Cell surface localization assay

About the same time I got inspired to try making the vesicular protease assay, I figured I’d also build an assay to try to look at cell-surface localization of proteins.

Going back to that post about dL5 and malachite green (MG), I believe that MG doesn’t cross the the plasma membrane particularly well (Although now that I look at it, there are both ways to increase and decrease it’s cell permeability). Thus, I figured I’d test the dL5 fluorogen activating peptide in two forms; one where it’s sent out to the cell surface using a signal peptide (but anchored to the plasma membrane with a transmembrane domain), and another where its expressed as an intracellular, cytoplasmic protein.

Well, we made the constructs, and Sarah recombined the cells and tested them, and here are the results.

Well, ignore the blue distribution for now (since this is a construct testing a different hypothesis), and only look at the red and orange distributions for now. As you can tell, in the absence of MG, the signal is pretty low (I should probably through in some unrecombined landing pad cells on that plot to show what the background level is). On the other hand, MG addition causes cells encoding the extracellular dL5 to exhibit ~ 3e4 near infrared MFI, while the intracellular dL5 cells had about 1e4 MFI. So while that’s only a 3-fold difference, the standard deviations of those distributions were pretty tight, such that there was rather small overlap between those two distributions. So while this is a single, one-off experiment, it looks like this assay format may work.

Probably some additional knobs that can be turned to try to improve signal over background. First, is maybe this effect is somewhat MG concentration dependent, and reducing the amount of MG that is added may add some more dynamic range. Also, there are those less cell permeant MG derivations, which will likely improve the range (albeit, these are likely far harder to get than OG MG)

Vesicular protease cleavage assay

Obviously we make a lot of recombinant DNA constructs and create a bunch of different assays to try to understand biology. Well, at some point I became curious if I could come up with a protease cleavage assay for measuring how various peptide sequences could be substrates for vesicular proteases inside cells. I figured we’d start to test this by looking at furin cleavage, since 1) furin is quite ubiquitous, 2) furin cleavage is relevant for multiple disease-relevant membrane proteins, like many viral entry glycoproteins, and 3) including SARS-CoV-2 spike, where the furin cleavage site in that protein is thought to contribute to its dynamics of spread and pathogenicity during infection.

Well, the first construct that may have worked is a pretty simple one, where I have EGFP targeted to extracellular space using an N-terminal signal peptide, but retained on the cell surface by having it C-terminally fused to a transmembrane domain. Anh has actually been using this construct as part of his undergraduate research project. Well, to turn this construct into one that can study Furin cleavage, I modified it to encode a R-R-A-R peptide between EGFP and the transmembrane domain. Thus, if Furin cleaves this construct, the EGFP protein is now no longer tethered to the cell, and presumably escapes into the media once it reaches the cell surface.

So this is an N=1 experiment so far, so it’s not the most conclusive. That said, there does seem to be decent separation between the construct with and without the furin cleavage site, where cells with the construct with the EGFP that potentially gets released had ~ 10-fold less fluorescence than the construct that could get released. I suppose if this reproduces, it could be worth trying to turn this into a library-based experiment for studying protease cleavage within intracellular compartments.

… Though now that I’m thinking about it further, I’ll definitely need to ask how these cells were prepped. If they were prepped with trypsin (which is likely), this was likely more of a trypsin cutting assay rather than a furin one.

Fluorogen activating peptides

So I had collected this data over 10 months ago, when I made an initial foray into trying the fluorogen activating peptides dL5 in the presence of Malachite Green, a dirt cheap small molecule (You can use it to try to kill fungus eating at your fish in your aquarium). A recent email reminded me about fluorogen activating peptides again, so I went back and looked at this data again, and it really isn’t bad.

In summary. 1) Works well, giving ~ 100-fold increase to fluorescence from background when highly expressed. 2) Probably want to do at least 500 ng/mL or perhaps even 1ug/mL to improve signal over background. 3) Still get specific signal after washout, but you may as well leave it on and get max signal.

Split mCherry

I had a product that could have benefitted from using split mCherry to serve an AND function. Put the split mCherry in my usual mCherry spot in the recombination vector (2A’d with Puromycin, also), and I couldn’t see any visible fluorescence when both the small and big fragments were in the same cell. After some time, I saw a paper using split super-folder mCherry fused with the Spycatcher system, so I used that and that seemed to allow us to now see a shift in fluorescence off the background. I found another paper using an improved split super-folder mCherry (sfmCherry3C), and tested that, which seemed to work slightly better.

So while not perfect, in that there isn’t *complete* separation from the background distribution, it’s shifted away enough that it should serve my purposes (for now). Though, well, I’ll probably keep playing around with this (perhaps adding something like a leucine zipper?) and seeing if that helps increase fluorescence.

Dark culture media with RUBY

I like playing around with various recombinant DNA tools to see how they work and figure out if they’ll do something useful for me. Sometimes it works out amazingly, like iCasp9, which is a fantastic negative selection transgene. Other times, it’s not so clearly a success…

I recently ordered RUBY from Addgene (originally used by the depositing lab to darken plant roots) to see if I could turn my cultured cells visibly darker. I had actually messed around a little with this concept previously using tyrosinase, where it worked in making the cells darker, albeit one could only see the darker color either as a centrifuged cell pellet, or perhaps as a large overgrowing “colony” on an originally sparse culture plate. Well, I shuttled RUBY into my recombination vector and selected for cells expressing it. I don’t even think I saw dark cells this time (though I didn’t look very closely, since this is just a fun side-experiment), but I did notice that these cells had much darker media than their recombined siblings, like the cells expressing fluorescent proteins in the two wells to the right of it. So I’m not exactly sure what’s happening, but the chromogenic small molecule is definitely making it out into the culture media.

I guess I’ll just file this observation for now and see if it ever comes in useful at some point the future! hahaha.

Update: FYI, RUBY is *BIG*. Like ~ 4kb kind of big, since it encodes multiple enzymes within a chemical pathway. So def not a small chromoprotein kind of thing.

HEK293Ts with melanin

I think synthetic biology is really cool, and I like playing around with recombinant DNA elements so I can see how well they work in my own hands. If they work OK, then I just let that knowledge stew in the back of my brain until I can eventually figure out a use for it. Reading this paper by Martin Fussenegger made me realize just how easy it is to make cultured cells express melanin. Here was my first foray in creating melanin in HEK cells by overexpressing tyrosinase/

Cells pelleted in the tubes on the left are expressing tyrosinase. The cells pelleted in the tubes on the right are not.

Doesn’t quite work well enough to use as a general reporter (it’s really hard to tell in a cell monolayer, and only becomes noticeable as colonies of cells or in a pellet, like above), but still kind of fun to see. Let’s see if I find an eventual use for this in some future work.