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Single particle electron cryomicroscopy: trends, issues and future perspective

  • Kutti R. Vinothkumar (a1) and Richard Henderson (a1)


There has been enormous progress during the last few years in the determination of three-dimensional biological structures by single particle electron cryomicroscopy (cryoEM), allowing maps to be obtained with higher resolution and from fewer images than required previously. This is due principally to the introduction of a new type of direct electron detector that has 2- to 3-fold higher detective quantum efficiency than available previously, and to the improvement of the computational algorithms for image processing. In spite of the great strides that have been made, quantitative analysis shows that there are still significant gains to be made provided that the problems associated with image degradation can be solved, possibly by minimising beam-induced specimen movement and charge build up during imaging. If this can be achieved, it should be possible to obtain near atomic resolution structures of smaller single particles, using fewer images and resolving more conformational states than at present, thus realising the full potential of the method. The recent popularity of cryoEM for molecular structure determination also highlights the need for lower cost microscopes, so we encourage development of an inexpensive, 100 keV electron cryomicroscope with a high-brightness field emission gun to make the method accessible to individual groups or institutions that cannot afford the investment and running costs of a state-of-the-art 300 keV installation. A key requisite for successful high-resolution structure determination by cryoEM includes interpretation of images and optimising the biochemistry and grid preparation to obtain nicely distributed macromolecules of interest. We thus include in this review a gallery of cryoEM micrographs that shows illustrative examples of single particle images of large and small macromolecular complexes.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

*Author for correspondence: Richard Henderson, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Francis Crick Avenue, Cambridge CB2 0QH, UK. Email:


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Single particle electron cryomicroscopy: trends, issues and future perspective

  • Kutti R. Vinothkumar (a1) and Richard Henderson (a1)


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