Three-Dimensional Chemical Mapping of a Single Protein in the Hydrated State with Atom Probe Tomography.
AbstractUnravelling the three-dimensional structures and compositions of biological macromolecules sheds light on their functions and also contributes to the design of future biochemical compounds and processes. Atom probe tomography (APT) is demonstrated in this research as a new and effective approach to explore the structure and chemical composition of a single protein in the hydrated state. By introducing graphene encapsulation, proteins in solution can be immobilized on a metal specimen tip, with an end radius in the range of 50 nm to allow field ionization and evaporation. Using a ferritin particle as an example, analysis of the mass spectrum and reconstructed 3D chemical maps at near-atomic resolution acquired from APT reveals the core consisting of iron and iron oxides, the peptide shell containing amino acids, and the interior interface between the iron core and the peptide shell. The quantitative distribution and proportion of iron isotopes from a single ferritin core have been determined for the first time, as well as identification of the possible sites of amino acids inside the protein shell. The complete experimental protocol is straightforward and lays a foundation for future exploration of various macromolecules in a controlled environment.