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1.  Mapping Photothermally Induced Gene Expression in Living Cells and Tissues by Nanorod-Locked Nucleic Acid Complexes 
ACS Nano  2014;8(4):3597-3605.
The photothermal effect of plasmonic nanostructures has numerous applications, such as cancer therapy, photonic gene circuit, large cargo delivery, and nanostructure-enhanced laser tweezers. The photothermal operation can also induce unwanted physical and biochemical effects, which potentially alter the cell behaviors. However, there is a lack of techniques for characterizing the dynamic cell responses near the site of photothermal operation with high spatiotemporal resolution. In this work, we show that the incorporation of locked nucleic acid probes with gold nanorods allows photothermal manipulation and real-time monitoring of gene expression near the area of irradiation in living cells and animal tissues. The multimodal gold nanorod serves as an endocytic delivery reagent to transport the probes into the cells, a fluorescence quencher and a binding competitor to detect intracellular mRNA, and a plasmonic photothermal transducer to induce cell ablation. We demonstrate the ability of the gold nanorod-locked nucleic acid complex for detecting the spatiotemporal gene expression in viable cells and tissues and inducing photothermal ablation of single cells. Using the gold nanorod-locked nucleic acid complex, we systematically characterize the dynamic cellular heat shock responses near the site of photothermal operation. The gold nanorod-locked nucleic acid complex enables mapping of intracellular gene expressions and analyzes the photothermal effects of nanostructures toward various biomedical applications.
PMCID: PMC4004321  PMID: 24645754
gold nanorods; locked nucleic acids; plasmonic nanostructures; photothermal effects; heat shock response; intracellular detection
2.  Probing Mechanoregulation of Neuronal Differentiation by Plasma Lithography Patterned Elastomeric Substrates 
Scientific Reports  2014;4:6965.
Cells sense and interpret mechanical cues, including cell-cell and cell-substrate interactions, in the microenvironment to collectively regulate various physiological functions. Understanding the influences of these mechanical factors on cell behavior is critical for fundamental cell biology and for the development of novel strategies in regenerative medicine. Here, we demonstrate plasma lithography patterning on elastomeric substrates for elucidating the influences of mechanical cues on neuronal differentiation and neuritogenesis. The neuroblastoma cells form neuronal spheres on plasma-treated regions, which geometrically confine the cells over two weeks. The elastic modulus of the elastomer is controlled simultaneously by the crosslinker concentration. The cell-substrate mechanical interactions are also investigated by controlling the size of neuronal spheres with different cell seeding densities. These physical cues are shown to modulate with the formation of focal adhesions, neurite outgrowth, and the morphology of neuroblastoma. By systematic adjustment of these cues, along with computational biomechanical analysis, we demonstrate the interrelated mechanoregulatory effects of substrate elasticity and cell size. Taken together, our results reveal that the neuronal differentiation and neuritogenesis of neuroblastoma cells are collectively regulated via the cell-substrate mechanical interactions.
PMCID: PMC4223667  PMID: 25376886
3.  Detection of mRNA in living cells by double-stranded locked nucleic acid probes 
The Analyst  2013;138(17):4777-4785.
Double-stranded probes are homogeneous biosensors for rapid detection of specific nucleotide sequences. These double-stranded probes have been applied in various molecular sensing applications, such as real-time polymerase chain reaction and detection of bacterial 16S rRNA. In this study, we present the design and optimization of double-stranded probes for single-cell gene expression analysis in living cells. With alternating DNA/LNA monomers for optimizing the stability and specificity, we show that the probe is stable in living cells for over 72 hours post-transfection and is capable of detecting changes in gene expression induced by external stimuli. The probes can be delivered to a large number of cells simultaneously by cationic liposomal transfection or to individual cells selectively by photothermal delivery. We also demonstrate that the probe quantifies intracellular mRNA in living cells through the use of an equilibrium analysis. With its effectiveness and performance, the double-stranded probe represents a broadly applicable approach for large-scale single-cell gene expression analysis toward numerous biomedical applications, such as systems biology, cancer, and drug screening.
PMCID: PMC3736730  PMID: 23772441
4.  Single cell antimicrobial susceptibility testing by confined microchannels and electrokinetic loading 
Analytical chemistry  2013;85(8):3971-3976.
Multidrug-resistant pathogens are an emerging global health problem. In addition to the need of developing new antibiotics in the pipeline, the ability to rapidly determine the antibiotic resistance profiles of bacteria represents one of the most crucial steps toward the management of infectious diseases and the prevention of multidrug-resistant pathogens. Here, we report a single cell antimicrobial susceptibility testing (AST) approach for rapid determination of the antibiotic resistance of bacterial pathogens. By confining individual bacteria in gas permeable microchannels with dimensions comparable to a single bacterium, the antibiotic resistance of the bacteria can be monitored in real-time at the single cell level. To facilitate the dynamic loading of the bacteria into the confined microchannels for observation, AC electrokinetics is demonstrated for capturing bacteria to defined locations in high-conductivity AST buffer. The electrokinetic technique achieves a loading efficiency of about 75% with a negligible effect on the bacterial growth rate. To optimize the protocol for single cell AST, the bacterial growth rate of individual bacteria under different antibiotic conditions has been determined systematically. The applicability of single cell AST is demonstrated by the rapid determination of the antimicrobial resistant profiles of uropathogenic clinical isolates in Mueller-Hinton media and in urine. The antibiotic resistance profiles of bacteria can be determined in less than one hour compared to days in standard culture-based AST techniques.
PMCID: PMC4102406  PMID: 23445209
5.  Correction: Statistical Metamodeling for Revealing Synergistic Antimicrobial Interactions 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(7):10.1371/annotation/d598d976-2604-429b-a76f-14aeca628a8e.
PMCID: PMC3128627
6.  Rapid Antimicrobial Susceptibility Testing Using High Surface-to-Volume Ratio Microchannels 
Analytical chemistry  2010;82(3):1012.
This study reports the use of microfluidics, which intrinsically has a large surface-to-volume ratio, toward rapid antimicrobial susceptibility testing at the point of care. By observing the growth of uropathogenic E. coli in gas permeable polymeric microchannels with different dimensions, we demonstrate that the large surface-to-volume ratio of microfluidic systems facilitates rapid growth of bacteria. For microchannels with 250 micrometer or less in depth, the effective oxygenation can sustain the growth of E. coli to over 109 cfu/ml without external agitation or oxygenation, which eliminates the requirement of bulky instrumentation and facilitates rapid bacterial growth for antimicrobial susceptibility testing at the point of care. The applicability of microfluidic rapid antimicrobial susceptibility testing is demonstrated in culture media and in urine with clinical bacterial isolates that have different antimicrobial resistance profiles. The antimicrobial resistance pattern can be determined as rapidly as 2 hours compared to days in standard clinical procedures facilitating diagnostics at the point of care.
PMCID: PMC2821038  PMID: 20055494
7.  Statistical Metamodeling for Revealing Synergistic Antimicrobial Interactions 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(11):e15472.
Many bacterial pathogens are becoming drug resistant faster than we can develop new antimicrobials. To address this threat in public health, a metamodel antimicrobial cocktail optimization (MACO) scheme is demonstrated for rapid screening of potent antibiotic cocktails using uropathogenic clinical isolates as model systems. With the MACO scheme, only 18 parallel trials were required to determine a potent antimicrobial cocktail out of hundreds of possible combinations. In particular, trimethoprim and gentamicin were identified to work synergistically for inhibiting the bacterial growth. Sensitivity analysis indicated gentamicin functions as a synergist for trimethoprim, and reduces its minimum inhibitory concentration for 40-fold. Validation study also confirmed that the trimethoprim-gentamicin synergistic cocktail effectively inhibited the growths of multiple strains of uropathogenic clinical isolates. With its effectiveness and simplicity, the MACO scheme possesses the potential to serve as a generic platform for identifying synergistic antimicrobial cocktails toward management of bacterial infection in the future.
PMCID: PMC2988685  PMID: 21124958
8.  Nrf2 promotes neuronal cell differentiation 
Free radical biology & medicine  2009;47(6):867-879.
The transcription factor Nrf2 has emerged as a master regulator for the endogenous antioxidant response, which is critical in defending cells against environmental insults and in maintaining intracellular redox balance. However, whether Nrf2 has any role in neuronal cell differentiation is largely unknown. In this report, we have examined the effects of Nrf2 on cell differentiation using a neuroblastoma cell line, SH-SY5Y. Retinoic acid (RA) and 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA), two well-studied inducers for neuronal differentiation, are able to induce Nrf2 and its target gene NAD(P)H quinone oxidoreductase 1 (NQO1) in a dose- and time- dependent manner. RA-induced Nrf2 up-regulation is accompanied by neurite outgrowth and an induction of two neuronal differentiation markers, neurofilament-M (NF-M) and microtubule-associated protein 2 (MAP-2). Overexpression of Nrf2 in SH-SY5Y cells promotes neuronal differentiation whereas inhibition of endogenous Nrf2 expression inhibited neuronal differentiation. More remarkably, the positive role of Nrf2 in neuronal differentiation was verified ex vivo in primary neuron culture. Primary neurons isolated from Nrf2-null mice showed a retarded progress in differentiation, compared to that from wild-type mice. Collectively, our data demonstrate a novel role for Nrf2 in promoting neuronal cell differentiation, which will open new perspectives for therapeutic uses of Nrf2 activators in patients with neurodegenerative diseases.
PMCID: PMC2748111  PMID: 19573594
Nrf2; Keap1; Oxidative Stress; Neuronal differentiation; SH-SY5Y; NQO1
9.  Dual Roles of Nrf2 in Cancer 
In response to oxidative stress, the transcription factor NF-E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) controls the fate of cells through transcriptional upregulation of antioxidant response element (ARE)-bearing genes, including those encoding endogenous antioxidants, phase II detoxifying enzymes, and transporters. Expression of the Nrf2-dependent proteins is critical for ameliorating or eliminating toxicants/carcinogens to maintain cellular redox homeostasis. As a result, activation of the Nrf2 pathway, by naturally-occurring compounds or synthetic chemicals at sub-toxic doses, confers protection against subsequent toxic/carcinogenic exposure. Thus, the use of dietary compounds or synthetic chemicals to boost the Nrf2-dependent adaptive response to counteract environmental insults has emerged to be a promising strategy for cancer prevention. Interestingly, recent emerging data has revealed the “dark” side of Nrf2. Nrf2 and its downstream genes are overexpressed in many cancer cell lines and human cancer tissues, giving cancer cells an advantage for survival and growth. Furthermore, Nrf2 is upregulated in resistant cancer cells and is thought to be responsible for acquired chemoresistance. Therefore, it may be necessary to inhibit the Nrf2 pathway during chemotherapy. This review is primarily focused on the role of Nrf2 in cancer, with emphasis on the recent findings indicating the cancer promoting function of Nrf2 and its role in acquired chemoresistance.
PMCID: PMC2652397  PMID: 18838122
10.  Nrf2 enhances resistance of cancer cells to chemotherapeutic drugs, the dark side of Nrf2 
Carcinogenesis  2008;29(6):1235-1243.
Drug resistance during chemotherapy is the major obstacle to the successful treatment of many cancers. Here, we report that inhibition of NF-E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) may be a promising strategy to combat chemoresistance. Nrf2 is a critical transcription factor regulating a cellular protective response that defends cells against toxic insults from a broad spectrum of chemicals. Under normal conditions, the low constitutive amount of Nrf2 protein is maintained by the Kelch-like ECH-associated protein1 (Keap1)-mediated ubiquitination and proteasomal degradation system. Upon activation, this Keap1-dependent Nrf2 degradation mechanism is quickly inactivated, resulting in accumulation and activation of the antioxidant response element (ARE)-dependent cytoprotective genes. Since its discovery, Nrf2 has been viewed as a ‘good’ transcription factor that protects us from many diseases. In this study, we demonstrate the dark side of Nrf2: stable overexpression of Nrf2 resulted in enhanced resistance of cancer cells to chemotherapeutic agents including cisplatin, doxorubicin and etoposide. Inversely, downregulation of the Nrf2-dependent response by overexpression of Keap1 or transient transfection of Nrf2–small interfering RNA (siRNA) rendered cancer cells more susceptible to these drugs. Upregulation of Nrf2 by the small chemical tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ) also enhanced the resistance of cancer cells, indicating the feasibility of using small chemical inhibitors of Nrf2 as adjuvants to chemotherapy to increase the efficacy of chemotherapeutic agents. Furthermore, we provide evidence that the strategy of using Nrf2 inhibitors to increase efficacy of chemotherapeutic agents is not limited to certain cancer types or anticancer drugs and thus can be applied during the course of chemotherapy to treat many cancer types.
PMCID: PMC3312612  PMID: 18413364
11.  Oridonin Confers Protection against Arsenic-Induced Toxicity through Activation of the Nrf2-Mediated Defensive Response 
Environmental Health Perspectives  2008;116(9):1154-1161.
Groundwater contaminated with arsenic imposes a big challenge to human health worldwide. Using natural compounds to subvert the detrimental effects of arsenic represents an attractive strategy. The transcription factor nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) is a critical regulator of the cellular antioxidant response and xenobiotic metabolism. Recently, activation of the Nrf2 signaling pathway has been reported to confer protection against arsenic-induced toxicity in a cell culture model.
The goal of the present work was to identify a potent Nrf2 activator from plants as a chemopreventive compound and to demonstrate the efficacy of the compound in battling arsenic-induced toxicity.
Oridonin activated the Nrf2 signaling pathway at a low subtoxic dose and was able to stabilize Nrf2 by blocking Nrf2 ubiquitination and degradation, leading to accumulation of the Nrf2 protein and activation of the Nrf2-dependent cytoprotective response. Pretreatment of UROtsa cells with 1.4 μM oridonin significantly enhanced the cellular redox capacity, reduced formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), and improved cell survival after arsenic challenge.
We identified oridonin as representing a novel class of Nrf2 activators and illustrated the mechanism by which the Nrf2 pathway is activated. Furthermore, we demonstrated the feasibility of using natural compounds targeting Nrf2 as a therapeutic approach to protect humans from various environmental insults that may occur daily.
PMCID: PMC2535615  PMID: 18795156
antioxidant responsive element; antitumor; ARE; arsenic; chemoprevention; diterpenoid; Keap1; Nrf2; oridonin; oxidative stress; rubescensin

Results 1-11 (11)