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J Struct Biol. 2011 Oct;176(1):1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jsb.2011.07.007. Epub 2011 Jul 23.

Fractal dimension analysis and mathematical morphology of structural changes in actin filaments imaged by electron microscopy.

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Center for Novel Science Initiatives, National Institutes of Natural Sciences, Toranomon 4-3-13, Minato-ku, Tokyo 105-0001, Japan.


In this work, we examined structural changes of actin filaments interacting with myosin visualized by quick freeze deep-etch replica electron microscopy (EM) by using a new method of image processing/analysis based on mathematical morphology. In order to quantify the degree of structural changes, two characteristic patterns were extracted from the EM images. One is the winding pattern of the filament shape (WP) reflecting flexibility of the filament, and the other is the surface pattern of the filament (SP) reflecting intra-molecular domain-mobility of actin monomers constituting the filament. EM images were processed by morphological filtering followed by box-counting to calculate the fractal dimensions for WP (D(WP)) and SP (D(SP)). The result indicates that D(WP) was larger than D(SP) irrespective of the state of the filament (myosin-free or bound) and that both parameters for myosin-bound filaments were significantly larger than those for myosin-free filaments. Overall, this work provides the first quantitative insight into how conformational disorder of actin monomers is correlated with the myosin-induced increase in flexibility of actin filaments along their length as suggested by earlier studies with different techniques. Our method is yet to be improved in details, but promising as a powerful tool for studying the structural change of protein molecules and their assemblies, which can potentially be applied to a wide range of biological and biomedical images.

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