Fast, Cost-Effective Cell-Based Assays for Quantitative Cell Signaling Analysis

In-Cell Western Assay Kits for Quantitative Cell Signaling Analysis
The In-Cell Western™ Assay is an immunocytochemical assay that uses near-infrared fluorescence to detect and quantify proteins in fixed cells. Detecting proteins in their cellular context increases quantification precision. Proteins in fixed, cultured cells are detected directly in microplates, which yields higher throughput compared to Western blotting and eliminates typical Western blotting steps such as cell lysate preparation, electrophoresis, and membrane transfer. Using the In-Cell Western Assay kits, the cost per well for secondary screening is reduced to a fraction of the cost of typical screening methods. Watch an introductory webinar to In-Cell Western Assays.

The In-Cell Western™ Assay Kits provide antibodies, blocking buffer, and stains for forty 96-well plates or ten 384-well plates. Sapphire700™ and DRAQ5™ protein stains are included to normalize for well-to-well differences in cell number. Using protein stains reduces the cost per assay compared to performing the assay using two secondary antibodies. Any potential interference caused by using two antibodies is also eliminated.
Phospho-ERK Analysis with Sapphire700/DRAQ5 for Normalization

Additional Resources:
In-Cell Western Assay Protocol: Complete Apoptosis Assay Example Detailing the Seeding, Induction, and Detection of the HeLa Cellular Response to Anisomycin Treatment
Odyssey Publications List: In-Cell Western Assays, Vol 3, Winter 2012

Other In-Cell Western Assay Protocols are available on our Technical Resources Library. Visit our In-Cell Western Application Pages for more examples of how researchers have used these immunocytochemical assays.

Now Use the Same Primary Antibody for Immunoprecipitation AND Western Blotting!

Quick Western Kit - IRDye 680RD, PN 926-68100

LI-COR® has just rolled out a new way that the recently-released Quick Western Kit – IRDye® 680RD (see Would you like to save at least 90 minutes the next time you do a Western blot?) can be used in your research.

Not only can the Quick Western Kit reduce Western blotting time by 90 min, the kit ALSO serves as a detection solution for post-immunoprecipitation samples by Western blot because it does not bind to denatured mouse monoclonal or rabbit monoclonal antibodies. The key benefit is the ability to use the same antibody for immunoprecipitation and post-immunoprecipitation detection by Western blot. Seriously, how cool is that!!??!!

Using the same primary antibody for IP and Western blotting with the Quick Western Kit

Figure 1. A431 cell lysates were immunoprecipitated overnight with a monoclonal antibody against p53. The resulting immunoprecipitates were separated by SDS-PAGE. Lane 1: Negative IP control; Lane 2: Test sample ; Lane 3: A431 cell lysate positive control. Western blotting was performed using the same p53 monoclonal antibody and incubated with IRDye 680RD Immunoprecipitation Detection Reagent.

Protocol: Detection of post-immunoprecipitation proteins by Western blot using the Quick Western Kit – IRDye 680RD

For more information, visit our website. Here’s the kit pack insert. To order this product (online ordering available for US only), go to our ecommerce site.

How Can You Use Quantitative Cell Signaling Analysis in Your Research? How About for IC50 Determinations?

In-Cell Western Assays - Fluorescent Immunoassays

In a previous post, I talked about how In-Cell Western™ assays could be used when studying apoptosis. So, you may be asking yourself, for what other applications can quantitative cell signaling analysis be used? GREAT QUESTION!!

Well, In-Cell ELISAs (as these immunofluorescent assays are also called) have been used successfully in studying protein phosphorylation. Whether you are looking at the effects of drug compounds on signaling pathways, or the timing/kinetics of signal transduction, or trying to determine the IC50 of compounds, In-Cell Western assays are a valuable tool.

Here are two examples of data from IC50 and EC50 determination experiments.
Use of labeling for In-Cell Western Assay normalization.
Figure 1. Use of cell labeling for In-Cell Western normalization. A) HeLa cells were treated with increasing amounts of rapamycin in a 384-well format. Fixed cells were stained with phospho-rpS6 antibody and NHS-ester reactive dye (for cell number). Dose dependent inhibition of phospho-rpS6-staining yielded an IC50 of 224 pM (n=4). B) Raw microplate image. For details, see Hoffman, GR et al. Assay Drug Dev Tech 8(2):186-99 (2010).

Dose titration of Wnt3a treatment of mouse L-cells.  An In-Cell Western Assay Application.
Figure 2. Dose titration of Wnt3a treatment of mouse L-cells. Half-maximal activation (EC50) of cellular beta-catenin levels occurs at 33 ng/ml ligand. Hannoush, RN. PLoS One. 3(10):e3498 (2008). Creative Commons license 2.5.

To help you get started in designing your experiment, here is a complete sample protocol for measuring IC50 of the inhibitor PD168393 in A431 cells responding to epidermal growth factor (EGF).

Check here for future blog posts on other applications of quantitative cell signaling analysis!

Seeding Cells in Microplates for In-Cell Western™ Assays – Hints & Tips

In-Cell Western Assays - Fluorescent Immunoassays
One of the first steps in an In-Cell Western Assay experiment is to seed cells into the wells of a tissue culture microplate. Cell density is more important for some cell lines than others. In particular, cells that depend more on extracellular activity for proliferation (such as epithelial cells) are affected to a greater extent by initial growth conditions. There are three factors to consider when seeding cells:

  1. Plates: For most adherent cells that stick to wells tightly (e.g. A431, HeLa, HEK293, CHO), we recommend regular tissue culture microplates with low auto-fluorescence, such as Nunc P/N 167008. For adherent cells that could detach from wells during In-Cell Western assay wash steps (e.g. NIH/3T3), we recommend Poly-D-lysine coated 96-well microplates.
  2. Cell seeding density: Typically, 15,000 to 40,000 cells are seeded per well. Two to three days are usually required for cells to reach the appropriate confluency, depending on growth rate. Seeding with low cell numbers is recommended if you plan to culture for several days before use. Plates seeded with higher cell numbers will be ready to use earlier.
  3. Confluence: To obtain maximal fluorescent signals, complete or near complete confluency is recommended for cells that stick to wells tightly. For cells that adhere loosely to wells, such as NIH3T3, 70% confluency should be used. Please note that cell type and experimental conditions may affect the acceptable level of growth confluency.

The example below illustrates the importance of cell seeding density for A431 cells. As shown in the corresponding graph, cell growth is greatly inhibited when there are too few neighboring cells.

Cell Seeding Microplate example

Graph showing why Seeding Plates for ICW Assays is Important

Use Quantitative Cell Signaling to Study Apoptosis

AGAIN with the quantitative cell signaling! YES! because it is so versatile!! I am sure you will find that this will become a valuable technique to use in your research.

This quantitative immunofluorescent assay – the one that we call an In-Cell Western™ (ICW) Assay – can be used to study a variety of mechanisms. Here is an example of an ICW used to study apoptosis.

As you may already know, there are two major apoptosis signaling pathways: the death receptor (extrinsic) pathway and the mitochondrial (intrinsic) pathway. Under most circumstances, activation of either pathway leads to proteolytic cleavage and activation of caspases, a family of cysteine proteases that act as common death effector molecules. The In-Cell Western Assay is a very helpful research tool for scientists who are quantifying cell signaling.

Time Course of Caspase-3 Activation in SP2 Cells Performed using an In-Cell Western Assay

Figure 1. Time course of caspase-3 activation in S2 cells. (A-C) In-Cell Western analysis of S2 cells treated with Actinomycin D (Act D) to induce apoptosis. Each time point was measured in triplicate and stained for anti-active-caspase-3 (A; green) and f-actin (B; red, stained with near-infrared fluorescent phalloidin). Panel C shows merged pseudocolor images. (D) Active-caspase-3 protein levels from (A) were quantified and normalized to f-actin levels in (B) for each time point. The active caspase-3:f-actin ratio at 0min Actinomycin D exposure was designated as 1, and all other ratios are shown relative to this value. Error bars represent the standard error of each independent measurement. Exposure of S2 cells to Actinomycin D increased the relative levels of active caspase-3 over time. Reprinted with permission from Bond, D.et al. Biol Proced Online. 10(1):20-28(2008).

Here is our complete apoptosis assay example protocol of the HeLa cellular response to anisomycin treatment (detailing the seeding, induction, and detection).

Quantitative Cell Signaling Analysis – What’s all the Buzz About?

In-Cell Western Assays for Quantitative Cell Signaling Analysis

What’s all this BUZZZZ you are hearing about being able to quantitate cell signaling in plate-based assays? If you are at AACR in Chicago this week, stop by Booth 3800 (LI-COR® Biosciences) and we can tell you all about the In-Cell Western™ Assay – and how you can use this method to quantitate signaling, look at levels of protein phosphorylation, perform RNAi studies, monitor gene expression levels, conduct cell proliferation assays, and more. Imaging can be performed on the Odyssey® CLx, Odyssey Classic, or the Odyssey Sa Infrared Imager (the Sa also has the option for automation and barcode reading). And, if you can’t make it to AACR, stay tuned here and I will be blogging about this topic over the next week or so.

Okay, let’s start at the beginning. So what – exactly – is an In-Cell Western Assayy? Well, some call it a cytoblot. To others, it’s a cell-based ELISA or an In-Cell ELISA (ICE Assay). To LI-COR, it’s a In-Cell Western Assay (we call it an ICW, for short) and is a quantitative immunofluorescence assay performed in microplates (96- or 384-well format). It combines the specificity of Western blotting with the reproducibility and throughput of ELISA.

In a nutshell, the basic steps are:

  • Culture cells in microplates
  • Treat cells
  • Fix and permeabilize
  • Stain with primary antibodies – 1 or 2 protein targets per well
  • Stain with IRDye secondary antibody conjugates
  • Image microplate and quantify fluorescent signals from cell populations in each well
  • Quantify relative protein levels
  • Normalize to correct for well-to-well variation

That doesn’t sound too difficult, right? Of course, just like any scientific technique, there are things to keep in mind to make sure your experiment gives the best, clearest, most accurate and reproducible results it can. In the next posts, I’ll share some of the technical tips to keep in mind – plus examples of how your research colleagues have used In-Cell ELISAs in their published papers.

In the meantime, here is the ICW Brochure, which includes a little more info on the technique and some examples with data. We also have a video introduction to In-Cell Western Assays – for those that like the movies!