Journal article

Visualization of proteins in intact cells with a clonable tag for electron microscopy

Identification of proteins in 3D maps of cells is a main challenge in structural cell biology. For light microscopy (LM) clonable reagents such as green fluorescent protein represented a real revolution and equivalent reagents for transmission electron microscopy (TEM) have been pursued for a long time. To test the viability of the metal-binding protein metallothionein (MT) as a tag for TEM in cells we have studied three MT-fusion proteins in Escherichia coli: AmiC, a component of the division ring, RecA, a DNA-binding protein, and a truncated cytoplasmic form of maltose-binding protein (MBP). Proteins fused to MT were expressed in E. coli. live cells treated with gold salts were processed by fast-freezing and freeze-substitution. Small electron-dense particles were detected in sections of bacteria expressing the MT-fusion proteins and immunogold labelling confirmed that these particles were associated to the fusion proteins. The distribution of the particles correlated with the functional locations of these proteins: MBP-MT3 concentrated in the cytoplasm, AmiC-MT1 in the bacterial division ring and RecA-MT1 in the nucleoid. The electron-dense tag was easily visualized by electron tomography and in frozen-hydrated cells.


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