Acta Crystallographica Section D Structural Biology | VOL. 78

Medical contrast agents as promising tools for biomacromolecular SAXS experiments

Publication Date Aug 9, 2022


Small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) has become an indispensable tool in structural biology, complementing atomic-resolution techniques. It is sensitive to the electron-density difference between solubilized biomacromolecules and the buffer, and provides information on molecular masses, particle dimensions and interactions, low-resolution conformations and pair distance-distribution functions. When SAXS data are recorded at multiple contrasts, i.e. at different solvent electron densities, it is possible to probe, in addition to their overall shape, the internal electron-density profile of biomacromolecular assemblies. Unfortunately, contrast-variation SAXS has been limited by the range of solvent electron densities attainable using conventional co-solutes (for example sugars, glycerol and salt) and by the fact that some biological systems are destabilized in their presence. Here, SAXS contrast data from an oligomeric protein and a protein–RNA complex are presented in the presence of iohexol and Gd-HPDO3A, two electron-rich molecules that are used in biomedical imaging and that belong to the families of iodinated and lanthanide-based complexes, respectively. Moderate concentrations of both molecules allowed solvent electron densities matching those of proteins to be attained. While iohexol yielded higher solvent electron densities (per mole), it interacted specifically with the oligomeric protein and precipitated the protein–RNA complex. Gd-HPDO3A, while less efficient (per mole), did not disrupt the structural integrity of ei...


Small-angle X-ray Scattering Small-angle X-ray Scattering Data Medical Contrast Agents Pair Distance-distribution Functions Oligomeric Protein Lanthanide-based Complexes Protein RNA Complex Electron-rich Molecules Chemical Inertness Particle Dimensions

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