Sensitive detection of proteopathic seeding activity with FRET flow cytometry

Jennifer L. Furman, Brandon B. Holmes, Marc I. Diamond

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Increasing evidence supports transcellular propagation of toxic protein aggregates, or proteopathic seeds, as a mechanism for the initiation and progression of pathology in several neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease and the related tauopathies. The potentially critical role of tau seeds in disease progression strongly supports the need for a sensitive assay that readily detects seeding activity in biological samples. By combining the specificity of fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET), the sensitivity of flow cytometry, and the stability of a monoclonal cell line, an ultra-sensitive seeding assay has been engineered and is compatible with seed detection from recombinant or biological samples, including human and mouse brain homogenates. The assay employs monoclonal HEK 293T cells that stably express the aggregation-prone repeat domain (RD) of tau harboring the disease-associated P301S mutation fused to either CFP or YFP, which produce a FRET signal upon protein aggregation. The uptake of proteopathic tau seeds (but not other proteins) into the biosensor cells stimulates aggregation of RD- CFP and RD-YFP, and flow cytometry sensitively and quantitatively monitors this aggregation-induced FRET. The assay detects femtomolar concentrations (monomer equivalent) of recombinant tau seeds, has a dynamic range spanning three orders of magnitude, and is compatible with brain homogenates from tauopathy transgenic mice and human tauopathy subjects. With slight modifications, the assay can also detect seeding activity of other proteopathic seeds, such as a-synuclein, and is also compatible with primary neuronal cultures. The ease, sensitivity, and broad applicability of FRET flow cytometry makes it useful to study a wide range of protein aggregation disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere53205
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number106
StatePublished - Dec 8 2015


  • Bioengineering
  • FRET
  • Flow cytometry
  • Huntingtin
  • Issue 106
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Prion
  • Protein aggregation
  • Seeding
  • Synuclein
  • Tau
  • Transcellular propagation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Chemical Engineering(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)


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