Cryo-EM Grid Preparation of Membrane Protein Samples for Single Particle Analysis.
ABSTRACT: Recent advances in cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) have made it possible to solve structures of biological macromolecules at near atomic resolution. Development of more stable microscopes, improved direct electron detectors and faster software for image processing has enabled structural solution of not only large macromolecular (megadalton range) complexes but also small (~60 kDa) proteins. As a result of the widespread use of the technique, we have also witnessed new developments of techniques for cryo-EM grid preparation of membrane protein samples. This includes new types of solubilization strategies that better stabilize these protein complexes and the development of new grid supports with proven efficacy in reducing the motion of the molecules during electron beam exposure. Here, we discuss the practicalities and recent challenges of membrane protein sample preparation and vitrification, as well as grid support and foil treatment in the context of the structure determination of protein complexes by single particle cryo-EM.
Project description:Although microscopes and image-analysis software for electron cryomicroscopy (cryo-EM) have improved dramatically in recent years, specimen-preparation methods have lagged behind. Most strategies still rely on blotting microscope grids with paper to produce a thin film of solution suitable for vitrification. This approach loses more than 99.9% of the applied sample and requires several seconds, leading to problematic air-water interface interactions for macromolecules in the resulting thin film of solution and complicating time-resolved studies. Recently developed self-wicking EM grids allow the use of small volumes of sample, with nanowires on the grid bars removing excess solution to produce a thin film within tens of milliseconds from sample application to freezing. Here, a simple cryo-EM specimen-preparation device that uses components from an ultrasonic humidifier to transfer protein solution onto a self-wicking EM grid is presented. The device is controlled by a Raspberry Pi single-board computer and all components are either widely available or can be manufactured by online services, allowing the device to be constructed in laboratories that specialize in cryo-EM rather than instrument design. The simple open-source design permits the straightforward customization of the instrument for specialized experiments.
Project description:Despite the great strides made in the field of single-particle cryogenic electron microscopy (cryo-EM) in microscope design, direct electron detectors and new processing suites, the area of sample preparation is still far from ideal. Traditionally, sample preparation involves blotting, which has been used to achieve high resolution, particularly for well behaved samples such as apoferritin. However, this approach is flawed since the blotting process can have adverse effects on some proteins and protein complexes, and the long blot time increases exposure to the damaging air-water interface. To overcome these problems, new blotless approaches have been designed for the direct deposition of the sample on the grid. Here, different methods of producing droplets for sample deposition are compared. Using gas dynamic virtual nozzles, small and high-velocity droplets were deposited on cryo-EM grids, which spread sufficiently for high-resolution cryo-EM imaging. For those wishing to pursue a similar approach, an overview is given of the current use of spray technology for cryo-EM grid preparation and areas for enhancement are pointed out. It is further shown how the broad aspects of sprayer design and operation conditions can be utilized to improve grid quality reproducibly.
Project description:Single particle cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) is an emerging powerful tool for structural studies of macromolecular assemblies (i.e., protein complexes and viruses). Although single particle cryo-EM requires less concentrated and smaller amounts of samples than X-ray crystallography, it remains challenging to study specimens that are low-abundance, low-yield, or short-lived. The recent development of affinity grid techniques can potentially further extend single particle cryo-EM to these challenging samples by combining sample purification and cryo-EM grid preparation into a single step. Here we report a new design of affinity cryo-EM approach, cryo-SPIEM, that applies a traditional pathogen diagnosis tool Solid Phase Immune Electron Microscopy (SPIEM) to the single particle cryo-EM method. This approach provides an alternative, largely simplified and easier to use affinity grid that directly works with most native macromolecular complexes with established antibodies, and enables cryo-EM studies of native samples directly from cell cultures. In the present work, we extensively tested the feasibility of cryo-SPIEM with multiple samples including those of high or low molecular weight, macromolecules with low or high symmetry, His-tagged or native particles, and high- or low-yield macromolecules. Results for all these samples (non-purified His-tagged bacteriophage T7, His-tagged Escherichiacoli ribosomes, native Sindbis virus, and purified but low-concentration native Tulane virus) demonstrated the capability of cryo-SPIEM approach in specifically trapping and concentrating target particles on TEM grids with minimal view constraints for cryo-EM imaging and determination of 3D structures.
Project description:Preferred particle orientation presents a major challenge for many single particle cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) samples. Orientation bias limits the angular information used to generate three-dimensional maps and thus affects the reliability and interpretability of the structural models. The primary cause of preferred orientation is presumed to be due to adsorption of the particles at the air/water interface during cryo-EM grid preparation. To ameliorate this problem, detergents are often added to cryo-EM samples to alter the properties of the air/water interface. We have found that many bacterial transcription complexes suffer severe orientation bias when examined by cryo-EM. The addition of non-ionic detergents, such as NP-40, does not remove the orientation bias but the Zwitter-ionic detergent CHAPSO significantly broadens the particle orientation distributions, yielding isotropically uniform maps. We used cryo-electron tomography to examine the particle distribution within the ice layer of cryo-EM grid preparations of Escherichia coli 6S RNA/RNA polymerase holoenzyme particles. In the absence of CHAPSO, essentially all of the particles are located at the ice surfaces. CHAPSO at the critical micelle concentration eliminates particle absorption at the air/water interface and allows particles to randomly orient in the vitreous ice layer. We find that CHAPSO eliminates orientation bias for a wide range of bacterial transcription complexes containing E. coli or Mycobacterium tuberculosis RNA polymerases. Findings of this study confirm the presumed basis for how detergents can help remove orientation bias in cryo-EM samples and establishes CHAPSO as a useful tool to facilitate cryo-EM studies of bacterial transcription complexes.
Project description:Over the last three decades, Cryo-TEM has developed into a powerful technique for high-resolution imaging of biological macromolecules in their native vitrified state. However, the method for vitrifying specimens onto EM grids is essentially unchanged - application of ?3 ?L sample to a grid, followed by blotting and rapid plunge freezing into liquid ethane. Several trials are often required to obtain suitable thin (few hundred nanometers or less) vitrified layers amenable for cryo-TEM imaging, which results in waste of precious sample and resources. While commercially available instruments provide some level of automation to control the vitrification process in an effort to increase quality and reproducibility, obtaining satisfactory vitrified specimens remains a bottleneck in the Cryo-TEM pipeline. We describe here a completely novel method for EM specimen preparation based on small volume (picoliter to nanoliter) dispensing using inkjet technology. A first prototype system (Spotiton v0.5) demonstrates feasibility of this new approach for specimen vitrification. A piezo-electric inkjet dispenser is integrated with optical real-time cameras (100 Hz frame rate) to analyze picoliter to nanoliter droplet profiles in-flight and spreading dynamics on the grid, and thus provides a method to optimize timing of the process. Using TEM imaging and biochemical assays we demonstrate that the piezo-electric inkjet mechanism does not disrupt the structural or functional integrity of macromolecules. These preliminary studies provide insight into the factors and components that will need further development to enable a robust and repeatable technique for specimen vitrification using this novel approach.
Project description:Affinity Grids are electron microscopy (EM) grids with a pre-deposited lipid monolayer containing functionalized nickel-nitrilotriacetic acid lipids. Affinity Grids can be used to prepare His-tagged proteins for single-particle EM from impure solutions or even directly from cell extracts. Here, we introduce the concept of His-tagged adaptor molecules, which eliminate the need for the target protein or complex to be His-tagged. The use of His-tagged protein A as adaptor molecule allows Affinity Grids to be used for the preparation of virtually any protein or complex provided that a specific antibody is available or can be raised against the target protein. The principle is that the Affinity Grid is coated with a specific antibody that is recruited to the grid by His-tagged protein A. The antibody-decorated Affinity Grid can then be used to isolate the target protein directly from a cell extract. We first established this approach by preparing negatively stained specimens of both native ribosomal complexes and ribosomal complexes carrying different purification tags directly from HEK-293T cell extract. We then used the His-tagged protein A/antibody strategy to isolate RNA polymerase II, still bound to native DNA, from HEK-293T cell extract, allowing us to calculate a 25-A-resolution density map by single-particle cryo-EM.
Project description:Correlative light and electron microscopy (CLEM) combines spatiotemporal information from fluorescence light microscopy (fLM) with high-resolution structural data from cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET). These technologies provide opportunities to bridge knowledge gaps between cell and structural biology. Here we describe our protocol for correlated cryo-fLM, cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), and cryo-ET (i.e., cryo-CLEM) of virus-infected or transfected mammalian cells. Mammalian-derived cells are cultured on EM substrates, using optimized conditions that ensure that the cells are spread thinly across the substrate and are not physically disrupted. The cells are then screened by fLM and vitrified before acquisition of cryo-fLM and cryo-ET images, which is followed by data processing. A complete session from grid preparation through data collection and processing takes 5-15 d for an individual experienced in cryo-EM.
Project description:Poor consistency of the ice thickness from one area of a cryo-electron microscope (cryo-EM) specimen grid to another, from one grid to the next, and from one type of specimen to another, motivates a reconsideration of how to best prepare suitably thin specimens. Here we first review the three related topics of wetting, thinning, and stability against dewetting of aqueous films spread over a hydrophilic substrate. We then suggest that the importance of there being a surfactant monolayer at the air-water interface of thin, cryo-EM specimens has been largely underappreciated. In fact, a surfactant layer (of uncontrolled composition and surface pressure) can hardly be avoided during standard cryo-EM specimen preparation. We thus suggest that better control over the composition and properties of the surfactant layer may result in more reliable production of cryo-EM specimens with the desired thickness.
Project description:The affinity cryoelectron microscopy (cryo-EM) approach has been explored in recent years to simplify and/or improve the sample preparation for cryo-EM, which can bring previously challenging specimens such as those of low abundance and/or unpurified ones within reach of the cryo-EM technique. Despite the demonstrated successes for solving structures to low to intermediate resolutions, the lack of near-atomic structures using this approach has led to a common perception of affinity cryo-EM as a niche technique incapable of reaching high resolutions. Here, we report a ?2.6-Å structure solved using the antibody-based affinity grid approach with low-concentration Tulane virus purified from a low-yield cell-culture system that has been challenging to standard cryo-EM grid preparation. Quantitative analyses of the structure indicate data and reconstruction quality comparable with the conventional grid preparation method using samples at high concentration.
Project description:Structural biology generally provides static snapshots of protein conformations that can provide information on the functional mechanisms of biological systems. Time-resolved structural biology provides a means to visualize, at near-atomic resolution, the dynamic conformational changes that macromolecules undergo as they function. X-ray free-electron-laser technology has provided a powerful tool to study enzyme mechanisms at atomic resolution, typically in the femtosecond to picosecond timeframe. Complementary to this, recent advances in the resolution obtainable by electron microscopy and the broad range of samples that can be studied make it ideally suited to time-resolved approaches in the microsecond to millisecond timeframe to study large loop and domain motions in biomolecules. Here we describe a cryo-EM grid preparation device that permits rapid mixing, voltage-assisted spraying and vitrification of samples. It is shown that the device produces grids of sufficient ice quality to enable data collection from single grids that results in a sub-4?Å reconstruction. Rapid mixing can be achieved by blot-and-spray or mix-and-spray approaches with a delay of ?10?ms, providing greater temporal resolution than previously reported mix-and-spray approaches.