Atomic force microscopy studies of native photosynthetic membranes

James N. Sturgis, Jaimey D. Tucker, John D. Olsen, C. Neil Hunter, Robert A. Niederman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


In addition to providing the earliest surface images of a native photosynthetic membrane at submolecular resolution, examination of the intracytoplasmic membrane (ICM) of purple bacteria by atomic force microscopy (AFM) has revealed a wide diversity of species-dependent arrangements of closely packed light-harvesting (LH) antennae, capable of fulfilling the basic requirements for efficient collection, transmission, and trapping of radiant energy. A highly organized architecture was observed with fused preparations of the pseudocrystalline ICM of Blastochloris viridis, consiting of hexagonally packed monomeric reaction center light-harvesting 1 (RC-LH1) core complexes. Among strains which also form a peripheral LH2 antenna, images of ICM patches from Rhodobacter sphaeroides exhibited well-ordered, interconnected networks of dimeric RC-LH1 core complexes intercalated by rows of LH2, coexisting with LH2-only domains. Other peripheral antenna-containing species, notably Rhodospirillum photometricum and Rhodopseudomonas palustris, showed a less regular organization, with mixed regions of LH2 and RC-LH1 cores, intermingled with large, paracrystalline domains. The ATP synthase and cytochrome bc 1 complex were not observed in any of these topographs and are thought to be localized in the adjacent cytoplasmic membrane or in inaccessible ICM regions separated from the flat regions imaged by AFM. The AFM images have served as a basis for atomic-resolution modeling of the ICM vesicle surface, as well as forces driving segregation of photosynthetic complexes into distinct domains. Docking of atomic-resolution molecular structures into AFM topographs of Rsp. photometricum membranes generated precise in situ structural models of the core complex surrounded by LH2 rings and a region of tightly packed LH2 complexes. A similar approach has generated a model of the highly curved LH2-only membranes of Rba. sphaeroides which predicts that sufficient space exists between LH2 complexes for quinones to diffuse freely. Measurement of the intercomplex distances between adjacent LH2 rings of Phaeospirillum molischianum has permitted the first calculation of the separation of bacteriochlorophyll a molecules in the native ICM. A recent AFM analysis of the organization of green plant photosystem II (PSII) in grana thylakoids revealed the protruding oxygen-evolving complex, crowded together in parallel alignment at three distinct levels of stacked membranes over the lumenal surface. The results also confirmed that PSII-LHCII supercomplexes are displaced relative to one another in opposing grana membranes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3679-3698
Number of pages20
Issue number17
StatePublished - May 5 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry


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