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1.  Vesicle biomechanics in a time-varying magnetic field 
BMC Biophysics  2015;8:2.
Cells exhibit distortion when exposed to a strong electric field, suggesting that the field imposes control over cellular biomechanics. Closed pure lipid bilayer membranes (vesicles) have been widely used for the experimental and theoretical studies of cellular biomechanics under this electrodeformation. An alternative method used to generate an electric field is by electromagnetic induction with a time-varying magnetic field. References reporting the magnetic control of cellular mechanics have recently emerged. However, theoretical analysis of the cellular mechanics under a time-varying magnetic field is inadequate.
We developed an analytical theory to investigate the biomechanics of a modeled vesicle under a time-varying magnetic field. Following previous publications and to simplify the calculation, this model treated the inner and suspending media as lossy dielectrics, the membrane thickness set at zero, and the electric resistance of the membrane assumed to be negligible. This work provided the first analytical solutions for the surface charges, electric field, radial pressure, overall translational forces, and rotational torques introduced on a vesicle by the time-varying magnetic field. Frequency responses of these measures were analyzed, particularly the frequency used clinically by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).
The induced surface charges interacted with the electric field to produce a biomechanical impact upon the vesicle. The distribution of the induced surface charges depended on the orientation of the coil and field frequency. The densities of these charges were trivial at low frequency ranges, but significant at high frequency ranges. The direction of the radial force on the vesicle was dependent on the conductivity ratio between the vesicle and the medium. At relatively low frequencies (<200 KHz), including the frequency used in TMS, the computed radial pressure and translational forces on the vesicle were both negligible.
This work provides an analytical framework and insight into factors affecting cellular biomechanics under a time-varying magnetic field. Biological effects of clinical TMS are not likely to occur via alteration of the biomechanics of brain cells.
PMCID: PMC4306248  PMID: 25649322
Time varying magnetic field; Vesicle; Biomechanics; Modeling; Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)
2.  Drift correction for single-molecule imaging by molecular constraint field, a distance minimum metric 
BMC Biophysics  2015;8:1.
The recent developments of far-field optical microscopy (single molecule imaging techniques) have overcome the diffraction barrier of light and improve image resolution by a factor of ten compared with conventional light microscopy. These techniques utilize the stochastic switching of probe molecules to overcome the diffraction limit and determine the precise localizations of molecules, which often requires a long image acquisition time. However, long acquisition times increase the risk of sample drift. In the case of high resolution microscopy, sample drift would decrease the image resolution.
In this paper, we propose a novel metric based on the distance between molecules to solve the drift correction. The proposed metric directly uses the position information of molecules to estimate the frame drift. We also designed an algorithm to implement the metric for the general application of drift correction. There are two advantages of our method: First, because our method does not require space binning of positions of molecules but directly operates on the positions, it is more natural for single molecule imaging techniques. Second, our method can estimate drift with a small number of positions in each temporal bin, which may extend its potential application.
The effectiveness of our method has been demonstrated by both simulated data and experiments on single molecular images.
PMCID: PMC4306247  PMID: 25649266
Image reconstruction techniques; Resolution; Fluorescence microscopy; Superresolution
3.  A novel delta current method for transport stoichiometry estimation 
BMC Biophysics  2014;7(1):14.
The ion transport stoichiometry (q) of electrogenic transporters is an important determinant of their function. q can be determined by the reversal potential (Erev) if the transporter under study is the only electrogenic transport mechanism or a specific inhibitor is available. An alternative approach is to calculate delta reversal potential (ΔErev) by altering the concentrations of the transported substrates. This approach is based on the hypothesis that the contributions of other channels and transporters on the membrane to Erev are additive. However, Erev is a complicated function of the sum of different conductances rather than being additive.
We propose a new delta current (ΔI) method based on a simplified model for electrogenic secondary active transport by Heinz (Electrical Potentials in Biological Membrane Transport, 1981). ΔI is the difference between two currents obtained from altering the external concentration of a transported substrate thereby eliminating other currents without the need for a specific inhibitor. q is determined by the ratio of ΔI at two different membrane voltages (V1 and V2) where q = 2RT/(F(V2 –V1))ln(ΔI2/ΔI1) + 1. We tested this ΔI methodology in HEK-293 cells expressing the elctrogenic SLC4 sodium bicarbonate cotransporters NBCe2-C and NBCe1-A, the results were consistent with those obtained with the Erev inhibitor method. Furthermore, using computational simulations, we compared the estimates of q with the ΔErev and ΔI methods. The results showed that the ΔErev method introduces significant error when other channels or electrogenic transporters are present on the membrane and that the ΔI equation accurately calculates the stoichiometric ratio.
We developed a ΔI method for estimating transport stoichiometry of electrogenic transporters based on the Heinz model. This model reduces to the conventional reversal potential method when the transporter under study is the only electrogenic transport process in the membrane. When there are other electrogenic transport pathways, ΔI method eliminates their contribution in estimating q. Computational simulations demonstrated that the ΔErev method introduces significant error when other channels or electrogenic transporters are present and that the ΔI equation accurately calculates the stoichiometric ratio. This new ΔI method can be readily extended to the analysis of other electrogenic transporters in other tissues.
PMCID: PMC4274721  PMID: 25558372
Electrogenic transporter; Stoichiometry; Membrane current-voltage relationship; Reversal potential; HEK-293 cells; Patch clamp; Computational simulation
4.  The glassy state of crambin and the THz time scale protein-solvent fluctuations possibly related to protein function 
BMC Biophysics  2014;7:8.
THz experiments have been used to characterize the picosecond time scale fluctuations taking place in the model, globular protein crambin.
Using both hydration and temperature as an experimental parameter, we have identified collective fluctuations (<= 200 cm−1) in the protein. Observation of the protein dynamics in the THz spectrum from both below and above the glass transition temperature (Tg) has provided unique insight into the microscopic interactions and modes that permit the solvent to effectively couple to the protein thermal fluctuations.
Our findings suggest that the solvent dynamics on the picosecond time scale not only contribute to protein flexibility but may also delineate the types of fluctuations that are able to form within the protein structure.
PMCID: PMC4143578  PMID: 25184036
THz spectroscopy; Protein dynamics; Picosecond time scale protein fluctuations; Protein glass transition
5.  Insights into the mechanism of C5aR inhibition by PMX53 via implicit solvent molecular dynamics simulations and docking 
BMC Biophysics  2014;7:5.
The complement protein C5a acts by primarily binding and activating the G-protein coupled C5a receptor C5aR (CD88), and is implicated in many inflammatory diseases. The cyclic hexapeptide PMX53 (sequence Ace-Phe-[Orn-Pro-dCha-Trp-Arg]) is a full C5aR antagonist of nanomolar potency, and is widely used to study C5aR function in disease.
We construct for the first time molecular models for the C5aR:PMX53 complex without the a priori use of experimental constraints, via a computational framework of molecular dynamics (MD) simulations, docking, conformational clustering and free energy filtering. The models agree with experimental data, and are used to propose important intermolecular interactions contributing to binding, and to develop a hypothesis for the mechanism of PMX53 antagonism.
This work forms the basis for the design of improved C5aR antagonists, as well as for atomic-detail mechanistic studies of complement activation and function. Our computational framework can be widely used to develop GPCR-ligand structural models in membrane environments, peptidomimetics and other chemical compounds with potential clinical use.
PMCID: PMC4141665  PMID: 25170421
Class A GPCR; C5aR; C5a; Complement system; Molecular dynamics; Docking; Implicit solvent; Membrane protein
6.  Long range Debye-Hückel correction for computation of grid-based electrostatic forces between biomacromolecules 
BMC Biophysics  2014;7:4.
Brownian dynamics (BD) simulations can be used to study very large molecular systems, such as models of the intracellular environment, using atomic-detail structures. Such simulations require strategies to contain the computational costs, especially for the computation of interaction forces and energies. A common approach is to compute interaction forces between macromolecules by precomputing their interaction potentials on three-dimensional discretized grids. For long-range interactions, such as electrostatics, grid-based methods are subject to finite size errors. We describe here the implementation of a Debye-Hückel correction to the grid-based electrostatic potential used in the SDA BD simulation software that was applied to simulate solutions of bovine serum albumin and of hen egg white lysozyme.
We found that the inclusion of the long-range electrostatic correction increased the accuracy of both the protein-protein interaction profiles and the protein diffusion coefficients at low ionic strength.
An advantage of this method is the low additional computational cost required to treat long-range electrostatic interactions in large biomacromolecular systems. Moreover, the implementation described here for BD simulations of protein solutions can also be applied in implicit solvent molecular dynamics simulations that make use of gridded interaction potentials.
PMCID: PMC4082500  PMID: 25045516
Continuum solvent electrostatics; Ionic strength; Debye-Hückel; Poisson-Boltzmann equation; Brownian dynamics simulation; Protein diffusion; Discretization grid; Finite difference; Second virial coefficient; Small angle scattering intensity
7.  Diffusion-controlled reaction rates for two active sites on a sphere 
BMC Biophysics  2014;7:3.
The diffusion-limited reaction rate of a uniform spherical reactant is generalized to anisotropic reactivity. Previous work has shown that the protein model of a uniform sphere is unsatisfactory in many cases. Competition of ligands binding to two active sites, on a spherical enzyme or cell is studied analytically.
The reaction rate constant is given for two sites at opposite ends of the species of interest. This is compared with twice the reaction rate for a single site. It is found that the competition between sites lowers the reaction rate over what is expected for two sites individually. Competition between sites does not show up, until the site half angle is greater than 30 degrees.
Competition between sites is negligible until the site size becomes large. The competitive effect grows as theta becomes large. The maximum effect is given for theta = pi/2.
PMCID: PMC4058695  PMID: 24982756
8.  Raman characterization of Avocado Sunblotch viroid and its response to external perturbations and self-cleavage 
BMC Biophysics  2014;7:2.
Viroids are the smallest pathogens of plants. To date the structural and conformational details of the cleavage of Avocado sunblotch viroid (ASBVd) and the catalytic role of Mg2+ ions in efficient self-cleavage are of crucial interest.
We report the first Raman characterization of the structure and activity of ASBVd, for plus and minus viroid strands. Both strands exhibit a typical A-type RNA conformation with an ordered double-helical content and a C3′-endo/anti sugar pucker configuration, although small but specific differences are found in the sugar puckering and base-stacking regions. The ASBVd(-) is shown to self-cleave 3.5 times more actively than ASBVd(+). Deuteration and temperature increase perturb differently the double-helical content and the phosphodiester conformation, as revealed by corresponding characteristic Raman spectral changes. Our data suggest that the structure rigidity and stability are higher and the D2O accessibility to H-bonding network is lower for ASBVd(+) than for ASBVd(-). Remarkably, the Mg2+-activated self-cleavage of the viroid does not induce any significant alterations of the secondary viroid structure, as evidenced from the absence of intensity changes of Raman marker bands that, however exhibit small but noticeable frequency downshifts suggesting several minor changes in phosphodioxy, internal loops and hairpins of the cleaved viroids.
Our results demonstrate the sensitivity of Raman spectroscopy in monitoring structural and conformational changes of the viroid and constitute the basis for further studies of its interactions with therapeutic agents and cell membranes.
PMCID: PMC3994434  PMID: 24655924
Viroid; RNA conformation; Self-cleavage activity; D2O perturbation; Temperature unfolding; Raman spectroscopy
9.  Investigation of nanoscale structural alterations of cell nucleus as an early sign of cancer 
BMC Biophysics  2014;7:1.
The cell and tissue structural properties assessed with a conventional bright-field light microscope play a key role in cancer diagnosis, but they sometimes have limited accuracy in detecting early-stage cancers or predicting future risk of cancer progression for individual patients (i.e., prognosis) if no frank cancer is found. The recent development in optical microscopy techniques now permit the nanoscale structural imaging and quantitative structural analysis of tissue and cells, which offers a new opportunity to investigate the structural properties of cell and tissue below 200 – 250 nm as an early sign of carcinogenesis, prior to the presence of microscale morphological abnormalities. Identification of nanoscale structural signatures is significant for earlier and more accurate cancer detection and prognosis.
Our group has recently developed two simple spectral-domain optical microscopy techniques for assessing 3D nanoscale structural alterations – spectral-encoding of spatial frequency microscopy and spatial-domain low-coherence quantitative phase microscopy. These two techniques use the scattered light from biological cells and tissue and share a common experimental approach of assessing the Fourier space by various wavelengths to quantify the 3D structural information of the scattering object at the nanoscale sensitivity with a simple reflectance-mode light microscopy setup without the need for high-NA optics. This review paper discusses the physical principles and validation of these two techniques to interrogate nanoscale structural properties, as well as the use of these methods to probe nanoscale nuclear architectural alterations during carcinogenesis in cancer cell lines and well-annotated human tissue during carcinogenesis.
The analysis of nanoscale structural characteristics has shown promise in detecting cancer before the microscopically visible changes become evident and proof-of-concept studies have shown its feasibility as an earlier or more sensitive marker for cancer detection or diagnosis. Further biophysical investigation of specific 3D nanoscale structural characteristics in carcinogenesis, especially with well-annotated human cells and tissue, is much needed in cancer research.
PMCID: PMC3928095  PMID: 24507508
10.  Molecular dynamics simulations indicate an induced-fit mechanism for LSD1/CoREST-H3-histone molecular recognition 
BMC Biophysics  2013;6:15.
Lysine Specific Demethylase (LSD1 or KDM1A) in complex with its co-repressor protein CoREST catalyzes the demethylation of the H3 histone N-terminal tail and is currently one of the most promising epigenetic targets for drug discovery against cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. Models of non-covalent binding, such as lock and key, induced-fit, and conformational selection could help explaining the molecular mechanism of LSD1/CoREST-H3-histone association, thus guiding drug discovery and design efforts. Here, we quantify the extent to which LSD1/CoREST substrate binding is consistent with these hypothetical models using LSD1/CoREST conformational ensembles obtained through extensive explicit solvent molecular dynamics (MD) simulations.
We find that an induced-fit model is the most representative of LSD1/CoREST-H3-histone non-covalent binding and accounts for the local conformational changes occurring in the H3-histone binding site. We also show that conformational selection – despite in principle not ruled out by this finding – is minimal, and only relevant when global properties are considered, e.g. the nanoscale motion of the LSD1/CoREST clamp.
The induced-fit mechanism revealed by our MD simulation study will aid the inclusion of protein dynamics for the discovery and design of LSD1 inhibitors targeting the H3-histone binding region. On a general basis, our study indicates the importance of using multiple metrics or selection schemes when testing alternative hypothetical mechanistic models of non-covalent binding.
PMCID: PMC4175114  PMID: 24274367
Epigenetics; Chromatin remodeling; Computer simulation; Conformational clustering; Conformational ensemble; Histone; Protein binding; Statistical test; Kolmogorov-Smirnov statistics
11.  An exact approach for studying cargo transport by an ensemble of molecular motors 
BMC Biophysics  2013;6:14.
Intracellular transport is crucial for many cellular processes where a large fraction of the cargo is transferred by motor-proteins over a network of microtubules. Malfunctions in the transport mechanism underlie a number of medical maladies.
Existing methods for studying how motor-proteins coordinate the transfer of a shared cargo over a microtubule are either analytical or are based on Monte-Carlo simulations. Approaches that yield analytical results, while providing unique insights into transport mechanism, make simplifying assumptions, where a detailed characterization of important transport modalities is difficult to reach. On the other hand, Monte-Carlo based simulations can incorporate detailed characteristics of the transport mechanism; however, the quality of the results depend on the number and quality of simulation runs used in arriving at results. Here, for example, it is difficult to simulate and study rare-events that can trigger abnormalities in transport.
In this article, a semi-analytical methodology that determines the probability distribution function of motor-protein behavior in an exact manner is developed. The method utilizes a finite-dimensional projection of the underlying infinite-dimensional Markov model, which retains the Markov property, and enables the detailed and exact determination of motor configurations, from which meaningful inferences on transport characteristics of the original model can be derived.
Under this novel probabilistic approach new insights about the mechanisms of action of these proteins are found, suggesting hypothesis about their behavior and driving the design and realization of new experiments.
The advantages provided in accuracy and efficiency make it possible to detect rare events in the motor protein dynamics, that could otherwise pass undetected using standard simulation methods. In this respect, the model has allowed to provide a possible explanation for possible mechanisms under which motor proteins could coordinate their motion.
PMCID: PMC3879128  PMID: 24237658
Molecular motors; Rare event detection; Markov models
12.  A comparative study of ribosomal proteins: linkage between amino acid distribution and ribosomal assembly 
BMC Biophysics  2013;6:13.
Assembly of the ribosome from its protein and RNA constituents must occur quickly and efficiently in order to synthesize the proteins necessary for all cellular activity. Since the early 1960’s, certain characteristics of possible assembly pathways have been elucidated, yet the mechanisms that govern the precise recognition events remain unclear.
We utilize a comparative analysis to investigate the amino acid composition of ribosomal proteins (r-proteins) with respect to their role in the assembly process. We compared small subunit (30S) r-protein sequences to those of other housekeeping proteins from 560 bacterial species and searched for correlations between r-protein amino acid content and factors such as assembly binding order, environmental growth temperature, protein size, and contact with ribosomal RNA (rRNA) in the 30S complex.
We find r-proteins have a significantly high percent of positive residues, which are highly represented at rRNA contact sites. An inverse correlation between the percent of positive residues and r-protein size was identified and is mainly due to the content of Lysine residues, rather than Arginine. Nearly all r-proteins carry a net positive charge, but no statistical correlation between the net charge and the binding order was detected. Thermophilic (high-temperature) r-proteins contain increased Arginine, Isoleucine, and Tyrosine, and decreased Serine and Threonine compared to mesophilic (lower-temperature), reflecting a known distinction between thermophiles and mesophiles, possibly to account for protein thermostability. However, this difference in amino acid content does not extend to rRNA contact sites, as the proportions of thermophilic and mesophilic contact residues are not significantly different.
Given the significantly higher level of positively charged residues in r-proteins and at contact sites, we conclude that ribosome assembly relies heavily on an electrostatic component of interaction. However, the binding order of r-proteins in assembly does not appear to depend on these electrostatics interactions. Additionally, because thermophiles and mesophiles exhibit significantly different amino acid compositions in their sequences but not in the identities of contact sites, we conclude that this electrostatic component of interaction is insensitive to temperature and is not the determining factor differentiating the temperature sensitivity of ribosome assembly.
PMCID: PMC4016315  PMID: 24152303
Ribosomal assembly; Amino acid compositions; Electrostatic interactions; Adaptation; Protein/RNA contacts; Thermostability; r-proteins; 30S subunit
13.  Self-consistent field theory for the interactions between keratin intermediate filaments 
BMC Biophysics  2013;6:12.
Keratins are important structural proteins found in skin, hair and nails. Keratin Intermediate Filaments are major components of corneocytes, nonviable horny cells of the Stratum Corneum, the outermost layer of skin. It is considered that interactions between unstructured domains of Keratin Intermediate Filaments are the key factor in maintaining the elasticity of the skin.
We have developed a model for the interactions between keratin intermediate filaments based on self-consistent field theory. The intermediate filaments are represented by charged surfaces, and the disordered terminal domains of the keratins are represented by charged heteropolymers grafted to these surfaces. We estimate the system is close to a charge compensation point where the heteropolymer grafting density is matched to the surface charge density. Using a protein model with amino acid resolution for the terminal domains, we find that the terminal chains can mediate a weak attraction between the keratin surfaces. The origin of the attraction is a combination of bridging and electrostatics. The attraction disappears when the system moves away from the charge compensation point, or when excess small ions and/or NMF-representing free amino acids are added.
These results are in concordance with experimental observations, and support the idea that the interaction between keratin filaments, and ultimately in part the elastic properties of the keratin-containing tissue, is controlled by a combination of the physico-chemical properties of the disordered terminal domains and the composition of the medium in the inter-filament region.
PMCID: PMC3848802  PMID: 24007681
Stratum corneum; Skin keratins; Intermediate filaments; Unstructured terminal domains; Bridging attraction
14.  Kinetic effects of TiO2 fine particles and nanoparticles aggregates on the nanomechanical properties of human neutrophils assessed by force spectroscopy 
BMC Biophysics  2013;6:11.
Increasing applications of titanium dioxide (TiO2) fine particles (FPs) and nanoparticles (NPs) require coupled knowledge improvement concerning their biokinetic effects. Neutrophils are quickly recruited to titanium implantation areas. Neutrophils mechanical properties display a crucial role on cell physiology and immune responsive functions. Then, micro and nanomechanical characterization assessed by force spectroscopy (FS) technique has been largely applied in this field.
Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) images highlighted neutrophils morphological changes along TiO2 FPs and NPs aggregates exposure time (1, 5, and 30 min) compared to controls. FS approaches showed an increasing on attraction forces to TiO2 FPs and NPs treated neutrophils. This group depicted stronger stiffness features than controls just at 1 min of exposure. Treated neutrophils showed a tendency to increase adhesive properties after 1 and 5 min of exposure. These cells maintained comparatively higher elasticity behavior for a longer time possibly due to intense phagocytosis and cell stiffness opposing to the tip indentation. Neutrophils activation caused by FPs and NPs uptake could be related to increasing dissipated energy results.
Mechanical modifications resulted from TiO2 FPs and NPs aggregates interaction with neutrophils showed increasing stiffness and also cell morphology alteration. Cells treatment by this metal FPs and NPs caused an increase in attractive forces. This event was mainly observed on the initial exposure times probably regarding to the interaction of neutrophils membrane and phagocytosis. Similar results were found to adhesion forces and dissipated energy outcomes. Treated cells presented comparatively higher elasticity behavior for a longer time. SEM images clearly suggested cell morphology alteration along time course probably related to activation, cytoskeleton rearrangement and phagocytosis. This scenario with increase in stiffness strongly suggests a direct relationship over neutrophil rolling, arrest, and transmigration. Scrutinizing these interactions represents an essential step to clarify the mechanisms involved on treatments containing micro and nanomaterials and their fates on the organisms.
PMCID: PMC3766645  PMID: 23957965
Force spectroscopy; Neutrophil nanomechanics; Titanium dioxide microparticles; Titanium dioxide nanoparticles
15.  Molecular basis of HHQ biosynthesis: molecular dynamics simulations, enzyme kinetic and surface plasmon resonance studies 
BMC Biophysics  2013;6:10.
PQS (PseudomonasQuinolone Signal) and its precursor HHQ are signal molecules of the P. aeruginosa quorum sensing system. They explicate their role in mammalian pathogenicity by binding to the receptor PqsR that induces virulence factor production and biofilm formation. The enzyme PqsD catalyses the biosynthesis of HHQ.
Enzyme kinetic analysis and surface plasmon resonance (SPR) biosensor experiments were used to determine mechanism and substrate order of the biosynthesis. Comparative analysis led to the identification of domains involved in functionality of PqsD. A kinetic cycle was set up and molecular dynamics (MD) simulations were used to study the molecular bases of the kinetics of PqsD. Trajectory analysis, pocket volume measurements, binding energy estimations and decompositions ensured insights into the binding mode of the substrates anthraniloyl-CoA and β-ketodecanoic acid.
Enzyme kinetics and SPR experiments hint at a ping-pong mechanism for PqsD with ACoA as first substrate. Trajectory analysis of different PqsD complexes evidenced ligand-dependent induced-fit motions affecting the modified ACoA funnel access to the exposure of a secondary channel. A tunnel-network is formed in which Ser317 plays an important role by binding to both substrates. Mutagenesis experiments resulting in the inactive S317F mutant confirmed the importance of this residue. Two binding modes for β-ketodecanoic acid were identified with distinct catalytic mechanism preferences.
PMCID: PMC3734052  PMID: 23916145
16.  Interactions of the amphiphiles arbutin and tryptophan with phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine bilayers in the dry state 
BMC Biophysics  2013;6:9.
Water is essential for life, but some organisms can survive complete desiccation, while many more survive partial dehydration during drying or freezing. The function of some protective molecules, such as sugars, has been extensively studied, but much less is known about the effects of amphiphiles such as flavonoids and other aromatic compounds. Amphiphiles may be largely soluble under fully hydrated conditions, but will partition into membranes upon removal of water. Little is known about the effects of amphiphiles on membrane stability and how amphiphile structure and function are related. Here, we have used two of the most intensively studied amphiphiles, tryptophan (Trp) and arbutin (Arb), along with their isolated hydrophilic moieties glycine (Gly) and glucose (Glc) to better understand structure-function relationships in amphiphile-membrane interactions in the dry state.
Fourier-transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy was used to measure gel-to-liquid crystalline phase transition temperatures (Tm) of liposomes formed from phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine in the presence of the different additives. In anhydrous samples, both Glc and Arb strongly depressed Tm, independent of lipid composition, while Gly had no measurable effect. Trp, on the other hand, either depressed or increased Tm, depending on lipid composition. We found no evidence for strong interactions of any of the compounds with the lipid carbonyl or choline groups, while all additives except Gly seemed to interact with the phosphate groups. In the case of Arb and Glc, this also had a strong effect on the sugar OH vibrations in the FTIR spectra. In addition, vibrations from the hydrophobic indole and phenol moieties of Trp and Arb, respectively, provided evidence for interactions with the lipid bilayers.
The two amphiphiles Arb and Trp interact differently with dry bilayers. The interactions of Arb are dominated by contributions of the Glc moiety, while the indole governs the effects of Trp. In addition, only Trp-membrane interactions showed a strong influence of lipid composition. Further investigations, using the large structural diversity of plant amphiphiles will help to understand how their structure determines the interaction with membranes and how that influences their biological functions, for example under freezing or dehydration conditions.
PMCID: PMC3726346  PMID: 23879885
Amphiphiles; Arbutin; Desiccation; Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy; Lipid phase transition; Model membranes; Tryptophan
17.  Drop drying on surfaces determines chemical reactivity - the specific case of immobilization of oligonucleotides on microarrays 
BMC Biophysics  2013;6:8.
Drop drying is a key factor in a wide range of technical applications, including spotted microarrays. The applied nL liquid volume provides specific reaction conditions for the immobilization of probe molecules to a chemically modified surface.
We investigated the influence of nL and μL liquid drop volumes on the process of probe immobilization and compare the results obtained to the situation in liquid solution. In our data, we observe a strong relationship between drop drying effects on immobilization and surface chemistry. In this work, we present results on the immobilization of dye labeled 20mer oligonucleotides with and without an activating 5′-aminoheptyl linker onto a 2D epoxysilane and a 3D NHS activated hydrogel surface.
Our experiments identified two basic processes determining immobilization. First, the rate of drop drying that depends on the drop volume and the ambient relative humidity. Oligonucleotides in a dried spot react unspecifically with the surface and long reaction times are needed. 3D hydrogel surfaces allow for immobilization in a liquid environment under diffusive conditions. Here, oligonucleotide immobilization is much faster and a specific reaction with the reactive linker group is observed. Second, the effect of increasing probe concentration as a result of drop drying. On a 3D hydrogel, the increasing concentration of probe molecules in nL spotting volumes accelerates immobilization dramatically. In case of μL volumes, immobilization depends on whether the drop is allowed to dry completely. At non-drying conditions, very limited immobilization is observed due to the low oligonucleotide concentration used in microarray spotting solutions. The results of our study provide a general guideline for microarray assay development. They allow for the initial definition and further optimization of reaction conditions for the immobilization of oligonucleotides and other probe molecule classes to different surfaces in dependence of the applied spotting and reaction volume.
PMCID: PMC3694035  PMID: 23758982
18.  Activation of signaling receptors: do ligands bind to receptor monomer, dimer, or both? 
BMC Biophysics  2013;6:7.
A recent study by Dietz et al. using single-molecule fluorescence microscopy techniques demonstrates that, in the absence of the ligand InlB, the MET receptor exists as both a monomer and a dimer on the cell membrane, and addition of the ligand leads to increased MET dimerization. Under the crowded conditions of the cell membrane, dimer formation may be a common phenomenon for cell surface receptors. Ligand binding to both monomeric and dimeric receptors may provide parallel routes to receptor activation.
PMCID: PMC3674895  PMID: 23731691
19.  Single-molecule photobleaching reveals increased MET receptor dimerization upon ligand binding in intact cells 
BMC Biophysics  2013;6:6.
The human receptor tyrosine kinase MET and its ligand hepatocyte growth factor/scatter factor are essential during embryonic development and play an important role during cancer metastasis and tissue regeneration. In addition, it was found that MET is also relevant for infectious diseases and is the target of different bacteria, amongst them Listeria monocytogenes that induces bacterial uptake through the surface protein internalin B. Binding of ligand to the MET receptor is proposed to lead to receptor dimerization. However, it is also discussed whether preformed MET dimers exist on the cell membrane.
To address these issues we used single-molecule fluorescence microscopy techniques. Our photobleaching experiments show that MET exists in dimers on the membrane of cells in the absence of ligand and that the proportion of MET dimers increases significantly upon ligand binding.
Our results indicate that partially preformed MET dimers may play a role in ligand binding or MET signaling. The addition of the bacterial ligand internalin B leads to an increase of MET dimers which is in agreement with the model of ligand-induced dimerization of receptor tyrosine kinases.
PMCID: PMC3674922  PMID: 23731667
MET receptor; Dimerization; Single-molecule photobleaching; Fluorescence correlation spectroscopy; Fluorescence; Signal transduction
20.  Time-resolved force distribution analysis 
BMC Biophysics  2013;6:5.
Biomolecules or other complex macromolecules undergo conformational transitions upon exposure to an external perturbation such as ligand binding or mechanical force. To follow fluctuations in pairwise forces between atoms or residues during such conformational changes as observed in Molecular Dynamics (MD) simulations, we developed Time-Resolved Force Distribution Analysis (TRFDA).
The implementation focuses on computational efficiency and low-memory usage and, along with the wide range of output options, makes possible time series analysis of pairwise forces variation in long MD simulations and for large molecular systems. It also provides an exact decomposition of pairwise forces resulting from 3- and 4-body potentials and a unified treatment of pairwise forces between atoms or residues. As a proof of concept, we present a stress analysis during unfolding of ubiquitin in a force-clamp MD simulation.
TRFDA can be used, among others, in tracking signal propagation at atomic level, for characterizing dynamical intermolecular interactions (e.g. protein-ligand during flexible docking), in development of force fields and for following stress distribution during conformational changes.
PMCID: PMC3669045  PMID: 24499624
21.  Improving accuracy of cell and chromophore concentration measurements using optical density 
BMC Biophysics  2013;6:4.
UV–vis spectrophotometric optical density (OD) is the most commonly-used technique for estimating chromophore formation and cell concentration in liquid culture. OD wavelength is often chosen with little thought given to its effect on the quality of the measurement. Analysis of the contributions of absorption and scattering to the measured optical density provides a basis for understanding variability among spectrophotometers and enables a quantitative evaluation of the applicability of the Beer-Lambert law. This provides a rational approach for improving the accuracy of OD measurements used as a proxy for direct dry weight (DW), cell count, and pigment levels.
For pigmented organisms, the choice of OD wavelength presents a tradeoff between the robustness and the sensitivity of the measurement. The OD at a robust wavelength is primarily the result of light scattering and does not vary with culture conditions; whereas, the OD at a sensitive wavelength is additionally dependent on light absorption by the organism’s pigments. Suitably robust and sensitive wavelengths are identified for a wide range of organisms by comparing their spectra to the true absorption spectra of dyes. The relative scattering contribution can be reduced either by measurement at higher OD, or by the addition of bovine serum albumin. Reduction of scattering or correlation with off-peak light attenuation provides for more accurate assessment of chromophore levels within cells. Conversion factors between DW, OD, and colony-forming unit density are tabulated for 17 diverse organisms to illustrate the scope of variability of these correlations. Finally, an inexpensive short pathlength LED-based flow cell is demonstrated for the online monitoring of growth in a bioreactor at culture concentrations greater than 5 grams dry weight per liter which would otherwise require off-line dilutions to obtain non-saturated OD measurements.
OD is most accurate as a time-saving proxy measurement for biomass concentration when light attenuation is dominated by scattering. However, the applicability of OD-based correlations is highly dependent on the measurement specifications (spectrophotometer model and wavelength) and culture conditions (media type; growth stage; culture stress; cell/colony geometry; presence and concentration of secreted compounds). These variations highlight the importance of treating literature conversion factors as rough approximations as opposed to concrete constants. There is an opportunity to optimize measurements of cell pigment levels by considering scattering and absorption-dependent wavelengths of the OD spectrum.
PMCID: PMC3663833  PMID: 24499615
Optical density; Light scattering; Algae; Conversion factors; Dry weight; Flow cell
22.  Wavelet-based protocols for ion channel electrophysiology 
BMC Biophysics  2013;6:3.
Fluctuation-induced phenomena caused by both random and deterministic stimuli have been previously studied in a variety of contexts. They are based on the interplay between the spectro-temporal patterns of the signal and the kinetics of the system it is applied to. The aim of this study was to develop a method for designing fluctuating inputs into nonlinear system which would elicit the most desired system output and to implement the method to studies of ion channels.
We describe an algorithm based on constructing the input as a superposition of wavelets and optimizing it according to a selected cost functional. The algorithm is applied to ion channel electrophysiology where the input is the fluctuating voltage delivered through a patch-clamp experimental apparatus and the output is the whole-cell ionic current. The algorithm is optimized to aid selection of Markov models of the gating kinetics of the voltage-gated Shaker K+ channel and tested by comparison of numerically obtained ionic currents predicted by different models with experimental data obtained from the Shaker K+ channels. Other applications and optimization criteria are also suggested.
The method described in this paper can be useful in development and testing of models of ion channel gating kinetics, developing voltage inputs that optimize certain nonequilibrium phenomena in ion channels, such as the kinetic focusing, and potentially has applications to other fields.
PMCID: PMC3608073  PMID: 23497467
Voltage-gated Shaker potassium channel; Markov model; Wavelet; Patch clamping
23.  A biophysical model for transcription factories 
BMC Biophysics  2013;6:2.
Transcription factories are nuclear domains where gene transcription takes place although the molecular basis for their formation and maintenance are unknown. In this study, we explored how the properties of chromatin as a polymer may contribute to the structure of transcription factories. We found that transcriptional active chromatin contains modifications like histone H4 acetylated at Lysine 16 (H4K16ac). Single fibre analysis showed that this modification spans the entire body of the gene. Furthermore, H4K16ac genes cluster in regions up to 500 Kb alternating active and inactive chromatin. The introduction of H4K16ac in chromatin induces stiffness in the chromatin fibre. The result of this change in flexibility is that chromatin could behave like a multi-block copolymer with repetitions of stiff-flexible (active-inactive chromatin) components. Copolymers with such structure self-organize through spontaneous phase separation into microdomains. Consistent with such model H4K16ac chromatin form foci that associates with nascent transcripts. We propose that transcription factories are the result of the spontaneous concentration of H4K16ac chromatin that are in proximity, mainly in cis.
PMCID: PMC3740778  PMID: 23394119
Epigenetics; Biophysics; H4K16Ac; BrUTP; Transcription Factories; RNA pol II; Nuclear organization
24.  Effects of spermine NONOate and ATP on protein aggregation: light scattering evidences 
BMC Biophysics  2013;6:1.
Background and objective
Regulating protein function in the cell by small molecules, provide a rapid, reversible and tunable tool of metabolic control. However, due to its complexity the issue is poorly studied so far. The effects of small solutes on protein behavior can be studied by examining changes of protein secondary structure, in its hydrodynamic radius as well as its thermal aggregation. The study aim was to investigate effects of adenosine-5’-triphosphate (ATP), spermine NONOate (NO donor) as well as sodium/potassium ions on thermal aggregation of albumin and hemoglobin. To follow aggregation of the proteins, their diffusion coefficients were measured by quasi-elastic light scattering (QELS) at constant pH (7.4) in the presence of solutes over a temperature range from 25°C to 80°C.
Results and discussion
1) Spermine NONOate persistently decreased the hemoglobin aggregation temperature Tairrespectively of the Na+/K+ environment, 2) ATP alone had no effect on the protein’s thermal stability but it facilitated protein’s destabilization in the presence of spermine NONOate and 3) mutual effects of ATP and NO were strongly influenced by particular buffer ionic compositions.
The ATP effect on protein aggregation was ambiguous: ATP alone had no effect on the protein’s thermal stability but it facilitated protein’s destabilization in the presence of nitric oxide. The magnitude and direction of the observed effects strongly depended on concentrations of K+ and Na+ in the solution.
PMCID: PMC3561150  PMID: 23289636
25.  Stochastic dynamics of virus capsid formation: direct versus hierarchical self-assembly 
BMC Biophysics  2012;5:22.
In order to replicate within their cellular host, many viruses have developed self-assembly strategies for their capsids which are sufficiently robust as to be reconstituted in vitro. Mathematical models for virus self-assembly usually assume that the bonds leading to cluster formation have constant reactivity over the time course of assembly (direct assembly). In some cases, however, binding sites between the capsomers have been reported to be activated during the self-assembly process (hierarchical assembly).
In order to study possible advantages of such hierarchical schemes for icosahedral virus capsid assembly, we use Brownian dynamics simulations of a patchy particle model that allows us to switch binding sites on and off during assembly. For T1 viruses, we implement a hierarchical assembly scheme where inter-capsomer bonds become active only if a complete pentamer has been assembled. We find direct assembly to be favorable for reversible bonds allowing for repeated structural reorganizations, while hierarchical assembly is favorable for strong bonds with small dissociation rate, as this situation is less prone to kinetic trapping. However, at the same time it is more vulnerable to monomer starvation during the final phase. Increasing the number of initial monomers does have only a weak effect on these general features. The differences between the two assembly schemes become more pronounced for more complex virus geometries, as shown here for T3 viruses, which assemble through homogeneous pentamers and heterogeneous hexamers in the hierarchical scheme. In order to complement the simulations for this more complicated case, we introduce a master equation approach that agrees well with the simulation results.
Our analysis shows for which molecular parameters hierarchical assembly schemes can outperform direct ones and suggests that viruses with high bond stability might prefer hierarchical assembly schemes. These insights increase our physical understanding of an essential biological process, with many interesting potential applications in medicine and materials science.
PMCID: PMC3563543  PMID: 23244740

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