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J Struct Biol. 2012 Feb;177(2):202-11. doi: 10.1016/j.jsb.2011.12.001. Epub 2011 Dec 8.

Cryo X-ray nano-tomography of vaccinia virus infected cells.

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  • 1Centro Nacional de Biotecnología-Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Campus Cantoblanco, 28049 Madrid, Spain.


We have performed full-field cryo X-ray microscopy in the water window photon energy range on vaccinia virus (VACV) infected cells to produce tomographic reconstructions. PtK2 cells were infected with a GFP-expressing VACV strain and frozen by plunge fast freezing. The infected cells were selected by light fluorescence microscopy of the GFP marker and subsequently imaged in the X-ray microscope under cryogenic conditions. Tomographic tilt series of X-ray images were used to yield three-dimensional reconstructions showing different cell organelles (nuclei, mitochondria, filaments), together with other structures derived from the virus infection. Among them, it was possible to detect viral factories and two types of viral particles related to different maturation steps of VACV (immature and mature particles), which were compared to images obtained by standard electron microscopy of the same type of cells. In addition, the effect of radiation damage during X-ray tomographic acquisition was analyzed. Thin sections studied by electron microscopy revealed that the morphological features of the cells do not present noticeable changes after irradiation. Our findings show that cryo X-ray nano-tomography is a powerful tool for collecting three-dimensional structural information from frozen, unfixed, unstained whole cells with sufficient resolution to detect different virus particles exhibiting distinct maturation levels.

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