synapse. In vivo imaging of the somatosensory cortex of adult mice after whisker stimulation showed an increase in PAP motility, and later dendritic spine stability. From these results, Bernardinelli and colleagues identify a novel bidirectional interaction between PAPs and synapses, in which synaptic activity regulates PAP plasticity, which in turn regulates PAP coverage of synapses and long-term spine survival. The image above shows CA1 neurons (green) and stratum radiatum astroctyes (red) in mouse hippocampal tissue.

Bernardinelli, Y., Randall, J., Janett, E., Nikonenko, I., König, S., Jones, E., Flores, C., Murai, K., Bochet, C., Holtmaat, A., & Muller, D. (2014). Activity-Dependent Structural Plasticity of Perisynaptic Astrocytic Domains Promotes Excitatory Synapse Stability Current Biology, 24 (15), 1679-1688 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.06.025
Copyright ©2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

August 7, 2014

No matter how many brilliant discoveries are made by countless brilliant scientists, there will always be a lot of unknowns out there. These unknowns are what keep our mental wheels turning, our imaginations running, and our labs busy. Today’s image is from a paper that describes a newly-discovered process of vascular development called “canalogenesis.”

Schlemm’s canal (SC) is a flattened tube that encircles the anterior portion of the eye and drains fluid from the area. Abnormal drainage contributes to glaucoma, a disease that causes vision loss, yet a description of SC development and SC endothelial cells (SECs) is incomplete. In a recent study, Kizhatil and colleagues developed a new whole-mount procedure and used high-resolution confocal microscopy to study large regions of the SC during development. Kizhatil and colleagues found that the phenotype of SECs is a blend of blood and lymphatic endothelial cells, and that the SC develops through by a newly-discovered process called “canalogenesis.” Canalogenesis has features that are similar to, yet different from, the three well-studied vascular development programs—vasculogenesis, angiogenesis, and lymphangiogenesis. The image above was acquired using the new whole-mount procedure that protects the delicate ocular drainage structures. The SC (blue) is visualized in 3D relative to nearby blood vessels (magenta).

Kizhatil, K., Ryan, M., Marchant, J., Henrich, S., & John, S. (2014). Schlemm's Canal Is a Unique Vessel with a Combination of Blood Vascular and Lymphatic Phenotypes that Forms by a Novel Developmental Process PLoS Biology, 12 (7) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001912

July 31, 2014

Do you ever feel nostalgic for a specific paper? Maybe this paper inspired your own research, or maybe it was a paper you immediately knew would be game-changing. Maybe, like today’s TBT paper, it was a great paper about solidly executed research with a memorable giggle-inducing technique. Thanks to a nostalgic HighMag reader and friend, Omar Quintero, we are being re-introduced to gonad sandwiches. 

In mammals, sex determination refers to the changes during early development that lead to the formation of either the testis or ovary. A gene on the Y chromosome called Sry initiates testis formation from the early bipotential gonad, including organizing Sertoli cells into the testis cord structure. In a 1997 paper, Martineau and colleagues investigated the early cell movements that occur after Sry expression, specifically the movement of nearby mesonephric cells to the genital ridge. To see these cell movements, Martineau and colleagues grafted a “blue” mesonephros from a mouse ubiquitously expressing β-galactosidase next to a “white” gonad from a different mouse. The movement of blue cells into the white gonad in these gonad sandwiches revealed that this movement is dependent on a signal induced by the male (XY) gonad that acts as a chemoattractant. Migration does not occur if an XX gonad is used in the sandwich, yet migration can occur whether an XY or XX mesonophros is used. The images above show the different XX and XY combinations used in these experiments, with XY gonads leading to extensive migration of blue cells. 

Martineau, J., Nordqvist, K., Tilmann, C., Lovell-Badge, R., & Capel, B. (1997). Male-specific cell migration into the developing gonad Current Biology, 7 (12), 958-968 DOI: 10.1016/S0960-9822(06)00415-5

Copyright ©1997 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

July 24, 2014

How many times can you say the word “gonad” in a sentence without giggling? If the answer is none, then I congratulate you on turning thirteen. If the answer is many, then you must be a biologist. Biologists appreciate the value of a good gonad, and so should you. The gonad of the worm C. elegans serves as an important model in which to study tissue organization and development, as you’ll see in the paper that accompanies today’s image.

At the end of cell division, cytokinesis typically results in two separate daughter cells. Some cytokinesis, though, is incomplete and leads to two daughter cells sharing cytoplasm. This shared cytoplasm, or syncytium, can be found in the germ cells of many species from worms to humans. The germline of the worm C. elegans is a polarized tube in which germ cells are arranged around the shared cytoplasmic core and move along a conveyer belt of oocyte production. Amini and colleagues recently reported on the formation of the syncytial C. elegans germline throughout development, and the role of the short Anillin family scaffold protein ANI-2. ANI-2 is localized to the intercellular bridges that connect the germ cells to the shared cytoplasm, and loss of ANI-2 results in destabilization of intercellular bridges and sterility. The defects seen in worms lacking ANI-2 are likely due to a loss of the stability and elasticity of the intercellular bridges that is required to compensate for the stress of cytoplasmic streaming during oogenesis. Images above show the germlines of wild-type and ani-2(-) worms at different larval stages (membranes in green; nuclei in red). Worms lacking ANI-2 have abnormal multinucleated germ cells (arrowheads).

Amini, R., Goupil, E., Labella, S., Zetka, M., Maddox, A., Labbe, J., & Chartier, N. (2014). C. elegans Anillin proteins regulate intercellular bridge stability and germline syncytial organization originally published in the Journal of Cell Biology, 206 (1), 129-143 DOI: 10.1083/jcb.201310117

July 18, 2014

Poor polar bodies typically go the way of that old container of Chinese take-out in your fridge and are eventually dumped. Thanks to a very clever study published in Cell, polar body transfer can prevent the transmission of inherited mitochondrial diseases. Waste not, want not.

The meiotic divisions of an oocyte result in the production of an egg in the extrusion of two very small polar bodies. These polar bodies have the same genetic material as the egg but have only a small number of organelles, including mitochondria. The DNA of mitochondria (mtDNA) can carry mutations that cause a variety of diseases. As mtDNA is maternally inherited due to the abundance of mitochondria in the oocyte, recent studies have focused on the replacement of mutant mtDNA with normal mitochondria to treat these inherited diseases. A recent paper tests the use of polar bodies as the source of donor genomes in a potential new method for mitochondrial replacement. As polar bodies have the same genome as the egg, but does not have mtDNA variants, they can successfully replace the genome in a recipient egg that already has normal mtDNA. Wang and colleagues have shown that polar body genome transfer successfully does just this, and provides a potential new therapy for preventing inherited mitochondrial diseases. The images above show the presence of mitochondria (red) in oocytes and polar bodies. Both polar bodies (PB1 and PB2) have far fewer mitochondria than the ooctyes.

Wang, T., Sha, H., Ji, D., Zhang, H., Chen, D., Cao, Y., & Zhu, J. (2014). Polar Body Genome Transfer for Preventing the Transmission of Inherited Mitochondrial Diseases Cell, 157 (7), 1591-1604 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2014.04.042
Copyright ©2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

July 10, 2014

Do your thoughts and feelings have colors? Do you feel red with rage during traffic, or green with envy when your lady swoons over Ryan Gosling? A recent methods paper introduces a very cool technique that allows the visualization and measurement of voltage within an excited neuron.

Biologists build tools that are ideally accurate, fast, and non-damaging to the cells and organisms on which they are used. In a recent paper in Nature Methods, Hochbaum and colleagues describe the improved technique for simultaneous imaging of neuron stimulation and the resulting action potentials. Hochbaum and colleagues engineered a vector, called Optopatch, that uses their actuator (CheRiff) to induce action potentials and their voltage indicators (QuasAr1 and QuasAr2) to visualize and measure membrane voltage. Optopatch allows the measurement of action potentials on a microsecond timescale, without the need for electrodes. In the images above, a neuron expressing Optopatch shows action potential propagation (left to right, arrow is site of action potential initiation).

Hochbaum, D., Zhao, Y., Farhi, S., Klapoetke, N., Werley, C., Kapoor, V., Zou, P., Kralj, J., Maclaurin, D., Smedemark-Margulies, N., Saulnier, J., Boulting, G., Straub, C., Cho, Y., Melkonian, M., Wong, G., Harrison, D., Murthy, V., Sabatini, B., Boyden, E., Campbell, R., & Cohen, A. (2014). All-optical electrophysiology in mammalian neurons using engineered microbial rhodopsins Nature Methods DOI: 10.1038/nmeth.3000
Adapted by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd, copyright ©2014

June 30, 2014

Which came first, the primordial germ cell or the gamete? Unlike the old chicken or egg philosophical dilemma, we know for certain that the primordial germ cell came first. And, thanks to a recent paper about primordial germ cells in sea urchins, we now know that they can migrate across the urchin embryo.

During development, germ cells produce gametes (eggs or sperm). In many organisms, including mammals, primordial germ cells (PGCs) are born far from the eventual location of gametes and must migrate across the embryo while dividing. In sea urchins, small cells called micromeres are PGCs and precisely segregate along the left-right axis of the embryo. A recent paper by Campanale and colleagues describes the use of live-cell imaging of small micromeres in urchin embryos to test whether the precise segregation of these eight micromeres is due to passive translocation or active migration. Images show that the micromeres are, in fact, motile cells with features such as cortical blebs and filopodia that direct migration across the sea urchin embryo, towards the coelomic pouches. In the images above, sea urchin embryos express micromere (red) and apical membrane (green) markers before (left) and during (middle, right) gastrulation.

Campanale, J., Gökirmak, T., Espinoza, J., Oulhen, N., Wessel, G., & Hamdoun, A. (2014). Migration of sea urchin primordial germ cells Developmental Dynamics, 243 (7), 917-927 DOI: 10.1002/dvdy.24133

June 19, 2014

As the widespread therapeutic use of stem cells moves closer to reality, I just fasten my seatbelt a little tighter. An exciting time for stem cells and their scientist stalkers, a recent paper shows the regeneration of damaged monkey hearts by human embryonic stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes.

Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) can be programmed to differentiate into countless different cell types. hESCs are already being tested in humans to treat retinal diseases and spinal cord injuries. hESCs can be differentiated into cardiomyocytes, or heart muscle cells, to potentially repair a damaged heart after injury or failure. In a recent study, Chong and colleagues used hESC-derived cardiomyocytes (hESC-CMs) to repair injured monkey hearts, which are more comparable to human hearts in size and number of cardiomyocytes required. After first developing techniques for producing large, clinical-scale cryopreserved batches of hESC-CMs, Chong and colleagues found that these cells successfully re-muscularized the injured monkey hearts. The electromechanical coupling between host heart tissue and hESC-CM graft tissue was successful, yet non-fatal arrhythmias were observed. In the images above, host vessels (red) extend into graft tissue (white, boxed region and higher magnification below) and are able to successfully perfuse the graft tissue.

Chong, J., Yang, X., Don, C., Minami, E., Liu, Y., Weyers, J., Mahoney, W., Van Biber, B., Cook, S., Palpant, N., Gantz, J., Fugate, J., Muskheli, V., Gough, G., Vogel, K., Astley, C., Hotchkiss, C., Baldessari, A., Pabon, L., Reinecke, H., Gill, E., Nelson, V., Kiem, H., Laflamme, M., & Murry, C. (2014). Human embryonic-stem-cell-derived cardiomyocytes regenerate non-human primate hearts Nature, 510 (7504), 273-277 DOI: 10.1038/nature13233
Adapted by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd, copyright ©2014

June 10, 2014

The Life History of a Single Kinetochore Fiber sounds like a book a lot of us would enjoy (well, me at least). It isn’t really a book about a plucky kinetochore fiber who triumphs over a difficult childhood, but rather the focus of a fascinating recent paper. In this paper published in Molecular Biology of the Cell, LaFountain and Oldenbourg present results showing a model for kinetochore microtubule formation that occurs at kinetochores.

Kinetochore fibers link chromosomes to the mitotic spindle, which drives chromosome segregation during anaphase. The prevailing model of kinetochore fiber formation includes a “search and capture” mechanism, in which some dynamic spindle microtubules reach a kinetochore and become stabilized by the interaction. A recent paper by LaFountain and Oldenbourg shows, however, that the maturation of these kinetochore fibers depends on the addition of microtubules at the kinetochore-proximal end, with polymerization towards the spindle pole. In this study, the naturally birefringent microtubules of crane-fly spermatocytes were examined, allowing a quantitative analysis of where microtubules are added. In the images above, kinetochore-proximal addition of microtubules can be seen in the centrosome-free half-spindle (red arrows) of a crane-fly spermatocyte, from early prometaphase to metaphase (top to bottom).

LaFountain, J., & Oldenbourg, R. (2014). Kinetochore-driven outgrowth of microtubules is a central contributor to kinetochore fiber maturation in crane-fly spermatocytes Molecular Biology of the Cell, 25 (9), 1437-1445 DOI: 10.1091/mbc.E14-01-0008