Common Western Blotting Questions, Answered

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Fluorescence imaging Quantification Troubleshooting Western Blotting

Western blotting is a widely used analytical technique that can identify one or more specific proteins in a complex mixture of proteins. It is a powerful tool that provides information about the presence, size, and under the right conditions, even the amount of a protein. Though commonly used and often routine in many labs, Western blotting can be source of frustration when it doesn’t work. It involves several steps (Figure 1), each of which needs to be optimized to achieve the best results. The key to the best Westerns is understanding the process. As a leading manufacturer of Western blot imaging systems, we’re here to help. Here are some answers to your most commonly asked Western blotting questions.

Answers to common Western blotting questions

Several options are available to detect Western blots, with chemiluminescence as a common option. Other means of detection include fluorescence, near-infrared fluorescence, colorimetric, and radioactive.

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What reagents do you need for Western bloting?

The reagents needed for Western blotting include a range of essential components, such as enhancing buffers, transfer solutions, stripping buffers, and substrates for fluorescent and chemiluminescent detection. Azure is a one-stop shop for Western blotting, offering reagents and imaging systems for detection of proteins on Western blots. Save the graphic below so you can always make sure you have the correct reagents for your next Western blot.

Western blotting steps with reagents listed
Figure 1. List of comprehensive Western blotting steps with reagents listed

Why are black dots showing on my Western blot?

If black dots are appearing on your Western blot, there may be impurities in the detection antibody you used. You can fix this by filtering the blocking reagent before using. Black dots could also mean there are aggregates in your secondary antibodies; again, filter your secondaries before use. Black dots could also appear due to aggressive stripping techniques.

What is chemiluminescent detection?

Chemiluminescent detection is a method of detecting the location of antibodies bound to a Western blot. Chemiluminescent detection relies on an enzyme, either horseradish peroxidase or alkaline phosphatase, bound to an antibody. The enzyme converts a substrate to a product that emits light (chemiluminescence). The light emitted can be detected using a CCD camera or on X-ray film after processing in a darkroom.

Depiction of chemiluminescent Western blot signal
Chemiluminescent Western blotting- one signal, one protein. In chemiluminescent detection, the antigen-primary antibody complex is bound by a secondary antibody conjugated to an enzyme, such as horseradish peroxidase (HRP). The enzyme catalyzes a reaction that generates light in the presence of a luminescent substrate, and the light can be detected either by exposure to x-ray film or by a CCD-based imaging system.

Developing film can be time consuming, requires access to a dedicated darkroom with appropriate equipment, and necessitates repeated purchase of reagents and single-use film. Digital imaging circumvents the development process altogether and allows labs to leave the darkroom behind. In addition to reducing the waste associated with developing film, digital imaging is more sensitive and provides a larger linear dynamic range than X-ray film. These attributes allow quantitative information to be obtained from Western blots.

What's more sensitive: chemiluminescence or fluorescence?

In general, fluorescent detection can detect picograms of protein while chemiluminescence can detect protein in the femtogram range.

However, sensitivity of detection depends on many things. The ability to detect small amounts of target protein requires a high-quality primary antibody with high affinity and specificity for the target protein. In addition, with CCD cameras, very long exposures are possible to maximize the chance of detecting a low-abundance band but this requires minimizing background “noise” on the Western blot. In addition, different fluorophores have different quantum yields, and some HRP substrates are engineered to increase sensitivity, so the sensitivity of fluorescent detection depends on the specific fluorophore used, and the sensitivity of chemiluminescent detection depends on the substrate used.

Radiance Q is a chemiluminescent substrate that is designed to produce a strong, long-lasting signal for large linear dynamic range and quantitative data.

Continue readingBeginning Chemiluminescent Western Blotting

Shop chemiluminescent substratesRadiance Q

What are the advantages of using fluorescent Western blot vs. chemiluminescent Western blot?

There are many advantages to using fluorescence to detect Western blots over chemiluminescence. The first being that fluorescent Western blotting gives you the ability to multiplex (Figure 2), which uses different fluorescent dyes with non-overlapping excitation and emission spectra, so multiple proteins can be assayed on one blot without needing to strip and re-probe the blot.

Diagram of how fluorescent Western blotting can detect two proteins in two spectrally different channels.
Figure 2. Multiplex detection is possible by using two or more fluorescent dyes and an instrument that can excite and detect the light from each dye.

Fluorescent detection is also more quantitative than its chemiluminescent counterpart when it comes to Western blots. Because chemiluminescent detection relies on an enzyme (HRP or AP) bound to the antibody, the activity of the enzyme can change depending on conditions and as the amount of substrate changes. Fluorescent detection relies on the emission of light from a fluorescent probe bound to the antibody. The fluorescence intensity will only depend on the number of fluorescent molecules present in a given spot.

What is a chemiluminescent substrate?

Chemiluminescent substrates are made of a stable peroxide solution and an enhanced substrate solution that produce light in the presence of HRP and hydrogen peroxide. An example of a chemiluminescent substrate is luminol.

An example of a chemiluminescent substrate is luminol (Figure 3), which is oxidized to 3-aminophthalate which emits light (chemiluminescence) that can be detected using a digital imager with a CCD or CMOS camera, or on X-ray film using a darkroom.

luminol chemical formula
Figure 3. Luminol chemical formula. It is oxidized to 3-aminophthalate which emits light (chemiluminescence) that can be detected on X-ray film or by a CCD camera.

Is HRP a chemiluminescent substrate?

No! HRP is not a chemiluminescent substrate. Even though HRP is an important component of chemiluminescent detection, it stands for horseradish peroxidase. HRP is an enzyme that’s isolated from the roots of the horseradish plant. HRP catalyzes the oxidation of substrates, transferring electrons from the substrate to peroxide. In chemiluminescent Western blot detection, HRP is conjugated to an antibody. The location of the antibody on a blot is then detected by incubating the blot with a substrate that will produce light after it is oxidized by the HRP enzyme.

Diagram illustrating the principles of chemiluminescent Western blotting
The principle of chemiluminescent Western blotting

Azure developed the chemiSOLO to make digital chemiluminescent imaging accessible to every lab. It is a personal Western blot imager that’s able to easily and quickly image chemiluminescent Western blots. chemiSOLO does so without needing a designated laptop of computer- you’re able to use any smartphone or tablet.

chemiSOLO is the first imager of its kind on the market! Get a quote for chemiSOLO by clicking here or filling out the form below. We have an imager for most applications. Explore all imaging systems from Azure Biosystems.

Azure chemisolo next to a hand using a mobile device to connect
A unique web browser interface allows the chemiSOLO to be controlled by phone, tablet, or PC, without the need to install any additional software.

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