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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Optimized Negative-Staining Protocol for Lipid–Protein Interactions Investigated by Electron Microscopy


A large number of proteins are capable of inserting themselves into lipids, and interacting with membranes, such as transmembrane proteins and apolipoproteins. Insights into the lipid-protein interactions are important in understanding biological processes, and the structure of proteins at the lipid binding stage can help identify their roles and critical functions. Previously, such structural determination was challenging to obtain because the traditional methods, such as X-ray crystallography, are unable to capture the conformational and compositional heterogeneity of protein-lipid complexes. Electron microscopy (EM) is an alternative approach to determining protein structures and visualizing lipid-protein interactions directly, and negative-staining (OpNS), a subset of EM techniques, is a rapid, frequently used qualitative approach. The concern, however, is that current NS protocols often generate artifacts with lipid-related proteins, such as rouleaux formation from lipoproteins. To overcome this artifact formation, Ren and his colleagues have refined early NS protocols, and developed an optimized NS protocol that validated by comparing images of lipoproteins from cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM). This optimized NS protocol produces "near native-state" particle images and high contrast images of the protein in its native lipid-binding state, which can be used to create higher-quality three-dimensional (3D) reconstruction by single-particle analysis and electron tomography (e.g. IPET). This optimized protocol is thus a promising hands-on approach for examining the structure of proteins at their lipid-binding status.

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