Mechanisms and applications of photoinduced processes in fluorescent proteins
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In the current work, the photophysics and photochemistry of the phototoxic red fluorescent protein (RFP) KillerRed was investigated. KillerRed's phototoxicity makes it useful for studying oxidative stress on cell physiology and for cell killing in photodynamic therapy. Spectroscopic probes were used to show that the phototoxicity of KillerRed stems primarily from a type I photosensitization mechanism producing radicals. The production of radicals was supported by electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) studies, where a long-lived radical was observed in KillerRed and two other RFPs (mRFP and DsRed) following excitation. Transient absorption spectroscopy, various other spectroscopic techniques, and the published crystal structure of KillerRed indicate that the long-filled water channel is likely responsible for the increased phototoxicity of KillerRed. In the blue fluorescent protein (BFP) mKalama1, some of the same techniques were applied to understand the photophysics and photochemistry on the timescale ranging from femtoseconds to seconds. Transient absorption spectroscopy and previously published results demonstrate that two-photon excitation of mKalama1 likely results in the formation of a radical cation and solvated electrons. This may explain the blinking behavior which has been observed on the single molecule level for many fluorescent proteins, the identity of which has remained elusive. It was also shown that the chromophore, while neutral in the ground state, does not exhibit excited-state proton transfer (ESPT) during its nanosecond excited-state lifetime; however, the chromophore undergoes a deprotonation in the ground state after electronic relaxation. This work plays a key role in our understanding of fluorescent proteins and will help pave the way to developing new ones. The research on the BFPs was extended to improve them for cellular imaging. This was accomplished by identification of dark states in the BFPs which are longer in wavelength than the collected fluorescence. Using dual lasers, it was shown that these dark states could be optically depleted, thereby increasing the overall fluorescence without enhancing the background fluorescence. Rational site-directed mutagenesis was carried out on the BFPs and the mutants were screened for fluorescence enhancement. These proteins were then analyzed using transient absorption spectroscopy to elucidate the identity of the dark state(s) used for fluorescence enhancement.