Protein crystallization in living cells

Robert Schönherr*, Janine Mia Rudolph, Lars Redecke

*Corresponding author for this work


Protein crystallization in living cells has been observed surprisingly often as a native assembly process during the past decades, and emerging evidence indicates that this phenomenon is also accessible for recombinant proteins. But only recently the advent of high-brilliance synchrotron sources, X-ray free-electron lasers, and improved serial data collection strategies has allowed the use of these micrometer-sized crystals for structural biology. Thus, in cellulo crystallization could offer exciting new possibilities for proteins that do not crystallize applying conventional approaches. In this review, we comprehensively summarize the current knowledge of intracellular protein crystallization. This includes an overview of the cellular functions, the physical properties, and, if known, the mode of regulation of native in cellulo crystal formation, complemented with a discussion of the reported crystallization events of recombinant proteins and the current method developments to successfully collect X-ray diffraction data from in cellulo crystals. Although the intracellular protein self-assembly mechanisms are still poorly understood, regulatory differences between native in cellulo crystallization linked to a specific function and accidently crystallizing proteins, either disease associated or recombinantly introduced, become evident. These insights are important to systematically exploit living cells as protein crystallization chambers in the future.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBiological Chemistry
Issue number7
Pages (from-to)751-772
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - 27.06.2018

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Infection and Inflammation Research (ZIEL)


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