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  1. The advancement of super-resolution imaging (SRI) relies on fluorescent proteins with novel photochromic properties. Using light, the reversibly switchable fluorescent proteins (RSFPs) can be converted between bright and dark states for many photocycles and their emergence has inspired the invention of advanced SRI techniques. The general photoswitching mechanism involves the chromophore cis-trans isomerization and proton transfer for negative and positive RSFPs and hydration–dehydration for decoupled RSFPs. However, a detailed understanding of these processes on ultrafast timescales (femtosecond to millisecond) is lacking, which fundamentally hinders the further development of RSFPs. In this review, we summarize the current progress of utilizing variousmore »ultrafast electronic and vibrational spectroscopies, and time-resolved crystallography in investigating the on/off photoswitching pathways of RSFPs. We show that significant insights have been gained for some well-studied proteins, but the real-time “action” details regarding the bidirectional cis-trans isomerization, proton transfer, and intermediate states remain unclear for most systems, and many other relevant proteins have not been studied yet. We expect this review to lay the foundation and inspire more ultrafast studies on existing and future engineered RSFPs. The gained mechanistic insights will accelerate the rational development of RSFPs with enhanced two-way switching rate and efficiency, better photostability, higher brightness, and redder emission colors.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 1, 2023
  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 23, 2022
  3. Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 21, 2022
  4. 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,more »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 of 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
  5. Cyanobacteriochromes (CBCRs) are promising optogenetic tools for their diverse absorption properties with a single compact cofactor-binding domain. We previously uncovered the ultrafast reversible photoswitching dynamics of a red/green photoreceptor AnPixJg2, which binds phycocyanobilin (PCB) that is unavailable in mammalian cells. Biliverdin (BV) is a mammalian cofactor with a similar structure to PCB but exhibits redder absorption. To improve the AnPixJg2 feasibility in mammalian applications, AnPixJg2_BV4 with only four mutations has been engineered to incorporate BV. Herein, we implemented femtosecond transient absorption (fs-TA) and ground state femtosecond stimulated Raman spectroscopy (GS-FSRS) to uncover transient electronic dynamics on molecular time scales andmore »key structural motions responsible for the photoconversion of AnPixJg2_BV4 with PCB (Bpcb) and BV (Bbv) cofactors in comparison with the parent AnPixJg2 (Apcb). Bpcb adopts the same photoconversion scheme as Apcb, while BV4 mutations create a less bulky environment around the cofactor D ring that promotes a faster twist. The engineered Bbv employs a reversible clockwise/counterclockwise photoswitching that requires a two-step twist on ~5 and 35 picosecond (ps) time scales. The primary forward Pfr → Po transition displays equal amplitude weights between the two processes before reaching a conical intersection. In contrast, the primary reverse Po → Pfr transition shows a 2:1 weight ratio of the ~35 ps over 5 ps component, implying notable changes to the D-ring-twisting pathway. Moreover, we performed pre-resonance GS-FSRS and quantum calculations to identify the Bbv vibrational marker bands at ~659,797, and 1225 cm−1. These modes reveal a stronger H-bonding network around the BV cofactor A ring with BV4 mutations, corroborating the D-ring-dominant reversible photoswitching pathway in the excited state. Implementation of BV4 mutations in other PCB-binding GAF domains like AnPixJg4, AM1_1870g3, and NpF2164g5 could promote similar efficient reversible photoswitching for more directional bioimaging and optogenetic applications, and inspire other bioengineering advances.« less