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Structure. 2008 Dec 10;16(12):1770-6. doi: 10.1016/j.str.2008.10.011.

Heterogeneity of large macromolecular complexes revealed by 3D cryo-EM variance analysis.

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The University of Texas-Houston Medical School, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Houston, TX 77030, USA.


Macromolecular structure determination by cryo-electron microscopy (EM) and single-particle analysis are based on the assumption that imaged molecules have identical structure. With the increased size of processed data sets, it becomes apparent that many complexes coexist in a mixture of conformational states or contain flexible regions. We describe an implementation of the bootstrap resampling technique that yields estimates of voxel-by-voxel variance of a structure reconstructed from the set of its projections. We introduce a highly efficient reconstruction algorithm that is based on direct Fourier inversion and that incorporates correction for the transfer function of the microscope, thus extending the resolution limits of variance estimation. We also describe a validation method to determine the number of resampled volumes required to achieve stable estimate of the variance. The proposed bootstrap method was applied to a data set of 70S ribosome complexed with tRNA and the elongation factor G. The proposed method of variance estimation opens new possibilities for single-particle analysis, by extending applicability of the technique to heterogeneous data sets of macromolecules and to complexes with significant conformational variability.

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