Negative staining, some closely related alternative preparation techniques and radiation stability are considered. An attempt is made to clarify the mechanism of action and ultimate resolution limit of negative staining. The results of electron diffraction investigation of thermitase micocrystals embedded in glucose and glucose + stains are presented. It is shown that at doses not exceeding 10 electrons/nm2 electron diffraction from thermitase crystals demonstrate diffraction fields up to 0.2 nm. When adding heavy-atom salts to glucose or using negative staining, the relative intensities of reflections change and electron diffraction patterns for every type of heavy-atom additive (or negative stain) have their specific features. Such characteristic changes of reflection intensities indicate specific interaction of these additives (or stains) with the object. In the case of electron diffraction from the crystals stained using the routine negative staining technique the ordering was preserved down to 0.4-0.5 nm. Increasing the dose up to the normal value results in fading of distant reflections. Thus, negative staining with radiation doses less than the critical one could yield resolution down to 0.4 nm. Yet, the structure may change due to interaction with the stain. Nevertheless, the possibility that such resolution could be obtained for a limited number of objects should not be excluded. Some examples of the application of negative staining for investigation of quaternary and domain structure of proteins (nitrogenase, glutamine synthetase, mitochondrial ATP-synthase, membrane monooxygenase enzymes), tubular and two-dimensional protein crystals (catalase, phosphorylase, HWV protein, hydrogenase), as well as ribosomes and bacteriophages are given in the review.
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