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[en] As researchers strive to understand the interplay between the complex molecular systems that make up living cells, tools for characterizing the interactions between the various players involved have developed. Small-angle neutron scattering (SANS) plays an important role in building a molecular-level understanding of the structures of macromolecular systems that make up cells. SANS is widely applicable to the study of biological structures including, but by no means limited to, protein-protein or protein-nucleic acid complexes, lipid membranes, cellular scaffolding, and amyloid plaques. Here, we present a brief description of the technique as it is commonly applied to the study of biological systems and an overview instrumentation that is available at the various facilities around the world.
[en] Aggregation of protein is widely observed in our daily life. For example, cooking is manipulation of protein state. Main cause of various human diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases is also considered to be aggregation of protein. One of model proteins is ovalbumin (OVA), which is a major protein in egg white. An OVA aqueous solution aggregates at high temperature and forms gel like sunny-side up above the threshold concentration. This phenomenon has been researched thoroughly from the viewpoint of turbidity, rheology, spectroscopy, scattering and so on. Then we, as chemists, think the next step for this research is manipulation of the aggregation state by modifying the chemical structure. Kawachi et al. concentrated on the N-terminal amphiphilic peptide region (pN_1_-_2_2) and proved that this peptide region enhances the strength of OVA gel from the viewpoint of rheology. In contrast, aggregation ability of OVA without this peptide region (pOVA) is dramatically reduced. We assume that the reason for this phenomenon originates from the amphiphilic nature of the peptide. The aim of this research is to clarify the role of pN_1_-_2_2 and the relationship between the microscopic chemical structure and the macroscopic physical properties. To clarify the mesoscopic structure, we conducted a SANS measurement at GP-SANS, High Flux Isotope Reactor at ORNL. Samples are solutions or gels of OVA, pOVA, peptide and their mixture with various concentrations before and after heating. pH of samples was set to 7, which is common condition for the application of OVA and their derivatives. We observed a strong upturn at low-q region in SANS curves for pOVA solutions/gels after heating. This behavior is similar to a phase separation of well-known poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPA) solutions. From this result, we can see that the lack of amphiphilic peptide region makes the OVA solute unstable and promotes aggregation. In contrast to this, addition of amphiphilic peptide region does not change SANS profiles noticeably even after heating. This means that the peptide enhances the strength of gels without changing the original structure and is desirable for application.
[en] The measurement of the conformation of a Generation-8 Polyamidoamine dendrimer is reported as an initial experiment using the Extended Q-range Small Angle Neutron Scattering (EQ-SANS) diffractometer at the Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). The conformation parameters (radius of gyration, thickness of the soft shell etc.) are extracted by model fitting. The results are compared with data collected at the General-Purpose Small Angle Neutron Scattering at the High Flux Isotopic Reactor at ORNL. The comparison shows that the EQ-SANS diffractometer has comparable data statistics and Q resolution with shorter counting time over the measured Q-range.
[en] Zwitterionic long-chain lipids (e.g., dimyristoyl phosphatidylcholine, DMPC) spontaneously form onion-like, thermodynamically stable structures in aqueous solutions (commonly known as multilamellar vesicles, or MLVs). It has also been reported that the addition of zwitterionic short-chain (i.e., dihexanoyl phosphatidylcholine, DHPC) and charged long-chain (i.e., dimyristoyl phosphatidylglycerol, DMPG) lipids to zwitterionic long-chain lipid solutions results in the formation of unilamellar vesicles (ULVs). Here, we report a kinetic study on lipid mixtures composed of DMPC, DHPC, and DMPG. Two membrane charge densities (i.e., (DMPG)/(DMPC) = 0.01 and 0.001) and two solution salinities (i.e., (NaCl) = 0 and 0.2 M) are investigated. Upon dilution of the high-concentration samples at 50 C, thermodynamically stable MLVs are formed, in the case of both weakly charged and high salinity solution mixtures, implying that the electrostatic interactions between bilayers are insufficient to cause MLVs to unbind. Importantly, in the case of these samples small angle neutron scattering (SANS) data show that, initially, nanodiscs (also known as bicelles) or bilayered ribbons form at low temperatures (i.e., 10 C), but transform into uniform size, nanoscopic ULVs after incubation at 10 C for 20 h, indicating that the nanodisc is a metastable structure. The instability of nanodiscs may be attributed to low membrane rigidity due to a reduced charge density and high salinity. Moreover, the uniform-sized ULVs persist even after being heated to 50 C, where thermodynamically stable MLVs are observed. This result clearly demonstrates that these ULVs are kinetically trapped, and that the mechanical properties (e.g., bending rigidity) of 10 C nanodiscs favor the formation of nanoscopic ULVs over that of MLVs. From a practical point of view, this method of forming uniform-sized ULVs may lend itself to their mass production, thus making them economically feasible for medical applications that depend on monodisperse lipid-based systems for therapeutic and diagnostic purposes.
[en] Introducing nanostructural second phases has proved to be an effective approach to reduce the lattice thermal conductivity and thus enhances the figure of merit for many thermoelectric materials. Studies of the formation and evolution of these second phases are essential to understanding material temperature dependent behaviors, improving thermal stabilities, as well as designing new materials. In this study, powder samples of the PbTe-PbS thermoelectric material were examined using in situ neutron diffraction and small angle neutron scattering (SANS) techniques between room temperature and elevated temperature up to 663 K, to explore quantitative information on the structure, weight fraction, and size of the second phase. Neutron diffraction data showed that the as-milled powder was primarily a solid solution prior to heat treatment. During heating, a PbS second phase precipitated out of the PbTe matrix around 500 K, while re-dissolution started around 600 K. The second phase remained separated from the matrix upon cooling. Furthermore, SANS data indicated that there are two populations of nanostructures. The size of the smaller nanostructure increased from initially 5 nm to approximately 25 nm after annealing at 650 K, while the size of the larger one remained unchanged. This study demonstrated that in situ neutron techniques are effective means to obtain quantitative information on temperature-dependent nanostructural behavior of thermoelectrics and likely other high-temperature materials.
[en] In ErNi2B2C a microscopic and stable coexistence of ferromagnetism and superconductivity has been confirmed. In order to explore a possibility of the spontaneous vortex state, we performed small angle neutron scattering experiments. The results show that, in a field cooled process, an effective field evaluated by the vortex distance (scattering pattern) shows a clear increase as the system enters the weak ferromagnetic phase. This provides a direct evidence that an internal magnetic field mediated by the weak ferromagnetic order creates new vortices and affects the flux line lattice structure.