Conway W, Kiewisz R, Fabig G, Kelleher CP, Wu H-Y, Anjur-Dietrich M, Müller-Reichert T, Needleman DJ. Self-organization of kinetochore-fibers in human mitotic spindles. eLife. 2022.Abstract

During eukaryotic cell division, chromosomes are linked to microtubules (MTs) in the spindle by a macromolecular complex called the kinetochore. The bound kinetochore microtubules (KMTs) are crucial to ensuring accurate chromosome segregation. Recent reconstructions by electron tomography (Kiewisz et al., 2022) captured the positions and configurations of every MT in human mitotic spindles, revealing that roughly half the KMTs in these spindles do not reach the pole. Here, we investigate the processes that give rise to this distribution of KMTs using a combination of anal- ysis of large-scale electron tomography, photoconversion experiments, quantitative polarized light microscopy, and biophysical modeling. Our results indicate that in metaphase, KMTs grow away from the kinetochores along well-defined trajectories, with the speed of the KMT minus ends contin- ually decreasing as the minus ends approach the pole, implying that longer KMTs grow more slowly than shorter KMTs. The locations of KMT minus ends, and the turnover and movements of tubulin

in KMTs, are consistent with models in which KMTs predominately nucleate de novo at kinetochores in metaphase and are inconsistent with substantial numbers of non-KMTs being recruited to the kinetochore in metaphase. Taken together, this work leads to a mathematical model of the self- organization of kinetochore-fibers in human mitotic spindles.

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Kiewisz R, Fabig G, Conway W, Baum D, Needleman D, Müller-Reichert T. Three-dimensional structure of kinetochore-fibers in human mitotic spindles. eLife. 2022.Abstract

During cell division, kinetochore microtubules (KMTs) provide a physical linkage between the chromosomes and the rest of the spindle. KMTs in mammalian cells are organized into bundles, so-called kinetochore-fibers (k-fibers), but the ultrastructure of these fibers is currently not well characterized. Here, we show by large-scale electron tomography that each k-fiber in HeLa cells in metaphase is composed of approximately nine KMTs, only half of which reach the spindle pole. Our comprehensive reconstructions allowed us to analyze the three-dimensional (3D) morphology of k-fibers and their surrounding MTs in detail. We found that k-fibers exhibit remarkable variation
in circumference and KMT density along their length, with the pole-proximal side showing a broad- ening. Extending our structural analysis then to other MTs in the spindle, we further observed that the association of KMTs with non-KMTs predominantly occurs in the spindle pole regions. Our 3D reconstructions have implications for KMT growth and k-fiber self-organization models as covered
in a parallel publication applying complementary live-cell imaging in combination with biophysical modeling (Conway et al., 2022). Finally, we also introduce a new visualization tool allowing an inter- active display of our 3D spindle data that will serve as a resource for further structural studies on mitosis in human cells.

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Lemma B, Mitchell NP, Subramanian R, Needleman DJ, Dogic Z. Active Microphase Separation in Mixtures of Microtubules and Tip-Accumulating Molecular Motors. Physical Review X. 2022;12.Abstract

Mixtures of filaments and molecular motors form active materials with diverse dynamical behaviors that vary based on their constituents’ molecular properties. To develop a multiscale of these materials, we map the nonequilibrium phase diagram of microtubules and tip-accumulating kinesin-4 molecular motors. We find that kinesin-4 can drive either global contractions or turbulentlike extensile dynamics, depending on the concentrations of both microtubules and a bundling agent. We also observe a range of spatially heterogeneous nonequilibrium phases, including finite-sized radial asters, 1D wormlike chains, extended 2D bilayers, and system-spanning 3D active foams. Finally, we describe intricate kinetic pathways that yield microphase separated structures and arise from the inherent frustration between the orientational order of filamentous microtubules and the positional order of tip-accumulating molecular motors. Our work reveals a range of novel active states. It also shows that the form of active stresses is not solely dictated by the properties of individual motors and filaments, but is also contingent on the constituent concentrations and spatial arrangement of motors on the filaments.

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Yang X, Ha G, Needleman DJ. A coarse-grained NADH redox model enables inference of subcellular metabolic fluxes from fluorescence lifetime imaging. eLife. 2022.Abstract
Mitochondrial metabolism is of central importance to diverse aspects of cell and developmental biology. Defects in mitochondria are associated with many diseases, including cancer, neuropathology, and infertility. Our understanding of mitochondrial metabolism in situ and dysfunction in diseases are limited by the lack of techniques to measure mitochondrial metabolic fluxes with sufficient spatiotemporal resolution. Herein, we developed a new method to infer mitochondrial metabolic fluxes in living cells with subcellular resolution from fluorescence lifetime imaging of NADH. This result is based on the use of a generic coarse-grained NADH redox model. We tested the model in mouse oocytes and human tissue culture cells subject to a wide variety of perturbations by comparing predicted fluxes through the electron transport chain (ETC) to direct measurements of oxygen consumption rate. Interpreting the fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy measurements of NADH using this model, we discovered a homeostasis of ETC flux in mouse oocytes: perturbations of nutrient supply and energy demand of the cell do not change ETC flux despite significantly impacting NADH metabolic state. Furthermore, we observed a subcellular spatial gradient of ETC flux in mouse oocytes and found that this gradient is primarily a result of a spatially heterogeneous mitochondrial proton leak. We concluded from these observations that ETC flux in mouse oocytes is not controlled by energy demand or supply, but by the intrinsic rates of mitochondrial respiration
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Chandrakar P, Berezney J, Lemma B, Hishamunda B, Berry A, Wu K-T, Subramanian R, Chung J, Needleman D, Gelles J, et al. Engineering stability, longevity, and miscibility of microtubule-based active fluids. Soft Matter. 2022.Abstract
Microtubule-based active matter provides insight into the self-organization of motile interacting constituents. We describe several formulations of microtubule-based 3D active isotropic fluids. Dynamics of these fluids is powered by three types of kinesin motors: a processive motor, a nonprocessive motor, and a motor which is permanently linked to a microtubule backbone. Another modification uses a specific microtubule crosslinker to induce bundle formation instead of a nonspecific polymer depletant. In comparison to the already established system, each formulation exhibits distinct properties. These developments reveal the temporal stability of microtubule-based active fluids while extending their reach and the applicability
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Shah JS, Venturas M, Sanchez TH, Penzias AS, Needleman DJ, Sakkas D. Fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM) detects differences in metabolic signatures between euploid and aneuploid human blastocysts. Human Reproduction. 2022.Abstract
STUDY QUESTION: Can non-invasive imaging with fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM) detect metabolic differences in euploid versus aneuploid human blastocysts?

SUMMARY ANSWER: FLIM has identified significant metabolic differences between euploid and aneuploid blastocysts. WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: Prior studies have demonstrated that FLIM can detect metabolic differences in mouse oocytes and embryos and in discarded human blastocysts. STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: This was a prospective observational study from August 2019 to February 2020. Embryo metabolic state was assessed using FLIM to measure the autofluorescence metabolic factors nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide dehydrogenase together with nicotinamide adenine phosphate dinucleotide dehydrogenase (NAD(P)H) and flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD). Eight metabolic FLIM parameters were obtained from each blastocyst (four for NAD(P)H and four for FAD): short (T1) and long (T2) fluorescence lifetime, fluorescence intensity (I) and fraction of the molecules engaged with enzymes (F). The redox ratio (NAD(P)H-I)/(FAD-I) was also calculated for each image.

PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: This study was performed at a single academically affiliated centre where there were 156 discarded frozen blastocysts (n ¼ 17 euploids; 139 aneuploids) included. Ploidy status was determined by pre-implantation genetic testing for aneuploidy (PGT-A). Discarded human blastocysts were compared using single FLIM parameters. Additionally, inner cell mass (ICM) and trophectoderm (TE) were also evaluated. Multilevel models were used for analysis. A post-hoc correction used Benjamini–Hochberg’s false discovery rate, at a q-value of 0.05.

MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: Comparing euploid (n ¼ 17) versus aneuploid (n ¼ 139) embryos, a significant difference was seen in NAD(P)H-F (P < 0.04), FAD-I (P < 0.04) and redox ratio (P < 0.05). Euploid ICM (n ¼ 15) versus aneuploid ICM (n ¼ 119) also demonstrated significantly different signatures in NAD(P)H-F (P < 0.009), FAD-I (P < 0.03) and redox ratio (P < 0.03). Similarly, euploid TE (n ¼ 15) versus aneuploid TE (n ¼ 119) had significant differences in NAD(P)H-F (P < 0.0001) and FAD-I (P < 0.04).

LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: This study utilized discarded human blastocysts, and these embryos may differ metabolically from non-discarded human embryos. The blastocysts analysed were vitrified after PGT-A biopsy and it is unclear how the vitrification process may affect the metabolic profile of blastocysts. Our study was also limited by the small number of rare donated euploid embryos  Euploid embryos are very rarely discarded due to their value to patients trying to conceive, which limits their use for research purposes. However, we controlled for the imbalance with the bootstrap resampling analysis.

WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: These findings provide preliminary evidence that FLIM may be a useful non-invasive clinical tool to assist in identifying the ploidy status of embryos.

STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S): The study was supported by the Blavatnik Biomedical Accelerator Grant at Harvard University. Becker and Hickl GmbH and Boston Electronics sponsored research with the loaning of equipment for FLIM. D.J.N. is an inventor on patent US20170039415A1. There are no other conflicts of interest to declare.

TRIAL REGISTRATION NUMBER: N/A Key words: fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy / FLIM / mitochondria / euploid / aneuploid
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Venturas M, Shah JS, Yang X, Sanchez TH, Conway W, Sakkas D, Needleman DJ. Metabolic state of human blastocysts measured by fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy. Human Reproduction. 2022.Abstract

STUDY QUESTION: Can non-invasive metabolic imaging via fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM) detect variations in metabolic profiles between discarded human blastocysts?

SUMMARY ANSWER: FLIM revealed extensive variations in the metabolic state of discarded human blastocysts associated with blastocyst development over 36 h, the day after fertilization and blastocyst developmental stage, as well as metabolic heterogeneity within individual blastocysts.

WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: Mammalian embryos undergo large changes in metabolism over the course of preimplantation development. Embryo metabolism has long been linked to embryo viability, suggesting its potential utility in ART to aid in selecting high quality embryos. However, the metabolism of human embryos remains poorly characterized due to a lack of non-invasive methods to measure their metabolic state. STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: We conducted a prospective observational study. We used 215 morphologically normal human embryos from 137 patients that were discarded and donated for research under an approved institutional review board protocol. These embryos were imaged using metabolic imaging via FLIM to measure the autofluorescence of two central coenzymes, nicotinamide adenine (phosphate) dinucleotide (NAD(P)H) and flavine adenine dinucleotide (FADþ), which are essential for cellular respiration and glycolysis.

PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: Here, we used non-invasive FLIM to measure the metabolic state of human blastocysts. We first studied spatial patterns in the metabolic state within human blastocysts and the association of the metabolic state of the whole blastocysts with stage of expansion, day of development since fertilization and morphology. We explored the sensitivity of this technique in detecting metabolic variations between blastocysts from the same patient and between patients. Next, we explored whether FLIM can quantitatively measure metabolic changes through human blastocyst expansion and hatching via time-lapse imaging. For all test conditions, the level of significance was set at P < 0.05 after correction for multiple comparisons using Benjamini–Hochberg’s false discovery rate.

MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: We found that FLIM is sensitive enough to detect significant metabolic differences between blastocysts. We found that metabolic variations between blastocyst are partially explained by both the time since fertilization and their developmental expansion stage (P< 0.05), but not their morphological grade. Substantial metabolic variations between blastocysts from the same patients remain, even after controlling for these factors. We also observe significant metabolic heterogeneity within individual blastocysts, including between the inner cell mass and the trophectoderm, and between the portions of hatching blastocysts within and without the zona pellucida (P< 0.05). And finally, we observed that the metabolic state of human blastocysts continuously varies over time.

LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: Although we observed significant variations in metabolic parameters, our data are taken from human blastocysts that were discarded and donated for research and we do not know their clinical outcome. Moreover, the embryos used in this study are a mixture of aneuploid, euploid and embryos of unknown ploidy.

WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: This work reveals novel aspects of the metabolism of human blastocysts and suggests that FLIM is a promising approach to assess embryo viability through non-invasive, quantitative measurements of their metabolism. These results further demonstrate that FLIM can provide biologically relevant information that may be valuable for the assessment of embryo quality.

STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S): Supported by the Blavatnik Biomedical Accelerator Grant at Harvard University. Becker and Hickl GmbH and Boston Electronics sponsored research with the loaning of equipment for FLIM. D.J.N. is an inventor on patent US20170039415A1.


Merta H, Rodrıguez JWC, Anjur-Dietrich MI, Vitale T, Granade ME, Harris TE, Needleman DJ, Bahmanyar S. Cell cycle regulation of ER membrane biogenesis protects against chromosome missegregation. Developmental Cell. 2021;56.Abstract
Failure to reorganize the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) in mitosis results in chromosome missegregation. Here, we show that accurate chromosome segregation in human cells requires cell cycle-regulated ER membrane production. Excess ER membranes increase the viscosity of the mitotic cytoplasm to physically restrict chromosome movements, which impedes the correction of mitotic errors leading to the formation of micronuclei. Mechanistically, we demonstrate that the protein phosphatase CTDNEP1 counteracts mTOR kinase to establish a dephosphorylated pool of the phosphatidic acid phosphatase lipin 1 in interphase. CTDNEP1 control of lipin 1 limits the synthesis of fatty acids for ER membrane biogenesis in interphase that then protects against chromosome missegregation in mitosis. Thus, regulation of ER size can dictate the biophysical properties of mitotic cells, providing an explanation for why ER reorganization is necessary for mitotic fidelity. Our data further suggest that dysregulated lipid metabolism is a potential source of aneuploidy in cancer cells.
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Kumar K, Venturas M, Needleman DJ, Racowsky C, Racowsky C. Extensive analysis of mitochondrial DNA quantity and sequence variation in human cumulus cells and assisted reproduction outcomes. Human Reproduction. 2021.Abstract
STUDY QUESTION: Are relative mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) content and mitochondrial genome (mtGenome) variants in human cumulus cells (CCs) associated with oocyte reproductive potential and assisted reproductive technology (ART) outcomes? SUMMARY ANSWER: Neither the CC mtDNA quantity nor the presence of specific mtDNA genetic variants was associated with ART outcomes, although associations with patient body mass index (BMI) were detected, and the total number of oocytes retrieved differed between major mitochondrial haplogroups. WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: CCs fulfil a vital role in the support of oocyte developmental competence. As with other cell types, appropriate cellular function is likely to rely upon adequate energy production, which in turn depends on the quantity and genetic competence of the mitochondria. mtDNA mutations can be inherited or they can accumulate in somatic cells over time, potentially contributing to aging. Such mutations may be homoplasmic (affecting all mtDNA in a cell) or they may display varying levels of heteroplasmy (affecting a proportion of the mtDNA). Currently, little is known concerning variation in CC mitochondrial genetics and how this might influence the reproductive potential of the associated oocyte. STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: This was a prospective observational study involving human CCs collected with 541 oocytes from 177 IVF patients. mtDNA quantity was measured in all the samples with a validated quantitative PCR method and the entire mtGenome was sequenced in a subset of 138 samples using a high-depth massively parallel sequencing approach. Associations between relative mtDNA quantity and mtGenome variants in CCs and patient age, BMI (kg/m2 ), infertility diagnosis and ART outcomes were investigated. PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: Massively parallel sequencing permitted not only the accurate detection of mutations but also the precise quantification of levels of mutations in cases of heteroplasmy. Sequence variants in the mtDNA were evaluated using Mitomaster and HmtVar to predict their potential impact. MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: The relative mtDNA CC content was significantly associated with BMI. No significant associations were observed between CC mtDNA quantity and patient age, female infertility diagnosis or any ART outcome variable. mtGenome sequencing revealed 4181 genetic variants with respect to a reference genome. The COXI locus contained the least number of coding sequence variants, whereas ATPase8 had the most. The number of variants predicted to affect the ATP production differed significantly between mitochondrial macrohaplogroups. The total number of retrieved oocytes was different between the H-V and J-T as well as the U-K and J-T macrohaplogroups. There was a non-significant increase in mtDNA levels in CCs with heteroplasmic mitochondrial mutations. LARGE SCALE DATA: N/A.
LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: Although a large number of samples were analysed in this study, it was not possible to analyse all the CCs from every patient. Also, the results obtained with respect to specific clinical outcomes and macrohaplogroups should be interpreted with caution due to the smaller sample sizes when subdividing the dataset. WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: These findings suggest that the analysis of mtDNA in CCs is unlikely to provide an advantage in terms of improved embryo selection during assisted reproduction cycles. Nonetheless, our data raise interesting biological questions, particularly regarding the interplay of metabolism and BMI and the association of mtDNA haplogroup with oocyte yield in ovarian stimulation cycles. STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S): This study was funded by National Institutes of Health grant 5R01HD092550-02. D.J.N. and C.R. co-hold patent US20150346100A1 and D.J.N. holds US20170039415A1, both for metabolic imaging methods. D.W
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Leahy B, Racowsky C, Needleman DJ. Inferring simple but precise quantitative models of human oocyte and early embryo development. Interface. 2021;18 (20210475).Abstract
Macroscopic, phenomenological models are useful as concise framings of our understandings in fields from statistical physics to finance to biology. Constructing a phenomenological model for development would provide a framework for understanding the complicated, regulatory nature of oogenesis and embryogenesis. Here, we use a data-driven approach to infer quantitative, precise models of human oocyte maturation and pre-implantation embryo development, by analysing clinical in-vitro fertilization (IVF) data on 7399 IVF cycles resulting in 57 827 embryos. Surprisingly, we find that both oocyte maturation and early embryo development are quantitatively described by simple models with minimal interactions. This simplicity suggests that oogenesis and embryogenesis are composed of modular processes that are relatively siloed from one another. In particular, our analysis provides strong evidence that (i) preantral follicles produce anti-Müllerian hormone independently of effects from other follicles, (ii) oocytes mature to metaphase-II independently of the woman’s age, her BMI and other factors, (iii) early embryo development is memoryless for the variables assessed here, in that the probability of an embryo transitioning from its current developmental stage to the next is independent of its previous stage. Our results both provide insight into the fundamentals of oogenesis and embryogenesis and have implications for the clinical IVF.
Venturas M, Yang X, Kumar K, Wells D, Rancowsky C, Needleman DJ. Metabolic imaging of human cumulus cells reveals associations among metabolic profiles of cumulus cells, patient clinical factors, and oocyte maturity. Fertility and Sterility. 2021.Abstract
Objective: To determine whether fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM) detects differences in metabolic state among cumulus cell samples and whether their metabolic state is associated with patient age, body mass index (BMI), and antimullerian hor- € mone (AMH) level and maturity of the oocyte. Design: Prospective observational study. Setting: Academic laboratory. Patient(s): Cumulus cell (CC) clusters from cumulus-oocyte complexes were collected from patients undergoing assisted reproductive technology treatment after oocyte retrieval and vitrified. Intervention(s): Cumulus cell metabolism was assessed using FLIM to measure autofluorescence of nicotinamide adenine (phosphate) dinucleotide and flavine adenine dinucleotide, endogenous coenzymes essential for cellular respiration and glycolysis. Patient age, BMI, and AMH level and the maturity of the corresponding oocytes were recorded. Main Outcome Measure(s): Quantitative information from FLIM was obtained regarding metabolite concentrations from fluorescence intensity and metabolite enzyme engagement from fluorescence lifetimes. Associations were investigated between each FLIM parameter and oocyte maturity and patient age, BMI, and AMH. Variance between CC clusters within and between patients was determined. Result(s): Of 619 CC clusters from 193 patients, 90 were associated with immature oocytes and 505 with metaphase II oocytes. FLIM enabled quantitative measurements of the metabolic state of CC clusters. These parameters were significantly correlated with patient age and AMH independently, but not with BMI. Cumulus cell nicotinamide adenine (phosphate) dinucleotide FLIM parameters and redox ratio were significantly associated with maturity of the enclosed oocyte. Conclusion(s): FLIM detects variations in the metabolic state of CCs, showing a greater variance among clusters from each patient than between patients. Fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy can detect CC metabolic associations with patient age and AMH and variations between mature and immature oocytes, suggesting the potential utility of this technique to help identify superior oocytes. (Fertil Steril 2021;-:-–-. 2021 by American Society for Reproductive Medicine.) Key Words: Cumulus cells, cumulus-oocyte complexes, fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy, human oocytes, maturity, metabolism
Lukyanenko S, Jang W-D, Wei D, Struyven R, Kim Y, Leahy B, Yang H, Rush A, Ben-Yose D, Needleman D, et al. Developmental Stage Classification of Embryos Using Two-Stream Neural Network with Linear-Chain Conditional Random Field. arXiv. 2021. Publisher's VersionAbstract
The developmental process of embryos follows a monotonic order. An embryo can progressively cleave from one cell to multiple cells and finally transform to morula and blastocyst. For time-lapse videos of embryos, most existing developmental stage classification methods conduct per-frame predictions using an image frame at each time step. However, classification using only images suffers from overlapping between cells and imbalance between stages. Temporal information can be valuable in addressing this problem by capturing movements between neighboring frames. In this work, we propose a two-stream model for developmental stage classification. Unlike previous methods, our twostream model accepts both temporal and image information. We develop a linear-chain conditional random field (CRF) on top of neural network features extracted from the temporal and image streams to make use of both modalities. The linear-chain CRF formulation enables tractable training of global sequential models over multiple frames while also making it possible to inject monotonic development order constraints into the learning process explicitly. We demonstrate our algorithm on two timelapse embryo video datasets: i) mouse and ii) human embryo datasets. Our method achieves 98.1% and 80.6% for mouse and human embryo stage classification, respectively. Our approach will enable more profound clinical and biological studies and suggests a new direction for developmental stage classification by utilizing temporal information.
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Yang X, Heminemannc M, Howard J, Hubere G, Iyer-Biswasf S, Treut GL, Lynch M, Montooth KL, Needleman DJ, Pigolotti S, et al. Physical bioenergetics: Energy fluxes, budgets, and constraints in cells. PNAS. 2021;118 (28).Abstract
Cells are the basic units of all living matter which harness the flow of energy to drive the processes of life. While the biochemical networks involved in energy transduction are well-characterized, the energetic costs and constraints for specific cellular processes remain largely unknown. In particular, what are the energy budgets of cells? What are the constraints and limits energy flows impose on cellular processes? Do cells operate near these limits, and if so how do energetic constraints impact cellular functions? Physics has provided many tools to study nonequilibrium systems and to define physical limits, but applying these tools to cell biology remains a challenge. Physical bioenergetics, which resides at the interface of nonequilibrium physics, energy metabolism, and cell biology, seeks to understand how much energy cells are using, how they partition this energy between different cellular processes, and the associated energetic constraints. Here we review recent advances and discuss open questions and challenges in physical bioenergetics.
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Anjur-Dietrich MI, Kelleher CP, Needleman DJ. Mechanical Mechanisms of Chromosome Segregation . Cells. 2021;10 (465). Download Article
Bae J, Zheng J, Zhang H, Foster PJ, Needleman DJ, Vlassak JJ. A Micromachined Picocalorimeter Sensor for Liquid Samples with Application to Chemical Reactions and Biochemistry. Advanced Science News. 2021;(2003415).Abstract
Calorimetry has long been used to probe the physical state of a system by measuring the heat exchanged with the environment as a result of chemical reactions or phase transitions. Application of calorimetry to microscale biological samples, however, is hampered by insufficient sensitivity and the difficulty of handling liquid samples at this scale. Here, a micromachined calorimeter sensor that is capable of resolving picowatt levels of power is described. The sensor consists of low-noise thermopiles on a thin silicon nitride membrane that allow direct differential temperature measurements between a sample and four coplanar references, which significantly reduces thermal drift. The partial pressure of water in the ambient around the sample is maintained at saturation level using a small hydrogel-lined enclosure. The materials used in the sensor and its geometry are optimized to minimize the noise equivalent power generated by the sensor in response to the temperature field that develops around a typical sample. The experimental response of the sensor is characterized as a function of thermopile dimensions and sample volume, and its capability is demonstrated by measuring the heat dissipated during an enzymatically catalyzed biochemical reaction in a microliter-sized liquid droplet. The sensor offers particular promise for quantitative measurements on biological systems
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Fürthauer S, Needleman DJ, Shelly MJ. A design framework for actively crosslinked filament networks. New Journal of Physics. 2021;(23).Abstract
Living matter moves, deforms, and organizes itself. In cells this is made possible by networks of
polymer filaments and crosslinking molecules that connect filaments to each other and that act as
motors to do mechanical work on the network. For the case of highly cross-linked filament
networks, we discuss how the material properties of assemblies emerge from the forces exerted by
microscopic agents. First, we introduce a phenomenological model that characterizes the forces
that crosslink populations exert between filaments. Second, we derive a theory that predicts the
material properties of highly crosslinked filament networks, given the crosslinks present. Third, we
discuss which properties of crosslinks set the material properties and behavior of highly
crosslinked cytoskeletal networks. The work presented here, will enable the better understanding
of cytoskeletal mechanics and its molecular underpinnings. This theory is also a first step toward a
theory of how molecular perturbations impact cytoskeletal organization, and provides a
framework for designing cytoskeletal networks with desirable properties in the lab.
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Tvergaard V, Needleman D, Needleman A. A mechanical model of blastocyst hatching. Extreme Mechanics Letters. 2021;42.Abstract
We develop a continuum mechanics model of blastocyst hatching. The blastocyst and the zona pellucida are modeled as concentric thick-walled initially spherical shells embedded in a viscous medium. Each shell is characterized by a nonlinear elastic–viscous–constitutive relation. The stiffer outer shell (the zona pellucida) contains an opening. The softer inner shell (the blastocyst) is subject to a continually increasing pressure, which can eventually drive the escape of the inner shell from the outer shell (‘‘hatching’’). The focus is on the continuum mechanics modeling framework and illustrating the sort of quantitative predictions that can be made. Numerical examples are presented for the predicted dependence of the evolution of the escape process on values of parameters characterizing the constitutive response of the shells, on the viscosity of the external medium and on the size of the opening in the zona pellucida.
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Farhadifar R, Yu C-H, Fabig G, Wu H-Y, Stein DB, Rockman M, Müller-Reichert T, Shelley MJ, Needleman DJ. Stoichiometric interactions explain spindle dynamics and scaling across 100 million years of nematode evolution. eLife. 2020.Abstract
The spindle shows remarkable diversity, and changes in an integrated fashion, as cells vary over evolution. Here, we provide a mechanistic explanation for variations in the first mitotic spindle in nematodes. We used a combination of quantitative genetics and biophysics to rule out broad classes of models of the regulation of spindle length and dynamics, and to establish the importance of a balance of cortical pulling forces acting in different directions. These experiments led us to construct a model of cortical pulling forces in which the stoichiometric interactions of microtubules and force generators (each force generator can bind only one microtubule), is key to explaining the dynamics of spindle positioning and elongation, and spindle final length and scaling with cell size. This model accounts for variations in all the spindle traits we studied here, both within species and across nematode species spanning over 100 million years of evolution.
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Seidler EA, Sanchez T, Venturas M, Sakkas D, Needleman DJ. Non-invasive imaging of mouse embryo metabolism in response to induced hypoxia. Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics. 2020. Publisher's VersionAbstract


This study used noninvasive, fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM)-based imaging of NADH and FAD to characterize the metabolic response of mouse embryos to short-term oxygen deprivation. We investigated the response to hypoxia at various preimplantation stages.


Mouse oocytes and embryos were exposed to transient hypoxia by dropping the oxygen concentration in media from 5–0% over the course of ~1.5 h, then 5% O2 was restored. During this time, FLIM-based metabolic imaging measurements of oocyte/embryo cohorts were taken every 3 minutes. Experiments were performed in triplicate for oocytes and embryos at the 1- to 8-cell, morula, and blastocyst stages. Maximum hypoxia response for each of eight measured quantitative FLIM parameters was taken from the time points immediately before oxygen restoration.


Metabolic profiles showed significant changes in response to hypoxia for all stages of embryo development. The response of the eight measured FLIM parameters to hypoxia was highly stage-dependent. Of the eight FLIM parameters measured, NADH and FAD intensity showed the most dramatic metabolic responses in early developmental stages. At later stages, however, other parameters, such as NADH fraction engaged and FAD lifetimes, showed greater changes. Metabolic parameter values generally returned to baseline with the restoration of 5% oxygen.


Quantitative FLIM-based metabolic imaging was highly sensitive to metabolic changes induced by hypoxia. Metabolic response profiles to oxygen deprivation were distinct at different stages, reflecting differences in metabolic plasticity as preimplantation embryos develop.

Leahy BD, Jang W-D, Yang HY, Struyven R, Wei D, Sun Z, Lee KR, Royston C, Cam L, Kalma Y, et al. Automated Measurements of Key Morphological Features of Human Embryos for IVF. arXiv. 2020. Publisher's VersionAbstract
A major challenge in clinical In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is selecting the highest quality embryo to transfer to the patient in the hopes of achieving a pregnancy. Time-lapse microscopy provides clinicians with a wealth of information for selecting embryos. However, the resulting movies of embryos are currently analyzed manually, which is time consuming and subjective. Here, we automate feature extraction of timelapse microscopy of human embryos with a machine-learning pipeline of five convolutional neural networks (CNNs). Our pipeline consists of (1) semantic segmentation of the regions of the embryo, (2) regression predictions of fragment severity, (3) classification of the developmental stage, and object instance segmentation of (4) cells and (5) pronuclei. Our approach greatly speeds up the measurement of quantitative, biologically relevant features that may aid in embryo selection. Please see here for more information: