I design and study proteins with light controlled activity.
Protein engineering, optogenetics, coffee, analog photography
Optogenetics is the use of naturally occuring light sensing proteins to help study biology.
Too fast to follow. Many processes in biology occur so quickly or in such complex environments that our traditional methods of studying them are not sufficient. Imagine you’d like to investigate a process occurring in a mouse’s brain. If you administer a drug, it may be slow to start acting, and may not specifically target the region of interest. What if you could specifically control one region of the brain, even one cell, simply by shining a light on it?
From microbes to the brain. Specialized proteins called microbial opsins transport positive or negative ions across cell membranes in response to light. This action closely resembles the electrical signaling in the nervous system. When these proteins are delivered to neurons in the brain, they can be used activate or silence this signaling. This allows scientists to determine the function of specific neurons in the brain.
Stuck in the membrane? Light driven ion transport is a powerful technique, but is there a way to study processes away from the cell membrane, inside of the cell? As it turns out, there are many other light sensing proteins found in nature. For example, light sensing proteins influence growth towards sunlight in plants. By modifying these proteins, we can achieve light switchable control of other biological processes. This can be done by producing a library of many protein sequences and searching for the desired light-switchable activity, or by rationally engineering the new function by using the protein’s three dimensional structure as a guide.
Abstract: Optogenetic methodology enables direct targeting of specific neural circuit elements for inhibition or excitation while spanning timescales from the acute (milliseconds) to the chronic (many days or more). Although the impact of this temporal versatility and cellular specificity has been greater for basic science than clinical research, it is natural to ask whether the dynamic patterns of neural circuit activity discovered to be causal in adaptive or maladaptive behaviors could become targets for treatment of neuropsychiatric diseases. Here, we consider the landscape of ideas related to therapeutic targeting of circuit dynamics. Specifically, we highlight optical, ultrasonic, and magnetic concepts for the targeted control of neural activity, preclinical/clinical discovery opportunities, and recently reported optogenetically guided clinical outcomes.
Pub.: 23 Apr '16, Pinned: 15 Apr '17
Abstract: Naturally photoswitchable proteins offer a means of directly manipulating the formation of protein complexes that drive a diversity of cellular processes. We developed tunable light-inducible dimerization tags (TULIPs) based on a synthetic interaction between the LOV2 domain of Avena sativa phototropin 1 (AsLOV2) and an engineered PDZ domain (ePDZ). TULIPs can recruit proteins to diverse structures in living yeast and mammalian cells, either globally or with precise spatial control using a steerable laser. The equilibrium binding and kinetic parameters of the interaction are tunable by mutation, making TULIPs readily adaptable to signaling pathways with varying sensitivities and response times. We demonstrate the utility of TULIPs by conferring light sensitivity to functionally distinct components of the yeast mating pathway and by directing the site of cell polarization.
Pub.: 06 Mar '12, Pinned: 15 Apr '17
Abstract: Cells sense gradients of extracellular cues and generate polarized responses such as cell migration and neurite initiation. There is static information on the intracellular signaling molecules involved in these responses, but how they dynamically orchestrate polarized cell behaviors is not well understood. A limitation has been the lack of methods to exert spatial and temporal control over specific signaling molecules inside a living cell. Here we introduce optogenetic tools that act downstream of native G protein-coupled receptor (GPCRs) and provide direct control over the activity of endogenous heterotrimeric G protein subunits. Light-triggered recruitment of a truncated regulator of G protein signaling (RGS) protein or a Gβγ-sequestering domain to a selected region on the plasma membrane results in localized inhibition of G protein signaling. In immune cells exposed to spatially uniform chemoattractants, these optogenetic tools allow us to create reversible gradients of signaling activity. Migratory responses generated by this approach show that a gradient of active G protein αi and βγ subunits is sufficient to generate directed cell migration. They also provide the most direct evidence so for a global inhibition pathway triggered by Gi signaling in directional sensing and adaptation. These optogenetic tools can be applied to interrogate the mechanistic basis of other GPCR-modulated cellular functions.
Pub.: 13 Jun '14, Pinned: 15 Apr '17
Abstract: We have designed a bacterial system that is switched between different states by red light. The system consists of a synthetic sensor kinase that allows a lawn of bacteria to function as a biological film, such that the projection of a pattern of light on to the bacteria produces a high-definition (about 100 megapixels per square inch), two-dimensional chemical image. This spatial control of bacterial gene expression could be used to 'print' complex biological materials, for example, and to investigate signalling pathways through precise spatial and temporal control of their phosphorylation steps.
Pub.: 25 Nov '05, Pinned: 15 Apr '17
Abstract: Fluorescent proteins (FPs) are widely used as optical sensors, whereas other light-absorbing domains have been used for optical control of protein localization or activity. Here, we describe light-dependent dissociation and association in a mutant of the photochromic FP Dronpa, and we used it to control protein activities with light. We created a fluorescent light-inducible protein design in which Dronpa domains are fused to both termini of an enzyme domain. In the dark, the Dronpa domains associate and cage the protein, but light induces Dronpa dissociation and activates the protein. This method enabled optical control over guanine nucleotide exchange factor and protease domains without extensive screening. Our findings extend the applications of FPs from exclusively sensing functions to also encompass optogenetic control.
Pub.: 10 Nov '12, Pinned: 15 Apr '17
Abstract: Optogenetic tools have provided a new way to establish causal relationships between brain activity and behaviour in health and disease. Although no animal model captures human disease precisely, behaviours that recapitulate disease symptoms may be elicited and modulated by optogenetic methods, including behaviours that are relevant to anxiety, fear, depression, addiction, autism and parkinsonism. The rapid proliferation of optogenetic reagents together with the swift advancement of strategies for implementation has created new opportunities for causal and precise dissection of the circuits underlying brain diseases in animal models.
Pub.: 21 Mar '12, Pinned: 15 Apr '17
Abstract: The discovery of light-inducible protein-protein interactions has allowed for the spatial and temporal control of a variety of biological processes. To be effective, a photodimerizer should have several characteristics: it should show a large change in binding affinity upon light stimulation, it should not cross-react with other molecules in the cell, and it should be easily used in a variety of organisms to recruit proteins of interest to each other. To create a switch that meets these criteria we have embedded the bacterial SsrA peptide in the C-terminal helix of a naturally occurring photoswitch, the light-oxygen-voltage 2 (LOV2) domain from Avena sativa. In the dark the SsrA peptide is sterically blocked from binding its natural binding partner, SspB. When activated with blue light, the C-terminal helix of the LOV2 domain undocks from the protein, allowing the SsrA peptide to bind SspB. Without optimization, the switch exhibited a twofold change in binding affinity for SspB with light stimulation. Here, we describe the use of computational protein design, phage display, and high-throughput binding assays to create an improved light inducible dimer (iLID) that changes its affinity for SspB by over 50-fold with light stimulation. A crystal structure of iLID shows a critical interaction between the surface of the LOV2 domain and a phenylalanine engineered to more tightly pin the SsrA peptide against the LOV2 domain in the dark. We demonstrate the functional utility of the switch through light-mediated subcellular localization in mammalian cell culture and reversible control of small GTPase signaling.
Pub.: 24 Dec '14, Pinned: 15 Apr '17
Abstract: LOVTRAP is an optogenetic approach for reversible light-induced protein dissociation using protein A fragments that bind to the LOV domain only in the dark, with tunable kinetics and a >150-fold change in the dissociation constant (Kd). By reversibly sequestering proteins at mitochondria, we precisely modulated the proteins' access to the cell edge, demonstrating a naturally occurring 3-mHz cell-edge oscillation driven by interactions of Vav2, Rac1, and PI3K proteins.
Pub.: 18 Jul '16, Pinned: 15 Apr '17
Abstract: To expand the range of experiments that are accessible with optogenetics, we developed a photocleavable protein (PhoCl) that spontaneously dissociates into two fragments after violet-light-induced cleavage of a specific bond in the protein backbone. We demonstrated that PhoCl can be used to engineer light-activatable Cre recombinase, Gal4 transcription factor, and a viral protease that in turn was used to activate opening of the large-pore ion channel Pannexin-1.
Pub.: 14 Mar '17, Pinned: 15 Apr '17
Abstract: Enabling optical control over biological processes is a defining goal of the new field of optogenetics. Control of membrane voltage by natural rhodopsin family ion channels has found widespread acceptance in neuroscience, due to the fact that these natural proteins control membrane voltage without further engineering. In contrast, optical control of intracellular biological processes has been a fragmented effort, with various laboratories engineering light-responsive properties into proteins in different manners. In the present article, we review the various systems that have been developed for controlling protein functions with light based on vertebrate rhodopsins, plant photoregulatory proteins and, most recently, the photoswitchable fluorescent protein Dronpa. By allowing biology to be controlled with spatiotemporal specificity and tunable dynamics, light-controllable proteins will find applications in the understanding of cellular and organismal biology and in synthetic biology.
Pub.: 26 Sep '13, Pinned: 15 Apr '17