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ASU researchers develop new device to help image key proteins at room temperature

TEMPE, Ariz. A group of researchers from Arizona State University are part of a larger team reporting a major advance in the study of human proteins that could open up new avenues for more effective drugs of the future. The work is being reported in this week's Science magazine.

In the paper, "Serial femtosecond crystallography of G-protein-coupled receptors," the team reports that they have been successful in imaging at room temperature the structure of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCR) with the use of an x-ray free-electron laser.

GPCR's are a highly diverse group of membrane proteins that mediate cellular communication. Because of their involvement in key physiological and sensory processes in humans, they are thought to be prominent drug targets.

The method described in the paper was applied for the first time to this important class of proteins, for which the 2012 Nobel Prize was awarded to Brian Kobilka and Robert Lefkowitz, said John Spence, an Arizona State University professor of physics. Spence also is the director of science at National Science Foundation's BioXFEL Science and Technology Center and a team member on the Science paper.

"These GPCR's are the targets of a majority of drug molecules," Spence said, but they are notoriously difficult to work with. This is the first time structural observations of the GPCR's have been made at room temperature, allowing researchers to overcome several disadvantages of previous imaging methods of the proteins.

"Normally, protein crystallography is performed on frozen samples, to reduce the effects of radiation damage," Spence said. "But this new work was based on an entirely new approach to protein crystallography, called SFX (Serial Femtosecond Crystallography) developed jointly by ASU, the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory."

"This method uses brief pulses of x-rays instead of free

Contact: Skip Derra
Arizona State University

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