High Resolution Distance Distributions Determined by X-Ray and Neutron Scattering

  • Henry Y. H. Tang
  • John A. Tainer
  • Greg L. Hura
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 1009)


Measuring distances within or between macromolecules is necessary to understand the chemistry that biological systems uniquely enable. In performing their chemistry, biological macromolecules undergo structural changes over distances ranging from atomic to micrometer scales. X-ray and neutron scattering provide three key assets for tackling this challenge. First, they may be conducted on solutions where the macromolecules are free to sample the conformations that enable their chemistry. Second, there are few limitations on chemical environment for experiments. Third, the techniques can inform upon a wide range of distances at once. Thus scattering, particularly recorded at small angles (SAS), has been applied to a large variety of phenomenon. A challenge in interpreting scattering data is that the desired three dimensional distance information is averaged onto one dimension. Furthermore, the scales and variety of phenomenon interrogated have led to an assortment of functions that describe distances and changes thereof. Here we review scattering studies that characterize biological phenomenon at distances ranging from atomic to 50 nm. We also distinguish the distance distribution functions that are commonly used to describe results from these systems. With available X-ray and neutron scattering facilities, bringing the action that occurs at the atomic to the micrometer scale is now reasonably accessible. Notably, the combined distance and dynamic information recorded by SAS is frequently key to connecting structure to biological activity and to improve macromolecular design strategies and outcomes. We anticipate widespread utilization particularly in macromolecular engineering and time-resolved studies where many contrasting experiments are necessary for resolving chemical mechanisms through structural changes.


SAXS Pair distribution Pair correlation Protein structure Resolution Molecular ruler 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Henry Y. H. Tang
    • 1
  • John A. Tainer
    • 1
    • 2
  • Greg L. Hura
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Molecular Biophysics and Integrated BioimagingLawrence Berkeley National LaboratoryBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.Department of Molecular and Cellular OncologyThe University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer CenterHoustonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Chemistry and BiochemistryUniversity of CaliforniaSanta CruzUSA

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