Dissecting Optical Response and Molecular Structure of Fluorescent Proteins With Non-canonical Chromophores.
ABSTRACT: Tracking the structural dynamics of fluorescent protein chromophores holds the key to unlocking the fluorescence mechanisms in real time and enabling rational design principles of these powerful and versatile bioimaging probes. By combining recent chemical biology and ultrafast spectroscopy advances, we prepared the superfolder green fluorescent protein (sfGFP) and its non-canonical amino acid (ncAA) derivatives with a single chlorine, bromine, and nitro substituent at the ortho site to the phenolate oxygen of the embedded chromophore, and characterized them using an integrated toolset of femtosecond transient absorption and tunable femtosecond stimulated Raman spectroscopy (FSRS), aided by quantum calculations of the vibrational normal modes. A dominant vibrational cooling time constant of ~4 and 11 ps is revealed in Cl-GFP and Br-GFP, respectively, facilitating a ~30 and 12% increase of the fluorescent quantum yield vs. the parent sfGFP. Similar time constants were also retrieved from the transient absorption spectra, substantiating the correlated electronic and vibrational motions on the intrinsic molecular timescales. Key carbon-halogen stretching motions coupled with phenolate ring motions of the deprotonated chromophores at ca. 908 and 890 cm-1 in Cl-GFP and Br-GFP exhibit enhanced activities in the electronic excited state and blue-shift during a distinct vibrational cooling process on the ps timescale. The retrieved structural dynamics change due to targeted site-specific halogenation of the chromophore thus provides an effective means to design new GFP derivatives and enrich the bioimaging probe toolset for life and medical sciences.
Project description:Fluorescent proteins (FPs) have played a pivotal role in bioimaging and advancing biomedicine. The versatile fluorescence from engineered, genetically encodable FP variants greatly enhances cellular imaging capabilities, which are dictated by excited-state structural dynamics of the embedded chromophore inside the protein pocket. Visualization of the molecular choreography of the photoexcited chromophore requires a spectroscopic technique capable of resolving atomic motions on the intrinsic timescale of femtosecond to picosecond. We use femtosecond stimulated Raman spectroscopy to study the excited-state conformational dynamics of a recently developed FP-calmodulin biosensor, GEM-GECO1, for calcium ion (Ca(2+)) sensing. This study reveals that, in the absence of Ca(2+), the dominant skeletal motion is a ? 170 cm(-1) phenol-ring in-plane rocking that facilitates excited-state proton transfer (ESPT) with a time constant of ? 30 ps (6 times slower than wild-type GFP) to reach the green fluorescent state. The functional relevance of the motion is corroborated by molecular dynamics simulations. Upon Ca(2+) binding, this in-plane rocking motion diminishes, and blue emission from a trapped photoexcited neutral chromophore dominates because ESPT is inhibited. Fluorescence properties of site-specific protein mutants lend further support to functional roles of key residues including proline 377 in modulating the H-bonding network and fluorescence outcome. These crucial structural dynamics insights will aid rational design in bioengineering to generate versatile, robust, and more sensitive optical sensors to detect Ca(2+) in physiologically relevant environments.
Project description:Tracking vibrational motions during a photochemical or photophysical process has gained momentum, due to its sensitivity to the progression of reaction and change of environment. In this work, we implemented an advanced ultrafast vibrational technique, femtosecond-stimulated Raman spectroscopy (FSRS), to monitor the excited state structural evolution of an engineered green fluorescent protein (GFP) single-site mutant S205V. This mutation alters the original excited state proton transfer (ESPT) chain. By strategically tuning the Raman pump to different wavelengths (i.e., 801, 539, and 504 nm) to achieve pre-resonance with transient excited state electronic bands, the characteristic Raman modes of the excited protonated (A*) chromophore species and intermediate deprotonated (I*) species can be selectively monitored. The inhomogeneous distribution/population of A* species go through ESPT with a similar ~300 ps time constant, confirming that bridging a water molecule to protein residue T203 in the ESPT chain is the rate-limiting step. Some A* species undergo vibrational cooling through high-frequency motions on the ~190 ps time scale. At early times, a portion of the largely protonated A* species could also undergo vibrational cooling or return to the ground state with a ~80 ps time constant. On the photoproduct side, a ~1330 cm-1 delocalized motion is observed, with dispersive line shapes in both the Stokes and anti-Stokes FSRS with a pre-resonance Raman pump, which indicates strong vibronic coupling, as the mode could facilitate the I* species to reach a relatively stable state (e.g., the main fluorescent state) after conversion from A*. Our findings disentangle the contributions of various vibrational motions active during the ESPT reaction, and offer new structural dynamics insights into the fluorescence mechanisms of engineered GFPs and other analogous autofluorescent proteins.
Project description:Superfolder variant of the green fluorescent protein (sfGFP) became a favorite probe for examination of the unfolding-refolding processes of fluorescent proteins with beta-barrel structure owing to its reversible unfolding in comparison with other fluorescent proteins. Its benefit is the proper folding even in fusion constructions with poorly folded polypeptides. We noticed that guanidine thiocyanate affects not only the structure of protein but its chromophore directly. Therefore we studied the influence of ionic denaturants and salts including guanidine thiocyanate, guanidine hydrochloride, sodium chloride and sodium thiocyanate on spectral features of sfGFP. It was shown that moderate amounts of the studied agents do not disrupt sfGFP structure but provoke pronounced alteration of its spectral characteristics. Changes in absorption and CD spectra in visible spectral range indicate the specific binding of SCN- and Cl- anions in the sfGFP chromophore vicinity. The anion binding results in the redistribution of sfGFP molecules with neutral and anionic chromophores. This also hinders the proton transfer in the chromophore excited state, considerably decreasing the fluorescence intensity of sfGFP. Our results indicate that when ionic denaturants are used in the studies of fluorescent protein folding their effect on fluorophore charge state should be taken into account.
Project description:Methylation occurs in a myriad of systems with protective and regulatory functions. 8-methoxypyrene-1,3,6-trisulfonate (MPTS), a methoxy derivative of a photoacid, serves as a model system to study effects of methylation on the excited state potential energy landscape. A suite of spectroscopic techniques including transient absorption, wavelength-tunable femtosecond stimulated Raman spectroscopy (FSRS), and fluorescence quantum yield measurements via steady-state electronic spectroscopy reveal the energy dissipation pathways of MPTS following photoexcitation. Various solvents enable a systematic characterization of the H-bonding interaction, viscosity, and dynamic solvation that influence the ensuing relaxation pathways. The formation of a charge-transfer state out of the Franck-Condon region occurs on the femtosecond-to-picosecond solvation timescale before encountering a rotational barrier. The rotational relaxation correlates with the H-bond donating strength of solvent, while the rotational time constant lengthens as solvent viscosity increases. Time-resolved excited-state FSRS, aided by quantum calculations, provides crucial structural dynamics knowledge and reveals the sulfonate groups playing a dominant role during solvation. Several prominent vibrational motions of the pyrene ring backbone help maneuver the population toward the more fluorescent state. These ultrafast correlated electronic and nuclear motions ultimately govern the fate of the photoexcited chromophore in solution. Overall, MPTS in water displays the highest probability to fluoresce, while the aprotic and more viscous dimethyl sulfoxide enhances the nonradiative pathways. These mechanistic insights may apply robustly to other photoexcited chromophores that do not undergo excited-state proton transfer or remain trapped in a broad electronic state and also provide design principles to control molecular optical responses with site-specific atomic substitution.
Project description:The Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP), which is widely used in bioimaging, is known to undergo light-induced redox transformations. Electron transfer is thought to occur resonantly through excited states of its chromophore; however, a detailed understanding of the electron gateway states of the chromophore is still missing. Here, we use photoelectron spectroscopy and high-level quantum chemistry calculations to show that following UV excitation, the ultrafast electron dynamics in the chromophore anion proceeds via an excited shape resonance strongly coupled to the open continuum. The impact of this state is found across the entire 355-315 nm excitation range, from above the first bound-bound transition to below the opening of higher-lying continua. By disentangling the electron dynamics in the photodetachment channels, we provide an important reference for the adiabatic position of the electron gateway state, which is located at 348 nm, and discover the source of the curiously large widths of the photoelectron spectra that have been reported in the literature. By introducing chemical modifications to the GFP chromophore, we show that the detachment threshold and the position of the gateway state, and hence the underlying excited-state dynamics, can be changed systematically. This enables a fine tuning of the intrinsic electron emission properties of the GFP chromophore and has significant implications for its function, suggesting that the biomimetic GFP chromophores are more stable to photooxidation.
Project description:Many green fluorescent protein (GFP) variants have been developed for use as fluorescent tags, and recently a superfolder GFP (sfGFP) has been developed as a robust folding reporter. This new variant shows increased stability and improved folding kinetics, as well as 100% recovery of native protein after denaturation. Here, we characterize sfGFP, and find that this variant exhibits hysteresis as unfolding and refolding equilibrium titration curves are non-coincident even after equilibration for more than eight half-lives as estimated from kinetic unfolding and refolding studies. This hysteresis is attributed to trapping in a native-like intermediate state. Mutational studies directed towards inhibiting chromophore formation indicate that the novel backbone cyclization is responsible for the hysteresis observed in equilibrium titrations of sfGFP. Slow equilibration and the presence of intermediates imply a rough landscape. However, de novo folding in the absence of the chromophore is dominated by a smoother energy landscape than that sampled during unfolding and refolding of the post-translationally modified polypeptide.
Project description:The sugar-phosphate backbone of DNA near single-stranded (ss)-double-stranded (ds) junctions likely fluctuates within a broad distribution of conformations to permit the proper binding of genome regulatory proteins that function at these sites. In this work we use absorbance, circular dichroism (CD), and two-dimensional fluorescence spectroscopy (2DFS) to study the local conformations and conformational disorder within chromophore-labeled DNA constructs. These constructs employ dimers of the fluorescent chromophore Cy3 that are site-specifically incorporated into the sugar-phosphate backbones of DNA strands at ss-ds DNA fork junctions. We show that these data can be analyzed to determine the local conformations of the (Cy3)2 dimer, and the degree of conformational disorder. Our analysis employs an essential-state Holstein-Frenkel Hamiltonian model, which takes into account the internal electronic-vibrational motions within each Cy3 chromophore, and the resonant electronic interaction that couples the two chromophores together. Our results suggest that this approach may be applied generally to understand local backbone conformation and conformational disorder at ss-ds DNA fork junctions.
Project description:Having a high folding efficiency and a low tendency to aggregate, the superfolder GFP (sfGFP) offers a unique opportunity to study the folding of proteins that have a ?-barrel topology. Here, we studied the unfolding-refolding of sfGFP that was induced by guanidine thiocyanate (GTC), which is a stronger denaturing agent than GdnHCl or urea. Structural perturbations of sfGFP were studied by spectroscopic methods (absorbance, fluorescence, and circular dichroism), by acrylamide quenching of tryptophan and green chromophore fluorescence, and by size-exclusion chromatography. Low concentrations of GTC (up to 0.1 M) induce subtle changes in the sfGFP structure. The pronounced changes in the visible absorption spectrum of sfGFP which are accompanied by a dramatic decrease in tryptophan and green chromophore fluorescence was recorded in the range 0-0.7 M GNC. These alterations of sfGFP characteristics that erroneously can be mixed up with appearance of intermediate state in fact have pure spectroscopic but not structural nature. Higher concentrations of GTC (from 0.7 to 1.7 M), induce a disruption of the sfGFP structure, that is manifested in simultaneous changes of all of the detected parameters. Full recovery of native properties of denaturated sfGFP was observed after denaturant removal. The refolding of sfGFP passes through the accumulation of the off-pathway intermediate state, in which inner alpha-helix and hence green chromophore and Trp57 are still not tuned up to (properly integrated into) the already formed ?-barrel scaffold of protein. Incorporation of the chromophore in the ?-barrel in the pathway of refolding and restoration of its ability to fluoresce occur in a narrow range of GTC concentrations from 1.0 to 0.7 M, and a correct insertion of Trp 57 occurs at concentrations ranging from 0.7 to 0 M GTC. These two processes determine the hysteresis of protein unfolding and refolding.
Project description:The primary energetic processes driving the functional proton pump of bacteriorhodopsin take place in the form of complex molecular dynamic events after excitation of the retinal chromophore into the Franck-Condon state. These early events include a strong electronic polarization, skeletal stretching, and all-trans-to-13-cis isomerization upon formation of the J intermediate. The effectiveness of the photoreaction is ensured by a conical intersection between the electronic excited and ground states, providing highly nonadiabatic coupling to nuclear motions. Here, we study real-time vibrational coherences associated with these motions by analyzing light-induced infrared emission from oriented purple membranes in the 750-1400 cm(-)(1) region. The experimental technique applied is based on second-order femtosecond difference frequency generation on macroscopically ordered samples that also yield information on phase and direction of the underlying motions. Concerted use of several analysis methods resulted in the isolation and characterization of seven different vibrational modes, assigned as C-C stretches, out-of-plane methyl rocks, and hydrogen out-of-plane wags, whereas no in-plane H rock was found. Based on their lifetimes and several other criteria, we deduce that the majority of the observed modes take place on the potential energy surface of the excited electronic state. In particular, the direction sensitivity provides experimental evidence for large intermediate distortions of the retinal plane during the excited-state isomerization process.
Project description:Non-valence states in neutral molecules (Rydberg states) have well-established roles and importance in photochemistry, however, considerably less is known about the role of non-valence states in photo-induced processes in anions. Here, femtosecond time-resolved photoelectron imaging is used to show that photoexcitation of the S1(??*) state of the methyl ester of deprotonated para-coumaric acid - a model chromophore for photoactive yellow protein (PYP) - leads to a bifurcation of the excited state wavepacket. One part remains on the S1(??*) state forming a twisted intermediate, whilst a second part leads to the formation of a non-valence (dipole-bound) state. Both populations eventually decay independently by vibrational autodetachment. Valence-to-non-valence internal conversion has hitherto not been observed in the intramolecular photophysics of an isolated anion, raising questions into how common such processes might be, given that many anionic chromophores have bright valence states near the detachment threshold.