Enhancing the Inhomogeneonus Photodynamics of Canonical Bacteriophytochrome

17 December 2021, Version 2
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


The ability of phytochromes to act as photoswitches in plants and microorganisms depends on interactions between a bilin-like chromophore and a protein. The interconversion occurs between the spectrally distinct red (Pr) and far-red (Pfr) conformers. This conformational change is triggered by the photoisomerization of the chromophore D-ring pyrrole. In this study, as a representative example of a phytochrome-bilin system, we take biliverdin IXα (BV) bound to bacteriophytochrome (BphP) from Deinococcus radiodurans. In the absence of light, we use an enhanced sampling molecular dynamics (MD) method to overcome the photoisomerization energy barrier. We find that the calculated free energy (FE) barriers between essential metastable states agree with spectroscopic results. We show that the enhanced dynamics of the BV chromophore in BphP triggers nanometer-scale conformational movements that propagate by two experimentally determined signal transduction pathways. Most importantly, we describe how the metastable states enable a thermal transition known as the dark reversion between Pfr and Pr, through a previously unknown intermediate state of Pfr. Here, for the first time, the heterogeneity of temperature-dependent Pfr states is presented at the atomistic level. This work paves a way toward understanding the complete mechanism of the photoisomerization of a bilin-like chromophore in phytochromes.


molecular dynamics
enhanced sampling
collective variables

Supplementary materials

Supporting Information
Detailed methods, protocols, and additional figures.


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