Tables for
Volume B
Reciprocal space
Edited by U. Shmueli

International Tables for Crystallography (2006). Vol. B. ch. 4.5, pp. 474-475   | 1 | 2 |

Section Overview

R. P. Millanea* Overview

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Structure determination in fibre diffraction is concerned with determining atomic coordinates or some other structural parameters, from the measured cylindrically averaged diffraction data. Fibre diffraction analysis suffers from the phase problem and low resolution (diffraction data rarely extend beyond 3 Å resolution), but this is no worse than in protein crystallography where phases derived from, say, isomorphous replacement or molecular replacement, coupled with the considerable stereochemical information usually available on the molecule under study, together contribute enough information to lead to precise structures. What makes structure determination by fibre diffraction more difficult is the loss of information owing to the cylindrical averaging of the diffraction data. However, in spite of these difficulties, fibre diffraction has been used to determine, with high precision, the structures of a wide variety of biological and synthetic polymers, and other macromolecular assemblies. Because of the size of the repeating unit and the resolution of the diffraction data, methods for structure determination in fibre diffraction tend to mimic those of macromolecular (protein) crystallography, rather than small-molecule crystallography (direct methods).

For a noncrystalline fibre one can determine only the molecular structure from the continuous diffraction data, whereas for a polycrystalline fibre one can determine crystal structures from the Bragg diffraction data. However, there is little fundamental difference between methods used for structure determination with noncrystalline and polycrystalline fibres. For partially crystalline fibres, little has so far been attempted with regard to rigorous structure determination.

As is the case with protein crystallography, the precise methods used for structure determination by fibre diffraction depend on the particular problem at hand. A variety of tools are available and one selects from these those that are appropriate given the data available in a particular case. For example, the structure of a polycrystalline polynucleotide might be determined by using Patterson functions to determine possible packing arrangements, molecular model building to define, refine and arbitrate between structures, difference Fourier synthesis to locate ions or solvent molecules, and finally assessment of the reliability of the structure. As a second example, to determine the structure of a helical virus, one might use isomorphous replacement to obtain phase estimates, calculate an electron-density map, fit a preliminary model and refine it using simulated annealing alternating with difference Fourier analysis, and assess the results. The various tools available, together with indications of where and how they are used, are described in the following sections.

Although a variety of techniques are used to solve structures using fibre diffraction, most of the methods do fall broadly into one of three classes that depend primarily on the size of the helical repeat unit. The first class applies to molecules whose repeating units are small, i.e. are represented by a relatively small number of independent parameters or degrees of freedom (after all stereochemical constraints have been incorporated). The structure can then be determined by an exhaustive exploration of the parameter space using molecular model building. The first example above would belong to this class. The second class of methods is appropriate when the size of the helical repeating unit is such that its structure is described by too many variable parameters for the parameter space to be explored a priori. It is then necessary to phase the fibre diffraction data and construct an electron-density map into which the molecular structure can be fitted and then refined. The second example above would belong to this class. The second class of methods therefore mimics conventional protein crystallography quite closely. The third class of problems applies when the structure is large, but there are too few diffraction data to attempt phasing and the usual determination of atomic coordinates. The solution to such problems varies from case to case and usually involves modelling and optimization of some kind.

An important parameter in structure determination by fibre diffraction is the degree of overlap (that results from the cylindrical averaging) in the data. This parameter is equal to the number of significant terms in equation ([link] or the number of independent terms in equation ([link], and depends on the position in reciprocal space and, for a polycrystalline fibre, the space-group symmetry. The number of degrees of freedom in a particular datum is equal to twice this number (since each structure factor generally has real and imaginary parts), and is denoted in this section by m. Determination of the [G_{nl}(R)] from the cylindrically averaged data [I_{l}(R)] therefore involves separating the [m/2] amplitudes [|G_{nl}(R)|] and assigning phases to each. The electron density can be calculated from the [G_{nl}(R)] using equations ([link] and ([link].

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