Identifying and Overcoming Crystal Pathologies: Disorder and Twinning

Methods Mol Biol. 2017:1607:185-217. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-7000-1_8.


Macromolecular crystals are prone to a number of pathologies that result from aberrant molecular packing. Two common pathologies encountered in macromolecular crystals are rigid-body disorder and twinning. When a crystal displays one of these pathologies, its diffraction pattern is altered in a way that generally complicates structure determination. The severity of the underlying abnormalities varies from case to case, and sometimes the resulting alterations to the diffraction pattern are immediately obvious, while at other times they may go entirely unnoticed. Structure determination from a crystal that suffers from disorder or twinning may or may not be possible, depending on the specific nature of the pathology, and on how the data are handled. This chapter provides an introduction to these pathologies, with an emphasis on providing guidelines for identifying and overcoming them when they pose a threat to successful structure determination.

Keywords: Crystal pathology; Disorder; Intensity statistics; Macromolecular crystallography; Mosaicity; Pseudosymmetry; Twinning; X-ray diffraction.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Artifacts*
  • Crystallization / methods*
  • Crystallography, X-Ray / methods*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / statistics & numerical data*
  • Protein Conformation
  • Proteins / chemistry
  • Proteins / ultrastructure*
  • Thermodynamics
  • X-Ray Diffraction


  • Proteins