Showing 1 - 25 of 66 results
Multiple-site diversification of regulatory sequences enables inter-species operability of genetic devices.
The features of the light-responsive cyanobacterial CcaSR regulatory module that determine interoperability of this optogenetic device between Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas putida have been examined. For this, all structural parts (i.e. ho1 and pcyA genes for synthesis of phycocyanobilin, the ccaS/ccaR system from Synechocystis and its cognate downstream promoter) were maintained but their expression levels and stoichiometry diversified by [i] reassembling them together in a single broad host range, standardized vector and [ii] subjecting the non-coding regulatory sequences to multiple cycles of directed evolution with random genomic mutations (DIvERGE), a recombineering method that intensifies mutation rates within discrete DNA segments. Once passed to P. putida, various clones displayed a wide dynamic range, insignificant leakiness and excellent capacity in response to green light. Inspection of the evolutionary intermediates pinpointed translational control as the main bottleneck for interoperability and suggested a general approach for easing the exchange of genetic cargoes between different species i.e. optimization of relative expression levels and upturning of subcomplex stoichiometry.
Repurposing protein degradation for optogenetic modulation of protein activities.
Non-neuronal optogenetic approaches empower precise regulation of protein dynamics in live cells but often require target-specific protein engineering. To address this challenge, we developed a generalizable light-modulated protein stabilization system (GLIMPSe) to control intracellular protein level independent of its functionality. We applied GLIMPSe to control two distinct classes of proteins: mitogen-activated protein kinase phosphatase 3 (MKP3), a negative regulator of the extracellu-lar signal-regulated kinase (ERK) pathway, as well as a constitutively active form of MEK (CA MEK), a positive regulator of the same pathway. Kinetics study showed that light-induced protein stabilization could be achieved within 30 minutes of blue light stimulation. GLIMPSe enables target-independent optogenetic control of protein activities and therefore minimizes the systematic variation embedded within different photoactivatable proteins. Overall, GLIMPSe promises to achieve light-mediated post-translational stabilization of a wide array of target proteins in live cells.
An AND-Gated Drug and Photoactivatable Cre-loxP System for Spatiotemporal Control in Cell-Based Therapeutics.
While engineered chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells have shown promise in detecting and eradicating cancer cells within patients, it remains difficult to identify a set of truly cancer-specific CAR-targeting cell surface antigens to prevent potentially fatal on-target off-tumor toxicity against other healthy tissues within the body. To help address this issue, we present a novel tamoxifen-gated photoactivatable split-Cre recombinase optogenetic system, called TamPA-Cre, that features high spatiotemporal control to limit CAR T cell activity to the tumor site. We created and optimized a novel genetic AND gate switch by integrating the features of tamoxifen-dependent nuclear localization and blue-light-inducible heterodimerization of Magnet protein domains (nMag, pMag) into split Cre recombinase. By fusing the cytosol-localizing mutant estrogen receptor ligand binding domain (ERT2) to the N-terminal half of split Cre(2-59aa)-nMag, the TamPA-Cre protein ERT2-CreN-nMag is physically separated from its nuclear-localized binding partner, NLS-pMag-CreC(60-343aa). Without tamoxifen to drive nuclear localization of ERT2-CreN-nMag, the typically high background of the photoactivation system was significantly suppressed. Upon blue light stimulation following tamoxifen treatment, the TamPA-Cre system exhibits sensitivity to low intensity, short durations of blue light exposure to induce robust Cre-loxP recombination efficiency. We finally demonstrate that this TamPA-Cre system can be applied to specifically control localized CAR expression and subsequently T cell activation. As such, we posit that CAR T cell activity can be confined to a solid tumor site by applying an external stimulus, with high precision of control in both space and time, such as light.
Production of Phytochromes by High-Cell-Density E. coli Fermentation.
Phytochromes are important photoreceptors of plants, bacteria, and fungi responsive to light in the red and far-red spectrum. For increasing applications in basic research, synthetic biology, and materials sciences, it is required to recombinantly produce and purify phytochromes in high amounts. An ideal host organism for this purpose is E. coli due to its widespread use, fast growth, and ability for high-cell-density fermentation. Here, we describe the development of a generic platform for the production of phytochromes in E. coli that is compatible with high-cell-density fermentation. We exemplify our approach by the production of the photosensory domains of phytochrome B (PhyB) from A. thaliana and of the cyanobacterial phytochrome 1 (Cph1) from Synechocystis PCC 6803 in the multigram scale per 10 L fermentation run.
Photocleavable Cadherin Inhibits Cell-to-Cell Mechanotransduction by Light.
Precise integration of individual cell behaviors is indispensable for collective tissue morphogenesis and maintenance of tissue integrity. Organized multicellular behavior is achieved via mechanical coupling of individual cellular contractility, mediated by cell adhesion molecules at the cell-cell interface. Conventionally, gene depletion or laser microsurgery has been used for functional analysis of intercellular mechanotransduction. Nevertheless, these methods are insufficient to investigate either the spatiotemporal dynamics or the biomolecular contribution in cell-cell mechanical coupling within collective multicellular behaviors. Herein, we present our effort in adaption of PhoCl for attenuation of cell-to-cell tension transmission mediated by E-cadherin. To release intercellular contractile tension applied on E-cadherin molecules with external light, a genetically encoded photocleavable module called PhoCl was inserted into the intracellular domain of E-cadherin, thereby creating photocleavable cadherin (PC-cadherin). In response to light illumination, the PC-cadherin cleaved into two fragments inside cells, resulting in attenuating mechanotransduction at intercellular junctions in living epithelial cells. Light-induced perturbation of the intercellular tension balance with surrounding cells changed the cell shape in an epithelial cell sheet. The method is expected to enable optical manipulation of force-mediated cell-to-cell communications in various multicellular behaviors, which contributes to a deeper understanding of embryogenesis and oncogenesis.
Amelioration of Diabetes in a Murine Model upon Transplantation of Pancreatic β-Cells with Optogenetic Control of Cyclic Adenosine Monophosphate.
Pharmacological augmentation of glucose-stimulated insulin secretion (GSIS), for example, to overcome insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes is linked to suboptimal regulation of blood sugar. Cultured β-cells and islets expressing a photoactivatable adenylyl cyclase (PAC) are amenable to GSIS potentiation with light. However, whether PAC-mediated enhancement of GSIS can improve the diabetic state remains unknown. To this end, β-cells were engineered with stable PAC expression that led to over 2-fold greater GSIS upon exposure to blue light while there were no changes in the absence of glucose. Moreover, the rate of oxygen consumption was unaltered despite the photoinduced elevation of GSIS. Transplantation of these cells into streptozotocin-treated mice resulted in improved glucose tolerance, lower hyperglycemia, and higher plasma insulin when subjected to illumination. Embedding optogenetic networks in β-cells for physiologically relevant control of GSIS will enable novel solutions potentially overcoming the shortcomings of current treatments for diabetes.
Synthetic Biology Tools for the Fast-Growing Marine Bacterium Vibrio natriegens.
The fast-growing non-model marine bacterium Vibrio natriegens has recently garnered attention as a host for molecular biology and biotechnology applications. In order further its capabilities as a synthetic biology chassis, we have characterized a wide range of genetic parts and tools for use in V. natriegens. These parts include many commonly-used resistance markers, promoters, ribosomal binding sites, reporters, terminators, degradation tags, origin of replication sequences and plasmid backbones. We have characterized the behavior of these parts in different combinations and have compared their functionality in V. natriegens and Escherichia coli. Plasmid stability over time, plasmid copy numbers, and production load on the cells were also evaluated. Additionally, we tested constructs for chemical and optogenetic induction and characterized basic engineered circuit behavior in V. natriegens. The results indicate that while most parts and constructs work similarly in the two organisms, some deviate significantly. Overall, these results will serve as a primer for anyone interested in engineering V. natriegens and will aid in developing more robust synthetic biology principles and approaches for this non-model chassis.
OpEn-Tag-A Customizable Optogenetic Toolbox To Dissect Subcellular Signaling.
Subcellular localization of signal molecules is a hallmark in organizing the signaling network. OpEn-Tag is a modular optogenetic endomembrane targeting toolbox that allows alteration of the localization and therefore the activity of signaling processes with the spatiotemporal resolution of optogenetics. OpEn-Tag is a two-component system employing (1) a variety of targeting peptides fused to and thereby dictating the localization of mCherry-labeled cryptochrome 2 binding protein CIBN toward distinct endomembranes and (2) the cytosolic, fluorescence-labeled blue light photoreceptor cryptochrome 2 as a customizable building block that can be fused to proteins of interest. The combination of OpEn-Tag with growth factor stimulation or the use of two membrane anchor sequences allows investigation of multilayered signal transduction processes as demonstrated here for the protein kinase AKT.
Engineering Adenylate Cyclase Activated by Near-Infrared Window Light for Mammalian Optogenetic Applications.
Light in the near-infrared optical window (NIRW) penetrates deep through mammalian tissues, including the skull and brain tissue. Here we engineered an adenylate cyclase (AC) activated by NIRW light (NIRW-AC) and suitable for mammalian applications. To accomplish this goal, we constructed fusions of several bacteriophytochrome photosensory and bacterial AC modules using guidelines for designing chimeric homodimeric bacteriophytochromes. One engineered NIRW-AC, designated IlaM5, has significantly higher activity at 37 °C, is better expressed in mammalian cells, and can mediate cAMP-dependent photoactivation of gene expression in mammalian cells, in favorable contrast to the NIRW-ACs engineered earlier. The ilaM5 gene expressed from an AAV vector was delivered into the ventral basal thalamus region of the mouse brain, resulting in the light-controlled suppression of the cAMP-dependent wave pattern of the sleeping brain known as spindle oscillations. Reversible spindle oscillation suppression was observed in sleeping mice exposed to light from an external light source. This study confirms the robustness of principles of homodimeric bacteriophytochrome engineering, describes a NIRW-AC suitable for mammalian optogenetic applications, and demonstrates the feasibility of controlling brain activity via NIRW-ACs using transcranial irradiation.
Optogenetic downregulation of protein levels with an ultrasensitive switch.
Optogenetic control of protein activity is a versatile technique to gain control over cellular processes, e.g. for biomedical and biotechnological applications. Among other techniques, the regulation of protein abundance by controlling either transcription or protein stability found common use as this controls the activity of any type of target protein. Here, we report modules of an improved variant of the photosensitive degron module and a light-sensitive transcription factor, which we compared to doxycycline-dependent transcriptional control. Given their modularity the combined control of synthesis and stability of a given target protein resulted in the synergistic down regulation of its abundance by light. This combined module exhibits very high switching ratios, profound downregulation of protein abundance at low light-fluxes as well as fast protein depletion kinetics. Overall, this synergistic optogenetic multistep control (SOMCo) module is easy to implement and results in a regulation of protein abundance superior to each individual component.
A yeast system for discovering optogenetic inhibitors of eukaryotic translation initiation.
The precise spatiotemporal regulation of protein synthesis is essential for many complex biological processes such as memory formation, embryonic development and tumor formation. Current methods used to study protein synthesis offer only a limited degree of spatiotemporal control. Optogenetic methods, in contrast, offer the prospect of controlling protein synthesis non-invasively within minutes and with a spatial scale as small as a single synapse. Here, we present a hybrid yeast system where growth depends on the activity of human eukaryotic initiation factor 4E (eIF4E) that is suitable for screening optogenetic designs for the down-regulation of protein synthesis. We used this system to screen a diverse initial panel of 15 constructs designed to couple a light switchable domain (PYP, RsLOV, LOV, Dronpa) to 4EBP2 (eukaryotic initiation factor 4E binding protein 2), a native inhibitor of translation initiation. We identified cLIPS1 (circularly permuted LOV inhibitor of protein synthesis 1), a fusion of a segment of 4EBP2 and a circularly permuted version of the LOV2 domain from Avena sativa, as a photo-activated inhibitor of translation. Adapting the screen for higher throughput, we tested small libraries of cLIPS1 variants and found cLIPS2, a construct with an improved degree of optical control. We show that these constructs can both inhibit translation in yeast harboring a human eIF4E in vivo, and bind human eIF4E in vitro in a light-dependent manner. This hybrid yeast system thus provides a convenient way for discovering optogenetic constructs that can regulate of human eIF4E-depednednt translation initiation in a mechanistically defined manner.
Physical Plasma Membrane Perturbation Using Subcellular Optogenetics Drives Integrin-Activated Cell Migration.
Cells experience physical deformations to the plasma membrane that can modulate cell behaviors like migration. Understanding the molecular basis for how physical cues affect dynamic cellular responses requires new approaches that can physically perturb the plasma membrane with rapid, reversible, subcellular control. Here we present an optogenetic approach based on light-inducible dimerization that alters plasma membrane properties by recruiting cytosolic proteins at high concentrations to a target site. Surprisingly, this polarized accumulation of proteins in a cell induces directional amoeboid migration in the opposite direction. Consistent with known effects of constraining high concentrations of proteins to a membrane in vitro, there is localized curvature and tension decrease in the plasma membrane. Integrin activity, sensitive to mechanical forces, is activated in this region. Localized mechanical activation of integrin with optogenetics allowed simultaneous imaging of the molecular and cellular response, helping uncover a positive feedback loop comprising SFK- and ERK-dependent RhoA activation, actomyosin contractility, rearward membrane flow, and membrane tension decrease underlying this mode of cell migration.
Engineering Improved Photoswitches for the Control of Nucleocytoplasmic Distribution.
Optogenetic techniques use light-responsive proteins to study dynamic processes in living cells and organisms. These techniques typically rely on repurposed naturally occurring light-sensitive proteins to control sub-cellular localization and activity. We previously engineered two optogenetic systems, the Light Activated Nuclear Shuttle (LANS) and the Light-Inducible Nuclear eXporter (LINX), by embedding nuclear import or export sequence motifs into the C-terminal helix of the light-responsive LOV2 domain of Avena sativa phototropin 1, thus enabling light-dependent trafficking of a target protein into and out of the nucleus. While LANS and LINX are effective tools, we posited that mutations within the LOV2 hinge-loop, which connects the core PAS domain and the C-terminal helix, would further improve the functionality of these switches. Here, we identify hinge-loop mutations that favourably shift the dynamic range (the ratio of the on- to off-target subcellular accumulation) of the LANS and LINX photoswitches. We demonstrate the utility of these new optogenetic tools to control gene transcription and epigenetic modifications, thereby expanding the optogenetic 'tool kit' for the research community.
Programming the Dynamic Control of Bacterial Gene Expression with a Chimeric Ligand- and Light-Based Promoter System.
To program cells in a dynamic manner, synthetic biologists require precise control over the threshold levels and timing of gene expression. However, in practice, modulating gene expression is widely carried out using prototypical ligand-inducible promoters, which have limited tunability and spatiotemporal resolution. Here, we built two dual-input hybrid promoters, each retaining the function of the ligand-inducible promoter while being enhanced with a blue-light-switchable tuning knob. Using the new promoters, we show that both ligand and light inputs can be synchronously modulated to achieve desired amplitude or independently regulated to generate desired frequency at a specific amplitude. We exploit the versatile programmability and orthogonality of the two promoters to build the first reprogrammable logic gene circuit capable of reconfiguring into logic OR and N-IMPLY logic on the fly in both space and time without the need to modify the circuit. Overall, we demonstrate concentration- and time-based combinatorial regulation in live bacterial cells with potential applications in biotechnology and synthetic biology.
Discovering selective binders for photoswitchable proteins using phage display.
Nature provides an array of proteins that change conformation in response to light. The discovery of a complementary array of proteins that bind only the light-state or dark-state conformation of their photoactive partner proteins would allow each light-switchable protein to be used as an optogenetic tool to control protein-protein interactions. However, as many photoactive proteins have no known binding partner, the advantages of optogenetic control - precise spatial and temporal resolution - are currently restricted to a few well-defined natural systems. In addition, the affinities and kinetics of native interactions are often sub-optimal and are difficult to engineer in the absence of any structural information. We report a phage display strategy using a small scaffold protein that can be used to discover new binding partners for both light and dark states of a given light-switchable protein. We used our approach to generate binding partners that interact specifically with the light state or the dark state conformation of two light-switchable proteins: PYP, a test case for a protein with no known partners, and AsLOV2 a well-characterized protein. We show that these novel light-switchable protein-protein interactions can function in living cells to control subcellular localization processes.
A Single-Component Optogenetic System Allows Stringent Switch of Gene Expression in Yeast Cells.
Light is a highly attractive actuator that allows spatiotemporal control of diverse cellular activities. In this study, we developed a single-component light-switchable gene expression system for yeast cells, termed yLightOn system. The yLightOn system is independent of exogenous cofactors, and exhibits more than a 500-fold ON/OFF ratio, extremely low leakage, fast expression kinetics, and high spatial resolution. We demonstrated the usefulness of the yLightOn system in regulating cell growth and cell cycle by stringently controlling the expression of His3 and ΔN Sic1 genes, respectively. Furthermore, we engineered a bidirectional expression module that allows the simultaneous control of the expression of two genes by light. With ClpX and ClpP as the reporters, the fast, quantitative, and spatially specific degradation of ssrA-tagged protein was observed. We suggest that this single-component optogenetic system will be immensely helpful in understanding cellular gene regulatory networks and in the design of robust genetic circuits for synthetic biology.
Optical activation of TrkA signaling.
Nerve growth factor/tropomyosin receptor kinase A (NGF/TrkA) signaling plays a key role in neuronal development, function, survival, and growth. The pathway is implicated in neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer's disease, chronic pain, inflammation, and cancer. NGF binds the extracellular domain of TrkA, leading to the activation of the receptor's intracellular kinase domain. TrkA signaling is highly dynamic, thus mechanistic studies would benefit from a tool with high spatial and temporal resolution. Here we present the design and evaluation of four strategies for light-inducible activation of TrkA in the absence of NGF. Our strategies involve the light-sensitive protein Arabidopsis cryptochrome 2 (CRY2) and its binding partner CIB1. We demonstrate successful recapitulation of native NGF/TrkA functions by optical induction of plasma membrane recruitment and homo-interaction of the intracellular domain of TrkA. This approach activates PI3K/AKT and Raf/ERK signaling pathways, promotes neurite growth in PC12 cells, and supports the survival of dorsal root ganglion neurons in the absence of NGF. This ability to activate TrkA using light bestows high spatial and temporal resolution for investigating NGF/TrkA signaling.
Reversible Social Self-Sorting of Colloidal Cell-Mimics with Blue Light Switchable Proteins.
Towards the bottom-up assembly of synthetic cells from molecular building blocks it is an ongoing challenge to assemble micrometer sized compartments that host different processes into precise multicompartmental assemblies, also called prototissues. The difficulty lies in controlling interactions between different compartments dynamically both in space and time, as these interactions determine how they organize with respect to each other and how they work together. In this study, we have been able to control the self-assembly and social self-sorting of four different types of colloids, which we use as a model for synthetic cells, into two separate families with visible light. For this purpose we used two photoswitchable protein pairs (iLID/Nano and nHagHigh/pMagHigh) that both reversibly heterodimerize upon blue light exposure and dissociate from each other in the dark. These photoswitchable proteins provide non-invasive, dynamic and reversible remote control under biocompatible conditions over the self-assembly process with unprecedented spatial and temporal precision. In addition, each protein pair brings together specifically two different types of colloids. The orthogonality of the two protein pairs enables social self-sorting of a four component mixture into two distinct families of colloidal aggregates with controlled arrangements. These results will ultimately pave the way for the bottom-up assembly of multicompartment synthetic prototissues of a higher complexity, enabling us to control precisely and dynamically the organization of different compartments in space and time.
OptoBase: A web platform for molecular optogenetics.
OptoBase is an online platform for molecular optogenetics. At its core is a hand-annotated and ontology-supported database that aims to cover all existing optogenetic switches and publications, which is further complemented with a collection of convenient optogenetics-related web tools. OptoBase is meant for both expert optogeneticists, to easily keep track of the field, as well as for all researchers who find optogenetics inviting as a powerful tool to address their biological questions of interest. It is available at https://www.optobase.org. This work also presents OptoBase-based analysis of the trends in molecular optogenetics.
LOV Domains in the Design of Photoresponsive Enzymes.
In nature, a multitude of mechanisms have emerged for regulating biological processes and, specifically, protein activity. Light as a natural regulatory element is of outstanding interest for studying and modulating protein activity because it can be precisely applied with regard to a site of action, instant of time, or intensity. Naturally occuring photoresponsive proteins, predominantly those containing a light-oxygen-voltage (LOV) domain, have been characterized structurally and mechanistically and also conjugated to various proteins of interest. Immediate advantages of these new photoresponsive proteins such as genetic encoding, no requirement of chemical modification, and reversibility are paid by difficulties in predicting the envisaged activity or type and site of domain fusion. In this article, we summarize recent advances and give a survey on currently available design concepts for engineering photoswitchable proteins.
Optogenetic inhibition of Gαq protein signaling reduces calcium oscillation stochasticity.
As fast terminators of G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) signaling, regulators of G-protein signaling (RGS) serve critical roles in fine-tuning second messenger levels and, consequently, cellular responses to external stimuli. Here, we report the creation of an optogenetic RGS2 (opto-RGS2) that suppresses agonist-evoked calcium oscillations by the inactivation of Gαq protein. In this system, cryptochrome-mediated hetero-dimerization of the catalytic RGS2-box with its N-terminal amphipathic helix reconstitutes a functional membrane-localized complex that can dynamically suppress store-operated release of calcium. Engineered opto-RGS2 cell lines were used to establish the role of RGS2 as a key inhibitory feedback regulator of the stochasticity of the Gαq-mediated calcium spike timing. RGS2 reduced the stochasticity of carbachol-stimulated calcium oscillations, and the feedback inhibition was coupled to the global calcium elevation by calmodulin/RGS2 interactions. The identification of a critical negative feedback circuit exemplifies the utility of optogenetic approaches for interrogating RGS/GPCR biology and calcium encoding principles through temporally precise molecular gain-of-function.
Bioprinting Living Biofilms through Optogenetic Manipulation.
In this paper, we present a new strategy for microprinting dense bacterial communities with a prescribed organization on a substrate. Unlike conventional bioprinting techniques that require bioinks, through optogenetic manipulation, we directly manipulated the behaviors of Pseudomonas aeruginosa to allow these living bacteria to autonomically form patterned biofilms following prescribed illumination. The results showed that through optogenetic manipulation, patterned bacterial communities with high spatial resolution (approximately 10 μm) could be constructed in 6 h. Thus, optogenetic manipulation greatly increases the range of available bioprinting techniques.
A green light-responsive system for the control of transgene expression in mammalian and plant cells.
The ever-increasing complexity of synthetic gene networks and applications of synthetic biology requires precise and orthogonal gene expression systems. Of particular interest are systems responsive to light as they enable the control of gene expression dynamics with unprecedented resolution in space and time. While broadly used in mammalian backgrounds, however, optogenetic approaches in plant cells are still limited due to interference of the activating light with endogenous photoreceptors. Here, we describe the development of the first synthetic light-responsive system for the targeted control of gene expression in mammalian and plant cells that responds to the green range of the light spectrum in which plant photoreceptors have minimal activity. We first engineered a system based on the light-sensitive bacterial transcription factor CarH6 and its cognate DNA operator sequence CarO from Thermus thermophilus to control gene expression in mammalian cells. The system was functional in various mammalian cell lines, showing high induction (up to 350-fold) along with low leakiness, as well as high reversibility. We quantitatively described the systems characteristics by the development and experimental validation of a mathematical model. Finally, we transferred the system into A. thaliana protoplasts and demonstrated gene expression in response to green light. We expect that this system will provide new opportunities in applications based on synthetic gene networks and will open up perspectives for optogenetic studies in mammalian and plant cells.
Cell-free optogenetic gene expression system.
Optogenetic tools provide a new and efficient way to dynamically program gene expression with unmatched spatiotemporal precision. To date, its vast potential remains untapped in the field of cell-free synthetic biology, largely due to the lack of simple and efficient light-switchable systems. Here, to bridge the gap between cell-free systems and optogenetics, we studied our previously engineered one component-based blue light-inducible Escherichia coli promoter in a cell-free environment through experimental characterization and mathematical modelling. We achieved >10-fold dynamic expression and demonstrated rapid and reversible activation of target gene to generate oscillatory waveform. Deterministic model developed was able to recapitulate the system behaviour and helped to provide quantitative insights to optimize dynamic response. This in vitro optogenetic approach could be a powerful new high-throughput screening technology for rapid prototyping of complex biological networks in both space and time without the need for chemical induction.
Rewiring Calcium Signaling for Precise Transcriptional Reprogramming.
Tools capable of modulating gene expression in living organisms are very useful for interrogating the gene regulatory network and controlling biological processes. The catalytically inactive CRISPR/Cas9 (dCas9), when fused with repressive or activating effectors, functions as a versatile platform to reprogram gene transcription at targeted genomic loci. However, without temporal control, the application of these reprogramming tools will likely cause off-target effects and lack strict reversibility. To overcome this limitation, we report herein the development of a chemical or light-inducible transcriptional reprogramming device that combines photoswitchable genetically encoded calcium actuators with dCas9 to control gene expression. By fusing an engineered Ca2+-responsive NFAT fragment with dCas9 and transcriptional coactivators, we harness the power of light to achieve photoinducible transcriptional reprogramming in mammalian cells. This synthetic system (designated CaRROT) can also be used to document calcium-dependent activity in mammals after exposure to ligands or chemicals that would elicit calcium response inside cells.