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Visualizing viral protein structures in cells using genetic probes for correlated light and electron microscopy.

Published Article
DOI: 10.1016/j.ymeth.2015.06.002
O'Shea Lab


Structural studies of viral proteins most often use high-resolution techniques such as X-ray crystallography, nuclear magnetic resonance, single particle negative stain, or cryo-electron microscopy (EM) to reveal atomic interactions of soluble, homogeneous viral proteins or viral protein complexes. Once viral proteins or complexes are separated from their host s cellular environment, their natural in situ structure and details of how they interact with other cellular components may be lost. EM has been an invaluable tool in virology since its introduction in the late 1940 s and subsequent application to cells in the 1950 s. EM studies have expanded our knowledge of viral entry, viral replication, alteration of cellular components, and viral lysis. Most of these early studies were focused on conspicuous morphological cellular changes, because classic EM metal stains were designed to highlight classes of cellular structures rather than specific molecular structures. Much later, to identify viral proteins inducing specific structural configurations at the cellular level, immunostaining with a primary antibody followed by colloidal gold secondary antibody was employed to mark the location of specific viral proteins. This technique can suffer from artifacts in cellular ultrastructure due to compromises required to provide access to the immuno-reagents. Immunolocalization methods also require the generation of highly specific antibodies, which may not be available for every viral protein. Here we discuss new methods to visualize viral proteins and structures at high resolutions in situ using correlated light and electron microscopy (CLEM). We discuss the use of genetically encoded protein fusions that oxidize diaminobenzidine (DAB) into an osmiophilic polymer that can be visualized by EM. Detailed protocols for applying the genetically encoded photo-oxidizing protein MiniSOG to a viral protein, photo-oxidation of the fusion protein to yield DAB polymer staining, and preparation of photo-oxidized samples for TEM and serial block-face scanning EM (SBEM) for large-scale volume EM data acquisition are also presented. As an example, we discuss the recent multi-scale analysis of Adenoviral protein E4-ORF3 that reveals a new type of multi-functional polymer that disrupts multiple cellular proteins. This new capability to visualize unambiguously specific viral protein structures at high resolutions in the native cellular environment is revealing new insights into how they usurp host proteins and functions to drive pathological viral replication.

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