Publications


Nano-scale gene delivery systems; current technology, obstacles, and future directions.

Current medicinal chemistry (2018)

A Garcia-Guerra, TL Dunwell, S Trigueros

Within the different applications of nanomedicine currently being developed, nano-gene delivery is appearing as an exciting new technique with the possibility to overcome recognised hurdles and fulfill several biological and medical needs. The central component of all delivery systems is the requirement for the delivery of genetic material into cells, and for them to eventually reside in the nucleus where their desired function will be exposed. However, genetic material does not passively enter cells; thus, a delivery system is necessary. The emerging field of nano-gene delivery exploits the use of new materials and the properties that arise at the nanometre-scale to produce delivery vectors that can effectively deliver genetic material into a variety of different types of cells. The novel physicochemical properties of the new delivery vectors can be used to address the current challenges existing in nucleic acid delivery in vitro and in vivo. While there is a growing interest in nanostructure-based gene delivery, the field is still in its infancy, and there is yet much to discover about nanostructures and their physicochemical properties in a biological context. We carry out an organized and focused search of bibliographic databases. Our results suggest that despite new breakthroughs in nanostructure synthesis and advanced characterization techniques, we still face many barriers in producing highly efficient and non-toxic delivery systems. In this review, we overview the types of systems currently used for clinical and biomedical research applications along with their advantages and disadvantages, as well as discussing barriers that arise from nano-scale interactions with biological material. In conclusion, we hope that by bringing the far reaching multidisciplinary nature of nano-gene delivery to light, new targeted nanotechnology-bases strategies are developed to overcome the major challenges covered in this review.


Chiral DNA Origami Nanotubes with Well-Defined and Addressable Inside and Outside Surfaces.

Angewandte Chemie (International ed. in English) 57 (2018) 7687-7690

F Benn, NEC Haley, AE Lucas, E Silvester, S Helmi, R Schreiber, J Bath, AJ Turberfield

We report the design and assembly of chiral DNA nanotubes with well-defined and addressable inside and outside surfaces. We demonstrate that the outside surface can be functionalised with a chiral arrangement of gold nanoparticles to create a plasmonic device and that the inside surface can be functionalised with a track for a molecular motor allowing transport of a cargo within the central cavity.


Nanoscale active matter matters: Challenges and opportunities for self-propelled nanomotors

Nano Today 19 (2018) C

I Santiago


High-Speed Single-Molecule Tracking of CXCL13 in the B-Follicle.

Frontiers in immunology 9 (2018) 1073-

H Miller, J Cosgrove, AJM Wollman, E Taylor, Z Zhou, PJ O'Toole, MC Coles, MC Leake

Soluble factors are an essential means of communication between cells and their environment. However, many molecules readily interact with extracellular matrix components, giving rise to multiple modes of diffusion. The molecular quantification of diffusion in situ is thus a challenging imaging frontier, requiring very high spatial and temporal resolution. Overcoming this methodological barrier is key to understanding the precise spatial patterning of the extracellular factors that regulate immune function. To address this, we have developed a high-speed light microscopy system capable of millisecond sampling in ex vivo tissue samples and submillisecond sampling in controlled in vitro samples to characterize molecular diffusion in a range of complex microenvironments. We demonstrate that this method outperforms competing tools for determining molecular mobility of fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (FCS) and fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP) for evaluation of diffusion. We then apply this approach to study the chemokine CXCL13, a key determinant of lymphoid tissue architecture, and B-cell-mediated immunity. Super-resolution single-molecule tracking of fluorescently labeled CCL19 and CXCL13 in collagen matrix was used to assess the heterogeneity of chemokine mobility behaviors, with results indicating an immobile fraction and a mobile fraction for both molecules, with distinct diffusion rates of 8.4 ± 0.2 and 6.2 ± 0.3 µm2s-1, respectively. To better understand mobility behaviors in situ, we analyzed CXCL13-AF647 diffusion in murine lymph node tissue sections and observed both an immobile fraction and a mobile fraction with an example diffusion coefficient of 6.6 ± 0.4 µm2s-1, suggesting that mobility within the follicle is also multimodal. In quantitatively studying mobility behaviors at the molecular level, we have obtained an increased understanding of CXCL13 bioavailability within the follicle. Our high-speed single-molecule tracking approach affords a novel perspective from which to understand the mobility of soluble factors relevant to the immune system.


Subunit Exchange in Protein Complexes.

Journal of molecular biology (2018)

SE Tusk, NJ Delalez, RM Berry

Over the past 50 years, protein complexes have been studied with techniques such as X-ray crystallography and electron microscopy, generating images which although detailed are static and homogeneous. More recently, limited application of in vivo fluorescence and other techniques has revealed that many complexes previously thought stable and compositionally uniform are dynamically variable, continually exchanging components with a freely circulating pool of "spares". Here, we consider the purpose and prevalence of protein exchange, first reviewing the ongoing story of exchange in the bacterial flagella motor, before surveying reports of exchange in complexes across all domains of life, together highlighting great diversity in timescales and functions. Finally, we put this in the context of high-throughput proteomic studies which hint that exchange might be the norm, rather than an exception.


Water and hydrophobic gates in ion channels and nanopores.

Faraday discussions (2018)

S Rao, CI Lynch, G Klesse, GE Oakley, PJ Stansfeld, SJ Tucker, MSP Sansom

Ion channel proteins form nanopores in biological membranes which allow the passage of ions and water molecules. Hydrophobic constrictions in such pores can form gates, i.e. energetic barriers to water and ion permeation. Molecular dynamics simulations of water in ion channels may be used to assess whether a hydrophobic gate is closed (i.e. impermeable to ions) or open. If there is an energetic barrier to water permeation then it is likely that a gate will also be impermeable to ions. Simulations of water behaviour have been used to probe hydrophobic gates in two recently reported ion channel structures: BEST1 and TMEM175. In each of these channels a narrow region is formed by three consecutive rings of hydrophobic sidechains and in both cases such analysis demonstrates that the crystal structures correspond to a closed state of the channel. In silico mutations of BEST1 have also been used to explore the effect of changes in the hydrophobicity of the gating constriction, demonstrating that substitution of hydrophobic sidechains with more polar sidechains results in an open gate which allows water permeation. A possible open state of the TMEM175 channel was modelled by the in silico expansion of the hydrophobic gate resulting in the wetting of the pore and free permeation of potassium ions through the channel. Finally, a preliminary study suggests that a hydrophobic gate motif can be transplanted in silico from the BEST1 channel into a simple β-barrel pore template. Overall, these results suggest that simulations of the behaviour of water in hydrophobic gates can reveal important design principles for the engineering of gates in novel biomimetic nanopores.


Imaging of Single Dye-Labeled Chemotaxis Proteins in Live Bacteria Using Electroporation.

Methods in molecular biology (Clifton, N.J.) 1729 (2018) 233-246

D Di Paolo, RM Berry

For the last 2 decades, the use of genetically fused fluorescent proteins (FPs) has greatly contributed to the study of chemotactic signaling in E. coli, including the activation of the response regulator protein CheY and its interaction with the flagellar motor. However, this approach suffers from a number of limitations, both biological and biophysical. For example, not all fusions are fully functional when fused to a bulky FP, which can have a similar molecular weight to its fused counterpart. FPs may interfere with the native interactions of the protein, and their chromophores have low brightness and photostability, and fast photobleaching rates. Electroporation allows for internalization of purified CheY proteins labeled with organic dyes into E. coli cells in controllable concentrations. Using fluorescence video microscopy, it is possible to observe single CheY molecules diffusing within cells and interacting with the sensory clusters and the flagellar motors in real time.


Single-molecule techniques in biophysics: a review of the progress in methods and applications.

Reports on progress in physics. Physical Society (Great Britain) 81 (2018) 024601-024601

H Miller, Z Zhou, J Shepherd, AJM Wollman, MC Leake

Single-molecule biophysics has transformed our understanding of biology, but also of the physics of life. More exotic than simple soft matter, biomatter lives far from thermal equilibrium, covering multiple lengths from the nanoscale of single molecules to up to several orders of magnitude higher in cells, tissues and organisms. Biomolecules are often characterized by underlying instability: multiple metastable free energy states exist, separated by levels of just a few multiples of the thermal energy scale k B T, where k B is the Boltzmann constant and T absolute temperature, implying complex inter-conversion kinetics in the relatively hot, wet environment of active biological matter. A key benefit of single-molecule biophysics techniques is their ability to probe heterogeneity of free energy states across a molecular population, too challenging in general for conventional ensemble average approaches. Parallel developments in experimental and computational techniques have catalysed the birth of multiplexed, correlative techniques to tackle previously intractable biological questions. Experimentally, progress has been driven by improvements in sensitivity and speed of detectors, and the stability and efficiency of light sources, probes and microfluidics. We discuss the motivation and requirements for these recent experiments, including the underpinning mathematics. These methods are broadly divided into tools which detect molecules and those which manipulate them. For the former we discuss the progress of super-resolution microscopy, transformative for addressing many longstanding questions in the life sciences, and for the latter we include progress in 'force spectroscopy' techniques that mechanically perturb molecules. We also consider in silico progress of single-molecule computational physics, and how simulation and experimentation may be drawn together to give a more complete understanding. Increasingly, combinatorial techniques are now used, including correlative atomic force microscopy and fluorescence imaging, to probe questions closer to native physiological behaviour. We identify the trade-offs, limitations and applications of these techniques, and discuss exciting new directions.


Structural Basis of Transcription Inhibition by Fidaxomicin (Lipiarmycin A3).

Molecular cell (2018)

W Lin, K Das, D Degen, A Mazumder, D Duchi, D Wang, YW Ebright, RY Ebright, E Sineva, M Gigliotti, A Srivastava, S Mandal, Y Jiang, Y Liu, R Yin, Z Zhang, ET Eng, D Thomas, S Donadio, H Zhang, C Zhang, AN Kapanidis, RH Ebright

Fidaxomicin is an antibacterial drug in clinical use for treatment of Clostridium difficile diarrhea. The active ingredient of fidaxomicin, lipiarmycin A3 (Lpm), functions by inhibiting bacterial RNA polymerase (RNAP). Here we report a cryo-EM structure of Mycobacterium tuberculosis RNAP holoenzyme in complex with Lpm at 3.5-Å resolution. The structure shows that Lpm binds at the base of the RNAP "clamp." The structure exhibits an open conformation of the RNAP clamp, suggesting that Lpm traps an open-clamp state. Single-molecule fluorescence resonance energy transfer experiments confirm that Lpm traps an open-clamp state and define effects of Lpm on clamp dynamics. We suggest that Lpm inhibits transcription by trapping an open-clamp state, preventing simultaneous interaction with promoter -10 and -35 elements. The results account for the absence of cross-resistance between Lpm and other RNAP inhibitors, account for structure-activity relationships of Lpm derivatives, and enable structure-based design of improved Lpm derivatives.


Multifrequency AFM reveals lipid membrane mechanical properties and the effect of cholesterol in modulating viscoelasticity.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 115 (2018) 2658-2663

Z Al-Rekabi, S Contera

The physical properties of lipid bilayers comprising the cell membrane occupy the current spotlight of membrane biology. Their traditional representation as a passive 2D fluid has gradually been abandoned in favor of a more complex picture: an anisotropic time-dependent viscoelastic biphasic material, capable of transmitting or attenuating mechanical forces that regulate biological processes. In establishing new models, quantitative experiments are necessary when attempting to develop suitable techniques for dynamic measurements. Here, we map both the elastic and viscous properties of the model system 1,2-dipalmitoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine (DPPC) lipid bilayers using multifrequency atomic force microscopy (AFM), namely amplitude modulation-frequency modulation (AM-FM) AFM imaging in an aqueous environment. Furthermore, we investigate the effect of cholesterol (Chol) on the DPPC bilayer in concentrations from 0 to 60%. The AM-AFM quantitative maps demonstrate that at low Chol concentrations, the lipid bilayer displays a distinct phase separation and is elastic, whereas at higher Chol concentration, the bilayer appears homogenous and exhibits both elastic and viscous properties. At low-Chol contents, the Estorage modulus (elastic) dominates. As the Chol insertions increases, higher energy is dissipated; and although the bilayer stiffens (increase in Estorage), the viscous component dominates (Eloss). Our results provide evidence that the lipid bilayer exhibits both elastic and viscous properties that are modulated by the presence of Chol, which may affect the propagation (elastic) or attenuation (viscous) of mechanical signals across the cell membrane.


Conformational heterogeneity and bubble dynamics in single bacterial transcription initiation complexes

Nucleic Acids Research 46 (2018) 677-688

D Duchi, K Gryte, NC Robb, Z Morichaud, C Sheppard, K Brodolin, S Wigneshweraraj, AN Kapanidis

© The Author(s) 2017. Transcription initiation is a major step in gene regulation for all organisms. In bacteria, the promoter DNA is first recognized by RNA polymerase (RNAP) to yield an initial closed complex. This complex sub-sequently undergoes conformational changes resulting in DNA strand separation to form a transcription bubble and an RNAP-promoter open complex; however, the series and sequence of conformational changes, and the factors that influence them are unclear. To address the conformational landscape and transitions in transcription initiation, we applied single-molecule Förster resonance energy transfer (smFRET) on immobilized Escherichia colitranscription open complexes. Our results revealed the existence of two stable states within RNAP-DNA complexes in which the promoter DNA appears to adopt closed and partially open conformations, and we observed large-scale transitions in which the transcription bubble fluctuated between open and closed states; these transitions, which occur roughly on the 0.1 s timescale, are distinct from the millisecond-timescale dynamics previously observed within diffusing open complexes. Mutational studies indicated that the σ70 region 3.2 of the RNAP significantly affected the bubble dynamics. Our results have implications for many steps of transcription initiation, and support a bend-load-open model for the sequence of transitions leading to bubble opening during open complex formation.


Self-propulsion of catalytic nanomotors synthesised by seeded growth of asymmetric platinum-gold nanoparticles.

Chemical communications (Cambridge, England) 54 (2018) 1901-1904

I Santiago, L Jiang, J Foord, AJ Turberfield

Asymmetric bimetallic nanomotors are synthesised by seeded growth in solution, providing a convenient and high-throughput alternative to the usual top-down lithographic fabrication of self-propelled catalytic nanoparticles. These synthetic nanomotors catalyse H2O2 decomposition and exhibit enhanced diffusion that depends on fuel concentration, consistent with their chemical propulsion.


Rare NaV1.7 variants associated with painful diabetic peripheral neuropathy.

Pain 159 (2018) 469-480

I Blesneac, AC Themistocleous, C Fratter, LJ Conrad, JD Ramirez, JJ Cox, S Tesfaye, PR Shillo, ASC Rice, SJ Tucker, DLH Bennett

Diabetic peripheral neuropathy (DPN) is a common disabling complication of diabetes. Almost half of the patients with DPN develop neuropathic pain (NeuP) for which current analgesic treatments are inadequate. Understanding the role of genetic variability in the development of painful DPN is needed for improved understanding of pain pathogenesis for better patient stratification in clinical trials and to target therapy more appropriately. Here, we examined the relationship between variants in the voltage-gated sodium channel NaV1.7 and NeuP in a deeply phenotyped cohort of patients with DPN. Although no rare variants were found in 78 participants with painless DPN, we identified 12 rare NaV1.7 variants in 10 (out of 111) study participants with painful DPN. Five of these variants had previously been described in the context of other NeuP disorders and 7 have not previously been linked to NeuP. Those patients with rare variants reported more severe pain and greater sensitivity to pressure stimuli on quantitative sensory testing. Electrophysiological characterization of 2 of the novel variants (M1852T and T1596I) demonstrated that gain of function changes as a consequence of markedly impaired channel fast inactivation. Using a structural model of NaV1.7, we were also able to provide further insight into the structural mechanisms underlying fast inactivation and the role of the C-terminal domain in this process. Our observations suggest that rare NaV1.7 variants contribute to the development NeuP in patients with DPN. Their identification should aid understanding of sensory phenotype, patient stratification, and help target treatments effectively.


How to probe the spin contribution to momentum relaxation in topological insulators.

Nature communications 9 (2018) 56-

M-S Nam, BH Williams, Y Chen, S Contera, S Yao, M Lu, Y-F Chen, GA Timco, CA Muryn, REP Winpenny, A Ardavan

Topological insulators exhibit a metallic surface state in which the directions of the carriers' momentum and spin are locked together. This characteristic property, which lies at the heart of proposed applications of topological insulators, protects carriers in the surface state from back-scattering unless the scattering centres are time-reversal symmetry breaking (i.e. magnetic). Here, we introduce a method of probing the effect of magnetic scattering by decorating the surface of topological insulators with molecules, whose magnetic degrees of freedom can be engineered independently of their electrostatic structure. We show that this approach allows us to separate the effects of magnetic and non-magnetic scattering in the perturbative limit. We thereby confirm that the low-temperature conductivity of SmB6 is dominated by a surface state and that the momentum of quasiparticles in this state is particularly sensitive to magnetic scatterers, as expected in a topological insulator.


The effects of stretch activation on ionic selectivity of the TREK-2 K2P K+ channel.

Channels (Austin, Tex.) 11 (2017) 482-486

E Nematian-Ardestani, V Jarerattanachat, P Aryal, MSP Sansom, SJ Tucker

The TREK-2 (KCNK10) K2P potassium channel can be regulated by variety of polymodal stimuli including pressure. In a recent study, we demonstrated that this mechanosensitive K+ channel responds to changes in membrane tension by undergoing a major structural change from its 'down' state to the more expanded 'up' state conformation. These changes are mostly restricted to the lower part of the protein within the bilayer, but are allosterically coupled to the primary gating mechanism located within the selectivity filter. However, any such structural changes within the filter also have the potential to alter ionic selectivity and there are reports that some K2Ps, including TREK channels, exhibit a dynamic ionic selectivity. In this addendum to our previous study we have therefore examined whether the selectivity of TREK-2 is altered by stretch activation. Our results reveal that the filter remains stable and highly selective for K+ over Na+ during stretch activation, and that permeability to a range of other cations (Rb+, Cs+ and NH4+) also does not change. The asymmetric structural changes that occur during stretch activation therefore allow the channel to respond to changes in membrane tension without a loss of K+ selectivity.


In vivo single-RNA tracking shows that most tRNA diffuses freely in live bacteria

Nucleic Acids Research 45 (2017) 926-937

A Plochowietz, I Farrell, Z Smilansky, BS Cooperman, AN Kapanidis


Bilayer-Mediated Structural Transitions Control Mechanosensitivity of the TREK-2 K2P Channel.

Structure (London, England : 1993) 25 (2017) 708-718.e2

P Aryal, V Jarerattanachat, MV Clausen, M Schewe, C McClenaghan, L Argent, LJ Conrad, YY Dong, ACW Pike, EP Carpenter, T Baukrowitz, MSP Sansom, SJ Tucker

The mechanosensitive two-pore domain (K2P) K+ channels (TREK-1, TREK-2, and TRAAK) are important for mechanical and thermal nociception. However, the mechanisms underlying their gating by membrane stretch remain controversial. Here we use molecular dynamics simulations to examine their behavior in a lipid bilayer. We show that TREK-2 moves from the "down" to "up" conformation in direct response to membrane stretch, and examine the role of the transmembrane pressure profile in this process. Furthermore, we show how state-dependent interactions with lipids affect the movement of TREK-2, and how stretch influences both the inner pore and selectivity filter. Finally, we present functional studies that demonstrate why direct pore block by lipid tails does not represent the principal mechanism of mechanogating. Overall, this study provides a dynamic structural insight into K2P channel mechanosensitivity and illustrates how the structure of a eukaryotic mechanosensitive ion channel responds to changes in forces within the bilayer.


Tracking Low-Copy Transcription Factors in Living Bacteria: The Case of the lac Repressor.

Biophysical journal 112 (2017) 1316-1327

F Garza de Leon, L Sellars, M Stracy, SJW Busby, AN Kapanidis

Transcription factors control the expression of genes by binding to specific sites in DNA and repressing or activating transcription in response to stimuli. The lac repressor (LacI) is a well characterized transcription factor that regulates the ability of bacterial cells to uptake and metabolize lactose. Here, we study the intracellular mobility and spatial distribution of LacI in live bacteria using photoactivated localization microscopy combined with single-particle tracking. Since we track single LacI molecules in live cells by stochastically photoactivating and observing fluorescent proteins individually, there are no limitations on the copy number of the protein under study; as a result, we were able to study the behavior of LacI in bacterial strains containing the natural copy numbers (∼40 monomers), as well as in strains with much higher copy numbers due to LacI overexpression. Our results allowed us to determine the relative abundance of specific, near-specific, and non-specific DNA binding modes of LacI in vivo, showing that all these modes are operational inside living cells. Further, we examined the spatial distribution of LacI in live cells, confirming its specific binding to lac operator regions on the chromosome; we also showed that mobile LacI molecules explore the bacterial nucleoid in a way similar to exploration by other DNA-binding proteins. Our work also provides an example of applying tracking photoactivated localization microscopy to studies of low-copy-number proteins in living bacteria.


A BEST example of channel structure annotation by molecular simulation.

Channels (Austin, Tex.) 11 (2017) 347-353

S Rao, G Klesse, PJ Stansfeld, SJ Tucker, MSP Sansom

An increasing number of ion channel structures are being determined. This generates a need for computational tools to enable functional annotation of channel structures. However, several studies of ion channel and model pores have indicated that the physical dimensions of a pore are not always a reliable indicator of its conductive status. This is due to the unusual behavior of water within nano-confined spaces, resulting in a phenomenon referred to as "hydrophobic gating". We have recently demonstrated how simulating the behavior of water within an ion channel pore can be used to predict its conductive status. In this addendum to our study, we apply this method to compare the recently solved structure of a mutant of the bestrophin chloride channel BEST1 with that of the wild-type channel. Our results support the hypothesis of a hydrophobic gate within the narrow neck of BEST1. This provides further validation that this simulation approach provides the basis for an accurate and computationally efficient tool for the functional annotation of ion channel structures.


Amphiphilic DNA tiles for controlled insertion and 2D assembly on fluid lipid membranes: the effect on mechanical properties

Nanoscale 9 (2017) 3051-3058

C Dohno, S Makishi, K Nakatani, S Contera

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