D'Imprima, E.; Floris, D.; Joppe, M.; Sánchez, R.; Grininger, M. & Kühlbrandt, W. Protein denaturation at the air-water interface and how to prevent it. eLife, 2019 , 8
Electron cryo-microscopy analyzes the structure of proteins and protein complexes in vitrified solution. Proteins tend to adsorb to the air-water interface in unsupported films of aqueous solution, which can result in partial or complete denaturation. We investigated the structure of yeast fatty acid synthase at the air-water interface by electron cryo-tomography and single-particle image processing. Around 90% of complexes adsorbed to the air-water interface are partly denatured. We show that the unfolded regions face the air-water interface. Denaturation by contact with air may happen at any stage of specimen preparation. Denaturation at the air-water interface is completely avoided when the complex is plunge-frozen on a substrate of hydrophilized graphene.