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One key to successful crystallization of membrane proteins is the identification of detergents that maintain the protein in a soluble, monodispersed state. Because of their hydrophobic nature, membrane proteins are particularly prone to forming insoluble aggregates over time. This nonspecific aggregation of the molecules reduces the likelihood of the regular association of the protein molecules essential for crystal lattice formation. Critical buffer components affecting the aggregation of membrane proteins include detergent choice, salt concentration, and presence of glycerol. The optimization of these parameters is often a time- and protein-consuming process. Here we describe a novel ultracentrifugation dispersity sedimentation (UDS) assay in which ultracentrifugation of very small (5 microL) volumes of purified, soluble membrane protein is combined with SDS-PAGE analysis to rapidly assess the degree of protein aggregation. The results from the UDS method correlate very well with established methods like size-exclusion chromatography (SEC), while consuming considerably less protein. In addition, the UDS method allows rapid screening of detergents for membrane protein crystallization in a fraction of the time required by SEC. Here we use the UDS method in the identification of suitable detergents and buffer compositions for the crystallization of three recombinant prokaryotic membrane proteins. The implications of our results for membrane protein crystallization prescreening are discussed.

Original publication




Journal article


Protein Sci

Publication Date





1422 - 1428


Chromatography, Gel, Crystallography, X-Ray, Detergents, Electrophoresis, Polyacrylamide Gel, Membrane Proteins, Solubility, Ultracentrifugation