Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Researchers Develop Powerful Fluorescence Tool, Light the Way to New Insights Into RNA of Living Cells

01.08.2011
The ability to tag proteins with a green fluorescent light to watch how they behave inside cells so revolutionized the understanding of protein biology that it earned the scientific teams who developed the technique Nobel Prizes in 2008. Now, researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College have developed a similar fluorescent tool that can track the mysterious workings of the various forms of cellular RNA.

In the July 29 issue of Science, the Weill Cornell investigators report how they developed an RNA mimic of green fluorescent protein (GFP) -- which they dubbed Spinach -- and describe how it will help unlock the secrets of the complex ways that RNA sustains human life as well as contributes to disease.

"These fluorescent RNAs offer us a tool that will be critical for understanding the diverse roles that RNA plays in human biology," says the study's senior author, Dr. Samie Jaffrey, an associate professor of pharmacology at Weill Cornell Medical College.

In recent years, the many roles played by RNA have become clearer. "Scientists used to think that RNA's function was limited to making proteins and that these proteins alone dictated everything that happened in cells," he says. "But now we are understanding that cells contain many different forms of RNA -- and some RNAs influence cell signaling and gene expression without ever being used for synthesizing proteins."

The list of known types of RNA has grown rapidly over the past several years -- from messenger RNA that codes for proteins, to diverse "non-coding" RNAs that affect translation and gene expression, and in some cases bind to proteins and regulate their function -- yet little is known about how these RNAs work, the researchers say.

The study's first author, Dr. Jeremy Paige, who conducted the research as a graduate student in pharmacology at Weill Cornell Medical College, adds that the new technology may provide insights into the development of common disorders. "More and more diseases are being linked to misregulation of RNA, but without being able to see the RNA, we can't understand how these processes lead to disease.

"We hope our RNA mimics of GFP open up the road to discovery," he says.

The RNAs developed by the Jaffrey group function like GFP, a natural protein expressed in jellyfish that exhibits a green fluorescence. GFP has enabled scientists to watch how proteins move in cells, providing powerful new insights into their roles in cell function. The DNA that encodes GFP is placed next to a gene that encodes for a protein, resulting in the expression of a protein fused to GFP, which can be observed by specialized forms of microscopy.

To make an RNA that functions like GFP, the Weill Cornell investigators took advantage of the ability of RNA to fold into complex three-dimensional shapes. Their goal was to create two new entities: a synthetic RNA sequence that would adopt a specific shape, and a small molecule that would bind to the new RNA and begin to fluoresce. "These were two huge challenges," says Dr. Jaffrey. "One challenge was to come up with an RNA sequence that could 'switch on' a small molecule. The other big hurdle was to find a small molecule that would fluoresce only when we wanted it to and would not be toxic to cells."

They tried a number of molecules, most of which stuck to oily lipids in the cell membrane and started fluorescing, or they would kill the cell. Finally, the team realized that GFP itself had a molecule, a fluorophore, within it that switched its light on when it was bound in a certain way within the protein. They created chemical molecules based on the shape of this fluorophore and then developed an artificial RNA sequence, or "aptamer," that held the fluorophore in exactly the same way that GFP held its fluorophore. They named this RNA "Spinach" for its bright green fluorescence.

The researchers went even further. They also developed several other RNA-fluorophore pairs, in addition to Spinach, that each emit a different fluorescent color, just as GFP has been evolved to exhibit a palette of colors that helps researchers track many proteins at once. Whereas GFP derivatives are often named after fruits, the Weill Cornell researchers named their RNA mimics of GFP after vegetables -- Spinach, Carrot and Radish.

The Weill Cornell investigators have already begun to use Spinach to track non-coding RNAs in cells. "Our laboratory has been very interested understanding why defects in RNA trafficking and translocation lead to developmental disorders in children, such as mental retardation," says Dr. Jaffrey. Using Spinach, they were able to watch as a non-coding RNA, fluorescing green, rapidly clusters in response to cellular stress. "We expect that Spinach will provide new insights into RNA trafficking in cells, and how this is affected in medical disorders," he says.

"There is still a lot of mystery surrounding RNA in biology. Fluorescent labeling and imaging has proved to be a powerful tool for scientists in the past, and we are hoping that Spinach too will be a tool that helps accelerate scientific discovery," says Dr. Paige.

Dr. Karen Wu of the Department of Pharmacology is a co-author on the study.

The work was supported by the McKnight Neuroscience Technology Innovation Award and the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Weill Cornell Medical College has filed a patent application on the technology.

Weill Cornell Medical College
Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell University's medical school located in New York City, is committed to excellence in research, teaching, patient care and the advancement of the art and science of medicine, locally, nationally and globally. Physicians and scientists of Weill Cornell Medical College are engaged in cutting-edge research from bench to bedside, aimed at unlocking mysteries of the human body in health and sickness and toward developing new treatments and prevention strategies. In its commitment to global health and education, Weill Cornell has a strong presence in places such as Qatar, Tanzania, Haiti, Brazil, Austria and Turkey. Through the historic Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, the Medical College is the first in the U.S. to offer its M.D. degree overseas. Weill Cornell is the birthplace of many medical advances -- including the development of the Pap test for cervical cancer, the synthesis of penicillin, the first successful embryo-biopsy pregnancy and birth in the U.S., the first clinical trial of gene therapy for Parkinson's disease, and most recently, the world's first successful use of deep brain stimulation to treat a minimally conscious brain-injured patient. Weill Cornell Medical College is affiliated with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, where its faculty provides comprehensive patient care at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. The Medical College is also affiliated with the Methodist Hospital in Houston. For more information, visit weill.cornell.edu.

Andrew Klein | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.cornell.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Researchers identify potentially druggable mutant p53 proteins that promote cancer growth
09.12.2016 | Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

nachricht Plant-based substance boosts eyelash growth
09.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Polymerforschung IAP

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Electron highway inside crystal

Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.

Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers identify potentially druggable mutant p53 proteins that promote cancer growth

09.12.2016 | Life Sciences

Scientists produce a new roadmap for guiding development & conservation in the Amazon

09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

Satellites, airport visibility readings shed light on troops' exposure to air pollution

09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>