Researchers at NIH-FEI Living Lab for Structural Biology achieve breakthrough biological results

FEI is pleased to announce that researchers at the NIH-FEI Living Lab for Structural Biology have achieved breakthrough biological results, using FEI’s Titan Krios™ transmission electron microscope (TEM), to elucidate the structural mechanism by which glutamate receptors participate in the transmission of signals between neurons in the brain. Their work is described in Nature, “Structural Mechanism of Glutamate Receptor Activation and Desensitization,” by Meyerson, et al., (DOI: 10.1038/nature13603), .

“The Living Lab for Structural Biology was designed two years ago as an open innovation framework to bring together cryo-EM, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), x-ray diffraction (XRD), and biochemistry experts in one place to develop integrated workflows for enabling solutions to  important structural biology questions,” said Paul Scagnetti, vice president and general manager of FEI’s Sciences Group. “This important biological research result demonstrates the success of the collaboration between FEI and the leading researchers at NIH, such as Dr. Sriram Subramaniam.”

According to Sriram Subramaniam, Ph.D., senior investigator in the National Cancer Institute's Laboratory of Cell Biology and the director of the Living Lab, the prospect that the determination of structures of membrane proteins and related complexes may no longer be limited by size or by the need for crystallization suggests a critical shift in the landscape of structural biology and an exciting new horizon.

According to Mark Mayer, Ph.D., of the Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Neurophysiology, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), an NIH researcher who has traditionally relied on X-ray crystallograpy to study important membrane proteins and an author on the Nature paper, iGluRs are major mediators of excitatory synaptic transmission in the brain and also play key roles in nearly all aspects of nervous system development, learning and memory. Their dysfunction is associated with major neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, stroke, epilepsy, schizophrenia and depression. Understanding the molecular function of glutamate receptors will allow greater insight into their gating mechanisms, and allow development of therapies targeting these diseases.

A major challenge in membrane protein structural biology is the crystallization of ion channels and receptors in different functional states; with crystals in hand the most widely used approach to solve structures at atomic resolution is the collection of X-ray diffraction data. However, many membrane proteins are resistant to crystallization, and trapping them in different functional states is even more of a challenge, since the crystal lattice often selects for just one of multiple conformational states. This is especially true for glutamate receptor ion channels, which have three major conformations, a resting state, an active state, and a desensitized state, in which the receptor has bound glutamate, but no longer transmits ion channel activity. Even more challenging, glutamate receptors activate and desensitize on the millisecond time scale.

The multiple conformations of the proteins in the glutamate receptor family were solved utilizing FEI's Titan Krios TEM equipped with an XFEG and spherical aberration image corrector, Falcon™ generation II direct electron detector, and FEI EPU software, which enables 24/7 uninterrupted automated cryo-EM image collection.

Scagnetti adds, “The research relied on the automated and robust workflows for protein structure determination that were developed in the NIH-FEI Living Lab – and this was a major goal of the collaboration.”

FEI announced the Living Lab Structural Biology Center at NIH in 2012 as part of a cooperative research and development agreement. Located on the NIH campus, the facility houses many FEI instruments used for biological structural determination including a Titan Krios TEM, the world’s most powerful commercially-available electron microscope for structural biology. Experts from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, (NIDDK) , and other Institutes of the NIH, such as the  NICHD, and FEI, work together at the at the Living Lab to develop new methods and workflows, from sample preparation through data analysis, for cryo-electron microscopy.

For more information about FEI’s microscopes for structural biology, please visit For more information about the Living Lab, please visit .

About FEI

FEI Company (Nasdaq: FEIC) designs, manufactures and supports a broad range of high-performance microscopy workflow solutions that provide images and answers at the micro-, nano- and picometer scales. Its innovation and leadership enable customers in industry and science to increase productivity and make breakthrough discoveries.  Headquartered in Hillsboro, Ore., USA, FEI has over 2,600 employees and sales and service operations in more than 50 countries around the world. More information can be found at:

FEI Safe Harbor Statement

This news release contains forward-looking statements that include statements regarding the performance capabilities and benefits of the NIH-FEI Living Lab, as well as the Titan Krios TEM, Falcon™ generation II direct electron detector, and FEI EPU software. Factors that could affect these forward-looking statements include but are not limited to our ability to manufacture, ship, deliver and install the tools or software as expected; failure of the product or technology to perform as expected; unexpected technology problems and challenges; changes to the technology; the inability of FEI, its suppliers or project partners to make the technological advances required for the technology to achieve anticipated results; and the inability of the customer or the NIH-FEI Living Lab to deploy the tools or develop and deploy the expected new applications or workflows. Please also refer to our Form 10-K, Forms 10-Q, Forms 8-K and other filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for additional information on these factors and other factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from the forward-looking statements. FEI assumes no duty to update forward-looking statements.


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