Fluorescent Protein-Based Assay Development

This blog is a preview of what is to be launched as a new Service Group. Allele Biotech is restructuring its CRO capabilities in the assay development area by combining its fast expanding fluorescent protein portfolio, viral vector and packaging expertise, as well as newly granted patents in shRNA. The focus of this post is fluorescent protein in biosensor and screening assays. A modified version will be used as the landing page for the FB-Based Assay Development Service.


Originally cloned from the jellyfish Aequorea victoria and subsequently from many other marine organisms, fluorescent proteins (FPs) spanning the entire visual spectrum have become some of the most widely used genetically encoded tags. Unlike traditional labeling methods, FPs may be used to specifically label virtually any protein of interest in a living cell with minimal perturbation to its endogenous function. Genes encoding FPs alone or as fusions to a protein of interest may be introduced to cells by a number of different methods, including simple plasmid transfection or viral transduction. Once expressed, FPs are easily detected with standard fluorescence microscopy equipment.

Factors that should be taken into account when designing an FP-based imaging experiment include the desired wavelength(s) for detection, the pH environment of the tagged protein, the total required imaging time, and the expression level or dynamic range required for detection of promoter activity or tagged protein. Individual FPs currently available to the research community vary considerably in their photostability, pH sensitivity, and overall brightness, and so FPs must be chosen with care to maximize the likelihood of success in a particular experimental context.

    FPs as fusion tags:

Use of FPs as fusion tags allows visualization of the dynamic localization of the tagged protein in living cells. For such applications, the cDNA of a protein of interest is attached in-frame to the coding sequence for the desired FP, and both are put under the control of a promoter appropriate to the experimental context (typically CMV for high-level expression, though other promoters may be desirable if overexpression of your protein of interest is suspected of producing artifacts). The most basic uses for fluorescent protein fusions include tracking of specific organelles (fusions to short organelle targeting signals) or cytoskeletal structures (fusions to actin or tubulin, for example). More advanced uses include tracking receptors or exported proteins. In most cases, it is critical that the FP used for fusion tagging be fully monomeric, as any interaction between fusion tags is likely to produce artifacts, some of which may be hard to recognize in the absence of other controls. While in most cases FP fusions do not interfere with normal protein function, whenever possible, FP fusion proteins should be validated by immunostaining the corresponding endogenous protein in non-transfected cells and verifying similar patterns of localization.

    FPs as expression reporters:

FPs are highly useful as quantitative expression reporters. By driving the expression of an FP gene by a specific promoter of interest, it is possible to produce an optical readout of promoter activity. Use of the brightest possible FP ensures the best dynamic range for such an experiment. Because dynamic localization is not generally an issue for expression reporter applications, it is possible to use non-monomeric FPs for this purpose, opening up additional possibilities for multiple wavelength imaging. In order to obtain more reliable quantitative data and to correct for likely variations between individual cells in expression reporter experiments, the use of two spectrally distinct (e.g. green and red) FPs is advisable. By driving expression of one FP with a constitutive promoter and a second FP with the promoter of interest, the ratio of the two signals provides a quantitative readout of relative activity. Averaged over many cells, this technique should provide statistical power necessary for quality expression level experiments. Because FPs normally have a very slow turnover rate in mammalian cells, it may be desirable to add a degradation tag to your FP to enhance temporal resolution when measuring highly dynamic promoter activity.

New Product of the Week 03-08-10 to 03-14-10: mWasabi 2A or IRES dual expression vectors ( ABP-FP-W2A10, orWIRES10

Promotion of the Week 03-08-10 to 03-14-10: for a limited time on Thursday, to be announced on our Facebook page (!/allele.biotech?ref=profile), a strikingly low price will be honored for a commonly used lab reagent or equipment. This is the second week of the follow-us-to-the-basement promotion.

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Wednesday, March 10th, 2010 Fluorescent proteins, Open Forum No Comments

Monitoring the Undifferentiated Stage of Stem Cells—the Pluripotency Markers

Human embryonic stem (ES) cells or induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells promise to serve as an unlimited source for transplantation or tissue-specific differentiation. However, obtaining and maintaining stem cells are very difficult tasks for multiple reasons. For instance, most stem cell lines tend to spontaneously differentiate in culture, and even if the cells form stem cell-like colonies, they may be of a heterogeneous population.

To identify pluripotency of stem cells, expression of stem cell-specific marker genes (i.e. Oct-3/4, Sox2, Nanog, Rex-1) is monitored by RT-PCR. Alkaline phosphatase activity and methylation profiles of promoters of pluripotency-relevant genes are often analyzed as well. Compared to murine cells, it is noticeably more difficult to obtain human iPSCs, of which stem cell-like colonies sometimes turn out not to be pluripotent cells. We highly recommend testing iPSCs, especially human iPSCs, with antibodies against stage-specific embryonic antigens such as SSEA-3, SSEA-4, TRA-1-60, and TRA-1-81.

However, all of these methods require cell destruction or fixation for analysis, therefore, are inconvenient and costly. Furthermore, many studies using ES or iPS cells involve differentiation of stem cells into different lineages, a method for observing live cells to know their undifferentiation/differentiation stages would be very helpful. There have been a number of publications using murine Oct-4, Nanog, and Rex-1 promoter driven fluorescent proteins as markers for pluripotency tests [1-3]. Allele Biotech provides, under its iPS product line, packaged and validated lentiviral particles that would insert these 3 promoter-FP reporters into the stem cells. Although currently these promoters are of mouse sequences, their use in human stem cells have been reported.

    New product of the week 01-25-10 to 01-31-10:

All-In-One-Vector: Human OSKM Lentiviral Paticles, with Oct-4, Sox-2, Klf, and c-Myc all expressed from a single virus, ready-to-use.

    • Promotion of the week:

human iPS cell detection primer set, the same as the landmark Yamanaka paper [4] on creating human iPS for the first time.

1. Da Yong WU, Zhen YAO (2005). Isolation and characterization of the murine Nanog gene promoter. Cell Research, 15 (5): 317–324.
2. Rachel Eiges, Maya (2001). Establishment of human embryonic stem cell?transfected clones carrying a marker for undifferentiated cell. Current Biology 11: 514–518.
3. Guangjin Pan, Jun Li, Yali Zhou, Hui Zheng, and Duanqing pei (2006). A negative feedback loop of transcription factors that control stem cell pluripotency and self?renewal. ASEB Journal 20: E1094? E1102
4. Takahashi et al, Induction of Pluripotent Stem Cell from Adult Human Fibroblasts by Defined Factors (2007). Cell 131, 861-872

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Thursday, January 28th, 2010 iPSCs and other stem cells No Comments