Preparation of Proteins and Macromolecular Assemblies for Cryo-electron Microscopy

  • Lou Brillault
  • Michael J. LandsbergEmail author
Part of the Methods in Molecular Biology book series (MIMB, volume 2073)


Cryo-electron microscopy has become popular as the penultimate step on the road to structure determination for many proteins and macromolecular assemblies. The process of obtaining high-resolution images of a purified biomolecular complex in an electron microscope often follows a long, and in many cases exhaustive screening process in which many iterative rounds of protein purification are employed and the sample preparation procedure progressively re-evaluated in order to improve the distribution of particles visualized under the electron microscope, and thus maximize the opportunity for high-resolution structure determination. Typically, negative stain electron microscopy is employed to obtain a preliminary assessment of the sample quality, followed by cryo-EM which first requires the identification of optimal vitrification conditions. The original methods for frozen-hydrated specimen preparation developed over 40 years ago still enjoy widespread use today, although recent developments have set the scene for a future where more systematic and high-throughput approaches to the preparation of vitrified biomolecular complexes may be routinely employed. Here we summarize current approaches and ongoing innovations for the preparation of frozen-hydrated single particle specimens for cryo-EM, highlighting some of the commonly encountered problems and approaches that may help overcome these.

Key words

Macromolecular assemblies Protein complexes Negative staining Cryo-EM Plunge-freezing Frozen-hydrated specimens 


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Chemistry and Molecular BiosciencesThe University of QueenslandSt. LuciaAustralia

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