Expansion Revealing: Decrowding Proteins to Unmask Invisible Brain Nanostructures

Deblina Sarkar, Jinyoung Kang, Asmamaw T Wassie, Margaret E. Schroeder, Zhuyu Peng, Tyler B. Tarr, Ai-Hui Tang, Emily Niederst, Jennie Z. Young, Li-Huei Tsai, Thomas A. Blanpied, Edward S. Boyden, in press Nature Biomedical Engineering, 2021


Cells and tissues are made out of nanoscale building blocks, such as proteins, organized in crowded nanostructures. We show that many biomolecules, and the nanostructures in which they are embedded, may be invisible to prior imaging techniques, due to the inaccessibility of labels (e.g., antibodies) to biomolecules embedded within such crowded structures. We developed a technology, expansion revealing (ExR), which isotropically decrowds proteins from each other, to enable their labeling. We use ExR to discover the alignment of presynaptic calcium channels with postsynaptic machinery in intact brain circuits, as well as the existence of periodic amyloid nanoclusters containing ion channel proteins in Alzheimer’s model mice. Thus, ExR reveals nanostructures within complex biological specimens that were not previously visualizable, and may find broad use in biology.

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