Single-particle cryo-electron microscopy (cryoEM) has witnessed an explosion of activity and interest in recent years, as certain biological structures that were previously extremely challenging to solve have become much more tractable using the technology. Some structures, like icosahedral viruses and ribosomes, are now being solved to near-atomic resolution on a routine basis. The capabilities imply that atomic-level structural information is potentially achievable for many long sought-after protein targets, thus opening doors for exciting discoveries in structural biology. However, the inherently low signal-to-noise ratio of the acquired data makes certain targets extremely challenging to study using the technique, and the resolution will be limited to large domains, at best. In this application, one of the major challenges in single-particle cryoEM will be addressed with the development of a methodology that would enable routine structure solution of small (<100 kDa) macromolecules and macromolecular complexes. In parallel, the existing technological infrastructure, together with methodological improvements, will be applied to an outstanding problem in biology - the cryoEM structure of the human IKK complex, a central regulator of NF-?B based transcription regulation and a key target for drug design. Despite previous efforts using X-ray based techniques, the structure of IKK, and a rational structure-based model of its activation, remains elusive. The utilization of cryoEM to solve the structure of IKK will bypass the difficulties associated with specimen crystallization, while building on the inherent advantages of single-particle techniques, specifically in their ability to characterize dynamic and heterogeneous macromolecular assemblies. This work will provide groundwork for future functional analyses that will be performed in collaboration with research groups in the immediate vicinity of the laboratory and is expected to a broad impact on drug design efforts aimed at the IKK complex.
The proposed research is of immediate relevance to the public health mission of the NIH, as it will considerably improve our ability to perform rational structure-based drug discovery efforts. The proposed methodological developments have broad implications and will allow more rapid analysis of critical drug targets by facilitating their structure determination. The work with IKK directly and specifically aims to advance efforts toward targeted therapies involving the NF-?B pathway.
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