Stanford Advisors

All Publications

  • Nanoscale cellular organization of viral RNA and proteins in SARS-CoV-2 replication organelles. bioRxiv : the preprint server for biology Andronov, L., Han, M., Zhu, Y., Roy, A. R., Barentine, A. E., Garhyan, J., Qi, L. S., Moerner, W. E. 2023


    The SARS-CoV-2 viral infection transforms host cells and produces special organelles in many ways, and we focus on the replication organelle where the replication of viral genomic RNA (vgRNA) occurs. To date, the precise cellular localization of key RNA molecules and replication intermediates has been elusive in electron microscopy studies. We use super-resolution fluorescence microscopy and specific labeling to reveal the nanoscopic organization of replication organelles that contain vgRNA clusters along with viral double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) clusters and the replication enzyme, encapsulated by membranes derived from the host endoplasmic reticulum (ER). We show that the replication organelles are organized differently at early and late stages of infection. Surprisingly, vgRNA accumulates into distinct globular clusters in the cytoplasmic perinuclear region, which grow and accommodate more vgRNA molecules as infection time increases. The localization of ER labels and nsp3 (a component of the double-membrane vesicle, DMV) at the periphery of the vgRNA clusters suggests that replication organelles are enclosed by DMVs at early infection stages which then merge into vesicle packets as infection progresses. Precise co-imaging of the nanoscale cellular organization of vgRNA, dsRNA, and viral proteins in replication organelles of SARS-CoV-2 may inform therapeutic approaches that target viral replication and associated processes.

    View details for DOI 10.1101/2023.11.07.566110

    View details for PubMedID 37986994

  • Nested epistasis enhancer networks for robust genome regulation. Science (New York, N.Y.) Lin, X., Liu, Y., Liu, S., Zhu, X., Wu, L., Zhu, Y., Zhao, D., Xu, X., Chemparathy, A., Wang, H., Cao, Y., Nakamura, M., Noordermeer, J. N., La Russa, M., Wong, W. H., Zhao, K., Qi, L. S. 2022: eabk3512


    Mammalian genomes possess multiple enhancers spanning an ultralong distance (>megabases) to modulate important genes, yet it is unclear how these enhancers coordinate to achieve this task. Here, we combine multiplexed CRISPRi screening with machine learning to define quantitative enhancer-enhancer interactions. We find that the ultralong distance enhancer network possesses a nested multi-layer architecture that confers functional robustness of gene expression. Experimental characterization reveals that enhancer epistasis is maintained by three-dimensional chromosomal interactions and BRD4 condensation. Machine learning prediction of synergistic enhancers provides an effective strategy to identify non-coding variant pairs associated with pathogenic genes in diseases beyond Genome-Wide Association Studies (GWAS) analysis. Our work unveils nested epistasis enhancer networks, which can better explain enhancer functions within cells and in diseases.

    View details for DOI 10.1126/science.abk3512

    View details for PubMedID 35951677

  • Broad-spectrum CRISPR-mediated inhibition of SARS-CoV-2 variants and endemic coronaviruses in vitro. Nature communications Zeng, L., Liu, Y., Nguyenla, X. H., Abbott, T. R., Han, M., Zhu, Y., Chemparathy, A., Lin, X., Chen, X., Wang, H., Rane, D. A., Spatz, J. M., Jain, S., Rustagi, A., Pinsky, B., Zepeda, A. E., Kadina, A. P., Walker, J. A., Holden, K., Temperton, N., Cochran, J. R., Barron, A. E., Connolly, M. D., Blish, C. A., Lewis, D. B., Stanley, S. A., La Russa, M. F., Qi, L. S. 2022; 13 (1): 2766


    A major challenge in coronavirus vaccination and treatment is to counteract rapid viral evolution and mutations. Here we demonstrate that CRISPR-Cas13d offers a broad-spectrum antiviral (BSA) to inhibit many SARS-CoV-2 variants and diverse human coronavirus strains with >99% reduction of the viral titer. We show that Cas13d-mediated coronavirus inhibition is dependent on the crRNA cellular spatial colocalization with Cas13d and target viral RNA. Cas13d can significantly enhance the therapeutic effects of diverse small molecule drugs against coronaviruses for prophylaxis or treatment purposes, and the best combination reduced viral titer by over four orders of magnitude. Using lipid nanoparticle-mediated RNA delivery, we demonstrate that the Cas13d system can effectively treat infection from multiple variants of coronavirus, including Omicron SARS-CoV-2, in human primary airway epithelium air-liquid interface (ALI) cultures. Our study establishes CRISPR-Cas13 as a BSA which is highly complementary to existing vaccination and antiviral treatment strategies.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41467-022-30546-7

    View details for PubMedID 35589813

  • Real-Time Fluorescence Microscopy on Living E. coli Sheds New Light on the Antibacterial Effects of the King Penguin beta-Defensin AvBD103b INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF MOLECULAR SCIENCES Landon, C., Zhu, Y., Mustafi, M., Madinier, J., Lelievre, D., Aucagne, V., Delmas, A. F., Weisshaar, J. C. 2022; 23 (4)


    (1) Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are a promising alternative to conventional antibiotics. Among AMPs, the disulfide-rich β-defensin AvBD103b, whose antibacterial activities are not inhibited by salts contrary to most other β-defensins, is particularly appealing. Information about the mechanisms of action is mandatory for the development and approval of new drugs. However, data for non-membrane-disruptive AMPs such as β-defensins are scarce, thus they still remain poorly understood. (2) We used single-cell fluorescence imaging to monitor the effects of a β-defensin (namely AvBD103b) in real time, on living E. coli, and at the physiological concentration of salts. (3) We obtained key parameters to dissect the mechanism of action. The cascade of events, inferred from our precise timing of membrane permeabilization effects, associated with the timing of bacterial growth arrest, differs significantly from the other antimicrobial compounds that we previously studied in the same physiological conditions. Moreover, the AvBD103b mechanism does not involve significant stereo-selective interaction with any chiral partner, at any step of the process. (4) The results are consistent with the suggestion that after penetrating the outer membrane and the cytoplasmic membrane, AvBD103b interacts non-specifically with a variety of polyanionic targets, leading indirectly to cell death.

    View details for DOI 10.3390/ijms23042057

    View details for Web of Science ID 000763079600001

    View details for PubMedID 35216173

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC8880245

  • Local rigidification and possible coacervation of the Escherichia coli DNA by cationic nylon-3 polymers BIOPHYSICAL JOURNAL Zhu, Y., Liu, L., Mustafi, M., Rank, L. A., Gellman, S. H., Weisshaar, J. C. 2021; 120 (23): 5243-5254


    Synthetic, cationic random nylon-3 polymers (β-peptides) show promise as inexpensive antimicrobial agents less susceptible to proteolysis than normal peptides. We have used superresolution, single-cell, time-lapse fluorescence microscopy to compare the effects on live Escherichia coli cells of four such polymers and the natural antimicrobial peptides LL-37 and cecropin A. The longer, densely charged monomethyl-cyclohexyl (MM-CH) copolymer and MM homopolymer rapidly traverse the outer membrane and the cytoplasmic membrane. Over the next ∼5 min, they locally rigidify the chromosomal DNA and slow the diffusive motion of ribosomal species to a degree comparable to LL-37. The shorter dimethyl-dimethylcyclopentyl (DM-DMCP) and dimethyl-dimethylcyclohexyl (DM-DMCH) copolymers, and cecropin A are significantly less effective at rigidifying DNA. Diffusion of the DNA-binding protein HU and of ribosomal species is hindered as well. The results suggest that charge density and contour length are important parameters governing these antimicrobial effects. The data corroborate a model in which agents having sufficient cationic charge distributed across molecular contour lengths comparable to local DNA-DNA interstrand spacings (∼6 nm) form a dense network of multivalent, electrostatic "pseudo-cross-links" that cause the local rigidification. In addition, at times longer than ∼30 min, we observe that the MM-CH copolymer and the MM homopolymer (but not the other four agents) cause gradual coalescence of the two nucleoid lobes into a single dense lobe localized at one end of the cell. We speculate that this process involves coacervation of the DNA by the cationic polymer, and may be related to the liquid droplet coacervates observed in eukaryotic cells.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.bpj.2021.10.037

    View details for Web of Science ID 000729634600010

    View details for PubMedID 34757079

  • Diverse Impacts on Prokaryotic and Eukaryotic Membrane Activities from Hydrophobic Subunit Variation Among Nylon-3 Copolymers ACS CHEMICAL BIOLOGY Rank, L. A., Agrawal, A., Liu, L., Zhu, Y., Mustafi, M., Weisshaar, J. C., Gellman, S. H. 2021; 16 (1): 176-184


    Synthetic, sequence-random polymers that feature a wide range of backbone and side chain structures have been reported to function as mimics of natural host-defense peptides, inhibiting bacterial growth while exerting little or no toxicity toward eukaryotic cells. The common themes among these materials are net positive charge, which is thought to confer preferential action toward prokaryotic vs eukaryotic cells, and the presence of hydrophobic components, which are thought to mediate membrane disruption. This study is based on a set of new binary cationic-hydrophobic nylon-3 copolymers that was designed to ask whether factors beyond net charge and net hydrophobicity influence the biological activity profile. In previous work, we found that nonpolar subunits preorganized by a ring led to copolymers with a diminished tendency to disrupt human cell membranes (as measured via lysis of red blood cells) relative to copolymers containing more flexible nonpolar subunits. An alternative mode of conformational restriction, involving geminal substitution, also minimized hemolysis. Here, we asked whether combining a cyclic constraint and geminal substitution would be synergistic; the combination was achieved by introducing backbone methyl groups to previously described cyclopentyl and cyclohexyl subunits. The new cyclic subunits containing two quaternary backbone carbons (i.e, two sites of geminal substitution) were comparable or slightly superior in terms of antibacterial potency but markedly superior in terms of low hemolytic activity, relative to cyclic subunits lacking the quaternary carbons. However, new cyclic units containing only one quaternary carbon were very hemolytic, which was unanticipated. Variations in net hydrophobicity cannot explain the trend in hemolysis, in contrast to the standard perspective in this field. The impact of each new polymer on live E. coli cells was evaluated via fluorescence microscopy. All new polymers moved rapidly across the outer membrane without large-scale disruption of barrier function. Increasing the number of quaternary carbons in the nonpolar subunit correlated with an increased propensity to permeabilize the cytoplasmic membrane of E. coli cells. Collectively, these findings show that relationships between nonpolar subunit identity and biological activity are influenced by factors in addition to hydrophobicity and charge. We propose that the variation of subunit conformational properties may be one such factor.

    View details for DOI 10.1021/acschembio.0c00855

    View details for Web of Science ID 000611444900020

    View details for PubMedID 33305582

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC8130050

  • Long-term effects of the proline-rich antimicrobial peptide Oncocin112 on theEscherichia colitranslation machinery JOURNAL OF BIOLOGICAL CHEMISTRY Zhu, Y., Weisshaar, J. C., Mustafi, M. 2020; 295 (38): 13314-13325


    Proline-rich antimicrobial peptides (PrAMPs) are cationic antimicrobial peptides unusual for their ability to penetrate bacterial membranes and kill cells without causing membrane permeabilization. Structural studies show that many such PrAMPs bind deep in the peptide exit channel of the ribosome, near the peptidyl transfer center. Biochemical studies of the particular synthetic PrAMP oncocin112 (Onc112) suggest that on reaching the cytoplasm, the peptide occupies its binding site prior to the transition from initiation to the elongation phase of translation, thus blocking further initiation events. We present a superresolution fluorescence microscopy study of the long-term effects of Onc112 on ribosome, elongation factor-Tu (EF-Tu), and DNA spatial distributions and diffusive properties in intact Escherichia coli cells. The new data corroborate earlier mechanistic inferences from studies in vitro Comparisons with the diffusive behavior induced by the ribosome-binding antibiotics chloramphenicol and kasugamycin show how the specific location of each agent's ribosomal binding site affects the long-term distribution of ribosomal species between 30S and 50S subunits versus 70S polysomes. Analysis of the single-step displacements from ribosome and EF-Tu diffusive trajectories before and after Onc112 treatment suggests that the act of codon testing of noncognate ternary complexes (TCs) at the ribosomal A-site enhances the dissociation rate of such TCs from their L7/L12 tethers. Testing and rejection of noncognate TCs on a sub-ms timescale is essential to enable incorporation of the rare cognate amino acids into the growing peptide chain at a rate of ∼20 aa/s.

    View details for DOI 10.1074/jbc.RA120.013587

    View details for Web of Science ID 000574483500015

    View details for PubMedID 32727850

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC7504922

  • Biophysical Properties of Escherichia coli Cytoplasm in Stationary Phase by Superresolution Fluorescence Microscopy MBIO Zhu, Y., Mustafi, M., Weisshaar, J. C. 2020; 11 (3)


    In nature, bacteria must survive long periods of nutrient deprivation while maintaining the ability to recover and grow when conditions improve. This quiescent state is called stationary phase. The biochemistry of Escherichia coli in stationary phase is reasonably well understood. Much less is known about the biophysical state of the cytoplasm. Earlier studies of harvested nucleoids concluded that the stationary-phase nucleoid is "compacted" or "supercompacted," and there are suggestions that the cytoplasm is "glass-like." Nevertheless, stationary-phase bacteria support active transcription and translation. Here, we present results of a quantitative superresolution fluorescence study comparing the spatial distributions and diffusive properties of key components of the transcription-translation machinery in intact E. coli cells that were either maintained in 2-day stationary phase or undergoing moderately fast exponential growth. Stationary-phase cells are shorter and exhibit strong heterogeneity in cell length, nucleoid volume, and biopolymer diffusive properties. As in exponential growth, the nucleoid and ribosomes are strongly segregated. The chromosomal DNA is locally more rigid in stationary phase. The population-weighted average of diffusion coefficients estimated from mean-square displacement plots is 2-fold higher in stationary phase for both RNA polymerase (RNAP) and ribosomal species. The average DNA density is roughly twice as high as that in cells undergoing slow exponential growth. The data indicate that the stationary-phase nucleoid is permeable to RNAP and suggest that it is permeable to ribosomal subunits. There appears to be no need to postulate migration of actively transcribed genes to the nucleoid periphery.IMPORTANCE Bacteria in nature usually lack sufficient nutrients to enable growth and replication. Such starved bacteria adapt into a quiescent state known as the stationary phase. The chromosomal DNA is protected against oxidative damage, and ribosomes are stored in a dimeric structure impervious to digestion. Stationary-phase bacteria can recover and grow quickly when better nutrient conditions arise. The biochemistry of stationary-phase E. coli is reasonably well understood. Here, we present results from a study of the biophysical state of starved E. coli Superresolution fluorescence microscopy enables high-resolution location and tracking of a DNA locus and of single copies of RNA polymerase (the transcription machine) and ribosomes (the translation machine) in intact E. coli cells maintained in stationary phase. Evidently, the chromosomal DNA remains sufficiently permeable to enable transcription and translation to occur. This description contrasts with the usual picture of a rigid stationary-phase cytoplasm with highly condensed DNA.

    View details for DOI 10.1128/mBio.00143-20

    View details for Web of Science ID 000572045600009

    View details for PubMedID 32546611

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC7298701

  • Rigidification of the Escherichia coli cytoplasm by the human antimicrobial peptide LL-37 revealed by superresolution fluorescence microscopy PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Zhu, Y., Mohapatra, S., Weisshaar, J. C. 2019; 116 (3): 1017-1026


    Superresolution, single-particle tracking reveals effects of the cationic antimicrobial peptide LL-37 on the Escherichia coli cytoplasm. Seconds after LL-37 penetrates the cytoplasmic membrane, the chromosomal DNA becomes rigidified on a length scale of ∼30 nm, evidenced by the loss of jiggling motion of specific DNA markers. The diffusive motion of a subset of ribosomes is also frozen. The mean diffusion coefficients of the DNA-binding protein HU and the nonendogenous protein Kaede decrease twofold. Roughly 108 LL-37 copies flood the cell (mean concentration ∼90 mM). Much of the LL-37 remains bound within the cell after extensive rinsing with fresh growth medium. Growth never recovers. The results suggest that the high concentration of adsorbed polycationic peptides forms a dense network of noncovalent, electrostatic linkages within the chromosomal DNA and among 70S-polysomes. The bacterial cytoplasm comprises a concentrated collection of biopolymers that are predominantly polyanionic (e.g., DNA, ribosomes, RNA, and most globular proteins). In normal cells, this provides a kind of electrostatic lubrication, enabling facile diffusion despite high biopolymer volume fraction. However, this same polyanionic nature renders the cytoplasm susceptible to massive adsorption of polycationic agents once penetration of the membranes occurs. If this phenomenon proves widespread across cationic agents and bacterial species, it will help explain why resistance to antimicrobial peptides develops only slowly. The results suggest two design criteria for polycationic peptides that efficiently kill gram-negative bacteria: facile penetration of the outer membrane and the ability to alter the cytoplasm by electrostatically linking double-stranded DNA and 70S-polysomes.

    View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.1814924116

    View details for Web of Science ID 000455610300045

    View details for PubMedID 30598442

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC6338858

  • Structural Flexibility and Conformation Features of Cyclic Dinucleotides in Aqueous Solutions JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL CHEMISTRY B Che, X., Zhang, J., Zhu, Y., Yang, L., Quan, H., Gao, Y. 2016; 120 (10): 2670-2680


    Cyclic dinucleotides are able to trigger the innate immune system by activating STING. It was found that the binding affinity of asymmetric 2'3'-cGAMP to symmetric dimer of STING is 3 orders of magnitude higher than that of the symmetric 3'3'-cyclic dinucleotides. Such a phenomenon has not been understood yet. Here we show that the subtle changes in phosphodiester linkage of CDNs lead to their distinct structural properties which correspond to the varied binding affinities. 2'-5' and/or 3'-5' linked CDNs adopt specific while different types of ribose puckers and backbone conformations. That ribose conformations and base types have different propensities for anti or syn glycosidic conformations further affects the overall flexibility of CDNs. The counterbalance between backbone ring tension and electrostatic repulsion, both affected by the ring size, also contributes to the different flexibility of CDNs. Our calculations reveal that the free energy cost for 2'3'-cGAMP to adopt the STING-bound structure is smaller than that for 3'3'-cGAMP and cyclic-di-GMP. These findings may serve as a reference for design of CDN-analogues as vaccine adjuvants. Moreover, the cyclization pattern of CDNs closely related to their physiological roles suggests the importance of understanding structural properties in the study of protein-ligand interactions.

    View details for DOI 10.1021/acs.jpcb.5b11531

    View details for Web of Science ID 000372562000003

    View details for PubMedID 26878265