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Structure. 2004 Mar;12(3):409-15.

Structure and flexibility of individual immunoglobulin G molecules in solution.

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Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, Medical Nobel Institute, Karolinska Institute, SE-171 77 Stockholm, Sweden.


In contrast to averaging methods of determining structure, such as X-ray diffraction, NMR, and single-particle tomography, cryo-electron tomography allows three-dimensional imaging of an individual object in solution. The method has previously been used to study cells and very large macromolecules. We have used cryo-electron tomography to analyze a monoclonal IgG, with a molecular weight of only 150 kDa. Tomograms reveal y-shaped IgG molecules with three protruding subunits. Docking X-ray structures enabled us to recognize the three subunits as two ellipsoidal Fab arms and a heart-shaped Fc stem. Each subunit has a similar structure in the tomograms and in the X-ray map. Notably, the positions of the Fab arms relative to the Fc stem differed greatly from one molecule to another. The large flexibility of IgG in solution is most likely of functional significance in antigen recognition. This distribution of individual structures provides a qualitative insight into the system dynamics.

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