An Alternative Strategy for Spectral Tuning of Flavin-binding Fluorescent Proteins



iLOV is an engineered flavin-binding fluorescent protein (FbFP) with applications for in vivo cellular imaging. To expand the range of applications of FbFPs for multicolor imaging and FRET-based biosensing, it is desirable to understand how to modify their absorption and emission wavelengths (i.e., through spectral tuning). There is particular interest in developing FbFPs that absorb and emit light at longer wavelengths, which has proven challenging thus far. Existing spectral tuning strategies that do not involve chemical modification of the flavin cofactor have focused on placing positively charged amino acids near flavin’s C4a and N5 atoms. Guided by previously reported electrostatic spectral tunning maps (ESTMs) of the flavin cofactor and by quantum mechanical/molecular mechanical (QM/MM) calculations reported in this work, we suggest an alternative strategy: placing a negatively charged amino acid near flavin’s N1 atom. We predict that a single-point mutant, iLOV-Q430E, has a slightly red-shifted absorption and fluorescence maximum wavelength relative to iLOV. To validate our theoretical prediction, we experimentally expressed and purified iLOV-Q430E and measured its spectral properties. We found that the Q430E mutation in iLOV results in a slight change in absorption and a 4-8 nm redshift in the fluorescence relative to iLOV, in good agreement with the computational prediction. Molecular dynamics simulations showed that the carboxylate side chain of the glutamate in iLOV-Q430E points away from the flavin cofactor, which leads to a future expectation that further red-shifting may be achieved by bringing the side chain closer to the cofactor.


Supplementary material

Supporting information for: An Alternative Strategy for Spectral Tuning of Flavin-binding Fluorescent Proteins
Tables of computed vertical excitation energies.