Difference imaging of adenovirus: bridging the resolution gap between X-ray crystallography and electron microscopy

EMBO J. 1993 Jul;12(7):2589-99.


While X-ray crystallography provides atomic resolution structures of proteins and small viruses, electron microscopy provides complementary structural information on the organization of larger assemblies at lower resolution. A novel combination of these two techniques has bridged this resolution gap and revealed the various structural components forming the capsid of human type 2 adenovirus. An image reconstruction of the intact virus, derived from cryo-electron micrographs, was deconvolved with an approximate contrast transfer function to mitigate microscope distortions. A model capsid was calculated from 240 copies of the crystallographic structure of the major capsid protein and filtered to the correct resolution. Subtraction of the calculated capsid from the corrected reconstruction gave a three-dimensional difference map revealing the minor proteins that stabilize the virion. Elongated density penetrating the hexon capsid at the facet edges was ascribed to polypeptide IIIa, a component required for virion assembly. Density on the inner surface of the capsid, connecting the ring of peripentonal hexons, was assigned as polypeptide VI, a component that binds DNA. Identification of the regions of hexon that contact the penton base suggests a structural mechanism for previously proposed events during cell entry.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adenoviruses, Human / chemistry
  • Adenoviruses, Human / ultrastructure*
  • Capsid / chemistry
  • Capsid / ultrastructure
  • Capsid Proteins*
  • Microscopy, Electron*
  • Peptides / chemistry
  • X-Ray Diffraction*


  • Capsid Proteins
  • Peptides
  • hexon capsid protein, Adenovirus
  • penton protein, adenovirus