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Nuclear transport of single molecules: dwell times at the nuclear pore complex

Mon, 09/08/2014 - 8:48am

The mechanism by which macromolecules are selectively translocated through the nuclear pore complex (NPC) is still essentially unresolved. Single molecule methods can provide unique information on topographic properties and kinetic processes of asynchronous supramolecular assemblies with excellent spatial and time resolution. Here, single-molecule far-field fluorescence microscopy was applied to the NPC of permeabilized cells. The nucleoporin Nup358 could be localized at a distance of 70 nm from POM121-GFP along the NPC axis. Binding sites of NTF2, the transport receptor of RanGDP, were observed in cytoplasmic filaments and central framework, but not nucleoplasmic filaments of the NPC. The dwell times of NTF2 and transportin 1 at their NPC binding sites were 5.8 +/- 0.2 and 7.1 +/- 0.2 ms, respectively. Notably, the dwell times of these receptors were reduced upon binding to a specific transport substrate, suggesting that translocation is accelerated for loaded receptor molecules. Together with the known transport rates, our data suggest that nucleocytoplasmic transport occurs via multiple parallel pathways within single NPCs.

Direct observation of single protein molecules in aqueous solution

Mon, 09/08/2014 - 8:48am

Single molecule tracking (SMT) by fluorescence video microscopy has matured to be a well established method in the last few years. In this report we demonstrate the imaging and tracking of single protein molecules in a phosphate/Hepes buffer with high sensitivity at frame rates of 350 Hz.

Intranuclear binding kinetics and mobility of single native U1 snRNP particles in living cells

Mon, 09/08/2014 - 8:48am

Uridine-rich small nuclear ribonucleoproteins (U snRNPs) are splicing factors, which are diffusely distributed in the nucleoplasm and also concentrated in nuclear speckles. Fluorescently labeled, native U1 snRNPs were microinjected into the cytoplasm of living HeLa cells. After nuclear import single U1 snRNPs could be visualized and tracked at a spatial precision of 30 nm at a frame rate of 200 Hz employing a custom-built microscope with single-molecule sensitivity. The single-particle tracks revealed that most U1 snRNPs were bound to specific intranuclear sites, many of those presumably representing pre-mRNA splicing sites. The dissociation kinetics from these sites showed a multiexponential decay behavior on time scales ranging from milliseconds to seconds, reflecting the involvement of U1 snRNPs in numerous distinct interactions. The average dwell times for U1 snRNPs bound at sites within the nucleoplasm did not differ significantly from those in speckles, indicating that similar processes occur in both compartments. Mobile U1 snRNPs moved with diffusion constants in the range from 0.5 to 8 microm2/s. These values were consistent with uncomplexed U1 snRNPs diffusing at a viscosity of 5 cPoise and U1 snRNPs moving in a largely restricted manner, and U1 snRNPs contained in large supramolecular assemblies such as spliceosomes or supraspliceosomes.

Single-molecule tracking in eukaryotic cell nuclei

Mon, 09/08/2014 - 8:48am

Visualization of single fluorescent molecules (single-molecule tracking, SMT) within cells provides a real-time molecular view of physiological processes in vivo.

Probing intranuclear environments at the single-molecule level

Mon, 09/08/2014 - 8:48am

Genome activity and nuclear metabolism clearly depend on accessibility, but it is not known whether and to what extent nuclear structures limit the mobility and access of individual molecules. We used fluorescently labeled streptavidin with a nuclear localization signal as an average-sized, inert protein to probe the nuclear environment. The protein was injected into the cytoplasm of mouse cells, and single molecules were tracked in the nucleus with high-speed fluorescence microscopy. We analyzed and compared the mobility of single streptavidin molecules in structurally and functionally distinct nuclear compartments of living cells. Our results indicated that all nuclear subcompartments were easily and similarly accessible for such an average-sized protein, and even condensed heterochromatin neither excluded single molecules nor impeded their passage. The only significant difference was a higher frequency of transient trappings in heterochromatin, which lasted only tens of milliseconds. The streptavidin molecules, however, did not accumulate in heterochromatin, suggesting comparatively less free volume. Interestingly, the nucleolus seemed to exclude streptavidin, as it did many other nuclear proteins, when visualized by conventional fluorescence microscopy. The tracking of single molecules, nonetheless, showed no evidence for repulsion at the border but relatively unimpeded passage through the nucleolus. These results clearly show that single-molecule tracking can provide novel insights into mobility of proteins in the nucleus that cannot be obtained by conventional fluorescence microscopy. Our results suggest that nuclear processes may not be regulated at the level of physical accessibility but rather by local concentration of reactants and availability of binding sites.

Autonomy and robustness of translocation through the nuclear pore complex: a single-molecule study

Mon, 09/08/2014 - 8:47am

All molecular traffic between nucleus and cytoplasm occurs via the nuclear pore complex (NPC) within the nuclear envelope. In this study we analyzed the interactions of the nuclear transport receptors kapalpha2, kapbeta1, kapbeta1DeltaN44, and kapbeta2, and the model transport substrate, BSA-NLS, with NPCs to determine binding sites and kinetics using single-molecule microscopy in living cells. Recombinant transport receptors and BSA-NLS were fluorescently labeled by AlexaFluor 488, and microinjected into the cytoplasm of living HeLa cells expressing POM121-GFP as a nuclear pore marker. After bleaching the dominant GFP fluorescence the interactions of the microinjected molecules could be studied using video microscopy with a time resolution of 5 ms, achieving a colocalization precision of 30 nm. These measurements allowed defining the interaction sites with the NPCs with an unprecedented precision, and the comparison of the interaction kinetics with previous in vitro measurements revealed new insights into the translocation mechanism.

Conversion of red fluorescent protein into a bright blue probe

Mon, 09/08/2014 - 8:47am

We used a red chromophore formation pathway, in which the anionic red chromophore is formed from the neutral blue intermediate, to suggest a rational design strategy to develop blue fluorescent proteins with a tyrosine-based chromophore. The strategy was applied to red fluorescent proteins of the different genetic backgrounds, such as TagRFP, mCherry, HcRed1, M355NA, and mKeima, which all were converted into blue probes. Further improvement of the blue variant of TagRFP by random mutagenesis resulted in an enhanced monomeric protein, mTagBFP, characterized by the substantially higher brightness, the faster chromophore maturation, and the higher pH stability than blue fluorescent proteins with a histidine in the chromophore. The detailed biochemical and photochemical analysis indicates that mTagBFP is the true monomeric protein tag for multicolor and lifetime imaging, as well as the outstanding donor for green fluorescent proteins in Forster resonance energy transfer applications.

Calibrating excitation light fluxes for quantitative light microscopy in cell biology

Mon, 09/08/2014 - 8:47am

Power output of light bulbs changes over time and the total energy delivered will depend on the optical beam path of the microscope, filter sets and objectives used, thus making comparison between experiments performed on different microscopes complicated. Using a thermocoupled power meter, it is possible to measure the exact amount of light applied to a specimen in fluorescence microscopy, regardless of the light source, as the light power measured can be translated into a power density at the sample. This widely used and simple tool forms the basis of a new degree of calibration precision and comparability of results among experiments and setups. Here we describe an easy-to-follow protocol that allows researchers to precisely estimate excitation intensities in the object plane, using commercially available opto-mechanical components. The total duration of this protocol for one objective and six filter cubes is 75 min including start-up time for the lamp.

RNA processing and export

Mon, 09/08/2014 - 8:47am

Messenger RNAs undergo 5' capping, splicing, 3'-end processing, and export before translation in the cytoplasm. It has become clear that these mRNA processing events are tightly coupled and have a profound effect on the fate of the resulting transcript. This processing is represented by modifications of the pre-mRNA and loading of various protein factors. The sum of protein factors that stay with the mRNA as a result of processing is modified over the life of the transcript, conferring significant regulation to its expression.

In vivo imaging of labelled endogenous beta-actin mRNA during nucleocytoplasmic transport

Mon, 09/08/2014 - 8:47am

Export of messenger RNA occurs via nuclear pores, which are large nanomachines with diameters of roughly 120 nm that are the only link between the nucleus and cytoplasm. Hence, mRNA export occurs over distances smaller than the optical resolution of conventional light microscopes. There is extensive knowledge on the physical structure and composition of the nuclear pore complex, but transport selectivity and the dynamics of mRNA export at nuclear pores remain unknown. Here we developed a super-registration approach using fluorescence microscopy that can overcome the current limitations of co-localization by means of measuring intermolecular distances of chromatically different fluorescent molecules with nanometre precision. With this method we achieve 20-ms time-precision and at least 26-nm spatial precision, enabling the capture of highly transient interactions in living cells. Using this approach we were able to spatially resolve the kinetics of mRNA transport in mammalian cells and present a three-step model consisting of docking (80 ms), transport (5-20 ms) and release (80 ms), totalling 180 +/- 10 ms. Notably, the translocation through the channel was not the rate-limiting step, mRNAs can move bi-directionally in the pore complex and not all pores are equally active.

A perspective of the dynamic structure of the nucleus explored at the single-molecule level

Mon, 09/08/2014 - 8:47am

Cellular life can be described as a dynamic equilibrium of a highly complex network of interacting molecules. For this reason, it is no longer sufficient to "only" know the identity of the participants in a cellular process, but questions such as where, when, and for how long also have to be addressed to understand the mechanism being investigated. Additionally, ensemble measurements may not sufficiently describe individual steps of molecular mobility, spatial-temporal resolution, kinetic parameters, and geographical mapping. It is vital to investigate where individual steps exactly occur to enhance our understanding of the living cell. The nucleus, home too many highly complex multi-order processes, such as replication, transcription, splicing, etc., provides a complicated, heterogeneous landscape. Its dynamics were studied to a new level of detail by fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (FCS). Single-molecule tracking, while still in its infancy in cell biology, is becoming a more and more attractive method to deduce key elements of this organelle. Here we discuss the potential of tracking single RNAs and proteins in the nucleus. Their dynamics, localization, and interaction rates will be vital to our understanding of cellular life. To demonstrate this, we provide a review of the HIV life cycle, which is an extremely elegant balance of nuclear and cytoplasmic functions and provides an opportunity to study mechanisms deeply integrated within the structure of the nucleus. In summary, we aim to present a specific, dynamic view of nuclear cellular life based on single molecule and FCS data and provide a prospective for the future.

Nuclear physics: quantitative single-cell approaches to nuclear organization and gene expression

Mon, 09/08/2014 - 8:47am

The internal workings of the nucleus remain a mystery. A list of component parts exists, and in many cases their functional roles are known for events such as transcription, RNA processing, or nuclear export. Some of these components exhibit structural features in the nucleus, regions of concentration or bodies that have given rise to the concept of functional compartmentalization--that there are underlying organizational principles to be described. In contrast, a picture is emerging in which transcription appears to drive the assembly of the functional components required for gene expression, drawing from pools of excess factors. Unifying this seemingly dual nature requires a more rigorous approach, one in which components are tracked in time and space and correlated with onset of specific nuclear functions. In this chapter, we anticipate tools that will address these questions and provide the missing kinetics of nuclear function. These tools are based on analyzing the fluctuations inherent in the weak signals of endogenous nuclear processes and determining values for them. In this way, it will be possible eventually to provide a computational model describing the functional relationships of essential components.

Nuclear export dynamics of RNA-protein complexes

Mon, 09/08/2014 - 8:47am

The central dogma of molecular biology - DNA makes RNA makes proteins - is a flow of information that in eukaryotes encounters a physical barrier: the nuclear envelope, which encapsulates, organizes and protects the genome. Nuclear-pore complexes, embedded in the nuclear envelope, regulate the passage of molecules to and from the nucleus, including the poorly understood process of the export of RNAs from the nucleus. Recent imaging approaches focusing on single molecules have provided unexpected insight into this crucial step in the information flow. This review addresses the latest studies of RNA export and presents some models for how this complex process may work.

Multiscale dynamics in nucleocytoplasmic transport

Mon, 09/08/2014 - 8:47am

The nuclear pore complex (NPC) has long been viewed as a point-like entry and exit channel between the nucleus and the cytoplasm. New data support a different view whereby the complex displays distinct spatial dynamics of variable duration ranging from milliseconds to events spanning the entire cell cycle. Discrete interaction sites outside the central channel become apparent, and transport regulation at these sites seems to be of greater importance than currently thought. Nuclear pore components are highly active outside the NPC or impact the fate of cargo transport away from the nuclear pore. The NPC is a highly dynamic, crowded environment-constantly loaded with cargo while providing selectivity based on unfolded proteins. Taken together, this comprises a new paradigm in how we view import/export dynamics and emphasizes the multiscale nature of NPC-mediated cellular transport.

Nuclear pore component Nup98 is a potential tumor suppressor and regulates posttranscriptional expression of select p53 target genes

Mon, 09/08/2014 - 8:47am

The p53 tumor suppressor utilizes multiple mechanisms to selectively regulate its myriad target genes, which in turn mediate diverse cellular processes. Here, using conventional and single-molecule mRNA analyses, we demonstrate that the nucleoporin Nup98 is required for full expression of p21, a key effector of the p53 pathway, but not several other p53 target genes. Nup98 regulates p21 mRNA levels by a posttranscriptional mechanism in which a complex containing Nup98 and the p21 mRNA 3'UTR protects p21 mRNA from degradation by the exosome. An in silico approach revealed another p53 target (14-3-3sigma) to be similarly regulated by Nup98. The expression of Nup98 is reduced in murine and human hepatocellular carcinomas (HCCs) and correlates with p21 expression in HCC patients. Our study elucidates a previously unrecognized function of wild-type Nup98 in regulating select p53 target genes that is distinct from the well-characterized oncogenic properties of Nup98 fusion proteins.

Measuring image resolution in optical nanoscopy

Mon, 09/08/2014 - 8:47am

Resolution in optical nanoscopy (or super-resolution microscopy) depends on the localization uncertainty and density of single fluorescent labels and on the sample's spatial structure. Currently there is no integral, practical resolution measure that accounts for all factors. We introduce a measure based on Fourier ring correlation (FRC) that can be computed directly from an image. We demonstrate its validity and benefits on two-dimensional (2D) and 3D localization microscopy images of tubulin and actin filaments. Our FRC resolution method makes it possible to compare achieved resolutions in images taken with different nanoscopy methods, to optimize and rank different emitter localization and labeling strategies, to define a stopping criterion for data acquisition, to describe image anisotropy and heterogeneity, and even to estimate the average number of localizations per emitter. Our findings challenge the current focus on obtaining the best localization precision, showing instead how the best image resolution can be achieved as fast as possible.