Electron scattering properties of biological macromolecules and their use for cryo-EM map sharpening†
Resolution-dependent loss of contrast in cryo-EM maps may obscure features at high resolution that are critical for map interpretation. Post-processing of cryo-EM maps can improve the interpretability by adjusting the resolution-dependence of structure factor amplitudes through map sharpening. Traditionally this has been done by rescaling the relative contribution of low and high-resolution frequencies globally. More recently, the realisation that molecular motion and heterogeneity cause non-uniformity of resolution throughout the map has inspired the development of techniques that optimise sharpening locally. We previously developed LocScale, a method that utilises the radial structure factor from a refined atomic model as a restraint for local map sharpening. While this method has proved beneficial for the interpretation of cryo-EM maps, the dependence on the availability of (partial) model information limits its general applicability. Here, we review the basic assumptions of resolution-dependent contrast loss in cryo-EM maps and propose a route towards a robust alternative for local map sharpening that utilises information on expected scattering properties of biological macromolecules, but requires no detailed knowledge of the underlying molecular structure. We examine remaining challenges for implementation and discuss possible applications.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Challenges in biological cryo electron microscopy