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TAEL 2.0: An Improved Optogenetic Expression System for Zebrafish.
Inducible gene expression systems are valuable tools for studying biological processes. We previously developed an optogenetic gene expression system called TAEL that is optimized for use in zebrafish. When illuminated with blue light, TAEL transcription factors dimerize and activate gene expression downstream of the TAEL-responsive C120 promoter. By using light as the inducing agent, the TAEL/C120 system overcomes limitations of traditional inducible expression systems by enabling fine spatial and temporal regulation of gene expression. In this study, we describe ongoing efforts to improve the TAEL/C120 system. We made modifications to both the TAEL transcriptional activator and the C120 regulatory element, collectively referred to as TAEL 2.0. We demonstrate that TAEL 2.0 consistently induces higher levels of reporter gene expression and at a faster rate, but with comparable background and toxicity as the original TAEL system. With these improvements, we were able to create functional stable transgenic lines to express the TAEL 2.0 transcription factor either ubiquitously or with a tissue-specific promoter. We demonstrate that the ubiquitous line in particular can be used to induce expression at late embryonic and larval stages, addressing a major deficiency of the original TAEL system. This improved optogenetic expression system will be a broadly useful resource for the zebrafish community.
TAEL: a zebrafish-optimized optogenetic gene expression system with fine spatial and temporal control.
Here, we describe an optogenetic gene expression system optimized for use in zebrafish. This system overcomes the limitations of current inducible expression systems by enabling robust spatial and temporal regulation of gene expression in living organisms. Because existing optogenetic systems show toxicity in zebrafish, we re-engineered the blue-light-activated EL222 system for minimal toxicity while exhibiting a large range of induction, fine spatial precision and rapid kinetics. We validate several strategies to spatially restrict illumination and thus gene induction with our new TAEL (TA4-EL222) system. As a functional example, we show that TAEL is able to induce ectopic endodermal cells in the presumptive ectoderm via targeted sox32 induction. We also demonstrate that TAEL can be used to resolve multiple roles of Nodal signaling at different stages of embryonic development. Finally, we show how inducible gene editing can be achieved by combining the TAEL and CRISPR/Cas9 systems. This toolkit should be a broadly useful resource for the fish community.
An optogenetic gene expression system with rapid activation and deactivation kinetics.
Optogenetic gene expression systems can control transcription with spatial and temporal detail unequaled with traditional inducible promoter systems. However, current eukaryotic light-gated transcription systems are limited by toxicity, dynamic range or slow activation and deactivation. Here we present an optogenetic gene expression system that addresses these shortcomings and demonstrate its broad utility. Our approach uses an engineered version of EL222, a bacterial light-oxygen-voltage protein that binds DNA when illuminated with blue light. The system has a large (>100-fold) dynamic range of protein expression, rapid activation (<10 s) and deactivation kinetics (<50 s) and a highly linear response to light. With this system, we achieve light-gated transcription in several mammalian cell lines and intact zebrafish embryos with minimal basal gene activation and toxicity. Our approach provides a powerful new tool for optogenetic control of gene expression in space and time.
Blue light-induced dimerization of a bacterial LOV-HTH DNA-binding protein.
With their utilization of light-driven allostery to control biochemical activities, photosensory proteins are of great interest as model systems and novel reagents for use by the basic science and engineering communities. One such protein, the light-activated EL222 transcription factor, from the marine bacterium Erythrobacter litoralis HTCC2594, is appealing for such studies, as it harnesses blue light to drive the reorientation of light-oxygen-voltage (LOV) sensory and helix-turn-helix (HTH) effector domains to allow photoactivation of gene transcription in natural and artificial systems. The protein conformational changes required for this process are not well understood, in part because of the relatively short lifetime of the EL222 photoexcited state (τ ∼ 29 s), which complicates its characterization via certain biophysical methods. Here we report how we have circumvented this limitation by creating an EL222 variant harboring V41I, L52I, A79Q, and V121I point mutations (AQTrip) that stabilizes the photoactivated state. Using the wild-type and AQTrip EL222 proteins, we have probed EL222 activation using a combination of solution scattering, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), and electromobility shift assays. Size-exclusion chromatography and light scattering indicate that AQTrip oligomerizes in the absence of DNA and selects for an EL222 dimer-DNA complex in the presence of DNA substrates. These results are confirmed in wild-type EL222 with a high-affinity DNA-binding site that stabilizes the complex. NMR analyses of the EL222-DNA complex confirm a 2:1 stoichiometry in the presence of a previously characterized DNA substrate. Combined, these novel approaches have validated a key mechanistic step, whereby blue light induces EL222 dimerization through LOV and HTH interfaces.
Identification of natural and artificial DNA substrates for light-activated LOV-HTH transcription factor EL222.
Light-oxygen-voltage (LOV) domains serve as the photosensory modules for a wide range of plant and bacterial proteins, conferring blue light-dependent regulation to effector activities as diverse as enzymes and DNA binding. LOV domains can also be engineered into a variety of exogenous targets, allowing similar regulation for new protein-based reagents. Common to these proteins is the ability for LOV domains to reversibly form a photochemical adduct between an internal flavin chromophore and the surrounding protein, using this to trigger conformational changes that affect output activity. Using the Erythrobacter litoralis protein EL222 model system that links LOV regulation to a helix-turn-helix (HTH) DNA binding domain, we demonstrated that the LOV domain binds and inhibits the HTH domain in the dark, releasing these interactions upon illumination [Nash, A. I., et al. (2011) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 108, 9449-9454]. Here we combine genomic and in vitro selection approaches to identify optimal DNA binding sites for EL222. Within the bacterial host, we observe binding at several genomic sites using a 12 bp sequence consensus that is also found by in vitro selection methods. Sequence-specific alterations in the DNA consensus reduce EL222 binding affinity in a manner consistent with the expected binding mode, a protein dimer binding to two repeats. Finally, we demonstrate the light-dependent activation of transcription of two genes adjacent to an EL222 binding site. Taken together, these results shed light on the native function of EL222 and provide useful reagents for further basic and applications research of this versatile protein.