Li, Bufan / Zhu, Dongjie / Shi, Huigang / Zhang, Xinzheng. Effect of charge on protein preferred orientation at the air-water interface in cryo-electron microscopy. 2021-12. Journal of structural biology, Vol. 213, p. 107783
The air-water interface (AWI) tends to adsorb proteins and frequently causes preferred orientation problems in cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM). Here, we examined cryo-EM data from protein samples frozen with different detergents and found that both anionic and cationic detergents promoted binding of proteins to the AWI. By contrast, some of the nonionic and zwitterionic detergents tended to prevent proteins from attaching to the AWI. The protein orientation distributions with different anionic detergents were similar and resembled that obtained without detergent. By contrast, cationic detergents gave distinct orientation distributions. Our results indicate that proteins adsorb to charged interface and the negative charge of the AWI plays an important role in adsorbing proteins in the conventional cryo-EM sample preparation. According to these findings, a new method was developed by adding anionic detergent at a concentration between 0.002% and 0.005%. Using this method, the protein particles exhibited a more evenly distributed orientations and still adsorbed to the AWI enabling them embedding in a thin layer of ice with high concentration, which will benefit the cryo-EM structural determination.