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<jats:p>Imaging of proteins at the single-molecule level can reveal conformational variability, which is essential for the understanding of biomolecules. To this end, a biologically relevant state of the sample must be retained during both sample preparation and imaging. Native electrospray ionization (ESI) can transfer even the largest protein complexes into the gas phase while preserving their stoichiometry and overall shape. High-resolution imaging of protein structures following native ESI is thus of fundamental interest for establishing the relation between gas phase and solution structure. Taking advantage of low-energy electron holography’s (LEEH) unique capability of imaging individual proteins with subnanometer resolution, we investigate the conformational flexibility of Herceptin, a monoclonal IgG antibody, deposited by native electrospray mass-selected ion beam deposition (ES-IBD) on graphene. Images reconstructed from holograms reveal a large variety of conformers. Some of these conformations can be mapped to the crystallographic structure of IgG, while others suggest that a compact, gas-phase–related conformation, adopted by the molecules during ES-IBD, is retained. We can steer the ratio of those two types of conformations by changing the landing energy of the protein on the single-layer graphene surface. Overall, we show that LEEH can elucidate the conformational heterogeneity of inherently flexible proteins, exemplified here by IgG antibodies, and thereby distinguish gas-phase collapse from rearrangement on surfaces.</jats:p>

Original publication




Journal article


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Publication Date





e2112651118 - e2112651118