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A Cell-Free Assay Using Xenopus laevis Embryo Extracts to Study Mechanisms of Nuclear Size Regulation

Published: August 8th, 2016



1Department of Molecular Biology, University of Wyoming

Mechanisms of cellular and intra-cellular scaling remain elusive. The use of Xenopus embryo extracts has become increasingly common to elucidate mechanisms of organelle size regulation. This method describes embryo extract preparation and a novel nuclear scaling assay through which mechanisms of nuclear size regulation can be identified.

A fundamental question in cell biology is how cell and organelle sizes are regulated. It has long been recognized that the size of the nucleus generally scales with the size of the cell, notably during embryogenesis when dramatic reductions in both cell and nuclear sizes occur. Mechanisms of nuclear size regulation are largely unknown and may be relevant to cancer where altered nuclear size is a key diagnostic and prognostic parameter. In vivo approaches to identifying nuclear size regulators are complicated by the essential and complex nature of nuclear function. The in vitro approach described here to study nuclear size control takes advantage of the normal reductions in nuclear size that occur during Xenopus laevis development. First, nuclei are assembled in X. laevis egg extract. Then, these nuclei are isolated and resuspended in cytoplasm from late stage embryos. After a 30 - 90 min incubation period, nuclear surface area decreases by 20 - 60%, providing a useful assay to identify cytoplasmic components present in late stage embryos that contribute to developmental nuclear size scaling. A major advantage of this approach is the relative facility with which the egg and embryo extracts can be biochemically manipulated, allowing for the identification of novel proteins and activities that regulate nuclear size. As with any in vitro approach, validation of results in an in vivo system is important, and microinjection of X. laevis embryos is particularly appropriate for these studies.

The sizes of cellular organelles typically scale with the size of the cell, and this has been perhaps best documented for the scaling of nuclear size with cell size1-10. This is particularly true during embryogenesis and cell differentiation, when dramatic reductions in both cell and nuclear size are often observed11,12. Furthermore, altered nuclear size is a key parameter in cancer diagnosis and prognosis13-17. Mechanisms that contribute to nuclear size regulation are largely unknown, in part due to the complexity and essential nature of nuclear structure and function. The method described here was developed as an in vitro as....

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All Xenopus procedures and studies were conducted in compliance with the NRC Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals 8th edition. Protocols were approved by the University of Wyoming Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (Assurance # A-3216-01).

1. Preparation of X. laevis Egg Extract (adapted from27,28)

  1. Prime female X. laevis frogs a minimum of three days and a maximum of two weeks before egg collection with a single 100 IU injection of preg.......

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Assembly of Nuclei in Egg Extract

The first steps of this protocol are to prepare X. laevis egg extract (Protocol 1) and demembranated sperm nuclei (Protocol 2). These reagents are then used to assemble nuclei de novo (Protocol 3). Figure 1 shows some representative data. Addition of calcium drives the meiotically arrested egg extract into interphase, and the cycloheximide keep.......

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Here is presented a novel method to study mechanisms of nuclear size regulation during X. laevis development. Developmental progression is associated with dramatic changes in cell physiology, metabolism, division rates, and migration, as well as alterations in the sizes of cells and intracellular structures. These varied processes are complex and essential, so it is difficult to study just one of these aspects of development in an in vivo setting. The X. laevis embryo extract and nuclear shrink.......

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Members of the Levy and Gatlin labs as well as colleagues in the Department of Molecular Biology offered helpful advice and discussions. Rebecca Heald provided support in the early stages of developing this protocol. This work was supported by the NIH/NIGMS (R15GM106318) and the American Cancer Society (RSG-15-035-01-DDC).


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Name Company Catalog Number Comments
Alexa Fluor 568 Donkey anti-mouse IgG Molecular Probes A10037
ATP disodium salt Sigma Aldrich A2383
Benzocaine Sigma Aldrich E1501
Bovine Serum Albumin Sigma Aldrich A3059
CaCl2 Sigma Aldrich C3306
Centrifuge Beckman J2-21M
Centrifuge rotor Beckman JS 13.1
chymostatin Sigma Aldrich C7268
creatine phosphate disodium Calbiochem 2380
cycloheximide Sigma Aldrich C6255
cytochalasin D Sigma Aldrich C8273
disposable wipes (kimwipes) Sigma Aldrich Z188956
L-cysteine Sigma Aldrich W326306
EGTA Sigma Aldrich E4378
Formaldehyde Sigma Aldrich F8775
Glass crystallizing dish (150x75 mm) VWR 89090-662
Glycerol Macron 5094-16
HEPES Sigma Aldrich H4034
Hoechst - bisBenzimide H 33342 trihydrochloride Sigma Aldrich B2261
HCG - Human Chorionic Gonadotropin  Prospec hor-250-c
L15 Media Sigma Aldrich L4386
leupeptin Sigma Aldrich L2884
Lysolecithin Sigma Aldrich L1381
mAb414 Abcam ab24609
MgCl2 EMD MX0045-2
MgSO4 Sigma Aldrich M9397
Maltose Sigma Aldrich M5885
NP40 BDH 56009
Paraformaldehyde Electron Microscopy Sciences 15710
Penicillin + Streptomycin Sigma Aldrich Pp0781
pepstatin Sigma Aldrich P5318
PIPES Sigma Aldrich P6757
Plastic paraffin film (parafilm) Sigma Aldrich P7793
KCl Sigma Aldrich P9541
KH2PO4 Mallinckrodt 70100
KOH Baker 5 3140
PMSG - Pregnant Mare Serum Gonadotropin Prospec hor-272-a
NaCl Sigma Aldrich S3014
NaHCO3 Fisher BP328
NaHPO4 EMD SX0720-1
Pestle Thomas Scientific 3411D56
Round bottom glass tubes, 15 ml Corex 8441
Secondary antibody (Alexa Fluor 568 donkey anti-mouse IgG) ThermoFisher A10037
sucrose Calbiochem 8550
thermal cycler Bio-Rad T100
Ultracentrifuge Beckman L8-80M
Ultracentrifuge rotor Beckman SW 50.1
Vectashield (anti-fade mounting medium) Vector H-1000

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