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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Jan 14;111(2):670-4. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1321936111. Epub 2013 Dec 30.

Self-assembled lipid and membrane protein polyhedral nanoparticles.

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Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology and Mechanical Engineering, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, CO 80309.


We demonstrate that membrane proteins and phospholipids can self-assemble into polyhedral arrangements suitable for structural analysis. Using the Escherichia coli mechanosensitive channel of small conductance (MscS) as a model protein, we prepared membrane protein polyhedral nanoparticles (MPPNs) with uniform radii of ∼ 20 nm. Electron cryotomographic analysis established that these MPPNs contain 24 MscS heptamers related by octahedral symmetry. Subsequent single-particle electron cryomicroscopy yielded a reconstruction at ∼ 1-nm resolution, revealing a conformation closely resembling the nonconducting state. The generality of this approach has been addressed by the successful preparation of MPPNs for two unrelated proteins, the mechanosensitive channel of large conductance and the connexon Cx26, using a recently devised microfluidics-based free interface diffusion system. MPPNs provide not only a starting point for the structural analysis of membrane proteins in a phospholipid environment, but their closed surfaces should facilitate studies in the presence of physiological transmembrane gradients, in addition to potential applications as drug delivery carriers or as templates for inorganic nanoparticle formation.


electron microscopy; membrane protein structure; microfluidic devices; proteoliposomes

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