Membrane proteins are very important for all living cells, being involved in respiration, photosynthesis, cellular uptake and signal transduction, amongst other vital functions. However, less than 300 unique membrane protein structures have been determined to date, often due to difficulties associated with the growth of sufficiently large and well-ordered crystals. This work has been focused on showing the first proof of concept for using membrane protein nanocrystals and microcrystals for high-resolution structure determination. Upon determining that crystals of the membrane protein Photosystem I, which is the largest and most complex membrane protein crystallized to date, exist with only a hundred unit cells with sizes of less than 200 nm on an edge, work was done to develop a technique that could exploit the growth of the Photosystem I nanocrystals and microcrystals. Femtosecond X-ray protein nanocrystallography was developed for use at the first high-energy X-ray free electron laser, the LCLS at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, in which a liquid jet brought fully-hydrated Photosystem I nanocrystals into the interaction region of the pulsed X-ray source. Diffraction patterns were recorded from millions of individual PSI nanocrystals and data from thousands of different, randomly oriented crystallites were integrated using Monte Carlo integration of the peak intensities. The short pulses (~ 70 fs) provided by the LCLS allowed the possibility to collect the diffraction data before the onset of radiation damage, exploiting the diffract-before-destroy principle. During the initial experiments at the AMO beamline using 6.9-Å wavelength, Bragg peaks were recorded to 8.5-Å resolution, and an electron-density map was determined that did not show any effects of X-ray-induced radiation damage [Chapman H.N., et al. Femtosecond X-ray protein nanocrystallography, Nature 470 (2011) 73–81]. Many additional techniques still need to be developed to explore the femtosecond nanocrystallography technique for experimental phasing and time-resolved X-ray crystallography experiments. The first proof-of-principle results for the femtosecond nanocrystallography technique indicate the incredible potential of the technique to offer a new route to the structure determination of membrane proteins.
membrane proteins; structure determination; femtosecond nanocrystallography; protein nanocrystals; X-ray crystallography; XFEL
X-ray crystallography provides the vast majority of macromolecular structures, but the success of the method relies on growing crystals of sufficient size. In conventional measurements, the necessary increase in X-ray dose to record data from crystals that are too small leads to extensive damage before a diffraction signal can be recorded1-3. It is particularly challenging to obtain large, well-diffracting crystals of membrane proteins, for which fewer than 300 unique structures have been determined despite their importance in all living cells. Here we present a method for structure determination where single-crystal X-ray diffraction ‘snapshots’ are collected from a fully hydrated stream of nanocrystals using femtosecond pulses from a hard-X-ray free-electron laser, the Linac Coherent Light Source4. We prove this concept with nanocrystals of photosystem I, one of the largest membrane protein complexes5. More than 3,000,000 diffraction patterns were collected in this study, and a three-dimensional data set was assembled from individual photosystem I nanocrystals (~200 nm to 2 μm in size). We mitigate the problem of radiation damage in crystallography by using pulses briefer than the timescale of most damage processes6. This offers a new approach to structure determination of macromolecules that do not yield crystals of sufficient size for studies using conventional radiation sources or are particularly sensitive to radiation damage.
X-ray diffraction patterns may be obtained from individual submicron protein nanocrystals using a femtosecond pulse from a free-electron X-ray laser. Many “single-shot” patterns are read out every second from a stream of nanocrystals lying in random orientations. The short pulse terminates before significant atomic (or electronic) motion commences, minimizing radiation damage. Simulated patterns for Photosystem I nanocrystals are used to develop a method for recovering structure factors from tens of thousands of snapshot patterns from nanocrystals varying in size, shape and orientation. We determine the number of shots needed for a required accuracy in structure factor measurement and resolution, and investigate the convergence of our Monte-Carlo integration method.
We demonstrate the use of an X-ray free electron laser synchronized with an optical pump laser to obtain X-ray diffraction snapshots from the photoactivated states of large membrane protein complexes in the form of nanocrystals flowing in a liquid jet. Light-induced changes of Photosystem I-Ferredoxin co-crystals were observed at time delays of 5 to 10 μs after excitation. The result correlates with the microsecond kinetics of electron transfer from Photosystem I to ferredoxin. The undocking process that follows the electron transfer leads to large rearrangements in the crystals that will terminally lead to the disintegration of the crystals. We describe the experimental setup and obtain the first time-resolved femtosecond serial X-ray crystallography results from an irreversible photo-chemical reaction at the Linac Coherent Light Source. This technique opens the door to time-resolved structural studies of reaction dynamics in biological systems.
We demonstrate the use of an X-ray free electron laser synchronized with an optical pump laser to obtain X-ray diffraction snapshots from the photoactivated states of large membrane protein complexes in the form of nanocrystals flowing in a liquid jet. Light-induced changes of Photosystem I-Ferredoxin co-crystals were observed at time delays of 5 to 10 µs after excitation. The result correlates with the microsecond kinetics of electron transfer from Photosystem I to ferredoxin. The undocking process that follows the electron transfer leads to large rearrangements in the crystals that will terminally lead to the disintegration of the crystals. We describe the experimental setup and obtain the first time-resolved femtosecond serial X-ray crystallography results from an irreversible photo-chemical reaction at the Linac Coherent Light Source. This technique opens the door to time-resolved structural studies of reaction dynamics in biological systems.
(170.7160) Ultrafast technology; (170.7440) X-ray imaging; (140.3450) Laser-induced chemistry; (140.7090) Ultrafast lasers; (170.0170) Medical optics and biotechnology
X-ray free-electron lasers (X-FELs) produce X-ray pulses with extremely brilliant peak intensity and ultrashort pulse duration. It has been proposed that radiation damage can be “outrun” by using an ultra intense and short X-FEL pulse that passes a biological sample before the onset of significant radiation damage. The concept of “diffraction-before-destruction” has been demonstrated recently at the Linac Coherent Light Source, the first operational hard X-ray FEL, for protein nanocrystals and giant virus particles. The continuous diffraction patterns from single particles allow solving the classical “phase problem” by the oversampling method with iterative algorithms. If enough data are collected from many identical copies of a (biological) particle, its three-dimensional structure can be reconstructed. We review the current status and future prospects of serial femtosecond crystallography (SFX) and single-particle coherent diffraction imaging (CDI) with X-FELs.
An expectation maximization algorithm is implemented to resolve the indexing ambiguity which arises when merging data from many crystals in protein crystallography, especially in cases where partial reflections are recorded in serial femtosecond crystallography (SFX) at XFELs.
Crystallographic auto-indexing algorithms provide crystal orientations and unit-cell parameters and assign Miller indices based on the geometric relations between the Bragg peaks observed in diffraction patterns. However, if the Bravais symmetry is higher than the space-group symmetry, there will be multiple indexing options that are geometrically equivalent, and hence many ways to merge diffraction intensities from protein nanocrystals. Structure factor magnitudes from full reflections are required to resolve this ambiguity but only partial reflections are available from each XFEL shot, which must be merged to obtain full reflections from these ‘stills’. To resolve this chicken-and-egg problem, an expectation maximization algorithm is described that iteratively constructs a model from the intensities recorded in the diffraction patterns as the indexing ambiguity is being resolved. The reconstructed model is then used to guide the resolution of the indexing ambiguity as feedback for the next iteration. Using both simulated and experimental data collected at an X-ray laser for photosystem I in the P63 space group (which supports a merohedral twinning indexing ambiguity), the method is validated.
indexing ambiguity; serial femtosecond crystallography (SFX); XFELs; protein crystallography; expectation maximization algorithm
Bragg diffraction achieved from two-dimensional protein crystals using femtosecond X-ray laser snapshots is presented.
X-ray diffraction patterns from two-dimensional (2-D) protein crystals obtained using femtosecond X-ray pulses from an X-ray free-electron laser (XFEL) are presented. To date, it has not been possible to acquire transmission X-ray diffraction patterns from individual 2-D protein crystals due to radiation damage. However, the intense and ultrafast pulses generated by an XFEL permit a new method of collecting diffraction data before the sample is destroyed. Utilizing a diffract-before-destroy approach at the Linac Coherent Light Source, Bragg diffraction was acquired to better than 8.5 Å resolution for two different 2-D protein crystal samples each less than 10 nm thick and maintained at room temperature. These proof-of-principle results show promise for structural analysis of both soluble and membrane proteins arranged as 2-D crystals without requiring cryogenic conditions or the formation of three-dimensional crystals.
two-dimensional protein crystal; femtosecond crystallography; single layer X-ray diffraction; membrane protein
Femtosecond X-ray crystallography allows structural analysis of a difficult-to-crystallize fusion protein that is a potential component of a candidate HIV-1 subunit vaccine.
CTB-MPR is a fusion protein between the B subunit of cholera toxin (CTB) and the membrane-proximal region of gp41 (MPR), the transmembrane envelope protein of Human immunodeficiency virus 1 (HIV-1), and has previously been shown to induce the production of anti-HIV-1 antibodies with antiviral functions. To further improve the design of this candidate vaccine, X-ray crystallography experiments were performed to obtain structural information about this fusion protein. Several variants of CTB-MPR were designed, constructed and recombinantly expressed in Escherichia coli. The first variant contained a flexible GPGP linker between CTB and MPR, and yielded crystals that diffracted to a resolution of 2.3 Å, but only the CTB region was detected in the electron-density map. A second variant, in which the CTB was directly attached to MPR, was shown to destabilize pentamer formation. A third construct containing a polyalanine linker between CTB and MPR proved to stabilize the pentameric form of the protein during purification. The purification procedure was shown to produce a homogeneously pure and monodisperse sample for crystallization. Initial crystallization experiments led to pseudo-crystals which were ordered in only two dimensions and were disordered in the third dimension. Nanocrystals obtained using the same precipitant showed promising X-ray diffraction to 5 Å resolution in femtosecond nanocrystallography experiments at the Linac Coherent Light Source at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. The results demonstrate the utility of femtosecond X-ray crystallography to enable structural analysis based on nano/microcrystals of a protein for which no macroscopic crystals ordered in three dimensions have been observed before.
X-ray crystallography; femtosecond nanocrystallography; HIV-1; gp41; membrane-proximal region; cholera toxin B subunit; crystallization; free-electron lasers
X-ray free-electron lasers deliver intense femtosecond pulses that promise to yield high resolution diffraction data of nanocrystals before the destruction of the sample by radiation damage. Diffraction intensities of lysozyme nanocrystals collected at the Linac Coherent Light Source using 2 keV photons were used for structure determination by molecular replacement and analyzed for radiation damage as a function of pulse length and fluence. Signatures of radiation damage are observed for pulses as short as 70 fs. Parametric scaling used in conventional crystallography does not account for the observed effects.
A serial femtosecond crystallography based method has been proposed, which enables simultaneous X-ray phase identification and structure solution for multiphase polycrystalline samples. Test results from simulating calculations are encouraging.
Serial femtosecond crystallography (SFX) is capable of collecting three-dimensional single-crystal diffraction data using polycrystalline samples. This may dramatically enhance the power of X-ray powder diffraction. In this paper a test has been performed using simulated diffraction patterns. The test sample is a mixture of two zeolites with crystal grain sizes from 100 to 300 nm. X-ray diffraction snapshots by SFX were simulated and processed using the program suite CrystFEL. Identification according to the primitive unit-cell volume determined from individual snapshots was able to separate the whole set of snapshots into two subsets, which correspond to the two zeolites in the sample. Monte Carlo integration in CrystFEL was then applied to them separately. This led to two sets of three-dimensional single-crystal diffraction intensities, based on which crystal structures of the two zeolites were solved easily by direct methods implemented in the program SHELXD.
serial crystallography; X-ray powder diffraction; phase identification; structure solution
The shape transforms of nanocrystals with incomplete unit cells are studied using computer simulations. Structure-factor phases can be retrieved from the molecular transforms after removing the modulating shape transform terms.
X-ray free electron lasers are used in measuring diffraction patterns from nanocrystals in the ‘diffract-before-destroy’ mode by outrunning radiation damage. The finite-sized nanocrystals provide an opportunity to recover intensity between Bragg spots by removing the modulating function that depends on crystal shape, i.e. the transform of the crystal shape. This shape-transform dividing-out scheme for solving the phase problem has been tested using simulated examples with cubic crystals. It provides a phasing method which does not require atomic resolution data, chemical modification to the sample, or modelling based on the protein databases. It is common to find multiple structural units (e.g. molecules, in symmetry-related positions) within a single unit cell, therefore incomplete unit cells (e.g. one additional molecule) can be observed at surface layers of crystals. In this work, the effects of such incomplete unit cells on the ‘dividing-out’ phasing algorithm are investigated using 2D crystals within the projection approximation. It is found that the incomplete unit cells do not hinder the recovery of the scattering pattern from a single unit cell (after dividing out the shape transforms from data merged from many nanocrystals of different sizes), assuming that certain unit-cell types are preferred. The results also suggest that the dynamic range of the data is a critical issue to be resolved in order to apply the shape transform method practically.
shape transform; nanocrystallography; X-ray free electron lasers; phasing
Special methods are required to interpret sparse diffraction patterns collected from peptide crystals at X-ray free-electron lasers. Bragg spots can be indexed from composite-image powder rings, with crystal orientations then deduced from a very limited number of spot positions.
Still diffraction patterns from peptide nanocrystals with small unit cells are challenging to index using conventional methods owing to the limited number of spots and the lack of crystal orientation information for individual images. New indexing algorithms have been developed as part of the Computational Crystallography Toolbox (cctbx) to overcome these challenges. Accurate unit-cell information derived from an aggregate data set from thousands of diffraction patterns can be used to determine a crystal orientation matrix for individual images with as few as five reflections. These algorithms are potentially applicable not only to amyloid peptides but also to any set of diffraction patterns with sparse properties, such as low-resolution virus structures or high-throughput screening of still images captured by raster-scanning at synchrotron sources. As a proof of concept for this technique, successful integration of X-ray free-electron laser (XFEL) data to 2.5 Å resolution for the amyloid segment GNNQQNY from the Sup35 yeast prion is presented.
XFEL; Sup35 yeast prion; indexing methods; crystallography
The synchrotron through-the-substrate X-ray microdiffraction technique is applied to the structural study of microvolumes of randomly oriented crystals embedded in polished thin sections. The whole procedure is discussed in detail with the help of examples from petrology, and possible future developments are envisaged.
The synchrotron through-the-substrate X-ray microdiffraction technique (tts-μXRD) is extended to the structural study of microvolumes of crystals embedded in polished thin sections of compact materials [Rius, Labrador, Crespi, Frontera, Vallcorba & Melgarejo (2011 ▸). J.Synchrotron Rad.
18, 891–898]. The resulting tts-μXRD procedure includes some basic steps: (i) collection of a limited number of consecutive two-dimensional patterns (frames) for each randomly oriented crystal microvolume; (ii) refinement of the metric from the one-dimensional diffraction pattern which results from circularly averaging the sum of collected frames; (iii) determination of the reciprocal lattice orientation of each randomly oriented crystal microvolume which allows assigning the hkl indices to the spots and, consequently, merging the intensities of the different frames into a single-crystal data set (frame merging); and (iv) merging of the individual crystal data sets (multicrystal merging) to produce an extended data set suitable for structure refinement/solution. Its viability for crystal structure solution by Patterson function direct methods (δ recycling) and for accurate single-crystal least-squares refinements is demonstrated with some representative examples from petrology in which different glass substrate thicknesses have been employed. The section of the crystal microvolume must be at least of the same order of magnitude as the focus of the beam (15 × 15 µm in the provided examples). Thanks to its versatility and experimental simplicity, this methodology should be useful for disciplines as disparate as petrology, materials science and cultural heritage.
tts-μXRD; polished thin sections; crystal microvolume; Patterson function direct methods; δ recycling; synchrotron radiation; two-dimensional frame merging; multicrystal merging; structure solution
X-ray free-electron lasers have opened up the possibility of structure determination of protein crystals at room temperature, free of radiation damage. The femtosecond-duration pulses of these sources enable diffraction signals to be collected from samples at doses of 1000 MGy or higher. The sample is vaporized by the intense pulse, but not before the scattering that gives rise to the diffraction pattern takes place. Consequently, only a single flash diffraction pattern can be recorded from a crystal, giving rise to the method of serial crystallography where tens of thousands of patterns are collected from individual crystals that flow across the beam and the patterns are indexed and aggregated into a set of structure factors. The high-dose tolerance and the many-crystal averaging approach allow data to be collected from much smaller crystals than have been examined at synchrotron radiation facilities, even from radiation-sensitive samples. Here, we review the interaction of intense femtosecond X-ray pulses with materials and discuss the implications for structure determination. We identify various dose regimes and conclude that the strongest achievable signals for a given sample are attained at the highest possible dose rates, from highest possible pulse intensities.
protein crystallography; radiation damage; X-ray lasers
The new generation of synchrotron radiation light sources will drive analytical methods for the determination of the structure and function of molecules and crystals towards new limits in sample size and temporal resolution.
Structural studies in general, and crystallography in particular, have benefited and still do benefit dramatically from the use of synchrotron radiation. Low-emittance storage rings of the third generation provide focused beams down to the micrometre range that are sufficiently intense for the investigation of weakly scattering crystals down to the size of several micrometres. Even though the coherent fraction of these sources is below 1%, a number of new imaging techniques have been developed to exploit the partially coherent radiation. However, many techniques in nanoscience are limited by this rather small coherent fraction. On the one hand, this restriction limits the ability to study the structure and dynamics of non-crystalline materials by methods that depend on the coherence properties of the beam, like coherent diffractive imaging and X-ray correlation spectroscopy. On the other hand, the flux in an ultra-small diffraction-limited focus is limited as well for the same reason. Meanwhile, new storage rings with more advanced lattice designs are under construction or under consideration, which will have significantly smaller emittances. These sources are targeted towards the diffraction limit in the X-ray regime and will provide roughly one to two orders of magnitude higher spectral brightness and coherence. They will be especially suited to experiments exploiting the coherence properties of the beams and to ultra-small focal spot sizes in the regime of several nanometres. Although the length of individual X-ray pulses at a storage-ring source is of the order of 100 ps, which is sufficiently short to track structural changes of larger groups, faster processes as they occur during vision or photosynthesis, for example, are not accessible in all details under these conditions. Linear accelerator (linac) driven free-electron laser (FEL) sources with extremely short and intense pulses of very high coherence circumvent some of the limitations of present-day storage-ring sources. It has been demonstrated that their individual pulses are short enough to outrun radiation damage for single-pulse exposures. These ultra-short pulses also enable time-resolved studies 1000 times faster than at standard storage-ring sources. Developments are ongoing at various places for a totally new type of X-ray source combining a linac with a storage ring. These energy-recovery linacs promise to provide pulses almost as short as a FEL, with brilliances and multi-user capabilities comparable with a diffraction-limited storage ring. Altogether, these new X-ray source developments will provide smaller and more intense X-ray beams with a considerably higher coherent fraction, enabling a broad spectrum of new techniques for studying the structure of crystalline and non-crystalline states of matter at atomic length scales. In addition, the short X-ray pulses of FELs will enable the study of fast atomic dynamics and non-equilibrium states of matter.
synchrotron radiation; future light sources; FELs; coherent radiation
Intense femtosecond X-ray pulses produced at the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) were used for simultaneous X-ray diffraction (XRD) and X-ray emission spectroscopy (XES) of microcrystals of Photosystem II (PS II) at room temperature. This method probes the overall protein structure and the electronic structure of the Mn4CaO5 cluster in the oxygen-evolving complex of PS II. XRD data are presented from both the dark state (S1) and the first illuminated state (S2) of PS II. Our simultaneous XRD/XES study shows that the PS II crystals are intact during our measurements at the LCLS, not only with respect to the structure of PS II, but also with regard to the electronic structure of the highly radiation sensitive Mn4CaO5 cluster, opening new directions for future dynamics studies.
An ultrasensitive Medipix2 detector allowed the collection of rotation electron-diffraction data from single three-dimensional protein nanocrystals for the first time. The data could be analysed using the standard X-ray crystallography programs MOSFLM and SCALA.
When protein crystals are submicrometre-sized, X-ray radiation damage precludes conventional diffraction data collection. For crystals that are of the order of 100 nm in size, at best only single-shot diffraction patterns can be collected and rotation data collection has not been possible, irrespective of the diffraction technique used. Here, it is shown that at a very low electron dose (at most 0.1 e− Å−2), a Medipix2 quantum area detector is sufficiently sensitive to allow the collection of a 30-frame rotation series of 200 keV electron-diffraction data from a single ∼100 nm thick protein crystal. A highly parallel 200 keV electron beam (λ = 0.025 Å) allowed observation of the curvature of the Ewald sphere at low resolution, indicating a combined mosaic spread/beam divergence of at most 0.4°. This result shows that volumes of crystal with low mosaicity can be pinpointed in electron diffraction. It is also shown that strategies and data-analysis software (MOSFLM and SCALA) from X-ray protein crystallography can be used in principle for analysing electron-diffraction data from three-dimensional nanocrystals of proteins.
electron diffraction; electron microscopy; Medipix2; MOSFLM; nanocrystals
In situ microzone X-ray diffraction analysis of natural teeth is presented. From our experiment, layer orientation and continuous crystal variations in teeth could be conveniently studied using fast online measurements by high-resolution X-ray microdiffraction equipment.
The main component of natural teeth was determined many years ago as calcium phosphate, mostly in the form of hydroxyapatite with different crystallites. In the past, the method used in tooth crystal investigation has been mainly powder X-ray diffraction analysis, but this method has its drawbacks, i.e. the destruction of the natural tooth structure and the difficulty in examining the preferred orientation in different layers of the tooth. During the last century, microzone X-ray diffraction on the tooth surface was carried out, but, as the technology was less sophisticated, the results obtained were not very detailed. The newly developed microdiffraction equipment permits analysis of the microzone of teeth in situ. To test this new microdiffraction equipment, microdiffraction analysis of one natural healthy deciduous molar tooth and one carious deciduous molar tooth has been performed, using a Bruker D8 instrument. Phase analysis of the two teeth was performed; the crystal size at six test points in the natural healthy tooth was calculated by reflection (211), and the crystal preferred orientation of reflection (300) and reflection (002) at six test points in the natural healthy tooth were compared. The results showed that the tooth was a kind of biological mixed crystal composed of several crystal phases, the main crystal phase being hydroxyapatite. The crystal size grew larger going from the dentin to the enamel. The crystal preferred orientation mainly existed in the enamel, especially in the reflection (002). From our experiment, layer orientation and continuous crystal variations in teeth could be conveniently studied using fast online measurements by high-resolution X-ray microdiffraction equipment.
X-ray microdiffraction; enamel; caries; texture; crystal
We demonstrate that it is feasible to determine high-resolution protein structures by electron crystallography of three-dimensional crystals in an electron cryo-microscope (CryoEM). Lysozyme microcrystals were frozen on an electron microscopy grid, and electron diffraction data collected to 1.7 Å resolution. We developed a data collection protocol to collect a full-tilt series in electron diffraction to atomic resolution. A single tilt series contains up to 90 individual diffraction patterns collected from a single crystal with tilt angle increment of 0.1–1° and a total accumulated electron dose less than 10 electrons per angstrom squared. We indexed the data from three crystals and used them for structure determination of lysozyme by molecular replacement followed by crystallographic refinement to 2.9 Å resolution. This proof of principle paves the way for the implementation of a new technique, which we name ‘MicroED’, that may have wide applicability in structural biology.
X-ray crystallography has been used to work out the atomic structure of a large number of proteins. In a typical X-ray crystallography experiment, a beam of X-rays is directed at a protein crystal, which scatters some of the X-ray photons to produce a diffraction pattern. The crystal is then rotated through a small angle and another diffraction pattern is recorded. Finally, after this process has been repeated enough times, it is possible to work backwards from the diffraction patterns to figure out the structure of the protein.
The crystals used for X-ray crystallography must be large to withstand the damage caused by repeated exposure to the X-ray beam. However, some proteins do not form crystals at all, and others only form small crystals. It is possible to overcome this problem by using extremely short pulses of X-rays, but this requires a very large number of small crystals and ultrashort X-ray pulses are only available at a handful of research centers around the world. There is, therefore, a need for other approaches that can determine the structure of proteins that only form small crystals.
Electron crystallography is similar to X-ray crystallography in that a protein crystal scatters a beam to produce a diffraction pattern. However, the interactions between the electrons in the beam and the crystal are much stronger than those between the X-ray photons and the crystal. This means that meaningful amounts of data can be collected from much smaller crystals. However, it is normally only possible to collect one diffraction pattern from each crystal because of beam induced damage. Researchers have developed methods to merge the diffraction patterns produced by hundreds of small crystals, but to date these techniques have only worked with very thin two-dimensional crystals that contain only one layer of the protein of interest.
Now Shi et al. report a new approach to electron crystallography that works with very small three-dimensional crystals. Called MicroED, this technique involves placing the crystal in a transmission electron cryo-microscope, which is a fairly standard piece of equipment in many laboratories. The normal ‘low-dose’ electron beam in one of these microscopes would normally damage the crystal after a single diffraction pattern had been collected. However, Shi et al. realized that it was possible to obtain diffraction patterns without severely damaging the crystal if they dramatically reduced the normal low-dose electron beam. By reducing the electron dose by a factor of 200, it was possible to collect up to 90 diffraction patterns from the same, very small, three-dimensional crystal, and then—similar to what happens in X-ray crystallography—work backwards to figure out the structure of the protein. Shi et al. demonstrated the feasibility of the MicroED approach by using it to determine the structure of lysozyme, which is widely used as a test protein in crystallography, with a resolution of 2.9 Å. This proof-of principle study paves the way for crystallographers to study protein that cannot be studied with existing techniques.
electron crystallography; electron diffraction; electron cryomicroscopy (cryo-EM); microED; protein structure; microcrystals; None
Crystal defects can be identified by their fingerprint in coherent X-ray diffraction patterns. Realistic defects in face-centred cubic nanocrystals are studied numerically, revealing various signatures in diffraction patterns depending on the Miller indices and providing an identification method.
Crystal defects induce strong distortions in diffraction patterns. A single defect alone can yield strong and fine features that are observed in high-resolution diffraction experiments such as coherent X-ray diffraction. The case of face-centred cubic nanocrystals is studied numerically and the signatures of typical defects close to Bragg positions are identified. Crystals of a few tens of nanometres are modelled with realistic atomic potentials and ‘relaxed’ after introduction of well defined defects such as pure screw or edge dislocations, or Frank or prismatic loops. Diffraction patterns calculated in the kinematic approximation reveal various signatures of the defects depending on the Miller indices. They are strongly modified by the dissociation of the dislocations. Selection rules on the Miller indices are provided, to observe the maximum effect of given crystal defects in the initial and relaxed configurations. The effect of several physical and geometrical parameters such as stacking fault energy, crystal shape and defect position are discussed. The method is illustrated on a complex structure resulting from the simulated nanoindentation of a gold nanocrystal.
dislocations; stacking faults; face-centred cubic nanocrystals; coherent X-ray diffraction
The invention of Free Electron X-ray Lasers has opened a new era for membrane protein structure determination with the recent first proof-of-principle of the new concept of femtosecond nanocrystallography. Structure determination is based on thousands of diffraction snapshots that are collected on a fully hydrated stream of nanocrystals. This review provides a summary of the method and describes how femtosecond X-ray crystallography overcomes the radiation damage problem in X-ray crystallography, avoids the need for growth and freezing of large single crystals while offering a new method for direct digital phase determination by making use of the fully coherent nature of the X-ray beam. We briefly review the possibilities for time-resolved crystallography, and the potential for making “molecular movies” of membrane proteins at work.
An updated partiality model and post-refinement algorithm for XFEL snapshot diffraction data is presented and confirmed by observing anomalous density for S atoms at an X-ray wavelength of 1.3 Å.
Research towards using X-ray free-electron laser (XFEL) data to solve structures using experimental phasing methods such as sulfur single-wavelength anomalous dispersion (SAD) has been hampered by shortcomings in the diffraction models for X-ray diffraction from FELs. Owing to errors in the orientation matrix and overly simple partiality models, researchers have required large numbers of images to converge to reliable estimates for the structure-factor amplitudes, which may not be feasible for all biological systems. Here, data for cytoplasmic polyhedrosis virus type 17 (CPV17) collected at 1.3 Å wavelength at the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) are revisited. A previously published definition of a partiality model for reflections illuminated by self-amplified spontaneous emission (SASE) pulses is built upon, which defines a fraction between 0 and 1 based on the intersection of a reflection with a spread of Ewald spheres modelled by a super-Gaussian wavelength distribution in the X-ray beam. A method of post-refinement to refine the parameters of this model is suggested. This has generated a merged data set with an overall discrepancy (by calculating the R
split value) of 3.15% to 1.46 Å resolution from a 7225-image data set. The atomic numbers of C, N and O atoms in the structure are distinguishable in the electron-density map. There are 13 S atoms within the 237 residues of CPV17, excluding the initial disordered methionine. These only possess 0.42 anomalous scattering electrons each at 1.3 Å wavelength, but the 12 that have single predominant positions are easily detectable in the anomalous difference Fourier map. It is hoped that these improvements will lead towards XFEL experimental phase determination and structure determination by sulfur SAD and will generally increase the utility of the method for difficult cases.
post-refinement; free-electron laser; partiality
Recent advancements at the Linac Coherent Light Source X-ray free-electron laser (XFEL) enabling successful serial femtosecond diffraction experiments using nanometre-sized crystals (NCs) have opened up the possibility of X-ray structure determination of proteins that produce only submicrometre crystals such as many membrane proteins. Careful crystal pre-characterization including compatibility testing of the sample delivery method is essential to ensure efficient use of the limited beamtime available at XFEL sources. This work demonstrates the utility of transmission electron microscopy for detecting and evaluating NCs within the carrier solutions of liquid injectors. The diffraction quality of these crystals may be assessed by examining the crystal lattice and by calculating the fast Fourier transform of the image. Injector reservoir solutions, as well as solutions collected post-injection, were evaluated for three types of protein NCs (i) the membrane protein PTHR1, (ii) the multi-protein complex Pol II-GFP and (iii) the soluble protein lysozyme. Our results indicate that the concentration and diffraction quality of NCs, particularly those with high solvent content and sensitivity to mechanical manipulation may be affected by the delivery process.
femtosecond diffraction; crystallography; crystal injector; sample delivery; transmission electron microscopy (TEM); crystal characterization
A new batch preparation method is presented for high-density micrometre-sized crystals of the G protein-coupled receptor rhodopsin for use in time-resolved serial femtosecond crystallography at an X-ray free-electron laser using a liquid jet.
Rhodopsin is a membrane protein from the G protein-coupled receptor family. Together with its ligand retinal, it forms the visual pigment responsible for night vision. In order to perform ultrafast dynamics studies, a time-resolved serial femtosecond crystallography method is required owing to the nonreversible activation of rhodopsin. In such an approach, microcrystals in suspension are delivered into the X-ray pulses of an X-ray free-electron laser (XFEL) after a precise photoactivation delay. Here, a millilitre batch production of high-density microcrystals was developed by four methodical conversion steps starting from known vapour-diffusion crystallization protocols: (i) screening the low-salt crystallization conditions preferred for serial crystallography by vapour diffusion, (ii) optimization of batch crystallization, (iii) testing the crystal size and quality using second-harmonic generation (SHG) imaging and X-ray powder diffraction and (iv) production of millilitres of rhodopsin crystal suspension in batches for serial crystallography tests; these crystals diffracted at an XFEL at the Linac Coherent Light Source using a liquid-jet setup.
batch crystallization; GPCR; serial crystallography; FEL; dynamics