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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 14, 2023
  2. We discovered a novel fluorophore by incorporating a dimethylamino group (–NMe2) into the conformationally locked green fluorescent protein (GFP) scaffold. It exhibited a marked solvent-polarity-dependent fluorogenic behavior and can potentially find broad applications as an environment-polarity sensor in vitro and in vivo. The ultrafast femtosecond transient absorption (fs-TA) spectroscopy in combination with quantum calculations revealed the presence of a twisted intramolecular charge transfer (TICT) state, which is formed by rotation of the –NMe2 group in the electronic excited state. In contrast to the bright fluorescent state (FS), the TICT state is dark and effectively quenches fluorescence upon formation. We employed a newly developed multivariable analysis approach to the FS lifetime in various solvents and showed that the FS → TICT reaction barrier is mainly modulated by H-bonding capability instead of viscosity of the solvent, accounting for the observed polarity dependence. These deep mechanistic insights are further corroborated by the dramatic loss of fluorogenicity for two similar GFP-derived chromophores in which the rotation of the –NMe2 group is inhibited by structural locking.
  3. Since green fluorescent protein (GFP) has revolutionized molecular and cellular biology for about three decades, there has been a keen interest in understanding, designing, and controlling the fluorescence properties of GFP chromophore ( i.e. , HBDI) derivatives from the protein matrix to solution. Amongst these cross-disciplinary efforts, the elucidation of excited-state dynamics of HBDI derivatives holds the key to correlating the light-induced processes and fluorescence quantum yield (FQY). Herein, we implement steady-state electronic spectroscopy, femtosecond transient absorption (fs-TA), femtosecond stimulated Raman spectroscopy (FSRS), and quantum calculations to study a series of mono- and dihalogenated HBDI derivatives (X = F, Cl, Br, 2F, 2Cl, and 2Br) in basic aqueous solution, gaining new insights into the photophysical reaction coordinates. In the excited state, the halogenated “floppy” chromophores exhibit an anti-heavy atom effect, reflected by strong correlations between FQY vs. Franck–Condon energy ( E FC ) or Stokes shift, and k nr vs. E FC , as well as a swift bifurcation into the I-ring (major) and P-ring (minor) twisting motions. In the ground state, both ring-twisting motions become more susceptible to sterics and exhibit spectral signatures from the halogen-dependent hot ground-state absorption band decay in TA data. We envision this type ofmore »systematic analysis of the halogenated HBDI derivatives to provide guiding principles for the site-specific modification of GFP chromophores, and expand design space for brighter and potentially photoswitchable organic chemical probes in aqueous solution with discernible spectral signatures throughout the photocycle.« less