As high-resolution cryogenic electron microscopy (cryo-EM) structures of ribosomes proliferate, at resolutions that allow atomic interactions to be visualized, this article attempts to give a perspective on the way research on ribosome structure and dynamics may be headed, and particularly the new opportunities we have gained through recent advances in cryo-EM. It is pointed out that single-molecule FRET and cryo-EM form natural complements in the characterization of ribosome dynamics and transitions among equilibrating states of in vitro translational systems.
Cryo-electron microscopy, when combined with single-particle reconstruction, is a powerful method for studying macromolecular structure. Recent developments in detector technology have pushed the resolution into a range comparable to that of X-ray crystallography. However, cryo-EM is able to separate and thus recover the structure of each of several discrete structures present in the sample. For the more general case involving continuous structural changes, a novel technique employing manifold embedding has been recently demonstrated. Potentially, the entire work-cycle of a molecular machine may be observed as it passes through a continuum of states, and its free-energy landscape may be mapped out. This technique will be outlined and discussed in the context of its application to a large single-particle dataset of yeast ribosomes.
This is a brief account of the earlier history of single-particle cryo-EM of biological molecules lacking internal symmetry, which goes back to the mid-seventies. The emphasis of this review is on the mathematical concepts and computational approaches. It is written as the field experiences a turning point in the wake of the introduction of digital cameras capable of single electron counting, and near-atomic resolution can be reached even for smaller molecules.
Plasmodium falciparum, the mosquito-transmitted Apicomplexan parasite, causes the most severe form of human malaria. In the asexual blood-stage, the parasite resides within erythrocytes where it proliferates, multiplies and finally spreads to new erythrocytes. Development of drugs targeting the ribosome, the site of protein synthesis, requires specific knowledge of its structure and work cycle, and, critically, the ways they differ from those in the human host. Here, we present five cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) reconstructions of ribosomes purified from P. falciparum blood-stage schizonts at sub-nanometer resolution. Atomic models were built from these density maps by flexible fitting. Significantly, our study has taken advantage of new capabilities of cryo-EM, in visualizing several structures co-existing in the sample at once, at a resolution sufficient for building atomic models. We have discovered structural and dynamic features that differentiate the ribosomes of P. falciparum from those of mammalian system. Prompted by the absence of RACK1 on the ribosome in our and an earlier study we confirmed that RACK1 does not specifically co-purify with the 80S fraction in schizonts. More extensive studies, using cryo-EM methodology, of translation in the parasite will provide structural knowledge that may lead to development of novel anti-malarials.
During eukaryotic translation initiation, 43S complexes, comprising a 40S ribosomal subunit, initiator transfer RNA and initiation factors (eIF) 2, 3, 1 and 1A, attach to the 5′-terminal region of messenger RNA and scan along it to the initiation codon. Scanning on structured mRNAs also requires the DExH-box protein DHX29. Mammalian eIF3 contains 13 subunits and participates in nearly all steps of translation initiation. Eight subunits having PCI (proteasome, COP9 signalosome, eIF3) or MPN (Mpr1, Pad1, amino-terminal) domains constitute the structural core of eIF3, to which five peripheral subunits are flexibly linked. Here we present a cryo-electron microscopy structure of eIF3 in the context of the DHX29-bound 43S complex, showing the PCI/MPN core at ~6 Å resolution. It reveals the organization of the individual subunits and their interactions with components of the 43S complex. We were able to build near-complete polyalanine-level models of the eIF3 PCI/MPN core and of two peripheral subunits. The implications for understanding mRNA ribosomal attachment and scanning are discussed.
Ribosomal subunit association is a key checkpoint in translation initiation but its structural dynamics are poorly understood. Here, we used a recently developed mixing-spraying, time-resolved, cryogenic electron microscopy (cryo-EM) method to study ribosomal subunit association in the sub-second time range. We have improved this method and increased the cryo-EM data yield by tenfold. Pre-equilibrium states of the association reaction were captured by reacting the mixture of ribosomal subunits for 60 ms and 140 ms. We also identified three distinct ribosome conformations in the associated ribosomes. The observed proportions of these conformations are the same in these two time points, suggesting that ribosomes equilibrate among the three conformations within less than 60 ms upon formation. Our results demonstrate that the mixing-spraying method can capture multiple states of macromolecules during a sub-second reaction. Other fast processes, such as translation initiation, decoding, and ribosome recycling, are amenable to study with this method.
During protein synthesis, elongation of the polypeptide chain by each amino acid is followed by a translocation step in which mRNA and transfer RNA (tRNA) are advanced by one codon. This crucial step is catalyzed by elongation factor G (EF-G), a guanosine triphosphatase (GTPase), and accompanied by a rotation between the two ribosomal subunits. A mutant of EF-G, H91A, renders the factor impaired in guanosine triphosphate (GTP) hydrolysis and thereby stabilizes it on the ribosome. We use cryogenic electron microscopy (cryo-EM) at near-atomic resolution to investigate two complexes formed by EF-G H91A in its GTP state with the ribosome, distinguished by the presence or absence of the intersubunit rotation. Comparison of these two structures argues in favor of a direct role of the conserved histidine in the switch II loop of EF-G in GTPase activation, and explains why GTP hydrolysis cannot proceed with EF-G bound to the unrotated form of the ribosome.
Single-particle cryogenic electron microscopy (cryo-EM) is a powerful tool for the study of macromolecular structures at high resolution. Classification allows multiple structural states to be extracted and reconstructed from the same sample. One classification approach is via the covariance matrix, which captures the correlation between every pair of voxels. Earlier approaches employ computing-intensive resampling and estimate only the eigenvectors of the matrix, which are then used in a separate fast classification step. We propose an iterative scheme to explicitly estimate the covariance matrix in its entirety. In our approach, the flexibility in choosing the solution domain allows us to examine a part of the molecule in greater detail. Three-dimensional covariance maps obtained in this way from experimental data (cryo-EM images of the eukaryotic pre-initiation complex) prove to be in excellent agreement with conclusions derived by using traditional approaches, revealing in addition the interdependencies of ligand bindings and structural changes.
Image formation in bright field electron microscopy can be described with the help of the contrast transfer function (CTF). In this work the authors describe the “CTF Estimation Challenge”, called by the Madrid Instruct Image Processing Center (I2PC) in collaboration with the National Center for Macromolecular Imaging (NCMI) at Houston. Correcting for the effects of the CTF requires accurate knowledge of the CTF parameters, but these have often been difficult to determine. In this challenge, researchers have had the opportunity to test their ability in estimating some of the key parameters of the electron microscope CTF on a large micrograph data set produced by well-known laboratories on a wide set of experimental conditions. This work presents the first analysis of the results of the CTF Estimation Challenge, including an assessment of the performance of the different software packages under different conditions, so as to identify those areas of research where further developments would be desirable in order to achieve high-resolution structural information.
At equilibrium, thermodynamic and kinetic information can be extracted from biomolecular energy landscapes by many techniques. However, while static, ensemble techniques yield thermodynamic data, often only dynamic, single-molecule techniques can yield the kinetic data that describe transition-state energy barriers. Here we present a generalized framework based upon dwell-time distributions that can be used to connect such static, ensemble techniques with dynamic, single-molecule techniques, and thus characterize energy landscapes to greater resolutions. We demonstrate the utility of this framework by applying it to cryogenic electron microscopy (cryo-EM) and single- molecule fluorescence resonance energy transfer (smFRET) studies of the bacterial ribosomal pre-translocation complex. Among other benefits, application of this framework to these data explains why two transient, intermediate conformations of the pre-translocation complex, which are observed in a cryo-EM study, may not be observed in several smFRET studies.