Electron Microscopic Detection of Single Membrane Proteins by a Specific Chemical Labeling

iScience. 2019 Dec 20;22:256-268. doi: 10.1016/j.isci.2019.11.025. Epub 2019 Nov 16.


Electron microscopy (EM) is a technology that enables visualization of single proteins at a nanometer resolution. However, current protein analysis by EM mainly relies on immunolabeling with gold-particle-conjugated antibodies, which is compromised by large size of antibody, precluding precise detection of protein location in biological samples. Here, we develop a specific chemical labeling method for EM detection of proteins at single-molecular level. Rational design of α-helical peptide tag and probe structure provided a complementary reaction pair that enabled specific cysteine conjugation of the tag. The developed chemical labeling with gold-nanoparticle-conjugated probe showed significantly higher labeling efficiency and detectability of high-density clusters of tag-fused G protein-coupled receptors in freeze-fracture replicas compared with immunogold labeling. Furthermore, in ultrathin sections, the spatial resolution of the chemical labeling was significantly higher than that of antibody-mediated labeling. These results demonstrate substantial advantages of the chemical labeling approach for single protein visualization by EM.

Keywords: Biochemistry Methods; Nanoparticles; Structural Biology.