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1.  Spatial distribution of radiation damage to crystalline proteins at 25–300 K 
Dose-dependent atomic B factors are used to determine the average spatial distribution of radiation damage to crystalline thaumatin and urease.
The spatial distribution of radiation damage (assayed by increases in atomic B factors) to thaumatin and urease crystals at temperatures ranging from 25 to 300 K is reported. The nature of the damage changes dramatically at approximately 180 K. Above this temperature the role of solvent diffusion is apparent in thaumatin crystals, as solvent-exposed turns and loops are especially sensitive. In urease, a flap covering the active site is the most sensitive part of the molecule and nearby loops show enhanced sensitivity. Below 180 K sensitivity is correlated with poor local packing, especially in thaumatin. At all temperatures, the component of the damage that is spatially uniform within the unit cell accounts for more than half of the total increase in the atomic B factors and correlates with changes in mosaicity. This component may arise from lattice-level, rather than local, disorder. The effects of primary structure on radiation sensitivity are small compared with those of tertiary structure, local packing, solvent accessibility and crystal contacts.
PMCID: PMC3489100  PMID: 22948911
protein crystallography; radiation damage; temperature dependence
2.  Global radiation damage at 300 and 260 K with dose rates approaching 1 MGy s−1  
Approximately half of global radiation damage to thaumatin crystals can be outrun at 260 K if data are collected in less than 1 s.
Global radiation damage to 19 thaumatin crystals has been measured using dose rates from 3 to 680 kGy s−1. At room temperature damage per unit dose appears to be roughly independent of dose rate, suggesting that the timescales for important damage processes are less than ∼1 s. However, at T = 260 K approximately half of the global damage manifested at dose rates of ∼10 kGy s−1 can be outrun by collecting data at 680 kGy s−1. Appreciable sample-to-sample variability in global radiation sensitivity at fixed dose rate is observed. This variability cannot be accounted for by errors in dose calculation, crystal slippage or the size of the data sets in the assay.
PMCID: PMC3266852  PMID: 22281741
radiation damage; dose rate; room temperature; protein crystallography
3.  Can radiation damage to protein crystals be reduced using small-molecule compounds? 
Free-radical scavengers that are known to be effective protectors of proteins in solution are found to increase global radiation damage to protein crystals. Protective mechanisms may become deleterious in the protein-dense environment of a crystal.
Recent studies have defined a data-collection protocol and a metric that provide a robust measure of global radiation damage to protein crystals. Using this protocol and metric, 19 small-molecule compounds (introduced either by cocrystalliz­ation or soaking) were evaluated for their ability to protect lysozyme crystals from radiation damage. The compounds were selected based upon their ability to interact with radiolytic products (e.g. hydrated electrons, hydrogen, hydroxyl and perhydroxyl radicals) and/or their efficacy in protecting biological molecules from radiation damage in dilute aqueous solutions. At room temperature, 12 compounds had no effect and six had a sensitizing effect on global damage. Only one compound, sodium nitrate, appeared to extend crystal lifetimes, but not in all proteins and only by a factor of two or less. No compound provided protection at T = 100 K. Scavengers are ineffective in protecting protein crystals from global damage because a large fraction of primary X-ray-induced excitations are generated in and/or directly attack the protein and because the ratio of scavenger molecules to protein molecules is too small to provide appreciable competitive protection. The same reactivity that makes some scavengers effective radioprotectors in protein solutions may explain their sensitizing effect in the protein-dense environment of a crystal. A more productive focus for future efforts may be to identify and eliminate sensitizing compounds from crystallization solutions.
PMCID: PMC3176623  PMID: 21931220
radiation damage; scavengers; radioprotection; global damage; site-specific damage
4.  Dark progression reveals slow timescales for radiation damage between T = 180 and 240 K 
Between T = 180 and 240 K, radiation damage progresses on minute timescales when the X-rays are off, suggesting that a fraction of damage at higher temperatures may be outrun using currently available sources and detectors.
Can radiation damage to protein crystals be ‘outrun’ by collecting a structural data set before damage is manifested? Recent experiments using ultra-intense pulses from a free-electron laser show that the answer is yes. Here, evidence is presented that significant reductions in global damage at temperatures above 200 K may be possible using conventional X-ray sources and current or soon-to-be available detectors. Specifically, ‘dark progression’ (an increase in damage with time after the X-rays have been turned off) was observed at temperatures between 180 and 240 K and on timescales from 200 to 1200 s. This allowed estimation of the temperature-dependent timescale for damage. The rate of dark progression is consistent with an Arrhenius law with an activation energy of 14 kJ mol−1. This is comparable to the activation energy for the solvent-coupled diffusive damage processes responsible for the rapid increase in radiation sensitivity as crystals are warmed above the glass transition near 200 K. Analysis suggests that at T = 300 K data-collection times of the order of 1 s (and longer at lower temperatures) may allow significant reductions in global radiation damage, facilitating structure solution on crystals with liquid solvent. No dark progression was observed below T = 180 K, indicating that no important damage process is slowed through this timescale window in this temperature range.
PMCID: PMC3169314  PMID: 21904032
radiation damage; temperature dependence; glass transition; dark progression; dose rate
5.  Development of high-performance X-ray transparent crystallization plates for in situ protein crystal screening and analysis 
An optically, UV and X-ray transparent crystallization plate suitable for in situ analysis has been developed. The plate uses contact line pinning rather than wells to confine the liquids.
X-ray transparent crystallization plates based upon a novel drop-pinning technology provide a flexible, simple and inexpensive approach to protein crystallization and screening. The plates consist of open cells sealed top and bottom by thin optically, UV and X-ray transparent films. The plates do not need wells or depressions to contain liquids. Instead, protein drops and reservoir solution are held in place by rings with micrometre dimensions that are patterned onto the bottom film. These rings strongly pin the liquid contact lines, thereby improving drop shape and position uniformity, and thus crystallization reproducibility, and simplifying automated image analysis of drop contents. The same rings effectively pin solutions containing salts, proteins, cryoprotectants, oils, alcohols and detergents. Strong pinning by rings allows the plates to be rotated without liquid mixing to 90° for X-ray data collection or to be inverted for hanging-drop crystallization. The plates have the standard SBS format and are compatible with standard liquid-handling robots.
PMCID: PMC3121300  PMID: 21697603
protein crystallization; crystallization plates; drop pinning; high-throughput screening
6.  Glass transition in thaumatin crystals revealed through temperature-dependent radiation-sensitivity measurements 
Radiation damage to protein crystals exhibits two regimes of temperature-activated behavior between T = 300 and 100 K, with a crossover at the protein glass transition near 200 K. These results have implications for mechanistic studies of proteins and for structure determination when cooling to T = 100 K creates excessive disorder.
The temperature-dependence of radiation damage to thaumatin crystals between T = 300 and 100 K is reported. The amount of damage for a given dose decreases sharply as the temperature decreases from 300 to 220 K and then decreases more gradually on further cooling below the protein-solvent glass transition. Two regimes of temperature-activated behavior were observed. At temperatures above ∼200 K the activation energy of 18.0 kJ mol−1 indicates that radiation damage is dominated by diffusive motions in the protein and solvent. At temperatures below ∼200 K the activation energy is only 1.00 kJ mol−1, which is of the order of the thermal energy. Similar activation energies describe the temperature-dependence of radiation damage to a variety of solvent-free small-molecule organic crystals over the temperature range T = 300–80 K. It is suggested that radiation damage in this regime is vibrationally assisted and that the freezing-out of amino-acid scale vibrations contributes to the very weak temperature-dependence of radiation damage below ∼80 K. Analysis using the radiation-damage model of Blake and Phillips [Blake & Phillips (1962 ▶), Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation at the Molecular Level, pp. 183–191] indicates that large-scale conformational and molecular motions are frozen out below T = 200 K but become increasingly prevalent and make an increasing contribution to damage at higher temperatures. Possible alternative mechanisms for radiation damage involving the formation of hydrogen-gas bubbles are discussed and discounted. These results have implications for mechanistic studies of proteins and for studies of the protein glass transition. They also suggest that data collection at T ≃ 220 K may provide a viable alternative for structure determination when cooling-induced disorder at T = 100 is excessive.
PMCID: PMC2954455  PMID: 20944242
protein crystallography; radiation damage; temperature dependence; glass transition

Results 1-6 (6)