The use of styrene–maleic acid (SMA) for the purification of a wide range of membrane proteins (MPs) from both prokaryotic and eukaryotic sources has begun to make an impact in the field of MP biology. This method is growing in popularity as a means to purify and thoroughly investigate the structure and function of MPs and biological membranes. The amphiphilic SMA copolymer can effectively extract MPs directly from a native lipid bilayer to form discs ∼10 nm in diameter. The resulting lipid particles, or styrene–maleic acid lipid particles (SMALPs), contain SMA, protein and membrane lipid. MPs purified in SMALPs are able to retain their native structure and, in many cases, functional activity, and growing evidence suggests that MPs purified using SMA have enhanced thermal stability compared with detergent-purified proteins. The SMALP method is versatile and is compatible with a wide range of cell types across taxonomic domains. It can readily be adapted to replace detergent in many protein purification methods, often with only minor changes made to the existing protocol. Moreover, biophysical analysis and structural determination may now be a possibility for many large, unstable MPs. Here, we review recent advances in the area of SMALP purification and how it is affecting the field of MP biology, critically assess recent progress made with this method, address some of the associated technical challenges which may remain unresolved and discuss opportunities for exploiting SMALPs to expand our understanding of structural and functional properties of MPs.
The use of styrene maleic acid lipid particles (SMALPs) for the purification of membrane proteins (MPs) is a rapidly developing technology. The amphiphilic copolymer of styrene and maleic acid (SMA) disrupts biological membranes and can extract membrane proteins in nanodiscs of approximately 10 nm diameter. These discs contain SMA, protein and membrane lipids. There is evidence that MPs in SMALPs retain their native structures and functions, in some cases with enhanced thermal stability. In addition, the method is compatible with biological buffers and a wide variety of biophysical and structural analysis techniques. The use of SMALPs to solubilize and stabilize MPs offers a new approach in our attempts to understand, and influence, the structure and function of MPs and biological membranes. In this review, we critically assess progress with this method, address some of the associated technical challenges, and discuss opportunities for exploiting SMA and SMALPs to expand our understanding of MP biology.