Enveloped viruses utilize membrane glycoproteins on their surface to mediate entry into host cells. Three-dimensional structural analysis of these glycoprotein ‘spikes’ is often technically challenging but important for understanding viral pathogenesis and in drug design. Here, a protocol is presented for viral spike structure determination through computational averaging of electron cryo-tomography data. Electron cryo-tomography is a technique in electron microscopy used to derive three-dimensional tomographic volume reconstructions, or tomograms, of pleomorphic biological specimens such as membrane viruses in a near-native, frozen-hydrated state. These tomograms reveal structures of interest in three dimensions, albeit at low resolution. Computational averaging of sub-volumes, or sub-tomograms, is necessary to obtain higher resolution detail of repeating structural motifs, such as viral glycoprotein spikes. A detailed computational approach for aligning and averaging sub-tomograms using the Jsubtomo software package is outlined. This approach enables visualization of the structure of viral glycoprotein spikes to a resolution in the range of 20-40 Å and study of the study of higher order spike-to-spike interactions on the virion membrane. Typical results are presented for Bunyamwera virus, an enveloped virus from the family Bunyaviridae. This family is a structurally diverse group of pathogens posing a threat to human and animal health.
15 Related JoVE Articles!
Helical Organization of Blood Coagulation Factor VIII on Lipid Nanotubes
Institutions: University of Texas Medical Branch, University of Texas Medical Branch, University of Texas Medical Branch.
Cryo-electron microscopy (Cryo-EM)1
is a powerful approach to investigate the functional structure of proteins and complexes in a hydrated state and membrane environment2
Coagulation Factor VIII (FVIII)3
is a multi-domain blood plasma glycoprotein. Defect or deficiency of FVIII is the cause for Hemophilia type A - a severe bleeding disorder. Upon proteolytic activation, FVIII binds to the serine protease Factor IXa on the negatively charged platelet membrane, which is critical for normal blood clotting4
. Despite the pivotal role FVIII plays in coagulation, structural information for its membrane-bound state is incomplete5
. Recombinant FVIII concentrate is the most effective drug against Hemophilia type A and commercially available FVIII can be expressed as human or porcine, both forming functional complexes with human Factor IXa6,7
In this study we present a combination of Cryo-electron microscopy (Cryo-EM), lipid nanotechnology and structure analysis applied to resolve the membrane-bound structure of two highly homologous FVIII forms: human and porcine. The methodology developed in our laboratory to helically organize the two functional recombinant FVIII forms on negatively charged lipid nanotubes (LNT) is described. The representative results demonstrate that our approach is sufficiently sensitive to define the differences in the helical organization between the two highly homologous in sequence (86% sequence identity) proteins. Detailed protocols for the helical organization, Cryo-EM and electron tomography (ET) data acquisition are given. The two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) structure analysis applied to obtain the 3D reconstructions of human and porcine FVIII-LNT is discussed. The presented human and porcine FVIII-LNT structures show the potential of the proposed methodology to calculate the functional, membrane-bound organization of blood coagulation Factor VIII at high resolution.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, Cryo-electron microscopy, Lipid nanotubes, Helical assembly, Membrane-bound organization, Coagulation factor VIII
Visualization of ATP Synthase Dimers in Mitochondria by Electron Cryo-tomography
Institutions: Max Planck Institute of Biophysics.
Electron cryo-tomography is a powerful tool in structural biology, capable of visualizing the three-dimensional structure of biological samples, such as cells, organelles, membrane vesicles, or viruses at molecular detail. To achieve this, the aqueous sample is rapidly vitrified in liquid ethane, which preserves it in a close-to-native, frozen-hydrated state. In the electron microscope, tilt series are recorded at liquid nitrogen temperature, from which 3D tomograms are reconstructed. The signal-to-noise ratio of the tomographic volume is inherently low. Recognizable, recurring features are enhanced by subtomogram averaging, by which individual subvolumes are cut out, aligned and averaged to reduce noise. In this way, 3D maps with a resolution of 2 nm or better can be obtained. A fit of available high-resolution structures to the 3D volume then produces atomic models of protein complexes in their native environment. Here we show how we use electron cryo-tomography to study the in situ
organization of large membrane protein complexes in mitochondria. We find that ATP synthases are organized in rows of dimers along highly curved apices of the inner membrane cristae, whereas complex I is randomly distributed in the membrane regions on either side of the rows. By subtomogram averaging we obtained a structure of the mitochondrial ATP synthase dimer within the cristae membrane.
Structural Biology, Issue 91, electron microscopy, electron cryo-tomography, mitochondria, ultrastructure, membrane structure, membrane protein complexes, ATP synthase, energy conversion, bioenergetics
Correlative Microscopy for 3D Structural Analysis of Dynamic Interactions
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Cryo-electron tomography (cryoET) allows 3D visualization of cellular structures at molecular resolution in a close-to-physiological state1
. However, direct visualization of individual viral complexes in their host cellular environment with cryoET is challenging2
, due to the infrequent and dynamic nature of viral entry, particularly in the case of HIV-1. While time-lapse live-cell imaging has yielded a great deal of information about many aspects of the life cycle of HIV-13-7
, the resolution afforded by live-cell microscopy is limited (~ 200 nm). Our work was aimed at developing a correlation method that permits direct visualization of early events of HIV-1 infection by combining live-cell fluorescent light microscopy, cryo-fluorescent microscopy, and cryoET. In this manner, live-cell and cryo-fluorescent signals can be used to accurately guide the sampling in cryoET. Furthermore, structural information obtained from cryoET can be complemented with the dynamic functional data gained through live-cell imaging of fluorescent labeled target.
In this video article, we provide detailed methods and protocols for structural investigation of HIV-1 and host-cell interactions using 3D correlative high-speed live-cell imaging and high-resolution cryoET structural analysis. HeLa cells infected with HIV-1 particles were characterized first by confocal live-cell microscopy, and the region containing the same viral particle was then analyzed by cryo-electron tomography for 3D structural details. The correlation between two sets of imaging data, optical imaging and electron imaging, was achieved using a home-built cryo-fluorescence light microscopy stage. The approach detailed here will be valuable, not only for study of virus-host cell interactions, but also for broader applications in cell biology, such as cell signaling, membrane receptor trafficking, and many other dynamic cellular processes.
Bioengineering, Issue 76, Molecular Biology, Structural Biology, Virology, Biophysics, Cellular Biology, Physiology, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Infection, Microbiology, Technology, Industry, Agriculture, Life Sciences (General), Correlative microscopy, CryoET, Cryo-electron tomography, Confocal live-cell imaging, Cryo-fluorescence light microscopy, HIV-1, capsid, HeLa cell, cell, virus, microscopy, imaging
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g.
, signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation.
The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
Cryo-electron Microscopy Specimen Preparation By Means Of a Focused Ion Beam
Institutions: Uppsala University, Gatan Inc., Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, University of Oslo.
Here we present a protocol used to prepare cryo-TEM samples of Aspergillus niger
spores, but which can easily be adapted for any number of microorganisms or solutions. We make use of a custom built cryo-transfer station and a modified cryo-SEM preparation chamber2
. The spores are taken from a culture, plunge-frozen in a liquid nitrogen slush and observed in the cryo-SEM to select a region of interest. A thin lamella is then extracted using the FIB, attached to a TEM grid and subsequently thinned to electron transparency. The grid is transferred to a cryo-TEM holder and into a TEM for high resolution studies. Thanks to the introduction of a cooled nanomanipulator tip and a cryo-transfer station, this protocol is a straightforward adaptation to cryogenic temperature of the routinely used FIB preparation of TEM samples. As such it has the advantages of requiring a small amount of modifications to existing instruments, setups and procedures; it is easy to implement; it has a broad range of applications, in principle the same as for cryo-TEM sample preparation. One limitation is that it requires skillful handling of the specimens at critical steps to avoid or minimize contaminations.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, Cryoelectron Microscopy, Life Sciences (General), Cryo-microscopy, Focused ion beam, Sample preparation, TEM, FIB
Optimized Negative Staining: a High-throughput Protocol for Examining Small and Asymmetric Protein Structure by Electron Microscopy
Institutions: The Molecular Foundry.
Structural determination of proteins is rather challenging for proteins with molecular masses between 40 - 200 kDa. Considering that more than half of natural proteins have a molecular mass between 40 - 200 kDa1,2
, a robust and high-throughput method with a nanometer resolution capability is needed. Negative staining (NS) electron microscopy (EM) is an easy, rapid, and qualitative approach which has frequently been used in research laboratories to examine protein structure and protein-protein interactions. Unfortunately, conventional NS protocols often generate structural artifacts on proteins, especially with lipoproteins that usually form presenting rouleaux artifacts. By using images of lipoproteins from cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) as a standard, the key parameters in NS specimen preparation conditions were recently screened and reported as the optimized NS protocol (OpNS), a modified conventional NS protocol 3
. Artifacts like rouleaux can be greatly limited by OpNS, additionally providing high contrast along with reasonably high‐resolution (near 1 nm) images of small and asymmetric proteins. These high-resolution and high contrast images are even favorable for an individual protein (a single object, no average) 3D reconstruction, such as a 160 kDa antibody, through the method of electron tomography4,5
. Moreover, OpNS can be a high‐throughput tool to examine hundreds of samples of small proteins. For example, the previously published mechanism of 53 kDa cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) involved the screening and imaging of hundreds of samples 6
. Considering cryo-EM rarely successfully images proteins less than 200 kDa has yet to publish any study involving screening over one hundred sample conditions, it is fair to call OpNS a high-throughput method for studying small proteins. Hopefully the OpNS protocol presented here can be a useful tool to push the boundaries of EM and accelerate EM studies into small protein structure, dynamics and mechanisms.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, small and asymmetric protein structure, electron microscopy, optimized negative staining
FtsZ Polymerization Assays: Simple Protocols and Considerations
Institutions: University of Groningen.
During bacterial cell division, the essential protein FtsZ assembles in the middle of the cell to form the so-called Z-ring. FtsZ polymerizes into long filaments in the presence of GTP in vitro
, and polymerization is regulated by several accessory proteins. FtsZ polymerization has been extensively studied in vitro
using basic methods including light scattering, sedimentation, GTP hydrolysis assays and electron microscopy. Buffer conditions influence both the polymerization properties of FtsZ, and the ability of FtsZ to interact with regulatory proteins. Here, we describe protocols for FtsZ polymerization studies and validate conditions and controls using Escherichia coli
and Bacillus subtilis
FtsZ as model proteins. A low speed sedimentation assay is introduced that allows the study of the interaction of FtsZ with proteins that bundle or tubulate FtsZ polymers. An improved GTPase assay protocol is described that allows testing of GTP hydrolysis over time using various conditions in a 96-well plate setup, with standardized incubation times that abolish variation in color development in the phosphate detection reaction. The preparation of samples for light scattering studies and electron microscopy is described. Several buffers are used to establish suitable buffer pH and salt concentration for FtsZ polymerization studies. A high concentration of KCl is the best for most of the experiments. Our methods provide a starting point for the in vitro
characterization of FtsZ, not only from E. coli
and B. subtilis
but from any other bacterium. As such, the methods can be used for studies of the interaction of FtsZ with regulatory proteins or the testing of antibacterial drugs which may affect FtsZ polymerization.
Basic Protocols, Issue 81, FtsZ, protein polymerization, cell division, GTPase, sedimentation assay, light scattering
Analyzing Protein Dynamics Using Hydrogen Exchange Mass Spectrometry
Institutions: University of Heidelberg.
All cellular processes depend on the functionality of proteins. Although the functionality of a given protein is the direct consequence of its unique amino acid sequence, it is only realized by the folding of the polypeptide chain into a single defined three-dimensional arrangement or more commonly into an ensemble of interconverting conformations. Investigating the connection between protein conformation and its function is therefore essential for a complete understanding of how proteins are able to fulfill their great variety of tasks. One possibility to study conformational changes a protein undergoes while progressing through its functional cycle is hydrogen-1
H-exchange in combination with high-resolution mass spectrometry (HX-MS). HX-MS is a versatile and robust method that adds a new dimension to structural information obtained by e.g.
crystallography. It is used to study protein folding and unfolding, binding of small molecule ligands, protein-protein interactions, conformational changes linked to enzyme catalysis, and allostery. In addition, HX-MS is often used when the amount of protein is very limited or crystallization of the protein is not feasible. Here we provide a general protocol for studying protein dynamics with HX-MS and describe as an example how to reveal the interaction interface of two proteins in a complex.
Chemistry, Issue 81, Molecular Chaperones, mass spectrometers, Amino Acids, Peptides, Proteins, Enzymes, Coenzymes, Protein dynamics, conformational changes, allostery, protein folding, secondary structure, mass spectrometry
Preparation of Primary Neurons for Visualizing Neurites in a Frozen-hydrated State Using Cryo-Electron Tomography
Institutions: Baylor College of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, University of California at San Diego, Baylor College of Medicine.
Neurites, both dendrites and axons, are neuronal cellular processes that enable the conduction of electrical impulses between neurons. Defining the structure of neurites is critical to understanding how these processes move materials and signals that support synaptic communication. Electron microscopy (EM) has been traditionally used to assess the ultrastructural features within neurites; however, the exposure to organic solvent during dehydration and resin embedding can distort structures. An important unmet goal is the formulation of procedures that allow for structural evaluations not impacted by such artifacts.
Here, we have established a detailed and reproducible protocol for growing and flash-freezing whole neurites of different primary neurons on electron microscopy grids followed by their examination with cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET). This technique allows for 3-D visualization of frozen, hydrated neurites at nanometer resolution, facilitating assessment of their morphological differences. Our protocol yields an unprecedented view of dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurites, and a visualization of hippocampal neurites in their near-native state. As such, these methods create a foundation for future studies on neurites of both normal neurons and those impacted by neurological disorders.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, Neurons, Cryo-electron Microscopy, Electron Microscope Tomography, Brain, rat, primary neuron culture, morphological assay
Reconstitution of a Kv Channel into Lipid Membranes for Structural and Functional Studies
Institutions: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.
To study the lipid-protein interaction in a reductionistic fashion, it is necessary to incorporate the membrane proteins into membranes of well-defined lipid composition. We are studying the lipid-dependent gating effects in a prototype voltage-gated potassium (Kv) channel, and have worked out detailed procedures to reconstitute the channels into different membrane systems. Our reconstitution procedures take consideration of both detergent-induced fusion of vesicles and the fusion of protein/detergent micelles with the lipid/detergent mixed micelles as well as the importance of reaching an equilibrium distribution of lipids among the protein/detergent/lipid and the detergent/lipid mixed micelles. Our data suggested that the insertion of the channels in the lipid vesicles is relatively random in orientations, and the reconstitution efficiency is so high that no detectable protein aggregates were seen in fractionation experiments. We have utilized the reconstituted channels to determine the conformational states of the channels in different lipids, record electrical activities of a small number of channels incorporated in planar lipid bilayers, screen for conformation-specific ligands from a phage-displayed peptide library, and support the growth of 2D crystals of the channels in membranes. The reconstitution procedures described here may be adapted for studying other membrane proteins in lipid bilayers, especially for the investigation of the lipid effects on the eukaryotic voltage-gated ion channels.
Molecular Biology, Issue 77, Biochemistry, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Structural Biology, Biophysics, Membrane Lipids, Phospholipids, Carrier Proteins, Membrane Proteins, Micelles, Molecular Motor Proteins, life sciences, biochemistry, Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, lipid-protein interaction, channel reconstitution, lipid-dependent gating, voltage-gated ion channel, conformation-specific ligands, lipids
Visualizing Proteins and Macromolecular Complexes by Negative Stain EM: from Grid Preparation to Image Acquisition
Institutions: University of California San Francisco , University of California San Francisco .
Single particle electron microscopy (EM), of both negative stained or frozen hydrated biological samples, has become a versatile tool in structural biology 1
. In recent years, this method has achieved great success in studying structures of proteins and macromolecular complexes 2, 3
. Compared with electron cryomicroscopy (cryoEM), in which frozen hydrated protein samples are embedded in a thin layer of vitreous ice 4
, negative staining is a simpler sample preparation method in which protein samples are embedded in a thin layer of dried heavy metal salt to increase specimen contrast 5
. The enhanced contrast of negative stain EM allows examination of relatively small biological samples. In addition to determining three-dimensional (3D) structure of purified proteins or protein complexes 6
, this method can be used for much broader purposes. For example, negative stain EM can be easily used to visualize purified protein samples, obtaining information such as homogeneity/heterogeneity of the sample, formation of protein complexes or large assemblies, or simply to evaluate the quality of a protein preparation.
In this video article, we present a complete protocol for using an EM to observe negatively stained protein sample, from preparing carbon coated grids for negative stain EM to acquiring images of negatively stained sample in an electron microscope operated at 120kV accelerating voltage. These protocols have been used in our laboratory routinely and can be easily followed by novice users.
Bioengineering, Issue 58, Electron Microscopy, EM, cryoEM, protein, negative stain, 3D structures
Structure of HIV-1 Capsid Assemblies by Cryo-electron Microscopy and Iterative Helical Real-space Reconstruction
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), combined with image processing, is an increasingly powerful tool for structure determination of macromolecular protein complexes and assemblies. In fact, single particle electron microscopy1
and two-dimensional (2D) electron crystallography2
have become relatively routine methodologies and a large number of structures have been solved using these methods. At the same time, image processing and three-dimensional (3D) reconstruction of helical objects has rapidly developed, especially, the iterative helical real-space reconstruction (IHRSR) method3
, which uses single particle analysis tools in conjunction with helical symmetry. Many biological entities function in filamentous or helical forms, including actin filaments4
, amyloid fibers6
, tobacco mosaic viruses7
, and bacteria flagella8
, and, because a 3D density map of a helical entity can be attained from a single projection image, compared to the many images required for 3D reconstruction of a non-helical object, with the IHRSR method, structural analysis of such flexible and disordered helical assemblies is now attainable.
In this video article, we provide detailed protocols for obtaining a 3D density map of a helical protein assembly (HIV-1 capsid9
is our example), including protocols for cryo-EM specimen preparation, low dose data collection by cryo-EM, indexing of helical diffraction patterns, and image processing and 3D reconstruction using IHRSR. Compared to other techniques, cryo-EM offers optimal specimen preservation under near native conditions. Samples are embedded in a thin layer of vitreous ice, by rapid freezing, and imaged in electron microscopes at liquid nitrogen temperature, under low dose conditions to minimize the radiation damage. Sample images are obtained under near native conditions at the expense of low signal and low contrast in the recorded micrographs. Fortunately, the process of helical reconstruction has largely been automated, with the exception of indexing the helical diffraction pattern. Here, we describe an approach to index helical structure and determine helical symmetries (helical parameters) from digitized micrographs, an essential step for 3D helical reconstruction. Briefly, we obtain an initial 3D density map by applying the IHRSR method. This initial map is then iteratively refined by introducing constraints for the alignment parameters of each segment, thus controlling their degrees of freedom. Further improvement is achieved by correcting for the contrast transfer function (CTF) of the electron microscope (amplitude and phase correction) and by optimizing the helical symmetry of the assembly.
Immunology, Issue 54, cryo-electron microscopy, helical indexing, helical real-space reconstruction, tubular assemblies, HIV-1 capsid
Low-Cost Cryo-Light Microscopy Stage Fabrication for Correlated Light/Electron Microscopy
Institutions: University of California Davis.
The coupling of cryo-light microscopy (cryo-LM) and cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) poses a number of advantages for understanding cellular
dynamics and ultrastructure. First, cells can be imaged in a near native environment for both techniques. Second, due to the vitrification process, samples are
preserved by rapid physical immobilization rather than slow chemical fixation. Third, imaging the same sample with both cryo-LM and cryo-EM provides correlation of
data from a single cell, rather than a comparison of "representative samples". While these benefits are well known from prior studies, the widespread use of correlative
cryo-LM and cryo-EM remains limited due to the expense and complexity of buying or building a suitable cryogenic light microscopy stage. Here we demonstrate the
assembly, and use of an inexpensive cryogenic stage that can be fabricated in any lab for less than $40 with parts found at local hardware and grocery stores. This
cryo-LM stage is designed for use with reflected light microscopes that are fitted with long working distance air objectives. For correlative cryo-LM and cryo-EM
studies, we adapt the use of carbon coated standard 3-mm cryo-EM grids as specimen supports. After adsorbing the sample to the grid, previously established protocols
for vitrifying the sample and transferring/handling the grid are followed to permit multi-technique imaging. As a result, this setup allows any laboratory with a
reflected light microscope to have access to direct correlative imaging of frozen hydrated samples.
Cellular Biology, Issue 52, cryo-light microscopy, cryogenic stage, CLEM, cryo-fluorescence, multi-resolution microscopy, cryo-electron microscopy
Determination of Molecular Structures of HIV Envelope Glycoproteins using Cryo-Electron Tomography and Automated Sub-tomogram Averaging
Institutions: National Institutes of Health, University of Cambridge , National Institutes of Health, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, William Fremd High School, University of Virginia , Duke University , Yale University, University of Notre Dame , Washington University in St. Louis , National Institutes of Health, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.
Since its discovery nearly 30 years ago, more than 60 million people have been infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) (www.usaid.gov). The virus infects and destroys CD4+ T-cells thereby crippling the immune system, and causing an acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) 2
. Infection begins when the HIV Envelope glycoprotein "spike" makes contact with the CD4 receptor on the surface of the CD4+ T-cell. This interaction induces a conformational change in the spike, which promotes interaction with a second cell surface co-receptor 5,9
. The significance of these protein interactions in the HIV infection pathway makes them of profound importance in fundamental HIV research, and in the pursuit of an HIV vaccine.
The need to better understand the molecular-scale interactions of HIV cell contact and neutralization motivated the development of a technique to determine the structures of the HIV spike interacting with cell surface receptor proteins and molecules that block infection. Using cryo-electron tomography and 3D image processing, we recently demonstrated the ability to determine such structures on the surface of native virus, at ˜20 Å resolution 9,14
. This approach is not limited to resolving HIV Envelope structures, and can be extended to other viral membrane proteins and proteins reconstituted on a liposome. In this protocol, we describe how to obtain structures of HIV envelope glycoproteins starting from purified HIV virions and proceeding stepwise through preparing vitrified samples, collecting, cryo-electron microscopy data, reconstituting and processing 3D data volumes, averaging and classifying 3D protein subvolumes, and interpreting results to produce a protein model. The computational aspects of our approach were adapted into modules that can be accessed and executed remotely using the Biowulf GNU/Linux parallel processing cluster at the NIH (http://biowulf.nih.gov). This remote access, combined with low-cost computer hardware and high-speed network access, has made possible the involvement of researchers and students working from school or home.
Immunology, Issue 58, HIV, Envelope glycoprotein, membrane protein, vaccine design, cryo-electron tomography, transmission electron microscopy, structural biology, high school science, scientific outreach, scientific visualization, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, National Library of Medicine
Single Particle Electron Microscopy Reconstruction of the Exosome Complex Using the Random Conical Tilt Method
Institutions: Yale University.
Single particle electron microscopy (EM) reconstruction has recently become a popular tool to get the three-dimensional (3D) structure of large macromolecular complexes. Compared to X-ray crystallography, it has some unique advantages. First, single particle EM reconstruction does not need to crystallize the protein sample, which is the bottleneck in X-ray crystallography, especially for large macromolecular complexes. Secondly, it does not need large amounts of protein samples. Compared with milligrams of proteins necessary for crystallization, single particle EM reconstruction only needs several micro-liters of protein solution at nano-molar concentrations, using the negative staining EM method. However, despite a few macromolecular assemblies with high symmetry, single particle EM is limited at relatively low resolution (lower than 1 nm resolution) for many specimens especially those without symmetry. This technique is also limited by the size of the molecules under study, i.e. 100 kDa for negatively stained specimens and 300 kDa for frozen-hydrated specimens in general.
For a new sample of unknown structure, we generally use a heavy metal solution to embed the molecules by negative staining. The specimen is then examined in a transmission electron microscope to take two-dimensional (2D) micrographs of the molecules. Ideally, the protein molecules have a homogeneous 3D structure but exhibit different orientations in the micrographs. These micrographs are digitized and processed in computers as "single particles". Using two-dimensional alignment and classification techniques, homogenous molecules in the same views are clustered into classes. Their averages enhance the signal of the molecule's 2D shapes. After we assign the particles with the proper relative orientation (Euler angles), we will be able to reconstruct the 2D particle images into a 3D virtual volume.
In single particle 3D reconstruction, an essential step is to correctly assign the proper orientation of each single particle. There are several methods to assign the view for each particle, including the angular reconstitution1
and random conical tilt (RCT) method2
. In this protocol, we describe our practice in getting the 3D reconstruction of yeast exosome complex using negative staining EM and RCT. It should be noted that our protocol of electron microscopy and image processing follows the basic principle of RCT but is not the only way to perform the method. We first describe how to embed the protein sample into a layer of Uranyl-Formate with a thickness comparable to the protein size, using a holey carbon grid covered with a layer of continuous thin carbon film. Then the specimen is inserted into a transmission electron microscope to collect untilted (0-degree) and tilted (55-degree) pairs of micrographs that will be used later for processing and obtaining an initial 3D model of the yeast exosome. To this end, we perform RCT and then refine the initial 3D model by using the projection matching refinement method3
Structural Biology, Issue 49, Electron microscopy, single particle three-dimensional reconstruction, exosome complex, negative staining