The preponderance of structural data of the purple membrane from X-ray diffraction (XRD), electron crystallography (EC), and atomic force microscopy (AFM) allows us to ask questions about the structure of bacteriorhodopsin itself, as well as about the information derived from the different techniques. The transmembrane helices of bacteriorhodopsin are quite similar in both EC and XRD models. In contrast, the loops at the surfaces of the purple membrane show the highest variability between the atomic models, comparable to the height variance measured by AFM. The excellent agreement of the AFM topographs with the atomic models from XRD builds confidence in the results. Small technical difficulties in EC lead to poorer resolution of the loop structures, although the combination of atomic models with AFM surfaces allows clear interpretation of the extent and flexibility of the loop structures. While XRD remains the premier technique to determine very-high-resolution structures, EC offers a method to determine loop structures unhindered by three-dimensional crystal contacts, and AFM provides information about surface structures and their flexibility under physiological conditions.
Journal of Structural Biology – Elsevier
Published: Dec 30, 1999
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