Mapping 70S ribosomes in intact cells by cryoelectron tomography and pattern recognition

Julio O Ortiz, Friedrich Förster, Julia Kürner, Alexandros A Linaroudis, Wolfgang Baumeister

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Cryoelectron tomography (CET) combines the potential of three-dimensional (3D) imaging with a close-to-life preservation of biological samples. It allows the examination of large and stochastically variable structures, such as organelles or whole cells. At the current resolution it becomes possible to visualize large macromolecular complexes in their functional cellular environments. Pattern recognition methods can be used for a systematic interpretation of the tomograms; target molecules are identified and located based on their structural signature and their correspondence with a template. Here, we demonstrate that such an approach can be used to map 70S ribosomes in an intact prokaryotic cell (Spiroplasma melliferum) with high fidelity, in spite of the low signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of the tomograms. At a resolution of 4.7 nm the average generated from the 236 ribosomes found in a tomogram is in good agreement with high resolution structures of isolated ribosomes as obtained by X-ray crystallography or cryoelectron microscopy. Under the conditions of the experiment (logarithmic growth phase) the ribosomes are evenly distributed throughout the cytosol, occupying approximately 5% of the cellular volume. A subset of about 15% is found in close proximity to and with a distinct orientation with respect to the plasma membrane. This study represents a first step towards generating a more comprehensive cellular atlas of macromolecular complexes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)334-41
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Structural Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Algorithms
  • Cryoelectron Microscopy
  • Crystallography, X-Ray
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Macromolecular Substances
  • Models, Molecular
  • Ribosomes
  • Spiroplasma
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed


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