Showing 1 - 25 of 30 results
Dynamical Modeling of Optogenetic Circuits in Yeast for Metabolic Engineering Applications.
Dynamic control of engineered microbes using light via optogenetics has been demonstrated as an effective strategy for improving the yield of biofuels, chemicals, and other products. An advantage of using light to manipulate microbial metabolism is the relative simplicity of interfacing biological and computer systems, thereby enabling in silico control of the microbe. Using this strategy for control and optimization of product yield requires an understanding of how the microbe responds in real-time to the light inputs. Toward this end, we present mechanistic models of a set of yeast optogenetic circuits. We show how these models can predict short- and long-time response to varying light inputs and how they are amenable to use with model predictive control (the industry standard among advanced control algorithms). These models reveal dynamics characterized by time-scale separation of different circuit components that affect the steady and transient levels of the protein under control of the circuit. Ultimately, this work will help enable real-time control and optimization tools for improving yield and consistency in the production of biofuels and chemicals using microbial fermentations.
A synthetic gene circuit for imaging-free detection of dynamic cell signaling.
Cells employ intracellular signaling pathways to sense and respond to changes in their external environment. In recent years, live-cell biosensors have revealed complex pulsatile dynamics in many pathways, but studies of these signaling dynamics are limited by the necessity of live-cell imaging at high spatiotemporal resolution1. Here, we describe an approach to infer pulsatile signaling dynamics from just a single measurement in fixed cells using a pulse-detecting gene circuit. We computationally screened for circuit with pulse detecting capability, revealing an incoherent feedforward topology that robustly performs this computation. We then implemented the motif experimentally for the Erk signaling pathway using a single engineered transcription factor and fluorescent protein reporter. Our ‘recorder of Erk activity dynamics’ (READer) responds sensitively to both spontaneous and stimulus-driven Erk pulses. READer circuits thus open the door to permanently labeling transient, dynamic cell populations to elucidate the mechanistic underpinnings and biological consequences of signaling dynamics.
Design and Characterization of Rapid Optogenetic Circuits for Dynamic Control in Yeast Metabolic Engineering.
The use of optogenetics in metabolic engineering for light-controlled microbial chemical production raises the prospect of utilizing control and optimization techniques routinely deployed in traditional chemical manufacturing. However, such mechanisms require well-characterized, customizable tools that respond fast enough to be used as real-time inputs during fermentations. Here, we present OptoINVRT7, a new rapid optogenetic inverter circuit to control gene expression in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The circuit induces gene expression in only 0.6 h after switching cells from light to darkness, which is at least 6 times faster than previous OptoINVRT optogenetic circuits used for chemical production. In addition, we introduce an engineered inducible GAL1 promoter (PGAL1-S), which is stronger than any constitutive or inducible promoter commonly used in yeast. Combining OptoINVRT7 with PGAL1-S achieves strong and light-tunable levels of gene expression with as much as 132.9 ± 22.6-fold induction in darkness. The high performance of this new optogenetic circuit in controlling metabolic enzymes boosts production of lactic acid and isobutanol by more than 50% and 15%, respectively. The strength and controllability of OptoINVRT7 and PGAL1-S open the door to applying process control tools to engineered metabolisms to improve robustness and yields in microbial fermentations for chemical production.
Clustering-based positive feedback between a kinase and its substrate enables effective T-cell receptor signaling.
Protein clusters and condensates are pervasive in mammalian signaling. Yet how the signaling capacity of higher-order assemblies differs from simpler forms of molecular organization is still poorly understood. Here, we present an optogenetic approach to switch between light-induced clusters and simple protein heterodimers with a single point mutation. We apply this system to study how clustering affects signaling from the kinase Zap70 and its substrate LAT, proteins that normally form membrane-localized clusters during T cell activation. We find that light-induced clusters of LAT and Zap70 trigger potent activation of downstream signaling pathways even in non-T cells, whereas one-to-one dimers do not. We provide evidence that clusters harbor a local positive feedback loop between three components: Zap70, LAT, and Src-family kinases that bind to phosphorylated LAT and further activate Zap70. Overall, our study provides evidence for a specific role of protein condensates in cell signaling, and identifies a simple biochemical circuit that can robustly sense protein oligomerization state.
Unraveling the Mechanism of a LOV Domain Optogenetic Sensor: A Glutamine Lever Induces Unfolding of the Jα Helix.
Light-activated protein domains provide a convenient, modular, and genetically encodable sensor for optogenetics and optobiology. Although these domains have now been deployed in numerous systems, the precise mechanism of photoactivation and the accompanying structural dynamics that modulate output domain activity remain to be fully elucidated. In the C-terminal light, oxygen, voltage (LOV) domain of plant phototropins (LOV2), blue light activation leads to formation of an adduct between a conserved Cys residue and the embedded FMN chromophore, rotation of a conserved Gln (Q513), and unfolding of a helix (Jα-helix) which is coupled to the output partner. In the present work, we focus on the allosteric pathways leading to Jα helix unfolding in Avena sativa LOV2 (AsLOV2) using an interdisciplinary approach involving molecular dynamics simulations extending to 7 μs, time-resolved infrared spectroscopy, solution NMR spectroscopy, and in-cell optogenetic experiments. In the dark state, the side chain of N414 is hydrogen bonded to the backbone N-H of Q513. The simulations predict a lever-like motion of Q513 after Cys adduct formation resulting in loss of the interaction between the side chain of N414 and the backbone C=O of Q513, and formation of a transient hydrogen bond between the Q513 and N414 side chains. The central role of N414 in signal transduction was evaluated by site-directed mutagenesis supporting a direct link between Jα helix unfolding dynamics and the cellular function of the Zdk2-AsLOV2 optogenetic construct. Through this multifaceted approach, we show that Q513 and N414 are critical mediators of protein structural dynamics, linking the ultrafast (sub-ps) excitation of the FMN chromophore to the microsecond conformational changes that result in photoreceptor activation and biological function.
Engineering combinatorial and dynamic decoders using synthetic immediate-early genes.
Many cell- and tissue-level functions are coordinated by intracellular signaling pathways that trigger the expression of context-specific target genes. Yet the input-output relationships that link pathways to the genes they activate are incompletely understood. Mapping the pathway-decoding logic of natural target genes could also provide a basis for engineering novel signal-decoding circuits. Here we report the construction of synthetic immediate-early genes (SynIEGs), target genes of Erk signaling that implement complex, user-defined regulation and can be monitored by using live-cell biosensors to track their transcription and translation. We demonstrate the power of this approach by confirming Erk duration-sensing by FOS, elucidating how the BTG2 gene is differentially regulated by external stimuli, and designing a synthetic immediate-early gene that selectively responds to the combination of growth factor and DNA damage stimuli. SynIEGs pave the way toward engineering molecular circuits that decode signaling dynamics and combinations across a broad range of cellular contexts.
Development of light-responsive protein binding in the monobody non-immunoglobulin scaffold.
Monobodies are synthetic non-immunoglobulin customizable protein binders invaluable to basic and applied research, and of considerable potential as future therapeutics and diagnostic tools. The ability to reversibly control their binding activity to their targets on demand would significantly expand their applications in biotechnology, medicine, and research. Here we present, as proof-of-principle, the development of a light-controlled monobody (OptoMB) that works in vitro and in cells and whose affinity for its SH2-domain target exhibits a 330-fold shift in binding affinity upon illumination. We demonstrate that our αSH2-OptoMB can be used to purify SH2-tagged proteins directly from crude E. coli extract, achieving 99.8% purity and over 40% yield in a single purification step. By virtue of their ability to be designed to bind any protein of interest, OptoMBs have the potential to find new powerful applications as light-switchable binders of untagged proteins with the temporal and spatial precision afforded by light.
Optogenetic control of protein binding using light-switchable nanobodies.
A growing number of optogenetic tools have been developed to reversibly control binding between two engineered protein domains. In contrast, relatively few tools confer light-switchable binding to a generic target protein of interest. Such a capability would offer substantial advantages, enabling photoswitchable binding to endogenous target proteins in cells or light-based protein purification in vitro. Here, we report the development of opto-nanobodies (OptoNBs), a versatile class of chimeric photoswitchable proteins whose binding to proteins of interest can be enhanced or inhibited upon blue light illumination. We find that OptoNBs are suitable for a range of applications including reversibly binding to endogenous intracellular targets, modulating signaling pathway activity, and controlling binding to purified protein targets in vitro. This work represents a step towards programmable photoswitchable regulation of a wide variety of target proteins.
Optogenetic Rescue of a Patterning Mutant.
Animal embryos are patterned by a handful of highly conserved inductive signals. Yet, in most cases, it is unknown which pattern features (i.e., spatial gradients or temporal dynamics) are required to support normal development. An ideal experiment to address this question would be to "paint" arbitrary synthetic signaling patterns on "blank canvas" embryos to dissect their requirements. Here, we demonstrate exactly this capability by combining optogenetic control of Ras/extracellular signal-related kinase (ERK) signaling with the genetic loss of the receptor tyrosine-kinase-driven terminal signaling patterning in early Drosophila embryos. Blue-light illumination at the embryonic termini for 90 min was sufficient to rescue normal development, generating viable larvae and fertile adults from an otherwise lethal terminal signaling mutant. Optogenetic rescue was possible even using a simple, all-or-none light input that reduced the gradient of Erk activity and eliminated spatiotemporal differences in terminal gap gene expression. Systematically varying illumination parameters further revealed that at least three distinct developmental programs are triggered at different signaling thresholds and that the morphogenetic movements of gastrulation are robust to a 3-fold variation in the posterior pattern width. These results open the door to controlling tissue organization with simple optical stimuli, providing new tools to probe natural developmental processes, create synthetic tissues with defined organization, or directly correct the patterning errors that underlie developmental defects.
A Live-Cell Screen for Altered Erk Dynamics Reveals Principles of Proliferative Control.
Complex, time-varying responses have been observed widely in cell signaling, but how specific dynamics are generated or regulated is largely unknown. One major obstacle has been that high-throughput screens are typically incompatible with the live-cell assays used to monitor dynamics. Here, we address this challenge by screening a library of 429 kinase inhibitors and monitoring extracellular-regulated kinase (Erk) activity over 5 h in more than 80,000 single primary mouse keratinocytes. Our screen reveals both known and uncharacterized modulators of Erk dynamics, including inhibitors of non-epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) that increase Erk pulse frequency and overall activity. Using drug treatment and direct optogenetic control, we demonstrate that drug-induced changes to Erk dynamics alter the conditions under which cells proliferate. Our work opens the door to high-throughput screens using live-cell biosensors and reveals that cell proliferation integrates information from Erk dynamics as well as additional permissive cues.
Optimizing photoswitchable MEK.
Optogenetic approaches are transforming quantitative studies of cell-signaling systems. A recently developed photoswitchable mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase 1 (MEK1) enzyme (psMEK) short-circuits the highly conserved Extracellular Signal-Regulated Kinase (ERK)-signaling cascade at the most proximal step of effector kinase activation. However, since this optogenetic tool relies on phosphorylation-mimicking substitutions in the activation loop of MEK, its catalytic activity is predicted to be substantially lower than that of wild-type MEK that has been phosphorylated at these residues. Here, we present evidence that psMEK indeed has suboptimal functionality in vivo and propose a strategy to circumvent this limitation by harnessing gain-of-function, destabilizing mutations in MEK. Specifically, we demonstrate that combining phosphomimetic mutations with additional mutations in MEK, chosen for their activating potential, restores maximal kinase activity in vitro. We establish that this modification can be tuned by the choice of the destabilizing mutation and does not interfere with reversible activation of psMEK in vivo in both Drosophila and zebrafish. To illustrate the types of perturbations enabled by optimized psMEK, we use it to deliver pulses of ERK activation during zebrafish embryogenesis, revealing rheostat-like responses of an ERK-dependent morphogenetic event.
Deconstructing and repurposing the light-regulated interplay between Arabidopsis phytochromes and interacting factors.
Phytochrome photoreceptors mediate adaptive responses of plants to red and far-red light. These responses generally entail light-regulated association between phytochromes and other proteins, among them the phytochrome-interacting factors (PIF). The interaction with Arabidopsis thaliana phytochrome B (AtPhyB) localizes to the bipartite APB motif of the A. thaliana PIFs (AtPIF). To address a dearth of quantitative interaction data, we construct and analyze numerous AtPIF3/6 variants. Red-light-activated binding is predominantly mediated by the APB N-terminus, whereas the C-terminus modulates binding and underlies the differential affinity of AtPIF3 and AtPIF6. We identify AtPIF variants of reduced size, monomeric or homodimeric state, and with AtPhyB affinities between 10 and 700 nM. Optogenetically deployed in mammalian cells, the AtPIF variants drive light-regulated gene expression and membrane recruitment, in certain cases reducing basal activity and enhancing regulatory response. Moreover, our results provide hitherto unavailable quantitative insight into the AtPhyB:AtPIF interaction underpinning vital light-dependent responses in plants.
Light-based control of metabolic flux through assembly of synthetic organelles.
To maximize a desired product, metabolic engineers typically express enzymes to high, constant levels. Yet, permanent pathway activation can have undesirable consequences including competition with essential pathways and accumulation of toxic intermediates. Faced with similar challenges, natural metabolic systems compartmentalize enzymes into organelles or post-translationally induce activity under certain conditions. Here we report that optogenetic control can be used to extend compartmentalization and dynamic control to engineered metabolisms in yeast. We describe a suite of optogenetic tools to trigger assembly and disassembly of metabolically active enzyme clusters. Using the deoxyviolacein biosynthesis pathway as a model system, we find that light-switchable clustering can enhance product formation six-fold and product specificity 18-fold by decreasing the concentration of intermediate metabolites and reducing flux through competing pathways. Inducible compartmentalization of enzymes into synthetic organelles can thus be used to control engineered metabolic pathways, limit intermediates and favor the formation of desired products.
Signaling Dynamics Control Cell Fate in the Early Drosophila Embryo.
The Erk mitogen-activated protein kinase plays diverse roles in animal development. Its widespread reuse raises a conundrum: when a single kinase like Erk is activated, how does a developing cell know which fate to adopt? We combine optogenetic control with genetic perturbations to dissect Erk-dependent fates in the early Drosophila embryo. We find that Erk activity is sufficient to "posteriorize" 88% of the embryo, inducing gut endoderm-like gene expression and morphogenetic movements in all cells within this region. Gut endoderm fate adoption requires at least 1 h of signaling, whereas a 30-min Erk pulse specifies a distinct ectodermal cell type, intermediate neuroblasts. We find that the endoderm-ectoderm cell fate switch is controlled by the cumulative load of Erk activity, not the duration of a single pulse. The fly embryo thus harbors a classic example of dynamic control, where the temporal profile of Erk signaling selects between distinct physiological outcomes.
A size-invariant bud-duration timer enables robustness in yeast cell size control.
Cell populations across nearly all forms of life generally maintain a characteristic cell type-dependent size, but how size control is achieved has been a long-standing question. The G1/S boundary of the cell cycle serves as a major point of size control, and mechanisms operating here restrict passage of cells to Start if they are too small. In contrast, it is less clear how size is regulated post-Start, during S/G2/M. To gain further insight into post-Start size control, we prepared budding yeast that can be reversibly blocked from bud initiation. While blocked, cells continue to grow isotropically, increasing their volume by more than an order of magnitude over unperturbed cells. Upon release from their block, giant mothers reenter the cell cycle and their progeny rapidly return to the original unperturbed size. We found this behavior to be consistent with a size-invariant 'timer' specifying the duration of S/G2/M. These results indicate that yeast use at least two distinct mechanisms at different cell cycle phases to ensure size homeostasis.
A bright future: optogenetics to dissect the spatiotemporal control of cell behavior.
Cells sense, process, and respond to extracellular information using signaling networks: collections of proteins that act as precise biochemical sensors. These protein networks are characterized by both complex temporal organization, such as pulses of signaling activity, and by complex spatial organization, where proteins assemble structures at particular locations and times within the cell. Yet despite their ubiquity, studying these spatial and temporal properties has remained challenging because they emerge from the entire protein network rather than a single node, and cannot be easily tuned by drugs or mutations. These challenges are being met by a new generation of optogenetic tools capable of directly controlling the activity of individual signaling nodes over time and the assembly of protein complexes in space. Here, we outline how these recent innovations are being used in conjunction with engineering-influenced experimental design to address longstanding questions in signaling biology.
Mapping Local and Global Liquid Phase Behavior in Living Cells Using Photo-Oligomerizable Seeds.
Liquid-liquid phase separation plays a key role in the
assembly of diverse intracellular structures. However,
the biophysical principles by which phase separation
can be precisely localized within subregions
of the cell are still largely unclear, particularly for
low-abundance proteins. Here, we introduce an oligomerizing
biomimetic system, ‘‘Corelets,’’ and utilize
its rapid and quantitative light-controlled
tunability to map full intracellular phase diagrams,
which dictate the concentrations at which phase
separation occurs and the transition mechanism, in
a protein sequence dependent manner. Surprisingly,
both experiments and simulations show that while
intracellular concentrations may be insufficient for
global phase separation, sequestering protein ligands
to slowly diffusing nucleation centers can
move the cell into a different region of the phase diagram,
resulting in localized phase separation. This
diffusive capture mechanism liberates the cell from
the constraints of global protein abundance and is
likely exploited to pattern condensates associated
with diverse biological processes.
Cancer mutations and targeted drugs can disrupt dynamic signal encoding by the Ras-Erk pathway.
The Ras-Erk (extracellular signal-regulated kinase) pathway encodes information in its dynamics; the duration and frequency of Erk activity can specify distinct cell fates. To enable dynamic encoding, temporal information must be accurately transmitted from the plasma membrane to the nucleus. We used optogenetic profiling to show that both oncogenic B-Raf mutations and B-Raf inhibitors can cause corruption of this transmission, so that short pulses of input Ras activity are distorted into abnormally long Erk outputs. These changes can reshape downstream transcription and cell fates, resulting in improper decisions to proliferate. These findings illustrate how altered dynamic signal transmission properties, and not just constitutively increased signaling, can contribute to cell proliferation and perhaps cancer, and how optogenetic profiling can dissect mechanisms of signaling dysfunction in disease.
Four Key Steps Control Glycolytic Flux in Mammalian Cells.
Altered glycolysis is a hallmark of diseases including diabetes and cancer. Despite intensive study of the contributions of individual glycolytic enzymes, systems-level analyses of flux control through glycolysis remain limited. Here, we overexpress in two mammalian cell lines the individual enzymes catalyzing each of the 12 steps linking extracellular glucose to excreted lactate, and find substantial flux control at four steps: glucose import, hexokinase, phosphofructokinase, and lactate export (and not at any steps of lower glycolysis). The four flux-controlling steps are specifically upregulated by the Ras oncogene: optogenetic Ras activation rapidly induces the transcription of isozymes catalyzing these four steps and enhances glycolysis. At least one isozyme catalyzing each of these four steps is consistently elevated in human tumors. Thus, in the studied contexts, flux control in glycolysis is concentrated in four key enzymatic steps. Upregulation of these steps in tumors likely underlies the Warburg effect.
Protein Phase Separation Provides Long-Term Memory of Transient Spatial Stimuli.
Protein/RNA clusters arise frequently in spatially regulated biological processes, from the asymmetric distribution of P granules and PAR proteins in developing embryos to localized receptor oligomers in migratory cells. This co-occurrence suggests that protein clusters might possess intrinsic properties that make them a useful substrate for spatial regulation. Here, we demonstrate that protein droplets show a robust form of spatial memory, maintaining the spatial pattern of an inhibitor of droplet formation long after it has been removed. Despite this persistence, droplets can be highly dynamic, continuously exchanging monomers with the diffuse phase. We investigate the principles of biophysical spatial memory in three contexts: a computational model of phase separation; a novel optogenetic system where light can drive rapid, localized dissociation of liquid-like protein droplets; and membrane-localized signal transduction from clusters of receptor tyrosine kinases. Our results suggest that the persistent polarization underlying many cellular and developmental processes could arise through a simple biophysical process, without any additional biochemical feedback loops.
Optogenetic regulation of engineered cellular metabolism for microbial chemical production.
The optimization of engineered metabolic pathways requires careful control over the levels and timing of metabolic enzyme expression. Optogenetic tools are ideal for achieving such precise control, as light can be applied and removed instantly without complex media changes. Here we show that light-controlled transcription can be used to enhance the biosynthesis of valuable products in engineered Saccharomyces cerevisiae. We introduce new optogenetic circuits to shift cells from a light-induced growth phase to a darkness-induced production phase, which allows us to control fermentation with only light. Furthermore, optogenetic control of engineered pathways enables a new mode of bioreactor operation using periodic light pulses to tune enzyme expression during the production phase of fermentation to increase yields. Using these advances, we control the mitochondrial isobutanol pathway to produce up to 8.49 ± 0.31 g l-1of isobutanol and 2.38 ± 0.06 g l-1of 2-methyl-1-butanol micro-aerobically from glucose. These results make a compelling case for the application of optogenetics to metabolic engineering for the production of valuable products.
Illuminating developmental biology with cellular optogenetics.
In developmental biology, localization is everything. The same stimulus-cell signaling event or expression of a gene-can have dramatically different effects depending on the time, spatial position, and cell types in which it is applied. Yet the field has long lacked the ability to deliver localized perturbations with high specificity in vivo. The advent of optogenetic tools, capable of delivering highly localized stimuli, is thus poised to profoundly expand our understanding of development. We describe the current state-of-the-art in cellular optogenetic tools, review the first wave of major studies showcasing their application in vivo, and discuss major obstacles that must be overcome if the promise of developmental optogenetics is to be fully realized.
Optogenetic Reconstitution for Determining the Form and Function of Membraneless Organelles.
It has recently become clear that large-scale macromolecular self-assembly is a rule, rather than an exception, of intracellular organization. A growing number of proteins and RNAs have been shown to self-assemble into micrometer-scale clusters that exhibit either liquid-like or gel-like properties. Given their proposed roles in intracellular regulation, embryo development, and human disease, it is becoming increasingly important to understand how these membraneless organelles form and to map their functional consequences for the cell. Recently developed optogenetic systems make it possible to acutely control cluster assembly and disassembly in live cells, driving the separation of proteins of interest into liquid droplets, hydrogels, or solid aggregates. Here we propose that these approaches, as well as their evolution into the next generation of optogenetic biophysical tools, will allow biologists to determine how the self-assembly of membraneless organelles modulates diverse biochemical processes.
Tracing Information Flow from Erk to Target Gene Induction Reveals Mechanisms of Dynamic and Combinatorial Control.
Cell signaling networks coordinate specific patterns of protein expression in response to external cues, yet the logic by which signaling pathway activity determines the eventual abundance of target proteins is complex and poorly understood. Here, we describe an approach for simultaneously controlling the Ras/Erk pathway and monitoring a target gene’s transcription and protein accumulation in single live cells. We apply our approach to dissect how Erk activity is decoded by immediate early genes (IEGs). We find that IEG transcription decodes Erk dynamics through a shared band-pass filtering circuit; repeated Erk pulses transcribe IEGs more efficiently than sustained Erk inputs. However, despite highly similar transcriptional responses, each IEG exhibits dramatically different protein-level accumulation, demonstrating a high degree of post-transcriptional regulation by combinations of multiple pathways. Our results demonstrate that the Ras/Erk pathway is decoded by both dynamic filters and logic gates to shape target gene responses in a context-specific manner.
Optogenetic Control of Ras/Erk Signaling Using the Phy-PIF System.
The Ras/Erk signaling pathway plays a central role in diverse cellular processes ranging from development to immune cell activation to neural plasticity to cancer. In recent years, this pathway has been widely studied using live-cell fluorescent biosensors, revealing complex Erk dynamics that arise in many cellular contexts. Yet despite these high-resolution tools for measurement, the field has lacked analogous tools for control over Ras/Erk signaling in live cells. Here, we provide detailed methods for one such tool based on the optical control of Ras activity, which we call "Opto-SOS." Expression of the Opto-SOS constructs can be coupled with a live-cell reporter of Erk activity to reveal highly quantitative input-to-output maps of the pathway. Detailed herein are protocols for expressing the Opto-SOS system in cultured cells, purifying the small molecule cofactor necessary for optical stimulation, imaging Erk responses using live-cell microscopy, and processing the imaging data to quantify Ras/Erk signaling dynamics.