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LSSS 2017-2018


Life Sciences Seminar Series


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Eva Nogales

Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA

Cryo-EM to visualize complex structure and function

Selected Publications

Near-atomic model of microtubule-tau interactions.Kellogg EH, Hejab NMA, Poepsel S, Downing KH, DiMaio F, Nogales E
Science 2018 May 10


Tau is a developmentally regulated axonal protein that stabilizes and bundles microtubules (MTs). Its hyperphosphorylation is thought to cause detachment from MTs and subsequent aggregation into fibrils implicated in Alzheimer's disease. It is unclear which tau residues are crucial for tau-MT interactions, where tau binds on MTs, and how it stabilizes them. We used cryo-electron microscopy to visualize different tau constructs on MTs, and computational approaches to generate atomic models of tau-tubulin interactions. The conserved tubulin-binding repeats within tau adopt similar extended structures along the crest of the protofilament, stabilizing the interface between tubulin dimers. Our structures explain the effect of phosphorylation on MT affinity and lead to a model of tau repeats binding in tandem along protofilaments, tethering together tubulin dimers and stabilizing polymerization interfaces.

Cryo-EM structure of substrate-bound human telomerase holoenzyme.Nguyen THD, Tam J, Wu RA, Greber BJ, Toso D, Nogales E, Collins K
Nature 2018 May; 557(7704):190-195


The enzyme telomerase adds telomeric repeats to chromosome ends to balance the loss of telomeres during genome replication. Telomerase regulation has been implicated in cancer, other human diseases, and ageing, but progress towards clinical manipulation of telomerase has been hampered by the lack of structural data. Here we present the cryo-electron microscopy structure of the substrate-bound human telomerase holoenzyme at subnanometre resolution, showing two flexibly RNA-tethered lobes: the catalytic core with telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT) and conserved motifs of telomerase RNA (hTR), and an H/ACA ribonucleoprotein (RNP). In the catalytic core, RNA encircles TERT, adopting a well-ordered tertiary structure with surprisingly limited protein-RNA interactions. The H/ACA RNP lobe comprises two sets of heterotetrameric H/ACA proteins and one Cajal body protein, TCAB1, representing a pioneering structure of a large eukaryotic family of ribosome and spliceosome biogenesis factors. Our findings provide a structural framework for understanding human telomerase disease mutations and represent an important step towards telomerase-related clinical therapeutics.

Structures of human PRC2 with its cofactors AEBP2 and JARID2.Kasinath V, Faini M, Poepsel S, Reif D, Feng XA, Stjepanovic G, Aebersold R, Nogales E
Science 2018 Feb 23; 359(6378):940-944


Transcriptionally repressive histone H3 lysine 27 methylation by Polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2) is essential for cellular differentiation and development. Here we report cryo-electron microscopy structures of human PRC2 in a basal state and two distinct active states while in complex with its cofactors JARID2 and AEBP2. Both cofactors mimic the binding of histone H3 tails. JARID2, methylated by PRC2, mimics a methylated H3 tail to stimulate PRC2 activity, whereas AEBP2 interacts with the RBAP48 subunit, mimicking an unmodified H3 tail. SUZ12 interacts with all other subunits within the assembly and thus contributes to the stability of the complex. Our analysis defines the complete architecture of a functionally relevant PRC2 and provides a structural framework to understand its regulation by cofactors, histone tails, and RNA.

How Cryo-EM Became so Hot.Cheng Y, Glaeser RM, Nogales E
Cell 2017 Nov 30; 171(6):1229-1231


The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize for Chemistry to Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank, and Richard Henderson for "developing cryoelectron microscopy for the high-resolution structure determination of biomolecules in solution." Achieving this goal, which required innovation, persistence, and uncommon physical insight, has broadened horizons for structural studies in molecular and cell biology.

The cryo-electron microscopy structure of human transcription factor IIH.Greber BJ, Nguyen THD, Fang J, Afonine PV, Adams PD, Nogales E
Nature 2017 Sep 21; 549(7672):414-417


Human transcription factor IIH (TFIIH) is part of the general transcriptional machinery required by RNA polymerase II for the initiation of eukaryotic gene transcription. Composed of ten subunits that add up to a molecular mass of about 500 kDa, TFIIH is also essential for nucleotide excision repair. The seven-subunit TFIIH core complex formed by XPB, XPD, p62, p52, p44, p34, and p8 is competent for DNA repair, while the CDK-activating kinase subcomplex, which includes the kinase activity of CDK7 as well as the cyclin H and MAT1 subunits, is additionally required for transcription initiation. Mutations in the TFIIH subunits XPB, XPD, and p8 lead to severe premature ageing and cancer propensity in the genetic diseases xeroderma pigmentosum, Cockayne syndrome, and trichothiodystrophy, highlighting the importance of TFIIH for cellular physiology. Here we present the cryo-electron microscopy structure of human TFIIH at 4.4 Å resolution. The structure reveals the molecular architecture of the TFIIH core complex, the detailed structures of its constituent XPB and XPD ATPases, and how the core and kinase subcomplexes of TFIIH are connected. Additionally, our structure provides insight into the conformational dynamics of TFIIH and the regulation of its activity.

Structural Insights into the Eukaryotic Transcription Initiation Machinery.Nogales E, Louder RK, He Y
Annu Rev Biophys 2017 May 22; 46:59-83


Eukaryotic gene transcription requires the assembly at the promoter of a large preinitiation complex (PIC) that includes RNA polymerase II (Pol II) and the general transcription factors TFIID, TFIIA, TFIIB, TFIIF, TFIIE, and TFIIH. The size and complexity of Pol II, TFIID, and TFIIH have precluded their reconstitution from heterologous systems, and purification relies on scarce endogenous sources. Together with their conformational flexibility and the transient nature of their interactions, these limitations had precluded structural characterization of the PIC. In the last few years, however, progress in cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) has made possible the visualization, at increasingly better resolution, of large PIC assemblies in different functional states. These structures can now be interpreted in near-atomic detail and provide an exciting structural framework for past and future functional studies, giving us unique mechanistic insight into the complex process of transcription initiation.