Recent innovations in specimen preparation, data collection, and image processing have led to improved structure determination using single-particle electron cryomicroscopy (cryo-EM). Here we explore some of these advances to improve structures determined using electron cryotomography (cryo-ET) and sub-tomogram averaging. We implement a new three-dimensional model for the contrast transfer function, and use this in a regularized likelihood optimization algorithm as implemented in the RELION program. Using direct electron detector data, we apply both single-particle analysis and sub-tomogram averaging to analyze radiation-induced movements of the specimen. As in single-particle cryo-EM, we find that significant sample movements occur during tomographic data acquisition, and that these movements are substantially reduced through the use of ultrastable gold substrates. We obtain a sub-nanometer resolution structure of the hepatitis B capsid, and show that reducing radiation-induced specimen movement may be central to attempts at further improving tomogram quality and resolution.
Bharat et al. have harnessed recent innovations in specimen preparation, data collection, and image processing from the field of cryo-EM single-particle analysis to improve electron cryotomography and sub-tomogram averaging.