Photoswitching of phytochrome photoreceptors between red-absorbing (Pr) and far-red absorbing (Pfr) states triggers light adaptation of plants, bacteria and other organisms. Using quantum chemistry, we elucidate the color-tuning mechanism of phytochromes and identify the origin of the Pfr-state red-shifted spectrum. Spectral variations are explained by resonance interactions of the protonated linear tetrapyrrole chromophore. In particular, hydrogen bonding of pyrrole ring D with the strictly conserved aspartate shifts the positive charge towards ring D thereby inducing the red spectral shift. Our MD simulations demonstrate that formation of the ring D–aspartate hydrogen bond depends on interactions between the chromophore binding domain (CBD) and phytochrome specific domain (PHY). Our study guides rational engineering of fluorescent phytochromes with a far-red shifted spectrum.
SI phytochrome red shift Egle Maximowitsch