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Biochemistry. 1991 Jul 16;30(28):6866-75.

Removal of salt from a salt-induced protein crystal without cross-linking. Preliminary examination of "desalted" crystals of phosphoglucomutase by X-ray crystallography at low temperature.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana 47907.


A model procedure for removing salt from relatively fragile salt-induced protein crystals is proposed. The procedure is based on physical principles and is validated by using millimeter-size crystals of rabbit muscle phosphoglucomutase grown from a 2.1 M solution of ammonium sulfate. Three types of operations are included in the procedure: initial transfer to salt solutions of reduced concentration; transfer to the organic-rich phase of an equilibrium biphasic mixture obtained with aqueous solutions of polyoxyethylene and the salt; and addition of various replacement cosolutes in aqueous solutions of polyoxyethylene to reduce osmotic stress on the crystal as the remaining salt is removed. A critical feature of the overall procedure is maintenance of near equilibrium throughout by using a large number of steps involving small changes in solute concentration. The conditions used in the actual transfer were adjusted to eliminate the fracturing of crystals by visually distinguishing between two opposing types of fracture patterns: those produced by osmotic crushing as opposed to osmotic expansion. Basic requirements for a successful procedure with other protein crystals are a high permeability toward small solutes and a relatively slow dissolution rate at salt concentrations for which biphasic mixtures can be obtained. Desalted crystals of phosphoglucomutase have no visible fractures, are stable in the final solution for at least a week, and exhibit no noticeable change in the resolution of their X-ray diffraction pattern. In fact, desalted crystals can be rapidly cooled to 160 K, whereas untreated crystals are almost completely disordered by the same cooling procedure. The component of the desalting mixture whose presence is crucial to the success of the cooling process is polyoxyethylene, which apparently impedes the formation of ice within the protein crystal. Diffraction data obtained with an area-detector diffractometer did not differ significantly, either in terms of quality or resolution range, between crystals in 2.3 M ammonium sulfate at room temperature and crystals at 160 K in which ammonium sulfate had been replaced by glycine. The successful use of the following replacement solutes, instead of glycine, also is documented: sucrose, glycerol, and a low molecular weight poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG-400).

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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