Kazemi, M.; Sorzano, C. O. S.; Carazo, J.; des Georges, A.; Abrishami, V. & Vargas, J. ENRICH: a fast method to improve the quality of flexible macromolecular reconstructions. Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, 2021, 164, 92-100
Cryo-electron microscopy using single particle analysis requires the computational averaging of thousands of projection images captured from identical macromolecules. However, macromolecules usually present some degree of flexibility showing different conformations. Computational approaches are then required to classify heterogeneous single particle images into homogeneous sets corresponding to different structural states. Nonetheless, sometimes the attainable resolution of reconstructions obtained from these smaller homogeneous sets is compromised because of reduced number of particles or lack of images at certain macromolecular orientations. In these situations, the current solution to improve map resolution is returning to the electron microscope and collect more data. In this work, we present a fast approach to partially overcome this limitation for heterogeneous data sets. Our method is based on deforming and then moving particles between different conformations using an optical flow approach. Particles are then merged into a unique conformation obtaining reconstructions with improved resolution, contrast and signal-to-noise ratio. We present experimental results that show clear improvements in the quality of obtained 3D maps, however, there are also limits to this approach, i.e., the method is restricted to small deformations and cannot determine local patterns of flexibility of small elements, such as secondary structures, which we discuss in the manuscript.