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Open Access Research article

Transmission electron microscopy characterization of fluorescently labelled amyloid β 1-40 and α-synuclein aggregates

Valerie L Anderson and Watt W Webb*

Author Affiliations

School of Applied and Engineering Physics, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA

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BMC Biotechnology 2011, 11:125  doi:10.1186/1472-6750-11-125

Published: 19 December 2011

Abstract

Background

Fluorescent tags, including small organic molecules and fluorescent proteins, enable the localization of protein molecules in biomedical research experiments. However, the use of these labels may interfere with the formation of larger-scale protein structures such as amyloid aggregates. Therefore, we investigate the effects of some commonly used fluorescent tags on the morphologies of fibrils grown from the Alzheimer's disease-associated peptide Amyloid β 1-40 (Aβ40) and the Parkinson's disease-associated protein α-synuclein (αS).

Results

Using transmission electron microscopy (TEM), we verify that N-terminal labeling of Aβ40 with AMCA, TAMRA, and Hilyte-Fluor 488 tags does not prevent the formation of protofibrils and amyloid fibrils of various widths. We also measure the two-photon action cross-section of Aβ40 labelled with Hilyte Fluor 488 and demonstrate that this tag is suitable for use with two-photon fluorescence techniques. Similarly, we find that Alexa Fluor 488 labelling of αS variant proteins near either the N or C terminus (position 9 or 130) does not interfere with the formation of amyloid and other types of αS fibrils. We also present TEM images of fibrils grown from αS C-terminally labelled with enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP). Near neutral pH, two types of αS-EGFP fibrils are observed via TEM, while denaturation of the EGFP tag leads to the formation of additional species.

Conclusions

We demonstrate that several small extrinsic fluorescent tags are compatible with studies of amyloid protein aggregation. However, although fibrils can be grown from αS labelled with EGFP, the conformation of the fluorescent protein tag affects the observed aggregate morphologies. Thus, our results should assist researchers with label selection and optimization of solution conditions for aggregation studies involving fluorescence techniques.