Heymann, J. B. Single-particle reconstruction statistics: a diagnostic tool in solving biomolecular structures by cryo-EM. Acta Crystallographica Section F: Structural Biology Communications, 2019, 75, 33-44
In single-particle analysis (SPA), the aim is to obtain a 3D reconstruction of a biological molecule from 2D electron micrographs to the highest level of detail or resolution as possible. Current practice is to collect large volumes of data, hoping to reach high-resolution maps through sheer numbers. However, adding more particles from a specific data set eventually leads to diminishing improvements in resolution. Understanding what these resolution limits are and how to deal with them are important in optimization and automation of SPA. This study revisits the theory of 3D reconstruction and demonstrates how the associated statistics can provide a diagnostic tool to improve SPA. Small numbers of images already give sufficient information on micrograph quality and the amount of data required to reach high resolution. Such feedback allows the microscopist to improve sample-preparation and imaging parameters before committing to extensive data collection. Once a larger data set is available, a B factor can be determined describing the suppression of the signal owing to one or more causes, such as specimen movement, radiation damage, alignment inaccuracy and structural variation. Insight into the causes of signal suppression can then guide the user to consider appropriate actions to obtain better reconstructions.