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      The potential and limitations of neutrons, electrons and X-rays for atomic resolution microscopy of unstained biological molecules.

      Quarterly Reviews of Biophysics

      X-Rays, X-Ray Diffraction, Neutrons, Microscopy, Phase-Contrast, Microscopy, Electron, Microscopy, Atomic Force, methods, Microscopy, Macromolecular Substances, Holography, Electrons, Biophysics, Biophysical Phenomena

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          Abstract

          Radiation damage is the main problem which prevents the determination of the structure of a single biological macromolecule at atomic resolution using any kind of microscopy. This is true whether neutrons, electrons or X-rays are used as the illumination. For neutrons, the cross-section for nuclear capture and the associated energy deposition and radiation damage could be reduced by using samples that are fully deuterated and 15N-labelled and by using fast neutrons, but single molecule biological microscopy is still not feasible. For naturally occurring biological material, electrons at present provide the most information for a given amount of radiation damage. Using phase contrast electron microscopy on biological molecules and macromolecular assemblies of approximately 10(5) molecular weight and above, there is in theory enough information present in the image to allow determination of the position and orientation of individual particles: the application of averaging methods can then be used to provide an atomic resolution structure. The images of approximately 10,000 particles are required. Below 10(5) molecular weight, some kind of crystal or other geometrically ordered aggregate is necessary to provide a sufficiently high combined molecular weight to allow for the alignment. In practice, the present quality of the best images still falls short of that attainable in theory and this means that a greater number of particles must be averaged and that the molecular weight limitation is somewhat larger than the predicted limit. For X-rays, the amount of damage per useful elastic scattering event is several hundred times greater than for electrons at all wavelengths and energies and therefore the requirements on specimen size and number of particles are correspondingly larger. Because of the lack of sufficiently bright neutron sources in the foreseeable future, electron microscopy in practice provides the greatest potential for immediate progress.

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          Most cited references 33

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          A new microscopic principle.

           D. Gabor (1948)
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            Neutron scattering lengths and cross sections

             Varley Sears (2006)
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              Model for the structure of bacteriorhodopsin based on high-resolution electron cryo-microscopy.

              The light-driven proton pump bacteriorhodopsin occurs naturally as two-dimensional crystals. A three-dimensional density map of the structure, at near-atomic resolution, has been obtained by studying the crystals using electron cryo-microscopy to obtain electron diffraction patterns and high-resolution micrographs. New methods were developed for analysing micrographs from tilted specimens, incorporating methods previously developed for untilted specimens that enable large areas to be analysed and corrected for distortions. Data from 72 images, from both tilted and untilted specimens, were analysed to produce the phases of 2700 independent Fourier components of the structure. The amplitudes of these components were accurately measured from 150 diffraction patterns. Together, these data represent about half of the full three-dimensional transform to 3.5 A. The map of the structure has a resolution of 3.5 A in a direction parallel to the membrane plane but lower than this in the perpendicular direction. It shows many features in the density that are resolved from the main density of the seven alpha-helices. We interpret these features as the bulky aromatic side-chains of phenylalanine, tyrosine and tryptophan residues. There is also a very dense feature, which is the beta-ionone ring of the retinal chromophore. Using these bulky side-chains as guide points and taking account of bulges in the helices that indicate smaller side-chains such as leucine, a complete atomic model for bacteriorhodopsin between amino acid residues 8 and 225 has been built. There are 21 amino acid residues, contributed by all seven helices, surrounding the retinal and 26 residues, contributed by five helices, forming the proton pathway or channel. Ten of the amino acid residues in the middle of the proton channel are also part of the retinal binding site. The model also provides a useful basis for consideration of the mechanism of proton pumping and allows a consistent interpretation of a great deal of other experimental data. In particular, the structure suggests that pK changes in the Schiff base must act as the means by which light energy is converted into proton pumping pressure in the channel. Asp96 is on the pathway from the cytoplasm to the Schiff base and Asp85 is on the pathway from the Schiff base to the extracellular surface.
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                7568675

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