In situ cryo-electron tomography and subtomogram averaging of intraflagellar transport trains
In situ cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET) and subtomogram averaging are powerful tools, able to provide 3D structures of biological samples at sub-nanometer resolution, while preserving information about cellular context and higher-order assembly. Best results are typically achieved, when applied to highly repetitive structures, such as viruses. Other typical examples are protein complexes that decorate long stretches along ciliary microtubules at stereotypical and precise repeats, such as axonemal dyneins. For such cases, a plethora of subtomogram averaging protocols exist. In this chapter, we show how we use cryo-ET and subtomogram averaging to study the architecture of the intraflagellar transport (IFT) machinery, a more challenging target that appears only in low copy numbers per tomogram. In the IFT trains, repeating units of IFT adaptor proteins engage two oppositely directed molecular motors to quickly shuttle ciliary building blocks and other proteins to the tip of the cilium and/or back to the base. This dynamic and sporadic nature of IFT trains poses challenges for determining the localization or precise orientation of the particles to be averaged. Solutions to these problems are described in this chapter.