Microcrystallography of protein crystals and in cellulo diffraction

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The advent of high-quality microfocus beamlines at many synchrotron facilities has permitted the routine analysis of crystals smaller than 10 µm in their largest dimension, which used to represent a challenge. We present two alternative workflows for the structure determination of protein microcrystals by X-ray crystallography with a particular focus on crystals grown in vivo. The microcrystals are either extracted from cells by sonication and purified by differential centrifugation, or analyzed in cellulo after cell sorting by flow cytometry of crystal-containing cells. Optionally, purified crystals or crystal-containing cells are soaked in heavy atom solutions for experimental phasing. These samples are then prepared for diffraction experiments in a similar way by application onto a micromesh support and flash cooling in liquid nitrogen. We briefly describe and compare serial diffraction experiments of isolated microcrystals and crystal-containing cells using a microfocus synchrotron beamline to produce datasets suitable for phasing, model building and refinement. These workflows are exemplified with crystals of the Bombyx mori cypovirus 1 (BmCPV1) polyhedrin produced by infection of insect cells with a recombinant baculovirus. In this case study, in cellulo analysis is more efficient than analysis of purified crystals and yields a structure in ~8 days from expression to refinement.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere55793
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number125
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jul 2017


  • Biochemistry
  • In cellulo diffraction
  • In vivo crystals
  • Issue 125
  • Microcrystallography
  • Microcrystals
  • Polyhedra
  • X-ray diffraction

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