Punjani, A. & Fleet, D. J. 3D Variability Analysis: Resolving continuous flexibility and discrete heterogeneity from single particle cryo-EM. J. Structural Biology, 2021, 213, 107702
Single particle cryo-EM excels in determining static structures of protein molecules, but existing 3D reconstruction methods have been ineffective in modelling flexible proteins. We introduce 3D variability analysis (3DVA), an algorithm that fits a linear subspace model of conformational change to cryo-EM data at high resolution. 3DVA enables the resolution and visualization of detailed molecular motions of both large and small proteins, revealing new biological insight from single particle cryo-EM data. Experimental results demonstrate the ability of 3DVA to resolve multiple flexible motions of -helices in the sub-50 kDa transmembrane domain of a GPCR complex, bending modes of a sodium ion channel, five types of symmetric and symmetry-breaking flexibility in a proteasome, large motions in a spliceosome complex, and discrete conformational states of a ribosome assembly. 3DVA is implemented in the cryoSPARC software package.