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  1. We examine changes in the picosecond structural dynamics with irreversible photobleaching of red fluorescent proteins (RFP) mCherry, mOrange2 and TagRFP-T. Measurements of the protein dynamical transition using terahertz time-domain spectroscopy show in all cases an increase in the turn-on temperature in the bleached state. The result is surprising given that there is little change in the protein surface, and thus, the solvent dynamics held responsible for the transition should not change. A spectral analysis of the measurements guided by quasiharmonic calculations of the protein absorbance reveals that indeed the solvent dynamical turn-on temperature is independent of the thermal stability/photostate however the protein dynamical turn-on temperature shifts to higher temperatures. This is the first demonstration of switching the protein dynamical turn-on temperature with protein functional state. The observed shift in protein dynamical turn-on temperature relative to the solvent indicates an increase in the required mobile waters necessary for the protein picosecond motions, that is, these motions are more collective. Melting-point measurements reveal that the photobleached state is more thermally stable, and structural analysis of related RFP’s shows that there is an increase in internal water channels as well as a more uniform atomic root mean squared displacement. These observations are consistentmore »with previous suggestions that water channels form with extended light excitation providing O2 access to the chromophore and subsequent fluorescence loss. We report that these same channels increase internal coupling enhancing thermal stability and collectivity of the picosecond protein motions. The terahertz spectroscopic characterization of the protein and solvent dynamical onsets can be applied generally to measure changes in collectivity of protein motions.« less
  2. Biliverdin is a bile pigment that has a very low fluorescence quantum yield in solution, but serves as a chromophore in far-red fluorescent proteins being developed for bio-imaging. In this work, excited-state dynamics of biliverdin dimethyl ether (BVE) in solvents were investigated using femtosecond (fs) and picosecond (ps) time-resolved absorption and fluorescence spectroscopy. This study is the first fs timescale investigation of BVE in solvents, and therefore revealed numerous dynamics that were not resolved in previous, 200 ps time resolution measurements. Viscosity- and isotope-dependent experiments were performed to identify the contributions of isomerization and proton transfer to the excited-state dynamics. In aprotic solvents, a ∼2 ps non-radiative decay accounts for 95% of the excited-state population loss. In addition, a minor ∼30 ps emissive decay pathway is likely associated with an incomplete isomerization process around the C15C16 double bond that results in a flip of the D-ring. In protic solvents, the dynamics are more complex due to hydrogen bond interactions between solute and solvent. In this case, the ∼2 ps decay pathway is a minor channel (15%), whereas ∼70% of the excited-state population decays through an 800 fs emissive pathway. The ∼30 ps timescale associated with isomerization is also observed inmore »protic solvents. The most significant difference in protic solvents is the presence of a >300 ps timescale in which BVE can decay through an emissive state, in parallel with excited-state proton transfer to the solvent. Interestingly, a small fraction of a luminous species, which we designate lumin-BVE (LBVE), is present in protic solvents.« less
  3. Fluorescent proteins (FPs) have become fundamental tools for live cell imaging. Most FPs currently used are members of the green fluorescent protein super-family, but new fluorophores such as bilin-FPs are being developed and optimized. In particular, the UnaG FP incorporates bilirubin (BR) as a chromophore, enhancing its fluorescence quantum yield by three orders of magnitude relative to that in solution. To investigate the mechanism of this dramatic enhancement and provide a basis for further engineering of UnaG and other tetrapyrrole-based fluorophores, we performed picosecond fluorescence and femtosecond transient absorption measurements of BR bound to UnaG and its N57A site-directed mutant. The dynamics of wt-UnaG, which has a fluorescence QY of 0.51, are largely homogeneous, showing an excited state relaxation of ∼200 ps, and a 2.2 ns excited-state lifetime decay with a kinetic isotope effect (KIE) of 1.1 for D 2 O vs. H 2 O buffer. In contrast, for UnaG N57A (fluorescence QY 0.01) the results show a large spectral inhomogeneity with excited state decay timescales of 47 and 200 ps and a KIE of 1.4. The non-radiative deactivation of the excited state is limited by proton transfer. The loss of direct hydrogen bonds to the endo -vinyl dipyrrinone moietymore »of BR leads to high flexibility and structural heterogeneity of UnaG N57A, as seen in the X-ray crystal structure.« less
  4. Green fluorescent proteins (GFP) and their blue, cyan and red counterparts offer unprecedented advantages as biological markers owing to their genetic encodability and straightforward expression in different organisms. Although significant advancements have been made towards engineering the key photo-physical properties of red fluorescent proteins (RFPs), they continue to perform sub-optimally relative to GFP variants. Advanced engineering strategies are needed for further evolution of RFPs in the pursuit of improving their photo-physics. In this report, a microfluidic sorter that discriminates members of a cell-based library based on their excited state lifetime and fluorescence intensity is used for the directed evolution of the photo-physical properties of FusionRed. In-flow measurements of the fluorescence lifetime are performed in a frequency-domain approach with sub-millisecond sampling times. Promising clones are sorted by optical force trapping with an infrared laser. Using this microfluidic sorter, mutants are generated with longer lifetimes than their precursor, FusionRed. This improvement in the excited state lifetime of the mutants leads to an increase in their fluorescence quantum yield up to 1.8-fold. In the course of evolution, we also identified one key mutation (L177M), which generated a mutant (FusionRed-M) that displayed ∼2-fold higher brightness than its precursor upon expression in mammalian (HeLa) cells.more »Photo-physical and mutational analyses of clones isolated at the different stages of mutagenesis reveal the photo-physical evolution towards higher in vivo brightness.« less