Research ArticleBIOCHEMISTRY

Gold nanocrystal labels provide a sequence–to–3D structure map in SAXS reconstructions

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Science Advances  25 May 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 5, eaar4418
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aar4418

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Small-angle x-ray scattering (SAXS) is a powerful technique to probe the structure of biological macromolecules and their complexes under virtually arbitrary solution conditions, without the need for crystallization. While it is possible to reconstruct molecular shapes from SAXS data ab initio, the resulting electron density maps have a resolution of ~1 nm and are often insufficient to reliably assign secondary structure elements or domains. We show that SAXS data of gold-labeled samples significantly enhance the information content of SAXS measurements, allowing the unambiguous assignment of macromolecular sequence motifs to specific locations within a SAXS structure. We first demonstrate our approach for site-specifically internally and end-labeled DNA and an RNA motif. In addition, we present a protocol for highly uniform and site-specific labeling of proteins with small (~1.4 nm diameter) gold particles and apply our method to the signaling protein calmodulin. In all cases, the position of the small gold probes can be reliably identified in low-resolution electron density maps. Enhancing low-resolution measurements by site-selective gold labeling provides an attractive approach to aid modeling of a large range of macromolecular systems.

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