Protein crystallization is a slow process of trial and error and limits the amount of solved protein structures. Search of a universal heterogeneous nucleant is an effort to facilitate crystallizability of proteins.
The effect of polystyrene nanospheres on protein crystallization were tested with three commercial proteins: lysozyme, xylanase, xylose isomerase, and with five research target proteins: hydrophobins HFBI and HFBII, laccase, sarcosine dimethylglycine N-methyltransferase (SDMT), and anti-testosterone Fab fragment 5F2. The use of nanospheres both in screening and as an additive for known crystallization conditions was studied. In screening, the addition of an aqueous solution of nanosphere to the crystallization drop had a significant positive effect on crystallization success in comparison to the control screen. As an additive in hydrophobin crystallization, the nanospheres altered the crystal packing, most likely due to the amphiphilic nature of hydrophobins. In the case of laccase, nanospheres could be used as an alternative for streak-seeding, which insofar had remained the only technique to produce high-diffracting crystals. With methyltransferase SDMT the nanospheres, used also as an additive, produced fewer, larger crystals in less time. Nanospheres, combined with the streak-seeding method, produced single 5F2 Fab crystals in shorter equilibration times.
All in all, the use of nanospheres in protein crystallization proved to be beneficial, both when screening new crystallization conditions to promote nucleation and when used as an additive to produce better quality crystals, faster. The polystyrene nanospheres are easy to use, commercially available and close to being inert, as even with amphiphilic proteins only the crystal packing is altered and the nanospheres do not interfere with the structure and function of the protein.