We describe a spraying-plunging method for preparing cryoelectron microscopy (cryo-EM) grids with vitreous ice of controllable, highly consistent thickness using a microfluidic device. The new polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS)-based sprayer was tested with apoferritin. We demonstrate that the structure can be solved to high resolution with this method of sample preparation. Besides replacing the conventional pipetting-blotting-plunging method, one of many potential applications of the new sprayer is in time-resolved cryo-EM, as part of a PDMS-based microfluidic reaction channel to study short-lived intermediates on the timescale of 10-1,000 ms.
The work of molecular machines such as the ribosome is accompanied by conformational changes, often characterized by relative motions of their domains. The method we have developed seeks to quantify these motions in a general way, facilitating comparisons of results obtained by different researchers. Typically there are multiple snapshots of a structure in the form of pdb coordinates resulting from flexible fitting of low-resolution density maps, from X-ray crystallography, or from molecular dynamics simulation trajectories. Our objective is to characterize the motion of each domain as a coordinate transformation using moments of inertia tensor, a method we developed earlier. What has been missing until now are ancillary tools that make this task practical, general, and biologically informative. We have provided a comprehensive solution to this task with a set of tools implemented on the VMD platform. These tools address the need for reproducible segmentation of domains, and provide a generalized description of their motions using principal axes of inertia. Although this methodology has been specifically developed for studying ribosome motion, it is applicable to any molecular machine.
Translation of the genetic code on the ribosome into protein is a process of extraordinary complexity, and understanding its mechanism has remained one of the major challenges even though x-ray structures have been available since 2000. In the past two decades, single-particle cryo-electron microscopy has contributed a major share of information on structure, binding modes, and conformational changes of the ribosome during its work cycle, but the contributions of this technique in the translation field have recently skyrocketed after the introduction of a new recording medium capable of detecting individual electrons. As many examples in the recent literature over the past three years show, the impact of this development on the advancement of knowledge in this field has been transformative and promises to be lasting.
During ribosome biogenesis in eukaryotes, nascent subunits are exported to the cytoplasm in a functionally inactive state. 60S subunits are activated through a series of cytoplasmic maturation events. The last known events in the cytoplasm are the release of Tif6 by Efl1 and Sdo1 and the release of the export adapter, Nmd3, by the GTPase Lsg1. Here, we have used cryo‐electron microscopy to determine the structure of the 60S subunit bound by Nmd3, Lsg1, and Tif6. We find that a central domain of Nmd3 mimics the translation elongation factor eIF5A, inserting into the E site of the ribosome and pulling the L1 stalk into a closed position. Additional domains occupy the P site and extend toward the sarcin–ricin loop to interact with Tif6. Nmd3 and Lsg1 together embrace helix 69 of the B2a intersubunit bridge, inducing base flipping that we suggest may activate the GTPase activity of Lsg1.
In single-particle cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), molecules suspended in a thin aqueous layer are rapidly frozen and imaged at cryogenic temperature in the transmission electron microscope. From the random projection views, a three-dimensional image is reconstructed, enabling the structure of the molecule to be obtained. In this article I discuss technological progress over the past decade, which has, in my own field of study, culminated in the determination of ribosome structure at 2.5-Å resolution. I also discuss likely future improvements in methodology.
Upon encountering a stop codon on mRNA, polypeptide synthesis on the ribosome is terminated by release factors, and the ribosome complex, still bound with mRNA and P-site-bound tRNA (post-termination complex, PostTC), is split into ribosomal subunits, ready for a new round of translational initiation. Separation of post-termination ribosomes into subunits, or "ribosome recycling," is promoted by the joint action of ribosome-recycling factor (RRF) and elongation factor G (EF-G) in a guanosine triphosphate (GTP) hydrolysis-dependent manner. Here we used a mixing-spraying-based method of time-resolved cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) to visualize the short-lived intermediates of the recycling process. The two complexes that contain (1) both RRF and EF-G bound to the PostTC or (2) deacylated tRNA bound to the 30S subunit are of particular interest. Our observations of the native form of these complexes demonstrate the strong potential of time-resolved cryo-EM for visualizing previously unobservable transient structures.
With the advance of new instruments and algorithms, and the accumulation of experience over decades, single-particle cryo-EM has become a pivotal part of structural biology. Recently, we determined the structure of a eukaryotic ribosome at 2.5 Å for the large subunit. The ribosome was derived from Trypanosoma cruzi, the protozoan pathogen of Chagas disease. The high-resolution density map allowed us to discern a large number of unprecedented details including rRNA modifications, water molecules, and ions such as Mg21 and Zn21. In this paper, we focus on the procedures for data collection, image processing, and modeling, with particular emphasis on factors that contributed to the attainment of high resolution. The methods described here are readily applicable to other macromolecules for high-resolution reconstruction by single-particle cryo-EM.
Vitamin A homeostasis is critical to normal cellular function. Retinol-binding protein (RBP) is the sole specific carrier in the bloodstream for hydrophobic retinol, the main form in which vitamin A is transported. The integral membrane receptor STRA6 mediates cellular uptake of vitamin A by recognizing RBP-retinol to trigger release and internalization of retinol. We present the structure of zebrafish STRA6 determined to 3.9-angstrom resolution by single-particle cryo-electron microscopy. STRA6 has one intramembrane and nine transmembrane helices in an intricate dimeric assembly. Unexpectedly, calmodulin is bound tightly to STRA6 in a noncanonical arrangement. Residues involved with RBP binding map to an archlike structure that covers a deep lipophilic cleft. This cleft is open to the membrane, suggesting a possible mode for internalization of retinol through direct diffusion into the lipid bilayer.
Ribosomes of trypanosomatids, a family of protozoan parasites causing debilitating human diseases, possess multiply fragmented rRNAs that together are analogous to 28S rRNA, unusually large rRNA expansion segments, and r-protein variations compared with other eukaryotic ribosomes. To investigate the architecture of the trypanosomatid ribosomes, we determined the 2.5-Å structure of the Trypanosoma cruzi ribosome large subunit by single-particle cryo-EM. Examination of this structure and comparative analysis of the yeast ribosomal assembly pathway allowed us to develop a stepwise assembly model for the eight pieces of the large subunit rRNAs and a number of ancillary “glue” proteins. This model can be applied to the characterization of Trypanosoma brucei and Leishmania spp. ribosomes as well. Together with other details, our atomic-level structure may provide a foundation for structurebased design of antitrypanosome drugs.
The type-1 ryanodine receptor (RyR1) is an intracellular calcium (Ca2+) release channel required for skeletal muscle contraction. Here, we present cryo-EM reconstructions of RyR1 in multiple functional states revealing the structural basis of channel gating and ligand-dependent activation. Binding sites for the channel activators Ca2+, ATP, and caffeine were identified at interdomain interfaces of the C-terminal domain. Either ATP or Ca2+ alone induces conformational changes in the cytoplasmic assembly (“priming”), without pore dilation. In contrast, in the presence of all three activating ligands, high-resolution reconstructions of open and closed states of RyR1 were obtained from the same sample, enabling analyses of conformational changes associated with gating. Gating involves global conformational changes in the cytosolic assembly accompanied by local changes in the transmembrane domain, which include bending of the S6 transmembrane segment and consequent pore dilation, displacement, and deformation of the S4-S5 linker and conformational changes in the pseudo-voltage-sensor domain.