Wu, H., Zhai, X., Lei, D. et al. An Algorithm for Enhancing the Image Contrast of Electron Tomography. Sci Rep 8, 16711 (2018). doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-34652-9
Three-dimensional (3D) reconstruction of a single protein molecule is essential for understanding the relationship between the structural dynamics and functions of the protein. Electron tomography (ET) provides a tool for imaging an individual particle of protein from a series of tilted angles. Individual-particle electron tomography (IPET) provides an approach for reconstructing a 3D density map from a single targeted protein particle (without averaging from different particles of this type of protein), in which the target particle was imaged from a series of tilting angles. However, owing to radiation damage limitations, low-dose images (high noise, and low image contrast) are often challenging to be aligned for 3D reconstruction at intermediate resolution (1–3 nm). Here, we propose a computational method to enhance the image contrast, without increasing any experimental dose, for IPET 3D reconstruction. Using an edge-preserving smoothing-based multi-scale image decomposition algorithm, this method can detect the object against a high-noise background and enhance the object image contrast without increasing the noise level or significantly decreasing the image resolution. The method was validated by using both negative staining (NS) ET and cryo-ET images. The successful 3D reconstruction of a small molecule (<100 kDa) indicated that this method can be used as a supporting tool to current ET 3D reconstruction methods for studying protein dynamics via structure determination from each individual particle of the same type of protein.