Zhu, Dongjie / Shi, Huigang / Wu, Chunling / Zhang, Xinzheng. An electron counting algorithm improves imaging of proteins with low-acceleration-voltage cryo-electron microscope. 2022. Communications Biology, Vol. 5, No. 1, p. 1-12
Relative to the 300-kV accelerating field, electrons accelerated under lower voltages are potentially scattered more strongly. Lowering the accelerate voltage has been suggested to enhance the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) images of small-molecular-weight proteins (<100 kD). However, the detection efficient of current Direct Detection Devices (DDDs) and temporal coherence of cryo-EM decrease at lower voltage, leading to loss of SNR. Here, we present an electron counting algorithm to improve the detection of low-energy electrons. The counting algorithm increased the SNR of 120-kV and 200-kV cryo-EM image from a Falcon III camera by 8%, 20% at half the Nyquist frequency and 21%, 80% at Nyquist frequency, respectively, resulting in a considerable improvement in resolution of 3D reconstructions. Our results indicate that with further improved temporal coherence and a dedicated designed camera, a 120-kV cryo-electron microscope has potential to match the 300-kV microscope at imaging small proteins.