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Cyan fluorescent proteins (CFP) derived from Aequorea victoria GFP, carrying a tryptophan-based chromophore, are widely used as FRET donors in live cell fluorescence imaging experiments. Recently, several CFP variants with near-ultimate photophysical performances were obtained through a mix of site-directed and large scale random mutagenesis. To understand the structural bases of these improvements, we have studied more specifically the consequences of the single-site T65S mutation. We find that all CFP variants carrying the T65S mutation not only display an increased fluorescence quantum yield and a simpler fluorescence emission decay, but also show an improved pH stability and strongly reduced reversible photoswitching reactions. Most prominently, the Cerulean-T65S variant reaches performances nearly equivalent to those of mTurquoise, with QY  = 0.84, an almost pure single exponential fluorescence decay and an outstanding stability in the acid pH range (pK(1/2) = 3.6). From the detailed examination of crystallographic structures of different CFPs and GFPs, we conclude that these improvements stem from a shift in the thermodynamic balance between two well defined configurations of the residue 65 hydroxyl. These two configurations differ in their relative stabilization of a rigid chromophore, as well as in relaying the effects of Glu222 protonation at acid pHs. Our results suggest a simple method to greatly improve numerous FRET reporters used in cell imaging, and bring novel insights into the general structure-photophysics relationships of fluorescent proteins.


Asma Fredj, Hélène Pasquier, Isabelle Demachy, Gabriella Jonasson, Bernard Levy, Valérie Derrien, Yasmina Bousmah, Gallia Manoussaris, Frank Wien, Jacqueline Ridard, Marie Erard, Fabienne Merola. The single T65S mutation generates brighter cyan fluorescent proteins with increased photostability and pH insensitivity. PloS one. 2012;7(11):e49149

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PMID: 23133673

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