Showing 451 - 475 of 647 results
Light-inducible receptor tyrosine kinases that regulate neurotrophin signalling.
Receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) are a family of cell-surface receptors that have a key role in regulating critical cellular processes. Here, to understand and precisely control RTK signalling, we report the development of a genetically encoded, photoactivatable Trk (tropomyosin-related kinase) family of RTKs using a light-responsive module based on Arabidopsis thaliana cryptochrome 2. Blue-light stimulation (488 nm) of mammalian cells harbouring these receptors robustly upregulates canonical Trk signalling. A single light stimulus triggers transient signalling activation, which is reversibly tuned by repetitive delivery of blue-light pulses. In addition, the light-provoked process is induced in a spatially restricted and cell-specific manner. A prolonged patterned illumination causes sustained activation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase and promotes neurite outgrowth in a neuronal cell line, and induces filopodia formation in rat hippocampal neurons. These light-controllable receptors are expected to create experimental opportunities to spatiotemporally manipulate many biological processes both in vitro and in vivo.
Light-mediated control of gene expression in filamentous fungus Trichoderma reesei.
We developed a light-mediated system based on synthetic light-switchable transactivators. The transactivators bind promoter upon blue-light exposure and rapidly initiate transcription of target transgenes in filamentous fungus Trichoderma reesei. Light is inexpensive to apply, easily delivered, and instantly removed, and thus has significant advantages over chemical inducers.
Engineering of a red-light-activated human cAMP/cGMP-specific phosphodiesterase.
Sensory photoreceptors elicit vital physiological adaptations in response to incident light. As light-regulated actuators, photoreceptors underpin optogenetics, which denotes the noninvasive, reversible, and spatiotemporally precise perturbation by light of living cells and organisms. Of particular versatility, naturally occurring photoactivated adenylate cyclases promote the synthesis of the second messenger cAMP under blue light. Here, we have engineered a light-activated phosphodiesterase (LAPD) with complementary light sensitivity and catalytic activity by recombining the photosensor module of Deinococcus radiodurans bacterial phytochrome with the effector module of Homo sapiens phosphodiesterase 2A. Upon red-light absorption, LAPD up-regulates hydrolysis of cAMP and cGMP by up to sixfold, whereas far-red light can be used to down-regulate activity. LAPD also mediates light-activated cAMP and cGMP hydrolysis in eukaryotic cell cultures and in zebrafish embryos; crucially, the biliverdin chromophore of LAPD is available endogenously and does not need to be provided exogenously. LAPD thus establishes a new optogenetic modality that permits light control over diverse cAMP/cGMP-mediated physiological processes. Because red light penetrates tissue more deeply than light of shorter wavelengths, LAPD appears particularly attractive for studies in living organisms.
Optical control of protein function through unnatural amino acid mutagenesis and other optogenetic approaches.
Biological processes are naturally regulated with high spatial and temporal resolution at the molecular, cellular, and systems level. To control and study processes with the same resolution, light-sensitive groups and domains have been employed to optically activate and deactivate protein function. Optical control is a noninvasive technique in which the amplitude, wavelength, spatial location, and timing of the light illumination can be easily controlled. This review focuses on applications of genetically encoded unnatural amino acids containing light-removable protecting groups to optically trigger protein function, while also discussing select optogenetic approaches using natural light-sensitive domains to engineer optical control of biological processes.
Rac1-dependent lamellipodial motility in prostate cancer PC-3 cells revealed by optogenetic control of Rac1 activity.
The lamellipodium, an essential structure for cell migration, plays an important role in the invasion and metastasis of cancer cells. Although Rac1 recognized as a key player in the formation of lamellipodia, the molecular mechanisms underlying lamellipodial motility are not fully understood. Optogenetic technology enabled us to spatiotemporally control the activity of photoactivatable Rac1 (PA-Rac1) in living cells. Using this system, we revealed the role of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) in Rac1-dependent lamellipodial motility in PC-3 prostate cancer cells. Through local blue laser irradiation of PA-Rac1-expressing cells, lamellipodial motility was reversibly induced. First, outward extension of a lamellipodium parallel to the substratum was observed. The extended lamellipodium then showed ruffling activity at the periphery. Notably, PI(3,4,5)P3 and WAVE2 were localized in the extending lamellipodium in a PI3K-dependent manner. We confirmed that the inhibition of PI3K activity greatly suppressed lamellipodial extension, while the ruffling activity was less affected. These results suggest that Rac1-induced lamellipodial motility consists of two distinct activities, PI3K-dependent outward extension and PI3K-independent ruffling.
A rhodopsin-guanylyl cyclase gene fusion functions in visual perception in a fungus.
Sensing light is the fundamental property of visual systems, with vision in animals being based almost exclusively on opsin photopigments . Rhodopsin also acts as a photoreceptor linked to phototaxis in green algae [2, 3] and has been implicated by chemical means as a light sensor in the flagellated swimming zoospores of the fungus Allomyces reticulatus ; however, the signaling mechanism in these fungi remains unknown. Here we use a combination of genome sequencing and molecular inhibition experiments with light-sensing phenotype studies to examine the signaling pathway involved in visual perception in the closely related fungus Blastocladiella emersonii. Our data show that in these fungi, light perception is accomplished by the function of a novel gene fusion (BeGC1) of a type I (microbial) rhodopsin domain and guanylyl cyclase catalytic domain. Photobleaching of rhodopsin function prevents accumulation of cGMP levels and phototaxis of fungal zoospores exposed to green light, whereas inhibition of guanylyl cyclase activity negatively affects fungal phototaxis. Immunofluorescence microscopy localizes the BeGC1 protein to the external surface of the zoospore eyespot positioned close to the base of the swimming flagellum [4, 5], demonstrating this is a photoreceptive organelle composed of lipid droplets. Taken together, these data indicate that Blastocladiomycota fungi have a cGMP signaling pathway involved in phototaxis similar to the vertebrate vision-signaling cascade but composed of protein domain components arranged as a novel gene fusion architecture and of distant evolutionary ancestry to type II rhodopsins of animals.
Live imaging in Drosophila: The optical and genetic toolkits.
Biological imaging based on light microscopy comes at the core of the methods that let us understanding morphology and its dynamics in synergy to the spatiotemporal distribution of cellular and molecular activities as the organism develops and becomes functional. Non-linear optical tools and superesolution methodologies are under constant development and their applications to live imaging of whole organisms keep improving as we speak. Genetically coded biosensors, multicolor clonal methods and optogenetics in different organisms and, in particular, in Drosophila follow equivalent paths. We anticipate a brilliant future for live imaging providing the roots for the holistic understanding, rather than for individual parts, of development and function at the whole-organism level.
Reversible protein inactivation by optogenetic trapping in cells.
We present a versatile platform to inactivate proteins in living cells using light, light-activated reversible inhibition by assembled trap (LARIAT), which sequesters target proteins into complexes formed by multimeric proteins and a blue light-mediated heterodimerization module. Using LARIAT, we inhibited diverse proteins that modulate cytoskeleton, lipid signaling and cell cycle with high spatiotemporal resolution. Use of single-domain antibodies extends the method to target proteins containing specific epitopes, including GFP.
Blue light-induced dimerization of monomeric aureochrome-1 enhances its affinity for the target sequence.
Aureochrome-1 (AUREO1) is a blue light (BL) receptor that mediates the branching response in stramenopile alga, Vaucheria frigida. AUREO1 contains a basic leucine zipper (bZIP) domain in the central region and a light-oxygen-voltage sensing (LOV) domain at the C terminus, and has been suggested to function as a light-regulated transcription factor. We have previously reported that preparations of recombinant AUREO1 contained the complete coding sequence (full-length, FL) and N-terminal truncated protein (ZL) containing bZIP and LOV domains, and suggested that wild-type ZL (ZLwt2) was in a dimer form with intermolecular disulfide linkages at Cys(162) and Cys(182) (Hisatomi, O., Takeuchi, K., Zikihara, K., Ookubo, Y., Nakatani, Y., Takahashi, F., Tokutomi, S., and Kataoka, H. (2013) Plant Cell Physiol. 54, 93-106). In the present study, we report the photoreactions, oligomeric structures, and DNA binding of monomeric cysteine to serine-mutated ZL (ZLC2S), DTT-treated ZL (DTT-ZL), and FL (DTT-FL). Recombinant AUREO1 showed similar spectral properties and dark regeneration kinetics to those of dimeric ZLwt2. Dynamic light scattering and size exclusion chromatography revealed that ZLC2S and DTT-ZL were monomeric in the dark state. Dissociation of intermolecular disulfide bonds of ZLwt2 was in equilibrium with a midpoint oxidation-redox potential of approximately -245 ± 15 mV. BL induced the dimerization of monomeric ZL, which subsequently increased its affinity for the target sequence. Also, DTT-FL was monomeric in the dark state and underwent BL-induced dimerization, which led to formation of the FL2·DNA complex. Taken together, our results suggest that monomeric AUREO1 is present in vivo, with dimerization playing a key role in its role as a BL-regulated transcription factor.
Quantitative real-time kinetics of optogenetic proteins CRY2 and CIB1/N using single-molecule tools.
In this work we evaluate the interaction of two optogenetic protein variants (CIB1, CIBN) with their complementary protein CRY2 by single-molecule tools in cell-free extracts. After validating the blue light induced co-localization of CRY2 and CIB1/N by Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) in live cells, a fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (FCS) based method was developed to quantitatively determine the in vitro association of the extracted proteins. Our experiments suggest that CIB1, in comparison with CIBN, possesses a better coupling efficiency with CRY2 due to its intact protein structure and lower diffusion rate within 300s detection window.
Photo-dynamics of BLUF domain containing adenylyl cyclase NgPAC3 from the amoeboflagellate Naegleria gruberi NEG-M strain.
The absorption and emission spectroscopic behavior of the photo-activated adenylyl cyclase NgPAC3 from the amoeboflagellate Naegleria gruberi NEG-M strain was studied. The flavin cofactor was found to be partly fully oxidized and partly fully reduced. The typical BLUF domain (BLUF = Blue Light sensor Using Flavin) oxidized flavin absorption photo-cycle dynamics with about 14 nm flavin absorption red-shift in the signaling state was observed. The quantum efficiency of signaling state formation was determined to be s = 0.66 ± 0.03. A bi-exponential signaling state recovery to the dark-adapted receptor state was observed with the time constants rec,f = 275 s and rec,sl = 45 min. The thermal irreversible protein unfolding was studied and an apparent protein melting temperature of ϑm ≈ 50 ◦C was found. The photodynamic behavior of NgPAC3 is compared with the behavior of the previously investigated photo-activated cyclases NgPAC1 (nPAC) and NgPAC2 from the same N. gruberi NEG-M strain. Purified recombinant NgPAC3 showed light-gated adenylate cyclase activity upon illumination with blue light. Its cyclase activity is compared with those of NgPAC1 and NgPAC2.
A green-light inducible lytic system for cyanobacterial cells.
Cyanobacteria are an attractive candidate for the production of biofuel because of their ability to capture carbon dioxide by photosynthesis and grow on non-arable land. However, because huge quantities of water are required for cultivation, strict water management is one of the greatest issues in algae- and cyanobacteria-based biofuel production. In this study, we aim to construct a lytic cyanobacterium that can be regulated by a physical signal (green-light illumination) for future use in the recovery of biofuel related compounds.
Bidirectional regulation of mRNA translation in mammalian cells by using PUF domains.
The regulation of gene expression is crucial in diverse areas of biological science, engineering, and medicine. A genetically encoded system based on the RNA binding domain of the Pumilio and FBF (PUF) proteins was developed for the bidirectional regulation (i.e., either upregulation or downregulation) of the translation of a target mRNA. PUF domains serve as designable scaffolds for the recognition of specific RNA elements and the specificity can be easily altered to target any 8-nucleotide RNA sequence. The expression of a reporter could be varied by over 17-fold when using PUF-based activators and repressors. The specificity of the method was established by using wild-type and mutant PUF domains. Furthermore, this method could be used to activate the translation of target mRNA downstream of PUF binding sites in a light-dependent manner. Such specific bidirectional control of mRNA translation could be particularly useful in the fields of synthetic biology, developmental biology, and metabolic engineering.
Light-mediated kinetic control reveals the temporal effect of the Raf/MEK/ERK pathway in PC12 cell neurite outgrowth.
It has been proposed that differential activation kinetics allows cells to use a common set of signaling pathways to specify distinct cellular outcomes. For example, nerve growth factor (NGF) and epidermal growth factor (EGF) induce different activation kinetics of the Raf/MEK/ERK signaling pathway and result in differentiation and proliferation, respectively. However, a direct and quantitative linkage between the temporal profile of Raf/MEK/ERK activation and the cellular outputs has not been established due to a lack of means to precisely perturb its signaling kinetics. Here, we construct a light-gated protein-protein interaction system to regulate the activation pattern of the Raf/MEK/ERK signaling pathway. Light-induced activation of the Raf/MEK/ERK cascade leads to significant neurite outgrowth in rat PC12 pheochromocytoma cell lines in the absence of growth factors. Compared with NGF stimulation, light stimulation induces longer but fewer neurites. Intermittent on/off illumination reveals that cells achieve maximum neurite outgrowth if the off-time duration per cycle is shorter than 45 min. Overall, light-mediated kinetic control enables precise dissection of the temporal dimension within the intracellular signal transduction network.
Optical control of the Ca2+ concentration in a live specimen with a genetically encoded Ca2+-releasing molecular tool.
Calcium ion (Ca2+) is an important second messenger implicated in the control of many different cellular processes in living organisms. Ca2+ is typically studied by direct visualization using chemically or genetically encoded indicators. A complementary, and perhaps more useful, approach involves direct manipulation of Ca2+ concentration; tools for this exist but are rather poorly developed compared to the indicators at least. Here, we report a photoactivatable Ca2+-releasing protein, photoactivatable Ca2+ releaser (PACR), made by the insertion of a photosensitive protein domain (LOV2) into a Ca2+ binding protein (calmodulin fused with the M13 peptide). As the PACR is genetically encoded, and unlike conventional optical control tools (e.g., channel rhodopsin) not membrane bound, we are able to restrict expression within the cell, to allow subcellular perturbation of Ca2+ levels. In whole animals, we are able to control the behavior of Caenorhabditis elegans with light by expressing the PACR only in the touch neuron.
Light-inducible gene regulation with engineered zinc finger proteins.
The coupling of light-inducible protein-protein interactions with gene regulation systems has enabled the control of gene expression with light. In particular, heterodimer protein pairs from plants can be used to engineer a gene regulation system in mammalian cells that is reversible, repeatable, tunable, controllable in a spatiotemporal manner, and targetable to any DNA sequence. This system, Light-Inducible Transcription using Engineered Zinc finger proteins (LITEZ), is based on the blue light-induced interaction of GIGANTEA and the LOV domain of FKF1 that drives the localization of a transcriptional activator to the DNA-binding site of a highly customizable engineered zinc finger protein. This chapter provides methods for modifying LITEZ to target new DNA sequences, engineering a programmable LED array to illuminate cell cultures, and using the modified LITEZ system to achieve spatiotemporal control of transgene expression in mammalian cells.
Biophysical, mutational, and functional investigation of the chromophore-binding pocket of light-oxygen-voltage photoreceptors.
As light-regulated actuators, sensory photoreceptors underpin optogenetics and numerous applications in synthetic biology. Protein engineering has been applied to fine-tune the properties of photoreceptors and to generate novel actuators. For the blue-light-sensitive light-oxygen-voltage (LOV) photoreceptors, mutations near the flavin chromophore modulate response kinetics and the effective light responsiveness. To probe for potential, inadvertent effects on receptor activity, we introduced these mutations into the engineered LOV photoreceptor YF1 and determined their impact on light regulation. While several mutations severely impaired the dynamic range of the receptor (e.g., I39V, R63K, and N94A), residue substitutions in a second group were benign with little effect on regulation (e.g., V28T, N37C, and L82I). Electron paramagnetic resonance and absorption spectroscopy identified correlated effects for certain of the latter mutations on chromophore environment and response kinetics in YF1 and the LOV2 domain from Avena sativa phototropin 1. Carefully chosen mutations provide a powerful means to adjust the light-response function of photoreceptors as demanded for diverse applications.
Control of gene expression using a red- and far-red light-responsive bi-stable toggle switch.
Light-triggered gene expression systems offer an unprecedented spatiotemporal resolution that cannot be achieved with classical chemically inducible genetic tools. Here we describe a protocol for red light-responsive gene expression in mammalian cells. This system can be toggled between stable ON and OFF states by short pulses of red and far-red light, respectively. In the protocol, CHO-K1 cells are transfected to allow red light-inducible expression of the secreted alkaline phosphatase (SEAP) reporter, and gene expression is tuned by illumination with light of increasing wavelengths. As a starting point for elaborate red light-responsive gene expression, we outline the reversible activation of gene expression and describe how a spatial pattern can be 'printed' on a monolayer of cells by using a photomask. The core protocol requires only 4 d from seeding of the cells to reporter quantification, and other than light-emitting diode (LED) illumination boxes no elaborate equipment is required.
Optogenetic control of ROS production.
Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) are known to cause oxidative damage to DNA, proteins and lipids. In addition, recent evidence suggests that ROS can also initiate signaling cascades that respond to stress and modify specific redox-sensitive moieties as a regulatory mechanism. This suggests that ROS are physiologically-relevant signaling molecules. However, these sensor/effector molecules are not uniformly distributed throughout the cell. Moreover, localized ROS damage may elicit site-specific compensatory measures. Thus, the impact of ROS can be likened to that of calcium, a ubiquitous second messenger, leading to the prediction that their effects are exquisitely dependent upon their location, quantity and even the timing of generation. Despite this prediction, ROS signaling is most commonly intuited through the global administration of chemicals that produce ROS or by ROS quenching through global application of antioxidants. Optogenetics, which uses light to control the activity of genetically-encoded effector proteins, provides a means of circumventing this limitation. Photo-inducible genetically-encoded ROS-generating proteins (RGPs) were originally employed for their phototoxic effects and cell ablation. However, reducing irradiance and/or fluence can achieve sub-lethal levels of ROS that may mediate subtle signaling effects. Hence, transgenic expression of RGPs as fusions to native proteins gives researchers a new tool to exert spatial and temporal control over ROS production. This review will focus on the new frontier defined by the experimental use of RGPs to study ROS signaling.
Real-time optogenetic control of intracellular protein concentration in microbial cell cultures.
Perturbations in the concentration of a specific protein are often used to study and control biological networks. The ability to "dial-in" and programmatically control the concentration of a desired protein in cultures of cells would be transformative for applications in research and biotechnology. We developed a culturing apparatus and feedback control scheme which, in combination with an optogenetic system, allows us to generate defined perturbations in the intracellular concentration of a specific protein in microbial cell culture. As light can be easily added and removed, we can control protein concentration in culture more dynamically than would be possible with long-lived chemical inducers. Control of protein concentration is achieved by sampling individual cells from the culture apparatus, imaging and quantifying protein concentration, and adjusting the inducing light appropriately. The culturing apparatus can be operated as a chemostat, allowing us to precisely control microbial growth and providing cell material for downstream assays. We illustrate the potential for this technology by generating fixed and time-varying concentrations of a specific protein in continuous steady-state cultures of the model organism Saccharomyces cerevisiae. We anticipate that this technology will allow for quantitative studies of biological networks as well as external tuning of synthetic gene circuits and bioprocesses.
The UV-B photoreceptor UVR8: from structure to physiology.
Low doses of UV-B light (280 to 315 nm) elicit photomorphogenic responses in plants that modify biochemical composition, photosynthetic competence, morphogenesis, and defense. UV RESISTANCE LOCUS8 (UVR8) mediates photomorphogenic responses to UV-B by regulating transcription of a set of target genes. UVR8 differs from other known photoreceptors in that it uses specific Trp amino acids instead of a prosthetic chromophore for light absorption during UV-B photoreception. Absorption of UV-B dissociates the UVR8 dimer into monomers, initiating signal transduction through interaction with CONSTITUTIVELY PHOTOMORPHOGENIC1. However, much remains to be learned about the physiological role of UVR8 and its interaction with other signaling pathways, the molecular mechanism of UVR8 photoreception, how the UVR8 protein initiates signaling, how it is regulated, and how UVR8 regulates transcription of its target genes.
Near-infrared light responsive synthetic c-di-GMP module for optogenetic applications.
Enormous potential of cell-based therapeutics is hindered by the lack of effective means to control genetically engineered cells in mammalian tissues. Here, we describe a synthetic module for remote photocontrol of engineered cells that can be adapted for such applications. The module involves photoactivated synthesis of cyclic dimeric GMP (c-di-GMP), a stable small molecule that is not produced by higher eukaryotes and therefore is suitable for orthogonal regulation. The key component of the photocontrol module is an engineered bacteriophytochrome diguanylate cyclase, which synthesizes c-di-GMP from GTP in a light-dependent manner. Bacteriophytochromes are particularly attractive photoreceptors because they respond to light in the near-infrared window of the spectrum, where absorption by mammalian tissues is minimal, and also because their chromophore, biliverdin IXα, is naturally available in mammalian cells. The second component of the photocontrol module, a c-di-GMP phosphodiesterase, maintains near-zero background levels of c-di-GMP in the absence of light, which enhances the photodynamic range of c-di-GMP concentrations. In the E. coli model used in this study, the intracellular c-di-GMP levels could be upregulated by light by >50-fold. Various c-di-GMP-responsive proteins and riboswitches identified in bacteria can be linked downstream of the c-di-GMP-mediated photocontrol module for orthogonal regulation of biological activities in mammals as well as in other organisms lacking c-di-GMP signaling. Here, we linked the photocontrol module to a gene expression output via a c-di-GMP-responsive transcription factor and achieved a 40-fold photoactivation of gene expression.
Factors that control the chemistry of the LOV domain photocycle.
Algae, plants, bacteria and fungi contain Light-Oxygen-Voltage (LOV) domains that function as blue light sensors to control cellular responses to light. All LOV domains contain a bound flavin chromophore that is reduced upon photon absorption and forms a reversible, metastable covalent bond with a nearby cysteine residue. In Avena sativa LOV2 (AsLOV2), the photocycle is accompanied by an allosteric conformational change that activates the attached phototropin kinase in the full-length protein. Both the conformational change and formation of the cysteinyl-flavin adduct are stabilized by the reduction of the N5 atom in the flavin's isoalloxazine ring. In this study, we perform a mutational analysis to investigate the requirements for LOV2 to photocycle. We mutated all the residues that interact with the chromophore isoalloxazine ring to inert functional groups but none could fully inhibit the photocycle except those to the active-site cysteine. However, electronegative side chains in the vicinity of the chromophore accelerate the N5 deprotonation and the return to the dark state. Mutations to the N414 and Q513 residues identify a potential water gate and H₂O coordination sites. These residues affect the electronic nature of the chromophore and photocycle time by helping catalyze the N5 reduction leading to the completion of the photocycle. In addition, we demonstrate that dehydration leads to drastically slower photocycle times. Finally, to investigate the requirements of an active-site cysteine for photocycling, we moved the nearby cysteine to alternative locations and found that some variants can still photocycle. We propose a new model of the LOV domain photocycle that involves all of these components.
A red light-controlled synthetic gene expression switch for plant systems.
On command control of gene expression in time and space is required for the comprehensive analysis of key plant cellular processes. Even though some chemical inducible systems showing satisfactory induction features have been developed, they are inherently limited in terms of spatiotemporal resolution and may be associated with toxic effects. We describe here the first synthetic light-inducible system for the targeted control of gene expression in plants. For this purpose, we applied an interdisciplinary synthetic biology approach comprising mammalian and plant cell systems to customize and optimize a split transcription factor based on the plant photoreceptor phytochrome B and one of its interacting factors (PIF6). Implementation of the system in transient assays in tobacco protoplasts resulted in strong (95-fold) induction in red light (660 nm) and could be instantaneously returned to the OFF state by subsequent illumination with far-red light (740 nm). Capitalizing on this toggle switch-like characteristic, we demonstrate that the system can be kept in the OFF state in the presence of 740 nm-supplemented white light, opening up perspectives for future application of the system in whole plants. Finally we demonstrate the system's applicability in basic research, by the light-controlled tuning of auxin signalling networks in N. tabacum protoplasts, as well as its biotechnological potential for the chemical-inducer free production of therapeutic proteins in the moss P. patens.
Genetically engineered photoinducible homodimerization system with improved dimer-forming efficiency.
Vivid (VVD) is a photoreceptor derived from Neurospora Crassa that rapidly forms a homodimer in response to blue light. Although VVD has several advantages over other photoreceptors as photoinducible homodimerization system, VVD has a critical limitation in its low dimer-forming efficiency. To overcome this limitation of wild-type VVD, here we conduct site-directed saturation mutagenesis in the homodimer interface of VVD. We have found that the Ile52Cys mutation of VVD (VVD-52C) substantially improves its homodimer-forming efficiency up to 180%. We have demonstrated the utility of VVD-52C for making a light-inducible gene expression system more robust. In addition, using VVD-52C, we have developed photoactivatable caspase-9, which enables optical control of apoptosis of mammalian cells. The present genetically engineered photoinducible homodimerization system can provide a powerful tool to optically control a broad range of molecular processes in the cell.