Rethinking the Traditional Western Blot

Traditional Western blotting is a labor-intensive process that includes gel electrophoresis, protein transfer to a blotting membrane, incubation with primary and secondary antibodies, and chemiluminescent or fluorescent detection of target proteins. (View a typical Western blotting workflow.) Day-to-day reproducibility is poor, because small variations in lysate preparation, gel loading, electrophoresis, transfer, and detection are unavoidable sources of technical variability.

Snapshot of In-Cell Western Assay MethodThe In-Cell Western™ (ICW) Assay, a quantitative immunofluorescent method, is an alternative to traditional Western blots that increases both reproducibility and sample throughput. (View a typical ICW workflow.)

We recently hosted a webinar called “Rethinking the Traditional Western Blot”, during which John Lyssand, PhD, from LI-COR Biosciences, discussed the In-Cell Western Assay and an example of its use in neuroscience research, in this case, Alzheimer’s Disease. The In-Cell Western Assay enables screening and analysis of many more samples in each experiment, eliminates error-prone protocol steps, and delivers higher reproducibility for biological and technical replicates.

ICW Use: Tau Protein Accumulation and InhibitionThe data presented demonstrated how ICW assays were used in Alzheimer’s Disease research to screen HSP90 inhibitors for their effectiveness in reducing tau activity levels. Dr Lyssand discussed how and why the In-Cell Western Assay is superior to traditional methods for screening of cell samples.

If you didn’t have a chance to join us in September for “Rethinking the Traditional Western blot”, you can view this webinar online and on-demand. Check out the information on In-Cell Western assays on our website. You can also read Professor Dickey’s white paper as cited above that outlines how he and his group used higher throughput method to study Alzheimer’s Disease.

New Cell Stain Increases Ease of Use for In-Cell Western™ Normalization

CellTag 700 Stain ICW Kits for Quantitative Cell Signaling AnalysisHave you ever wanted to try an in-cell ELISA but you just weren’t sure how to get started? With the new LI-COR® CellTag™ 700 Stain, a near-infrared fluorescent, non-specific cell stain that provides accurate normalization to cell number, you have a easier — and more affordable — way to try this powerful application. CellTag 700 Stain accumulates in both the nucleus and cytoplasm of permeabilized cells, and provides linear fluorescent signal across a wide range of cell types and cell numbers (see Figure 1 below). CellTag 700 Stain is applied to the cells during incubation with IRDye® 800CW secondary antibody, and enables accurate measurement of target protein levels with much higher throughput than Western blotting.

CellTag 700 Stain - Linear Relationship between Fluorescence and Cell Number.

Figure 1. Linear Relationship between Fluorescence and Cell Number. Two-fold serial dilutions of A431 and NIH/3T3 cells were plated in 96-well plate, then fixed, permeabilized, stained with CellTag 700 Stain, and detected with Odyssey Classic (Resolution: 169um; Quality: medium; Focus offset: 4.0mm; Intensity: 5). The Trim Signals were used to generate the graphs.

CellTag 700 Stain ICW Kits offer a convenient way to try cell-based In-Cell Western Assays. Each kit includes blocking buffer, IRDye® 800CW secondary antibody for detection of a specific protein target in the 800 nm channel, and CellTag 700 Stain to normalize well-to-well variations in cell number. This cost-effective normalization method makes quantification of the target protein more precise.
In-Cell Western Normalization with CellTag 700 Stain in EGF-stimulated A431 Cells.Figure 2. In-Cell Western Assay with CellTag 700 Stain in EGF-stimulated A431 Cells. (Go to the CellTag 700 Stain Overview page for more details on this data).

Try one of our new In-Cell Western Assay Kits with CellTag 700 Stain today and find out just how easy it is to perform fast, cost-effective cell-based Western assays.

NEW! COX IV Primary Antibody Offers Normalization for Low-Expressing Proteins

COX IV Rabbit Monoclonal Primary Antibody, PN 926-42214The COX IV primary antibody can be used for detection of COX IV by Western blot, or as a normalization antibody when performing two-color detection. Its target molecular weight is 17 kDa. Detection of this primary antibody can be achieved with IRDye® Goat Anti-Rabbit or IRDye Donkey Anti-Rabbit secondary antibodies. LI-COR® also carries beta-actin, alpha-tubulin, and beta-tubulin primary antibodies for normalization when performing quantitative Western blots or In-Cell Western Assays.

Western Blot Linearity of COX IV vs. Actin in Cell Lysate

Figure 1. Linearity comparison of COX IV rabbit monoclonal primary antibody (P/N 926-42214) to β-Actin rabbit monoclonal (P/N 926-42210). Primary antibodies were compared by Western blot and detected with IRDye 800CW Goat anti-Rabbit (P/N 926-32211). The COX IV antibody can be used as a mitochondrial loading control and a loading control for normalizing low expressing target proteins. This COX IV primary antibody remains linear with increasing concentrations of lysate, making it ideal for normalization.

COX IV Rabbit Monoclonal Antibody Pack Insert

In-Cell Western™ Assay Webinar – Applications Review

In-Cell Western Assays - Fluorescent ImmunoassaysFor those of you that like to watch videos and listen to information, here is a great webinar on In-Cell Western Assays.

In this In-Cell Western webinar, the basics of ICW assays are covered and these applications:

For more information on these plate-based fluorescent immunoassays, go to the In-Cell Western assay application page. There are also several sample protocols and information on how to set up, optimize, and analyze ICW assays.

In-Cell Western™ Assay Application: Response of COS-7 Cells to Hydroxyurea

Application: Detecting phospho-p53 in COS cells in response to Hydroxyurea


Example of In-Cell Western Assay: Effects of Hydroxyurea on phospho-p53 on COS-7 cells

In this In-Cell Western assay application, the response of COS-7 cells to increasing doses of hydroxyurea was measured by a specific antibody (Anti-phospho-p53 from Cell Signaling Technology, P/N 9286) that detects phosphorylated-p53 (Ser16). Total ERK1 was used for normalization. The image represents a 96-well two-color In-Cell Western with the 700 and 800 nm channels detecting phosphorylated-p53 (Ser16) and total ERK1, respectively. Background wells were incubated with secondary antibody but no primary antibody. IRDye® 680RD secondary antibodies were used for detection in the 700nm channel and IRDye 800CW secondary antibodies were usd for detection in the 800nm channel.

Dose response graph of % induction of p53 phosphorylation with hydroxyurea in COS-7 cells

The graph represents the average of four sets of quantitative data, demonstrating the percent induction of phosphorylated-p53 (Ser16). Plate-based assays such as this can be imaged on the Odyssey® CLx or Odyssey Sa Infrared Imaging System.

For more uses of In-Cell Westerns Assays, visit our website.

In-Cell Western™ Assay Quality Assessment using Z’-Factor

If you have been following my posts for the past two months or so, you know we have been looking a great deal at In-Cell Western Assays (also called In-Cell ELISAs or plate-based immunofluorescent assays). On April 3, I explained what an ICW Assay is. From there we looked at examples of how In-Cell Westerns are used (studying apoptosis, for IC50 Determinations), seeding plates for In-Cell Westerns), ICW kits LI-COR® offers, and using cells in suspension, plate selection for ICW Assays, and cell lines that have been tested for use with this powerful immunocytochemical assay.

So you are hopefully ready to give this technique a try. When you do, it is important to assess the overall quality and reliability of the assay during In-Cell Western (ICW) assay optimization. The Z’-factor statistic provides a way to evaluate whether or not assay conditions (reagents, protocols, instrumentation, kinetics, and other conditions not directly related to the test compounds) are optimized. Z’-factor, introduced by Zhang et al., is a dimensionless value that represents both the variability and the dynamic range between two sets of sample control data.

Z’-factor experiments are performed on one or more ICW assay plates containing replicate wells designated for background subtraction, negative control samples, and positive control samples. Typically, negative control wells are those in which the cells receive an the appropriate treatment so as to elicit the lowest desired percent response (usually untreated cells); positive control wells are those in which the cells receive an appropriate treatment so as to elicit the maximum desired percent response; background wells are treated the same as the negative control wells, except primary antibody incubation is excluded.

Example of Z' Factor Data Plot

Here are some resources so that you can read more about the Z’-Factor, how to set up the experiments to assess it, and its importance in ensuring you have a high quality, reliable assay method:
Using the Z’-Factor Coefficient to Monitor Quality of Near-Infrared Fluorescent Cell-Based Assays
In-Cell Western Assay Quality Assessment Using Z’-Factor Data Sheet

Read more about Reproducibility and Precision in In-Cell Western Assays.

Cells in Suspension for Quantitative Cell Signaling Analysis using In-Cell Western™ Assays

In-Cell Western Assays - Fluorescent Immunoassays

So I’ve talked about how to ensure that suspension cells attach to plates, when to know you have a monolayer, and why round bottom plates are the best when doing In-Cell Western Assays with suspension cells in the 23-May-12 blog post. On 29-May-12 post, the post discussed how to wash your microplates so that you don’t lose cells plus some troubleshooting tips. I hope you found both of those posts helpful.

Here is the last post in this series on using non-adherent cells for ICW assays. These are a few additional questions you may have about using suspension cells for this powerful immunofluorescent assay.

  1. What suspension cell lines have been tested for use in In-Cell Westerns?
    Suspension cell lines tested include Jurkat, K-562, and THP-1.
  2. What pathways have been tested?
    Pathways tested include ERK activation and apoptosis using cleaved caspase-3 as a marker (Figure 1). A sample protocol can be downloaded here.

Do you have other questions? Super! Please contact us and let us know how we can help you in your research. And stop by this blog again for more technical tips and troubleshooting hints on other applications.

Anisomycin induced Apoptosis in Jurkat Cells

Figure 1. Anisomycin-induced apoptosis in Jurkat cells. The image represents a 96-well two-color In-Cell Western assay with the 700 and 800 nm channels detecting TO-PRO®-3 DNA staining and cleaved caspase-3 (Asp175), respectively. The image was scanned using the Odyssey® Sa Infrared Imaging system with scan setting of 200 μm resolution, focus offset of 3.5, and intensity of 3.5 (700 channel) and 4 (800 channel). Background (B) wells were incubated with a secondary antibody but no primary antibody. The graph represents normalized quantitative data demonstrating the increase in caspase-3 cleavage in response to anisomycin treatment for 3 hours in Jurkat cells.

Additional resources:
In-Cell Western Assays: FAQs when Using Suspension Cells
Complete Sample Protocol for PMA-Induced ERK Activation in Suspension Cell Lines
LI-COR BIO Website

More Essential Success Tips for Performing In-Cell ELISAs Using Non-Adherent Cells

Round Bottom Plates for In-Cell Western Assays

I mentioned in my post on 23-May, that the next few entries would be on more hints and tips of how to use non-adherent cells for In-Cell Western Assays – so here goes!

During my washing steps, cells are coming off the plates.

  1. Are you using the recommended round bottom 96-well plate (BD Biosciences, P/N 353077)?
    1. If no, cells will more easily detach from the flat bottom plates than the round bottom
      plates. The multi-channel pipettors will generate enough pressure when expelling liquid from the pipet to cause cell detachment when using flat bottom plates. Cells will detach even when pipetting down the sides of the wells.
    2. If yes, make sure you pipet down the sides of the wells and not directly onto the cells. If this doesn’t help, you may need to change your multi-channel pipettor because different brands of pipettors have different amount of pressure required to expel the liquid from the pipet. The recommended multi-channel pipettor is the 12-channel Finnpipette
      (Thermo Electron Corp, P/N 4610050).
  2. Are you shaking or rotating the plates at a moderate to high speed?
    1. If yes, gentler shaking/rotating is needed to prevent cells from detaching. Cells will detach. Set shaking or rotating speed to very low speed.
    2. If no, are you dumping the solutions straight from the plates? Dumping causes cells to
      detach. Either aspirate very slowly or manually pipet using the sides of the wells.

Why can’t I use the flat bottom 96-well plates?

  • LI-COR® Biosciences recommends using the round bottom 96-well plates for the reasons mentioned above.

When I scan an empty round bottom 96-well plate, I get lots of background noise.

  • The round bottom plate shows some background autofluorescence. The background fluorescence is relatively small compared to signal (about 200-fold difference depending on the intensity of the signal) and can be subtracted from the signal. It is necessary to include background wells containing cells and only the secondary antibodies in order to
    completely subtract away the background noise originating from the plate as well as from the non-specific binding of the secondary antibodies.

Here is a technical note on more FAQs on using non-adherent cells for In-Cell Western Assays. Or you can just stay tuned to my next blog post!

To your Research Success!

Using Non-adherent Cells for Fluorescent Immunoassays – Tips for Successful In-Cell Western™ Assays

In-Cell Western Assays - Fluorescent Immunoassays

You might be wondering if this powerful technique called In-Cell Western Assay can be used for your cell line because your cell line is non-adherent. Well, you are in luck! You CAN use suspension cells for ICW Assays – with some care and optimization.

Here are a few frequently asked questions. (see my next few blogs for more FAQs on using suspension cells for In-Cell Western Assays).

  1. How do you make non-adherent cells (suspension cells) attach to plates?

  2. A simple trick is to replace your complete media containing 10% serum (usually fetal bovine serum) with the same media minus the serum. Then allow the cells to sediment, forming a monolayer of cells within 10 minutes. Caution: Although cells appear attached to the plates, they are relatively loosely attached and therefore, extreme caution is required during solution-changing steps.

  3. How do I know that I have a monolayer?
    Method #1
  4. – Examine cells in the round bottom 96-well plates under a light microscope. The center of the wells should all have a small flat circular surface area where all the cells in that field are “in focus”. Moving the plane of focus, up or down, will cause cells to be “off focus”.
    Method #2 – Hold the round bottom 96-well plate under a light source. The monolayer should look opaque rather than transparent. Cells will not attach on top of the cell monolayer, so the opaqueness is due only to the monolayer.

  5. I cannot get a monolayer of cells. I get lots of spaces between cells. Is seeding 200,000 cells/well enough?
    Seeding 200,000 cells/well is more than enough to form a complete cell monolayer. It is necessary to allow the cells in serum-free media to sediment in the T75 flask (or other tissue culture plates) for approximately 30 minutes before counting cells using a hemacytometer. When cells in serum-free media are placed, for example, in a T7 tissue culture flask, a monolayer of cells will immediately begin to form on the bottom of the flask. This will dramatically decrease the number of cells in suspension that are available for plating.

    Note: Once a complete monolayer has formed on the plate, the rest of the cells will remain in suspension. Count these cells in suspension and the cells attached to the T75 flask can be discarded later.

Here is a complete sample protocol for PMA-induced ERK Activation in Suspension Cell Lines.

Check on the website pages on Tips for Using Cells in Suspension Cells for In-Cell ELISA Assays.

Receptor-based Binding and Competition Assays with Infrared Fluorescence

What is an On-Cell Western? It’s a cell-based assay that enables quantitative monitoring of cell surface protein expression. The On-Cell Western assay offers the ability to:

  • Detect and quantify target proteins localized to the cell surface
  • Quantify ligand binding to cell surface receptors
  • Monitor receptor internalization and recycling by detecting loss and re-appearance at the cell surface
  • Perform and detect cell surface biotinylation assays
  • Evaluate the effects of mutations, drugs, and other treatments on protein trafficking
  • Analyze many samples quickly and quantitatively
  • Avoid use of radioactivity

On-Cell Western Assay Example with Quantification

Figure 1. Cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) is internalized after exposure to a specific agonist (Win-2), but the effect is blocked by the antagonist SR1. A) Intensity levels were greatly reduced in wells treated with 1μM of the CB1-specific agonist, Win-2. Cells treated with Win-2 and the specific CB1 antagonist, SR1 displayed no reduction of signal with the treatment. B) Graph displaying results of three independent experiments done in quadruplicate.

Reprinted with permission from Miller, J.W. Tracking G protein-coupled receptor trafficking using Odyssey imaging. LI-COR Biosciences application note (2004).

Visit On-Cell Westerns for more information. We have a sample protocol of On-Cell Western Assay for Targeted Near-infrared-labeled optical imaging agent development. For other scientific publications in which On-Cell Westerns were used, visit our On-Cell Westerns Publications page.

Updated February 18, 2015.