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Sci China Life Sci. 2011 Feb;54(2):101-11. doi: 10.1007/s11427-011-4137-2. Epub 2011 Feb 14.

Combination of NMR spectroscopy and X-ray crystallography offers unique advantages for elucidation of the structural basis of protein complex assembly.

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  • 1Division of Life Science, Molecular Neuroscience Center, State Key Laboratory of Molecular Neuroscience, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Clear Water Bay, Kowloon, Hong Kong, China.


NMR spectroscopy and X-ray crystallography are two premium methods for determining the atomic structures of macro-biomolecular complexes. Each method has unique strengths and weaknesses. While the two techniques are highly complementary, they have generally been used separately to address the structure and functions of biomolecular complexes. In this review, we emphasize that the combination of NMR spectroscopy and X-ray crystallography offers unique power for elucidating the structures of complicated protein assemblies. We demonstrate, using several recent examples from our own laboratory, that the exquisite sensitivity of NMR spectroscopy in detecting the conformational properties of individual atoms in proteins and their complexes, without any prior knowledge of conformation, is highly valuable for obtaining the high quality crystals necessary for structure determination by X-ray crystallography. Thus NMR spectroscopy, in addition to answering many unique structural biology questions that can be addressed specifically by that technique, can be exceedingly powerful in modern structural biology when combined with other techniques including X-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy.

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