Reconstructing Virus Structures from Nanometer to Near-Atomic Resolutions with Cryo-Electron Microscopy and Tomography

  • Juan Chang
  • Xiangan Liu
  • Ryan H. Rochat
  • Matthew L. Baker
  • Wah ChiuEmail author
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 726)


The past few decades have seen tremendous advances in single-particle electron ­cryo-microscopy (cryo-EM). The field has matured to the point that near-atomic resolution density maps can be generated for icosahedral viruses without the need for crystallization. In parallel, substantial progress has been made in determining the structures of nonicosahedrally arranged proteins in viruses by employing either single-particle cryo-EM or cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET). Implicit in this course have been the availability of a new generation of electron cryo-microscopes and the development of the computational tools that are essential for generating these maps and models. This methodology has enabled structural biologists to analyze structures in increasing detail for virus particles that are in different morphogenetic states. Furthermore, electron imaging of frozen, hydrated cells, in the process of being infected by viruses, has also opened up a new avenue for studying virus structures “in situ”. Here we present the common techniques used to acquire and process cryo-EM and cryo-ET data and discuss their implications for structural virology both now and in the future.


Particle Image Fourier Space Icosahedral Symmetry Icosahedral Virus Contrast Transfer Function 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



One dimension; one dimensional


Two dimensions; two dimensional


Three dimensions; three dimensional


Charge-coupled device


Electron cryo-microscopy


Electron cryo-tomography


Computed tomography


Contrast transfer function


Electron microscope; electron microscopy


Electron Microscopy Data Bank (


Fourier shell correlation


Fourier transform


Graphical user interface


Signal-to-noise ratio


Secondary structural elements


Weak phase object approximation


Zernike phase contrast



JC, XL, RHR and MLB contributed equally to this work. This work has been supported by grants from NIH (P41RR002250, R01AI0175208, and R01GM079429) and Robert Welch Foundation (Q1242). RHR is supported by the NIH training grants (GM07330 through the MSTP, T15LM007093 through the Gulf Coast Consortia). We thank Dr. Frazer Rixon for assistance with manuscript preparation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Juan Chang
    • 1
  • Xiangan Liu
    • 1
  • Ryan H. Rochat
    • 1
    • 2
  • Matthew L. Baker
    • 1
  • Wah Chiu
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.National Center for Macromolecular Imaging, Verna and Marrs McLean Department of Biochemistry and Molecular BiologyBaylor College of MedicineHoustonUSA
  2. 2.Graduate Program in Structural and Computational Biology and Molecular BiophysicsBaylor College of MedicineHoustonUSA

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