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Lighting the way: Recent insights into the structure and regulation of phototropin blue light receptors.
The phototropins (phots) are light-activated kinases that are critical for plant physiology and the many diverse optogenetic tools that they have inspired. Phototropins combine two blue light sensing Light-Oxygen-Voltage (LOV) domains (LOV1 and LOV2) and a C-terminal serine/threonine kinase domain, using the LOV domains to control the catalytic activity of the kinase. While much is known about the structure and photochemistry of the light-perceiving LOV domains, particularly in how activation of the LOV2 domain triggers the unfolding of alpha helices that communicate the light signal to the kinase domain, many questions about phot structure and mechanism remain. Recent studies have made progress addressing these questions by utilizing small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) and other biophysical approaches to study multidomain phots from Chlamydomonas and Arabidopsis, leading to models where the domains have an extended linear arrangement, with the activating LOV2 domain contacting the kinase domain N-lobe. We discuss this and other advances which have improved structural and mechanistic understanding of phot regulation in this review, along with the challenges that will have to be overcome to obtain high-resolution structural information on these exciting photoreceptors. Such information will be essential to advancing fundamental understanding of plant physiology while enabling engineering efforts at both the whole plant and molecular levels.
The rise and shine of yeast optogenetics.
Optogenetics refers to the control of biological processes with light. The activation of cellular phenomena by defined wavelengths has several advantages compared to traditional chemically-inducible systems, such as spatiotemporal resolution, dose-response regulation, low cost and moderate toxic effects. Optogenetics has been successfully implemented in yeast, a remarkable biological platform that is not only a model organism for cellular and molecular biology studies, but also a microorganism with diverse biotechnological applications. In this review, we summarize the main optogenetic systems implemented in the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which allow orthogonal control (by light) of gene expression, protein subcellular localization, reconstitution of protein activity, or protein sequestration by oligomerization. Furthermore, we review the application of optogenetic systems in the control of metabolic pathways, heterologous protein production and flocculation. We then revise an example of a previously described yeast optogenetic switch, named FUN-LOV, which allows precise and strong activation of the target gene. Finally, we describe optogenetic systems that have not yet been implemented in yeast, which could therefore be used to expand the panel of available tools in this biological chassis. In conclusion, a wide repertoire of optogenetic systems can be used to address fundamental biological questions and broaden the biotechnological toolkit in yeast.
An optogenetic tool for induced protein stabilization based on the Phaeodactylum tricornutum aureochrome 1a LOV domain.
Control of cellular events by optogenetic tools is a powerful approach to manipulate cellular functions in a minimally invasive manner. A common problem posed by the application of optogenetic tools is to tune the activity range to be physiologically relevant. Here, we characterized a photoreceptor of the light-oxygen-voltage domain family of Phaeodactylum tricornutum aureochrome 1a (AuLOV) as a tool for increasing protein stability under blue light conditions in budding yeast. Structural studies of AuLOVwt, the variants AuLOVM254 and AuLOVW349 revealed alternative dimer association modes for the dark state, which differ from previously reported AuLOV dark state structures. Rational design of AuLOV-dimer interface mutations resulted in an optimized optogenetic tool that we fused to the photoactivatable adenylyl cyclase from Beggiatoa sp.. This synergistic light-regulation approach using two photoreceptors resulted in an optimized, photoactivatable adenylyl cyclase with a cyclic AMP production activity that matches the physiological range of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Overall, we enlarged the optogenetic toolbox for yeast and demonstrated the importance of fine-tuning the optogenetic tool activity for successful application in cells.
Photoreaction Mechanisms of Flavoprotein Photoreceptors and Their Applications.
Three classes of flavoprotein photoreceptors, cryptochromes (CRYs), light-oxygen-voltage (LOV)-domain proteins, and blue light using FAD (BLUF)-domain proteins, have been identified that control various physiological processes in multiple organisms. Accordingly, signaling activities of photoreceptors have been intensively studied and the related mechanisms have been exploited in numerous optogenetic tools. Herein, we summarize the current understanding of photoactivation mechanisms of the flavoprotein photoreceptors and review their applications.
Degradation of integral membrane proteins modified with the photosensitive degron module requires the cytosolic endoplasmic reticulum-associated degradation pathway.
Protein quality mechanisms are fundamental for proteostasis of eukaryotic cells. Endoplasmic reticulum-associated degradation (ERAD) is a well-studied pathway that ensures quality control of secretory and endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-resident proteins. Different branches of ERAD are involved in degradation of malfolded secretory proteins, depending on the localization of the misfolded part, the ER lumen (ERAD-L), the ER membrane (ERAD-M), and the cytosol (ERAD-C). Here we report that modification of several ER transmembrane proteins with the photosensitive degron (psd) module resulted in light-dependent degradation of the membrane proteins via the ERAD-C pathway. We found dependency on the ubiquitylation machinery including the ubiquitin-activating enzyme Uba1, the ubiquitin--conjugating enzymes Ubc6 and Ubc7, and the ubiquitin-protein ligase Doa10. Moreover, we found involvement of the Cdc48 AAA-ATPase complex members Ufd1 and Npl4, as well as the proteasome, in degradation of Sec62-myc-psd. Thus, our work shows that ERAD-C substrates can be systematically generated via synthetic degron constructs, which facilitates future investigations of the ERAD-C pathway.
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.
Synthetic Control of Protein Degradation during Cell Proliferation and Developmental Processes.
Synthetic tools for the control of protein function are valuable for biomedical research to characterize cellular functions of essential proteins or if a rapid switch in protein activity is necessary. The ability to tune protein activity precisely opens another level of investigations that is not available with gene deletion mutants. Control of protein stability is a versatile approach to influence the activity of a target protein by its cellular abundance. Diverse strategies have been developed to achieve efficient proteolysis using external inducers or differentiation-coupled signals. The latter is especially important for the inactivation of a protein during a developmental process. Recently, several approaches to achieve this have been engineered. In this article, we present current synthetic tools for regulation of protein stability that allow fine-tuning of protein abundance, their advantages and disadvantages with an emphasis on methods applicable in the context of cell differentiation and development. We give an outlook toward future developments and discuss main applications of these tools.
Light‐Controlled Mammalian Cells and Their Therapeutic Applications in Synthetic Biology.
The ability to remote control the expression of therapeutic genes in mammalian cells in order to treat disease is a central goal of synthetic biology‐inspired therapeutic strategies. Furthermore, optogenetics, a combination of light and genetic sciences, provides an unprecedented ability to use light for precise control of various cellular activities with high spatiotemporal resolution. Recent work to combine optogenetics and therapeutic synthetic biology has led to the engineering of light‐controllable designer cells, whose behavior can be regulated precisely and noninvasively. This Review focuses mainly on non‐neural optogenetic systems, which are often used in synthetic biology, and their applications in genetic programing of mammalian cells. Here, a brief overview of the optogenetic tool kit that is available to build light‐sensitive mammalian cells is provided. Then, recently developed strategies for the control of designer cells with specific biological functions are summarized. Recent translational applications of optogenetically engineered cells are also highlighted, ranging from in vitro basic research to in vivo light‐controlled gene therapy. Finally, current bottlenecks, possible solutions, and future prospects for optogenetics in synthetic biology are discussed.
Blue-Light Receptors for Optogenetics.
Sensory photoreceptors underpin light-dependent adaptations of organismal physiology, development, and behavior in nature. Adapted for optogenetics, sensory photoreceptors become genetically encoded actuators and reporters to enable the noninvasive, spatiotemporally accurate and reversible control by light of cellular processes. Rooted in a mechanistic understanding of natural photoreceptors, artificial photoreceptors with customized light-gated function have been engineered that greatly expand the scope of optogenetics beyond the original application of light-controlled ion flow. As we survey presently, UV/blue-light-sensitive photoreceptors have particularly allowed optogenetics to transcend its initial neuroscience applications by unlocking numerous additional cellular processes and parameters for optogenetic intervention, including gene expression, DNA recombination, subcellular localization, cytoskeleton dynamics, intracellular protein stability, signal transduction cascades, apoptosis, and enzyme activity. The engineering of novel photoreceptors benefits from powerful and reusable design strategies, most importantly light-dependent protein association and (un)folding reactions. Additionally, modified versions of these same sensory photoreceptors serve as fluorescent proteins and generators of singlet oxygen, thereby further enriching the optogenetic toolkit. The available and upcoming UV/blue-light-sensitive actuators and reporters enable the detailed and quantitative interrogation of cellular signal networks and processes in increasingly more precise and illuminating manners.
Development of a Synthetic Switch to Control Protein Stability in Eukaryotic Cells with Light.
In eukaryotic cells, virtually all regulatory processes are influenced by proteolysis. Thus, synthetic control of protein stability is a powerful approach to influence cellular behavior. To achieve this, selected target proteins are modified with a conditional degradation sequence (degron) that responds to a distinct signal. For development of a synthetic degron, an appropriate sensor domain is fused with a degron such that activity of the degron is under control of the sensor. This chapter describes the development of a light-activated, synthetic degron in the model organism Saccharomyces cerevisiae. This photosensitive degron module is composed of the light-oxygen-voltage (LOV) 2 photoreceptor domain of Arabidopsis thaliana phototropin 1 and a degron derived from murine ornithine decarboxylase (ODC). Excitation of the photoreceptor with blue light induces a conformational change that leads to exposure and activation of the degron. Subsequently, the protein is targeted for degradation by the proteasome. Here, the strategy for degron module development and optimization is described in detail together with experimental aspects, which were pivotal for successful implementation of light-controlled proteolysis. The engineering of the photosensitive degron (psd) module may well serve as a blueprint for future development of sophisticated synthetic switches.
Controlling Protein Activity and Degradation Using Blue Light.
Regulation of protein stability is a fundamental process in eukaryotic cells and pivotal to, e.g., cell cycle progression, faithful chromosome segregation, or protein quality control. Synthetic regulation of protein stability requires conditional degradation sequences (degrons) that induce a stability switch upon a specific signal. Fusion to a selected target protein permits to influence virtually every process in a cell. Light as signal is advantageous due to its precise applicability in time, space, quality, and quantity. Light control of protein stability was achieved by fusing the LOV2 photoreceptor domain of Arabidopsis thaliana phototropin1 with a synthetic degron (cODC1) derived from the carboxy-terminal degron of ornithine decarboxylase to obtain the photosensitive degron (psd) module. The psd module can be attached to the carboxy terminus of target proteins that are localized to the cytosol or nucleus to obtain light control over their stability. Blue light induces structural changes in the LOV2 domain, which in turn lead to activation of the degron and thus proteasomal degradation of the whole fusion protein. Variants of the psd module with diverse characteristics are useful to fine-tune the stability of a selected target at permissive (darkness) and restrictive conditions (blue light).
Biophotography: concepts, applications and perspectives.
Synthetic biology aims at manipulating biological systems by rationally designed and genetically introduced components. Efforts in photoactuator engineering resulted in microorganisms reacting to extracellular light-cues with various cellular responses. Some of them lead to the formation of macroscopically observable outputs, which can be used to generate images made of living matter. Several methods have been developed to convert colorless compounds into visible pigments by an enzymatic conversion. This has been exploited as a showcase for successful creation of an optogenetic tool; examples for basic light-controlled biological processes that have been coupled to this biophotography comprise regulation of transcription, protein stability, and second messenger synthesis. Moreover, biological reproduction of images is used as means to facilitate quantitative characterization of optogenetic switches as well as a technique to investigate complex cellular signaling circuits. Here, we will compare the different techniques for biological image generation, introduce experimental approaches, and provide future-perspectives for biophotography.
A photosensitive degron enables acute light-induced protein degradation in the nervous system.
Acutely inducing degradation enables studying the function of essential proteins. Available techniques target proteins post-translationally, via ubiquitin or by fusing destabilizing domains (degrons), and in some cases degradation is controllable by small molecules. Yet, they are comparably slow, possibly inducing compensatory changes, and do not allow localized protein depletion. The photosensitizer miniature singlet oxygen generator (miniSOG), fused to proteins of interest, provides fast light-induced protein destruction, e.g. affecting neurotransmission within minutes, but the reactive oxygen species (ROS) generated also affect proteins nearby, causing multifaceted phenotypes. A photosensitive degron (psd), recently developed and characterized in yeast, only targets the protein it is fused to, acting quickly as it is ubiquitin-independent, and the B-LID light-inducible degron was similarly shown to affect protein abundance in zebrafish. We implemented the psd in Caenorhabditis elegans and compared it to miniSOG. The psd effectively caused protein degradation within one hour of low intensity blue light (30 μW/mm(2)). Targeting synaptotagmin (SNT-1::tagRFP::psd), required for efficient neurotransmission, reduced locomotion within 15 minutes of illumination and within one hour behavior and miniature postsynaptic currents (mPSCs) were affected almost to the same degree seen in snt-1 mutants. Thus, psd effectively photo-degrades specific proteins, quickly inducing loss-of-function effects without affecting bystander proteins.
Photo-sensitive degron variants for tuning protein stability by light.
Regulated proteolysis by the proteasome is one of the fundamental mechanisms used in eukaryotic cells to control cellular behavior. Efficient tools to regulate protein stability offer synthetic influence on molecular level on a selected biological process. Optogenetic control of protein stability has been achieved with the photo-sensitive degron (psd) module. This engineered tool consists of the photoreceptor domain light oxygen voltage 2 (LOV2) from Arabidopsis thaliana phototropin1 fused to a sequence that induces direct proteasomal degradation, which was derived from the carboxy-terminal degron of murine ornithine decarboxylase. The abundance of target proteins tagged with the psd module can be regulated by blue light if the degradation tag is exposed to the cytoplasm or the nucleus.
Spatio-temporally precise activation of engineered receptor tyrosine kinases by light.
Receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) are a large family of cell surface receptors that sense growth factors and hormones and regulate a variety of cell behaviours in health and disease. Contactless activation of RTKs with spatial and temporal precision is currently not feasible. Here, we generated RTKs that are insensitive to endogenous ligands but can be selectively activated by low-intensity blue light. We screened light-oxygen-voltage (LOV)-sensing domains for their ability to activate RTKs by light-activated dimerization. Incorporation of LOV domains found in aureochrome photoreceptors of stramenopiles resulted in robust activation of the fibroblast growth factor receptor 1 (FGFR1), epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and rearranged during transfection (RET). In human cancer and endothelial cells, light induced cellular signalling with spatial and temporal precision. Furthermore, light faithfully mimicked complex mitogenic and morphogenic cell behaviour induced by growth factors. RTKs under optical control (Opto-RTKs) provide a powerful optogenetic approach to actuate cellular signals and manipulate cell behaviour.
A LOV2 domain-based optogenetic tool to control protein degradation and cellular function.
Light perception is indispensable for plants to respond adequately to external cues and is linked to proteolysis of key transcriptional regulators. To provide synthetic light control of protein stability, we developed a generic photosensitive degron (psd) module combining the light-reactive LOV2 domain of Arabidopsis thaliana phot1 with the murine ornithine decarboxylase-like degradation sequence cODC1. Functionality of the psd module was demonstrated in the model organism Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Generation of conditional mutants, light regulation of cyclin-dependent kinase activity, light-based patterning of cell growth, and yeast photography exemplified its versatility. In silico modeling of psd module behavior increased understanding of its characteristics. This engineered degron module transfers the principle of light-regulated degradation to nonplant organisms. It will be highly beneficial to control protein levels in biotechnological or biomedical applications and offers the potential to render a plethora of biological processes light-switchable.
Photoswitchable protein degradation: a generalizable control module for cellular function?
In this issue of Chemistry & Biology, Renicke et al. report a photosensitive degron (psd) consisting of the LOV2 domain fused to a protein degradation sequence. This design enabled light-dependent protein degradation in yeast. When psd was fused to cell-cycle-dependent proteins, it controlled cell cycle by light with spatiotemporal precision.
Function, structure and mechanism of bacterial photosensory LOV proteins.
LOV (light, oxygen or voltage) domains are protein photosensors that are conserved in bacteria, archaea, plants and fungi, and detect blue light via a flavin cofactor. LOV domains are present in both chemotrophic and phototrophic bacterial species, in which they are found amino-terminally of signalling and regulatory domains such as sensor histidine kinases, diguanylate cyclases-phosphodiesterases, DNA-binding domains and regulators of RNA polymerase σ-factors. In this Review, we describe the current state of knowledge about the function of bacterial LOV proteins, the structural basis of LOV domain-mediated signal transduction, and the use of LOV domains as genetically encoded photoswitches in synthetic biology.
Oligomeric structure of LOV domains in Arabidopsis phototropin.
Oligomeric structures of the four LOV domains in Arabidopsis phototropin1 (phot1) and 2 (phot2) were studied using crosslinking. Both LOV1 domains of phot1 and phot2 form a dimer independently on the light conditions, suggesting that the LOV1 domain can be a stable dimerization site of phot in vivo. In contrast, phot1-LOV2 is in a monomer-dimer equilibrium and phot2-LOV2 exists as a monomer in the dark. Blue light-induced a slight increase in the monomer population in phot1-LOV2, suggesting a possible blue light-inducible dissociation of dimers. Furthermore, blue light caused a band shift of the phot2-LOV2 monomer. CD spectra revealed the unfolding of helices and the formation of strand structures. Both light-induced changes were reversible in the dark.
Phototropins: a new family of flavin-binding blue light receptors in plants.
Phototropin is the designation originally assigned to a recently characterized chromoprotein that serves as a photoreceptor for phototropism. Phototropin is a light-activated autophosphorylating serine/threonine kinase that binds two flavin mononucleotide (FMN) molecules that function as blue light-absorbing chromophores. Each FMN molecule is bound in a rigid binding pocket within specialized PAS (PER-ARNT-SIM superfamily) domains, known as LOV (light, oxygen, or voltage) domains. This article reviews the detailed photobiological and biochemical characterization of the light-activated phosphorylation reaction of phototropin and follows the sequence of events leading to the cloning, sequencing, and characterization of the gene and the subsequent biochemical characterization of its encoded protein. It then considers recent biochemical and photochemical evidence that light activation of phototropin involves the formation of a cysteinyl adduct at the C(4a) position of the FMN chromophores. Adduct formation causes a major conformational change in the chromophores and a possible conformational change in the protein moiety as well. The review concludes with a brief discussion of the evidence for a second phototropin-like protein in Arabidopsis and rice. Possible roles for this photoreceptor are discussed.