Novel cell- and tissue-based assays for detecting misfolded and aggregated protein accumulation within aggresomes and inclusion bodies

Cell Biochem Biophys. 2011 Jul;60(3):173-85. doi: 10.1007/s12013-010-9138-4.


Aggresomes and related inclusion bodies appear to serve as storage depots for misfolded and aggregated proteins within cells, which can potentially be degraded by the autophagy pathway. A homogenous fluorescence-based assay was devised to detect aggregated proteins inside aggresomes and inclusion bodies within an authentic cellular context. The assay employs a novel red fluorescent molecular rotor dye, which is essentially nonfluorescent until it binds to structural features associated with the aggregated protein cargo. Aggresomes and related structures were generated within cultured cells using various potent, cell permeable, proteasome inhibitors: MG-132, lactacystin, epoxomicin and bortezomib, and then selectively detected with the fluorescent probe. Employing the probe in combination with various fluorescein-labeled primary antibodies facilitated co-localization of key components of the autophagy system (ubiquitin, p62, and LC3) with aggregated protein cargo by fluorescence microscopy. Furthermore, cytoplasmic aggregates were highlighted in SK-N-SH human neuroblastoma cells incubated with exogenously supplied amyloid beta peptide 1-42. SMER28, a small molecule modulator of autophagy acting via an mTOR-independent mechanism, prevented the accumulation of amyloid beta peptide within these cells. The described assay allows assessment of the effects of protein aggregation directly in cells, without resorting to the use of non-physiological protein mutations or genetically engineered cell lines. With minor modification, the assay was also adapted to the analysis of frozen or formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissue sections, with demonstration of co-localization of aggregated cargo with β-amyloid and tau proteins in brain tissue sections from Alzheimer's disease patients.

MeSH terms

  • Autophagy
  • Benzothiazoles
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique, Indirect / methods*
  • Fluorescent Dyes / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Inclusion Bodies / metabolism*
  • Leupeptins / chemistry
  • Leupeptins / pharmacology
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex / metabolism
  • Proteasome Inhibitors
  • Protein Folding
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Thiazoles / chemistry
  • Ubiquitination


  • Benzothiazoles
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Leupeptins
  • Proteasome Inhibitors
  • Proteins
  • Thiazoles
  • thioflavin T
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex
  • benzyloxycarbonylleucyl-leucyl-leucine aldehyde