Biophysical Screening Pipeline for Cryo-EM Grid Preparation of Membrane Proteins

Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences | June 23, 2022

Stephan Niebling, Katharina Veith, Benjamin Vollmer,  Javier Lizarrondo, Osvaldo Burastero, Janina Schiller, Angelica Struve García, Philipp Lewe, Carolin Seuring, Susanne Witt, and María García-Alai

Front Mol Biosci. 2022 Jun 23;9:882288


Successful sample preparation is the foundation to any structural biology technique. Membrane proteins are of particular interest as these are important targets for drug design, but also notoriously difficult to work with. For electron cryo-microscopy (cryo-EM), the biophysical characterization of sample purity, homogeneity, and integrity as well as biochemical activity is the prerequisite for the preparation of good quality cryo-EM grids as these factors impact the result of the computational reconstruction. Here, we present a quality control pipeline prior to single particle cryo-EM grid preparation using a combination of biophysical techniques to address the integrity, purity, and oligomeric states of membrane proteins and its complexes to enable reproducible conditions for sample vitrification. Differential scanning fluorimetry following the intrinsic protein fluorescence (nDSF) is used for optimizing buffer and detergent conditions, whereas mass photometry and dynamic light scattering are used to assess aggregation behavior, reconstitution efficiency, and oligomerization. The data collected on nDSF and mass photometry instruments can be analyzed with web servers publicly available at Case studies to optimize conditions prior to cryo-EM sample preparation of membrane proteins present an example quality assessment to corroborate the usefulness of our pipeline.