Louise Johnson; Introduction; X-ray lasers
Serial crystallography using X-ray free-electron lasers enables the collection of tens of thousands of measurements from an equal number of individual crystals, each of which can be smaller than 1 µm in size. This manuscript describes an alternative way of handling diffraction data recorded by serial femtosecond crystallography, by mapping the diffracted intensities into three-dimensional reciprocal space rather than integrating each image in two dimensions as in the classical approach. We call this procedure ‘three-dimensional merging’. This procedure retains information about asymmetry in Bragg peaks and diffracted intensities between Bragg spots. This intensity distribution can be used to extract reflection intensities for structure determination and opens up novel avenues for post-refinement, while observed intensity between Bragg peaks and peak asymmetry are of potential use in novel direct phasing strategies.
serial crystallography; free-electron laser; three-dimensional diffraction
The development of X-ray lasers and their applications in crystallography is described. In the birth of this new field, IUCrJ is ideally positioned to present this research to both specialists in crystallography, and to the wider audience in structural biology.
X-ray lasers; XFELs; crystallography
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
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
Lipidic cubic phase (LCP) crystallization has proven successful for high-resolution structure determination of challenging membrane proteins. Here we present a technique for extruding gel-like LCP with embedded membrane protein microcrystals, providing a continuously-renewed source of material for serial femtosecond crystallography. Data collected from sub-10 μm-sized crystals produced with less than 0.5 mg of purified protein yield structural insights regarding cyclopamine binding to the Smoothened receptor.
X-ray crystallography of G protein-coupled receptors and other membrane proteins is hampered by difficulties associated with growing sufficiently large crystals that withstand radiation damage and yield high-resolution data at synchrotron sources. Here we used an x-ray free-electron laser (XFEL) with individual 50-fs duration x-ray pulses to minimize radiation damage and obtained a high-resolution room temperature structure of a human serotonin receptor using sub-10 µm microcrystals grown in a membrane mimetic matrix known as lipidic cubic phase. Compared to the structure solved by traditional microcrystallography from cryo-cooled crystals of about two orders of magnitude larger volume, the room temperature XFEL structure displays a distinct distribution of thermal motions and conformations of residues that likely more accurately represent the receptor structure and dynamics in a cellular environment.
X-ray lasers offer new capabilities in understanding the structure of biological systems, complex materials and matter under extreme conditions1–4. Very short and extremely bright, coherent X-ray pulses can be used to outrun key damage processes and obtain a single diffraction pattern from a large macromolecule, a virus or a cell before the sample explodes and turns into plasma1. The continuous diffraction pattern of non-crystalline objects permits oversampling and direct phase retrieval2. Here we show that high-quality diffraction data can be obtained with a single X-ray pulse from a non-crystalline biological sample, a single mimivirus particle, which was injected into the pulsed beam of a hard-X-ray free-electron laser, the Linac Coherent Light Source5. Calculations indicate that the energy deposited into the virus by the pulse heated the particle to over 100,000 K after the pulse had left the sample. The reconstructed exit wavefront (image) yielded 32-nm full-period resolution in a single exposure and showed no measurable damage. The reconstruction indicates inhomogeneous arrangement of dense material inside the virion. We expect that significantly higher resolutions will be achieved in such experiments with shorter and brighter photon pulses focused to a smaller area. The resolution in such experiments can be further extended for samples available in multiple identical copies.
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.
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
Structure determination of proteins and other macromolecules has historically required the growth of high-quality crystals sufficiently large to diffract x-rays efficiently while withstanding radiation damage. We applied serial femtosecond crystallography (SFX) using an x-ray free-electron laser (XFEL) to obtain high-resolution structural information from microcrystals (less than 1 micrometer by 1 micrometer by 3 micrometers) of the well-characterized model protein lysozyme. The agreement with synchrotron data demonstrates the immediate relevance of SFX for analyzing the structure of the large group of difficult-to-crystallize molecules.
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
The Trypanosoma brucei cysteine protease cathepsin B (TbCatB), which is involved in host protein degradation, is a promising target to develop new treatments against sleeping sickness, a fatal disease caused by this protozoan parasite. The structure of the mature, active form of TbCatB has so far not provided sufficient information for the design of a safe and specific drug against T. brucei. By combining two recent innovations, in vivo crystallization and serial femtosecond crystallography, we obtained the room-temperature 2.1 angstrom resolution structure of the fully glycosylated precursor complex of TbCatB. The structure reveals the mechanism of native TbCatB inhibition and demonstrates that new biomolecular information can be obtained by the “diffraction-before-destruction” approach of x-ray free-electron lasers from hundreds of thousands of individual microcrystals.
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.
X-ray free-electron lasers have enabled new approaches to the structural determination of protein crystals that are too small or radiation-sensitive for conventional analysis1. For sufficiently short pulses, diffraction is collected before significant changes occur to the sample, and it has been predicted that pulses as short as 10 fs may be required to acquire atomic-resolution structural information1–4. Here, we describe a mechanism unique to ultrafast, ultra-intense X-ray experiments that allows structural information to be collected from crystalline samples using high radiation doses without the requirement for the pulse to terminate before the onset of sample damage. Instead, the diffracted X-rays are gated by a rapid loss of crystalline periodicity, producing apparent pulse lengths significantly shorter than the duration of the incident pulse. The shortest apparent pulse lengths occur at the highest resolution, and our measurements indicate that current X-ray free-electron laser technology5 should enable structural determination from submicrometre protein crystals with atomic resolution.
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 laser (X-feL)-based serial femtosecond crystallography is an emerging method with potential to rapidly advance the challenging field of membrane protein structural biology. here we recorded interpretable diffraction data from micrometer-sized lipidic sponge phase crystals of the Blastochloris viridis photosynthetic reaction center delivered into an X-feL beam using a sponge phase micro-jet.
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.
Protein crystallization in cells has been observed several times in nature. However, owing to their small size these crystals have not yet been used for X-ray crystallographic analysis. We prepared nano-sized in vivo–grown crystals of Trypanosoma brucei enzymes and applied the emerging method of free-electron laser-based serial femtosecond crystallography to record interpretable diffraction data. This combined approach will open new opportunities in structural systems biology.
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.
A complete set of structure factors has been extracted from hundreds of thousands of femtosecond X-ray diffraction patterns from randomly oriented Photosystem I membrane protein nanocrystals, using the Monte Carlo method of intensity integration. The data, collected at the Linac Coherent Light Source, are compared with conventional single-crystal data collected at a synchrotron source, and the quality of each data set was found to be similar.
A complete set of structure factors has been extracted from hundreds of thousands of femtosecond single-shot X-ray microdiffraction patterns taken from randomly oriented nanocrystals. The method of Monte Carlo integration over crystallite size and orientation was applied to experimental data from Photosystem I nanocrystals. This arrives at structure factors from many partial reflections without prior knowledge of the particle-size distribution. The data were collected at the Linac Coherent Light Source (the first hard-X-ray laser user facility), to which was fitted a hydrated protein nanocrystal injector jet, according to the method of serial crystallography. The data are single ‘still’ diffraction snapshots, each from a different nanocrystal with sizes ranging between 100 nm and 2 µm, so the angular width of Bragg peaks was dominated by crystal-size effects. These results were compared with single-crystal data recorded from large crystals of Photosystem I at the Advanced Light Source and the quality of the data was found to be similar. The implications for improving the efficiency of data collection by allowing the use of very small crystals, for radiation-damage reduction and for time-resolved diffraction studies at room temperature are discussed.
nanocrystals; femtosecond diffraction; free-electron lasers; Monte Carlo methods; protein microdiffraction
Serial femtosecond crystallography is an X-ray free-electron-laser-based method with considerable potential to have an impact on challenging problems in structural biology. Here we present X-ray diffraction data recorded from microcrystals of the Blastochloris viridis photosynthetic reaction centre to 2.8 Å resolution and determine its serial femtosecond crystallography structure to 3.5 Å resolution. Although every microcrystal is exposed to a dose of 33 MGy, no signs of X-ray-induced radiation damage are visible in this integral membrane protein structure.
Serial femtosecond crystallography is an X-ray free-electron-laser-based method that uses X-ray bursts to determine protein structures. Here the authors present the structure of a photosynthetic reaction centre, an integral membrane protein, achieved with no sign of X-ray-induced radiation damage.