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13 Publications

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    08/03/16 | Real-time imaging of Huntingtin aggregates diverting target search and gene transcription.
    Li L, Liu H, Dong P, Li D, Legant WR, Grimm JB, Lavis LD, Betzig E, Tjian R, Liu Z
    eLife. 2016 Aug 03;5:. doi: 10.7554/eLife.17056

    The presumptive altered dynamics of transient molecular interactions in vivo contributing to neurodegenerative diseases have remained elusive. Here, using single-molecule localization microscopy, we show that disease-inducing Huntingtin (mHtt) protein fragments display three distinct dynamic states in living cells - 1) fast diffusion, 2) dynamic clustering and 3) stable aggregation. Large, stable aggregates of mHtt exclude chromatin and form 'sticky' decoy traps that impede target search processes of key regulators involved in neurological disorders. Functional domain mapping based on super-resolution imaging reveals an unexpected role of aromatic amino acids in promoting protein-mHtt aggregate interactions. Genome-wide expression analysis and numerical simulation experiments suggest mHtt aggregates reduce transcription factor target site sampling frequency and impair critical gene expression programs in striatal neurons. Together, our results provide insights into how mHtt dynamically forms aggregates and disrupts the finely-balanced gene control mechanisms in neuronal cells.

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    05/21/15 | Imaging live-cell dynamics and structure at the single-molecule level.
    Liu Z, Lavis LD, Betzig E
    Molecular Cell. 2015 May 21;58(4):644-59. doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2015.02.033

    Observation of molecular processes inside living cells is fundamental to a quantitative understanding of how biological systems function. Specifically, decoding the complex behavior of single molecules enables us to measure kinetics, transport, and self-assembly at this fundamental level that is often veiled in ensemble experiments. In the past decade, rapid developments in fluorescence microscopy, fluorescence correlation spectroscopy, and fluorescent labeling techniques have enabled new experiments to investigate the robustness and stochasticity of diverse molecular mechanisms with high spatiotemporal resolution. This review discusses the concepts and strategies of structural and functional imaging in living cells at the single-molecule level with minimal perturbations to the specimen.

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    12/24/14 | 3D imaging of Sox2 enhancer clusters in embryonic stem cells.
    Liu Z, Legant WR, Chen B, Li L, Grimm JB, Lavis LD, Betzig E, Tjian R
    eLife. 2014 Dec 24;3:. doi: 10.7554/eLife.04236

    Combinatorial cis-regulatory networks encoded in animal genomes represent the foundational gene expression mechanism for directing cell-fate commitment and maintenance of cell identity by transcription factors (TFs). However, the 3D spatial organization of cis-elements and how such sub-nuclear structures influence TF activity remain poorly understood. Here, we combine lattice light-sheet imaging, single-molecule tracking, numerical simulations, and ChIP-exo mapping to localize and functionally probe Sox2 enhancer-organization in living embryonic stem cells. Sox2 enhancers form 3D-clusters that are segregated from heterochromatin but overlap with a subset of Pol II enriched regions. Sox2 searches for specific binding targets via a 3D-diffusion dominant mode when shuttling long-distances between clusters while chromatin-bound states predominate within individual clusters. Thus, enhancer clustering may reduce global search efficiency but enables rapid local fine-tuning of TF search parameters. Our results suggest an integrated model linking cis-element 3D spatial distribution to local-versus-global target search modalities essential for regulating eukaryotic gene transcription.

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