Optogenetic control reveals differential promoter interpretation of transcription factor nuclear translocation dynamics.
Abstract: The dynamic translocation of transcription factors (TFs) in and out of the nucleus is thought to encode information, such as the identity of a stimulus. A corollary is the idea that gene promoters can decode different dynamic TF translocation patterns. Testing this TF encoding/promoter decoding hypothesis requires tools that allow direct control of TF dynamics without the pleiotropic effects associated with general perturbations. In this work, we present CLASP (Controllable Light Activated Shuttling and Plasma membrane sequestration), a tool that enables precise, modular, and reversible control of TF localization using a combination of two optimized LOV2 optogenetic constructs. The first sequesters the cargo in the dark at the plasma membrane and releases it upon exposure to blue light, while light exposure of the second reveals a nuclear localization sequence that shuttles the released cargo to the nucleus. CLASP achieves minute-level resolution, reversible translocation of many TF cargos, large dynamic range, and tunable target gene expression. Using CLASP, we investigate the relationship between Crz1, a naturally pulsatile TF, and its cognate promoters. We establish that some Crz1 target genes respond more efficiently to pulsatile TF inputs than to continuous inputs, while others exhibit the opposite behavior. We show using computational modeling that efficient gene expression in response to short pulsing requires fast promoter activation and slow inactivation and that the opposite phenotype can ensue from a multi-stage promoter activation, where a transition in the first stage is thresholded. These data directly demonstrate differential interpretation of TF pulsing dynamics by different genes, and provide plausible models that can achieve these phenotypes.