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Self-assembling peptides imaged by correlated liquid cell transmission electron microscopy and MALDI-imaging mass spectrometry.


We describe the observation of stimuli-induced peptide-based nanoscale assemblies by liquid cell transmission electron microscopy (LCTEM). LCTEM offers the opportunity to directly image nanoscale materials in liquid. Despite broad interest in characterizing biological phenomena, electron beam-induced damage remains a significant problem. Concurrently, methods for verifying chemical structure during or following an LCTEM experiment have been few, with key examples limited to electron diffraction or elemental analysis of crystalline materials; this strategy is not translatable to biopolymers observed in nature. In this proof-of-concept study, oligomeric peptides are biologically or chemically stimulated within the liquid cell in a TEM to assemble into nanostructures. The resulting materials are analyzed by MALDI-imaging mass spectrometry (MALDI-IMS) to verify their identity. This approach confirms whether higher-order assemblies observed by LCTEM consist of intact peptides, verifying that observations made during the in situ experiment are because of those same peptides and not aberrant electron beam damage effects.

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