Is research funding a main concern at your institution? In a study of 3700 researchers by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, “68% of respondents do not have the funds to expand their research operations.” Furthermore, “65% of respondents have had difficulties receiving funding.” This is an alarming number for the research community today.
Funding has been on the decline for some time now (see chart below), especially after the 2008 recession and the NIH sequester in 2013. In 2013, the NIH handed out “approximately 640 fewer research project grants compared to FY 2012.”
As budgets are tightened across the board, funding in general may be an issue in your lab. Besides funding to back research projects, faculty and researchers need reliable instrumentation in their labs to ensure reproducible, consistent results.
How will your institution remain equipped in an ever-increasing competitive environment? The LI-COR SURG Program** could help. The SURG – Science Undergraduate Research Grant – Program is designed for faculty researchers and their students to gain access to cutting edge life science technology. If students are learning Western blotting or gel imaging techniques, this grant program could be a perfect fit.
There’s no guarantee funding will increase in the future. This program could help ensure your research is supported by superior digital imaging technology. Check out the SURG Program** offered by LI-COR Biosciences if you’re interested in learning more. Here’s more information on the Odyssey® Fc Imaging System – LI-COR’s digital imaging solution offered through the SURG program.
** The LI-COR SURG Program is valid in the US and Puerto Rico only.
Cortactin (CTTN) is a substrate of Src tyrosine kinase involved in actin dynamics, and is overexpressed in several cancers. Phosphorylated cortactin (pTyr421) is required for cancer cell motility and invasion. This study demonstrates elevated expression of pTyr421-CTTN in primary colorectal tumors, with no change in mRNA levels. Curcumin (a natural compound derived from the spice turmeric) reduced association of CTTN with plasma membrane fractions in surface biotinylation, mass spectrometry, and Western blot experiments. Curcumin also decreased pTyr421-CTTN levels in certain cell lines.
Figure 1. Western blot analysis of cortactin, actin and GAPDH proteins from DMSO and curcumin treated cell fractions of HCT116 cells. Total cell lysates were used to represent total protein input. Cytosolic and cytoskeletal proteins were extracted using Cell Fractionation kit (Cell Signaling, MA) and quantification of the blots are summarized in graphs. The images were scanned using C-Digit and quantified using Image Studio Digits (LI-COR Biosciences, NE). The data are expressed as a ratio to total protein (mean ± SD). * p<0.05 DMSO vs. curcumin; Student’s T-test. All images are representative of three independent experiments.
Quantitative chemiluminescent Westerns (using the LI-COR® C-DiGit Blot Scanner and SuperSignal® West Pico substrate) showed that curcumin treatment reduced CTTN levels in cytoskeletal fractions, and increased cytoplasmic localization. In Western blotting and immunofluorescent microscopy studies, curcumin induced dephosphorylation of cortactin by activation of the PTPN1 protein tyrosine phosphatase. Western blotting demonstrated that biotinylated curcumin directly binds to PTPN1, and that curcumin blocks the interaction between CTTN and p120 catenin. Curcumin inhibits cell migration in colon cancer cells overexpressing CTTN, and it holds promise as a colon cancer therapeutic.
pTyr421 cortactin is overexpressed in colon cancer and is dephosphorylated by curcumin: involvement of non-receptor type 1 protein tyrosine phosphatase (PTPN1)
VM Radhakrishnan, P Kojs, G Young, R Ramalingam, B Jagadish, EA Mash, JD Martinez, FK Ghishan, PR Kiela
University of Arizona Health Sciences Center, Tucson, Arizona; Arizona Cancer Center, Tucson, AZ, USA PLoS ONE 9(1): e85796 (2014). 10.1371/journal.pone.0085796
Why? It’s because the rate of reaction is determined by the ratio of enzyme to substrate. Diluting substrates will dramatically impact the overall generation of light. Then, you will have to repeat the experiment, and you end up using more substrate anyway!
So don’t skimp – use the substrate full strength the first time to ensure that you are seeing all of your protein bands. Or you might just have to repeat the experiment (and that will just cost you more time and money. . .)!
Here are the other nine possible causes of weak chemiluminescent Western blot signals:
Five minutes can seem like a long time, especially when you are waiting to image your chemiluminescent Western blot. But it is really important that you follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for incubation time. Typically, this is five (5) minutes for optimal photon emission – for both film and digital imaging.
So, set the timer for 5 minutes, grab your iPhone® or iPod® – or the crossword, and relax until the buzzer goes off.
To test this, we imaged a chemiluminescent Western blot immediately after adding the chemiluminescent substrate and then imaged a blot where we waited 5 minutes – answered a few emails, looked at the news, and downloaded a new app – and THEN imaged the Western blot. As you can see, incubating allowed us to see more bands and gave much better Western blotting results.
The temperature at which a chemiluminescent Western blot substrate is used can affect the strength of the signal that is captured from Western blot images. Really?? Absolutely! This is because enzyme activity is greatly reduced when it is cold. The substrate needs to be equilibrated to room temperature for digital imaging. This is true with film as well, but there may be a period of time after adding substrate and exposing to film during which the substrate has had a chance to equilibrate to room temperature.
In the table below, we show data from an experiment in which we tested the affect of temperature on Western blotting signal. For one blot, SuperSignal® West Pico chemiluminescent substrate was used right out of the refrigerator – cold, 4 °C. For the other blot, the chemiluminescent Western blot substrate was allowed to come to room temperature before digital imaging. As you can see the signal difference is quite large.
Making sure that the sensitivity setting is optimal to capture the most signal from your chemiluminescent Western blot could be the difference between getting a good, strong signal or getting a signal that you can barely see. This is our possible cause 7 for weak chemiluminescent signals.
How can you avoid possible cause 7 for LI-COR chemiluminescent imagers? On the C-DiGit® Blot Scanner, use High Sensitivity setting (12-min scan) for more sensitive detection. On the Odyssey® Fc Dual-Mode Imaging System, use a longer integration time (up to 10 min). Why is this important? Well, digital imaging with the C-DiGit Blot Scanner or Odyssey Fc Imager will not generally reach a saturation point. Begin with a longer acquisition time to ensure best sensitivity, then optimize to shorter scan times.
In Table 1 below, we tested the performance differences of a Western blot detected with SuperSignal® West Dura on the C-DiGit Blot Scanner when the same blot is imaged on High Sensitivity (12 min scan) versus Standard Sensitivity (6 min scan). As you can see, the longer scan time and higher sensitivity make a big difference in the results.
Lightly touching the pen to the membrane should be enough to transfer ink to the membrane.
Do not push down on the nib so hard that it creates an uneven surface on the membrane.
Membranes may be annotated when damp after transfer, or when dry.
Annotated membranes may be stored dry at ambient temperature or 4 ºC for up to 1 week before starting the Western blot detection process.
If ink is not flowing smoothly onto a damp membrane, trace over the band until it is annotated to the desired effect.
Figure 1. Chemiluminescent detection of visible protein standards. The WesternSure Pen (LI‑COR P/N 926‑91000) was used to mark the blue protein standards (panel A) for chemiluminescent Western blot detection. The blot was exposed to WesternSure PREMIUM chemiluminescent substrate and imaged on Odyssey Fc Imaging System (panel B).
If you are trying to compare how the same chemiluminescent Western blot looks when imaged on a digital imager (like the C-DiGit® Blot Scanner) with how it will look when imaged on film, it’s important to know that you should expose the blot to film BEFORE imaging on a digital imager.
Why does this matter? Digital imaging requires capturing the most photons being generated, which is typically immediately after a 5-minute chemiluminescent substrate incubation. Time may be more of an issue with some substrates. For more information on how film and digial imaging compare, read Western Blot Analysis: Comparison of film and the C-DiGit Blot Scanner.
In Table 1 below, performance differences of a Western blot detected with SuperSignal® West Pico2 when the same blot is imaged over time. Blot was incubated 5 min in substrate before imaging on the C-DiGit Blot Scanner. Images are normalized to the LUT of the optimal blot.
Immediately after incubation with SuperSignal West Pico
26 min after incubation
51 min after incubation
Immediately after incubation with SuperSignal® West Pico
26 min after incubation
51 min after incubation
LOD – 625 ng, Signal – 338
LOD – 625 ng, Signal – 114
LOD – 625 ng, Signal – 32.2
In Table 2, Performance differences of a Western Blot detected with SuperSignal West Dura1 when the same blot is imaged over time. Blot was incubated 5 min in substrate before imaging on the C-DiGit Blot Scanner. Images are normalized to the LUT of the optimal blot.
Immediately after incubation with SuperSignal West Dura
24 min after incubation
48 min after incubation
LOD – 156 ng, Signal – 12,300
LOD – 156 ng, Signal – 10,400
LOD – 156 ng, Signal – 9,090
In Table 3, Performance differences of a Western Blot detected with SuperSignal West Femto when the same blot is imaged over time. Blot was incubated 5 min in substrate before imaging on the C-DiGit Blot Scanner. Images are linked to the LUT of the optimal blot.
Immediately after incubation with SuperSignal West Femto
Have you discovered the cause of the weak signals from your chemiluminescent Western blot yet? Well, let’s keep going. Here is another possible cause – the uniform wetness of the blot. It’s important to keep your Western blot membrane uniformly wet during the entire Western blot image acquisition.
Why does this matter? Well, if you don’t add enough substrate, the membrane will not stay wet, and there will be no enzymatic activity. And, that means no signal to detect.
Use more substrate prior to imaging
Do not completely blot off all of the substrate before imaging
Wrap the blot in plastic wrap or cover with a plastic sheet protector
Incubate blot with substrate directly on scanner bed
Below is a table showing results of an experiment in which blots of varying degrees of wetness were imaged. You can clearly see that the wet blot and the damp blot give the best results. For both, the blots were protected from drying out by using a 1-ply sheet protector that was placed on top of the blot.
Imaged in 3.0 mL of SuperSignal® West Dura1 substrate placed on the scan bed of the C-DiGit Blot Scanner with 1-ply sheet protector on top.
Excess SuperSignal® West Dura1 substrate removed, then imaged on the scan bed of the C-DiGit Blot Scanner with 1-ply sheet protector on top.
We still have 5 more possible causes of weak signals in chemiluminescent Western blots to review, so stay tuned to future blog posts. And if you would like to try some FREE Western Blot Analysis Software, download Image Studio Lite today!