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Perspective Tools for Optogenetics and Photopharmacology: From Design to Implementation.
Optogenetics and photopharmacology are two perspective modern
methodologies for control and monitoring of biological processes from an isolated
cell to complex cell assemblies and organisms. Both methodologies use optically
active components that being introduced into the cells of interest allow for optical
control or monitoring of different cellular processes. In optogenetics, genetic
materials are introduced into the cells to express light-sensitive proteins or protein
constructs. In photopharmacology, photochromic compounds are delivered into a
cell directly but not produced inside the cell from a genetic material. The development
of both optogenetics and photopharmacology is inseparable from the design
of improved tools (protein constructs or organic molecules) optimized for specific
applications. Herein, we review the main tools that are used in modern optogenetics
and photopharmaclogy and describe the types of cellular processes that can be
controlled by these tools. Although a large number of different kinds of optogenetic
tools exist, their performance can be evaluated with a limited number of metrics that
have to be optimized for specific applications.We classify thesemetrics and describe
the ways of their improvement.
Synthetic Light-Activated Ion Channels for Optogenetic Activation and Inhibition.
Optogenetic manipulation of cells or living organisms became widely used in neuroscience following the introduction of the light-gated ion channel channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2). ChR2 is a non-selective cation channel, ideally suited to depolarize and evoke action potentials in neurons. However, its calcium (Ca2+) permeability and single channel conductance are low and for some applications longer-lasting increases in intracellular Ca2+ might be desirable. Moreover, there is need for an efficient light-gated potassium (K+) channel that can rapidly inhibit spiking in targeted neurons. Considering the importance of Ca2+ and K+ in cell physiology, light-activated Ca2+-permeant and K+-specific channels would be welcome additions to the optogenetic toolbox. Here we describe the engineering of novel light-gated Ca2+-permeant and K+-specific channels by fusing a bacterial photoactivated adenylyl cyclase to cyclic nucleotide-gated channels with high permeability for Ca2+ or for K+, respectively. Optimized fusion constructs showed strong light-gated conductance in Xenopus laevis oocytes and in rat hippocampal neurons. These constructs could also be used to control the motility of Drosophila melanogaster larvae, when expressed in motoneurons. Illumination led to body contraction when motoneurons expressed the light-sensitive Ca2+-permeant channel, and to body extension when expressing the light-sensitive K+ channel, both effectively and reversibly paralyzing the larvae. Further optimization of these constructs will be required for application in adult flies since both constructs led to eclosion failure when expressed in motoneurons.
Illuminating pathogen-host intimacy through optogenetics.
The birth and subsequent evolution of optogenetics has resulted in an unprecedented advancement in our understanding of the brain. Its outstanding success does usher wider applications; however, the tool remains still largely relegated to neuroscience. Here, we introduce selected aspects of optogenetics with potential applications in infection biology that will not only answer long-standing questions about intracellular pathogens (parasites, bacteria, viruses) but also broaden the dimension of current research in entwined models. In this essay, we illustrate how a judicious integration of optogenetics with routine methods can illuminate the host-pathogen interactions in a way that has not been feasible otherwise.
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.
Structure and monomer/dimer equilibrium for the guanylyl cyclase domain of the optogenetics protein RhoGC.
RhoGC is a fusion protein from the aquatic fungus Blastocladiella emersonii, combining a type I rhodopsin domain with a guanylyl cyclase domain. It has generated excitement as an optogenetics tool for the manipulation of cyclic nucleotide signaling pathways. To investigate the regulation of the cyclase activity, we isolated the guanylyl cyclase domain from Escherichia coli with (GCwCCRho) and without (GCRho) the coiled-coil linker. Both constructs were constitutively active but were monomeric as determined by size-exclusion chromatography and analytical ultracentrifugation, whereas other class III nucleotidyl cyclases are functional dimers. We also observed that crystals of GCRho have only a monomer in an asymmetric unit. Dimers formed when crystals were grown in the presence of the non-cyclizable substrate analog 2',3'-dideoxyguanosine-5'-triphosphate, MnCl2, and tartrate, but their quaternary structure did not conform to the canonical pairing expected for class III enzymes. Moreover, the structure contained a disulfide bond formed with an active-site Cys residue required for activity. We consider it unlikely that the disulfide would form under intracellular reducing conditions, raising the possibility that this unusual dimer might have a biologically relevant role in the regulation of full-length RhoGC. Although we did not observe it with direct methods, a functional dimer was identified as the active state by following the dependence of activity on total enzyme concentration. The low affinity observed for GCRho monomers is unusual for this enzyme class and suggests that dimer formation may contribute to light activation of the full-length protein.
Expression, purification, and spectral tuning of RhoGC, a retinylidene/guanylyl cyclase fusion protein and optogenetics tool from the aquatic fungus Blastocladiella emersonii.
RhoGC is a rhodopsin (Rho)-guanylyl cyclase (GC) gene fusion molecule that is central to zoospore phototaxis in the aquatic fungus Blastocladiella emersonii It has generated considerable excitement because of its demonstrated potential as a tool for optogenetic manipulation of cell-signaling pathways involving cyclic nucleotides. However, a reliable method for expressing and purifying RhoGC is currently lacking. We present here an expression and purification system for isolation of the full-length RhoGC protein expressed in HEK293 cells in detergent solution. The protein exhibits robust light-dependent guanylyl cyclase activity, whereas a truncated form lacking the 17- to 20-kDa N-terminal domain is completely inactive under identical conditions. Moreover, we designed several RhoGC mutants to increase the utility of the protein for optogenetic studies. The first class we generated has altered absorption spectra designed for selective activation by different wavelengths of light. Two mutants were created with blue-shifted (E254D, λmax = 390 nm; D380N, λmax = 506 nm) and one with red-shifted (D380E, λmax = 533 nm) absorption maxima relative to the wild-type protein (λmax = 527 nm). We also engineered a double mutant, E497K/C566D, that changes the enzyme to a specific, light-stimulated adenylyl cyclase that catalyzes the formation of cAMP from ATP. We anticipate that this expression/purification system and these RhoGC mutants will facilitate mechanistic and structural exploration of this important enzyme.
How to control cyclic nucleotide signaling by light.
Optogenetics allows to non-invasively manipulate cellular functions with spatio-temporal precision by combining genetic engineering with the control of protein function by light. Since the discovery of channelrhodopsin has pioneered the field, the optogenetic toolkit has been ever expanding and allows now not only to control neuronal activity by light, but rather a multitude of other cellular functions. One important application that has been established in recent years is the light-dependent control of second messenger signaling. The optogenetic toolkit now allows to control cyclic nucleotide-dependent signaling by light in vitro and in vivo.
Natural Resources for Optogenetic Tools.
Photoreceptors are found in all kingdoms of life and mediate crucial responses to environmental challenges. Nature has evolved various types of photoresponsive protein structures with different chromophores and signaling concepts for their given purpose. The abundance of these signaling proteins as found nowadays by (meta-)genomic screens enriched the palette of optogenetic tools significantly. In addition, molecular insights into signal transduction mechanisms and design principles from biophysical studies and from structural and mechanistic comparison of homologous proteins opened seemingly unlimited possibilities for customizing the naturally occurring proteins for a given optogenetic task. Here, a brief overview on the photoreceptor concepts already established as optogenetic tools in natural or engineered form, their photochemistry and their signaling/design principles is given. Finally, so far not regarded photosensitive modules and protein architectures with potential for optogenetic application are described.
Optogenetic manipulation of cGMP in cells and animals by the tightly light-regulated guanylyl-cyclase opsin CyclOp.
Cyclic GMP (cGMP) signalling regulates multiple biological functions through activation of protein kinase G and cyclic nucleotide-gated (CNG) channels. In sensory neurons, cGMP permits signal modulation, amplification and encoding, before depolarization. Here we implement a guanylyl cyclase rhodopsin from Blastocladiella emersonii as a new optogenetic tool (BeCyclOp), enabling rapid light-triggered cGMP increase in heterologous cells (Xenopus oocytes, HEK293T cells) and in Caenorhabditis elegans. Among five different fungal CyclOps, exhibiting unusual eight transmembrane topologies and cytosolic N-termini, BeCyclOp is the superior optogenetic tool (light/dark activity ratio: 5,000; no cAMP production; turnover (20 °C) ∼17 cGMP s(-1)). Via co-expressed CNG channels (OLF in oocytes, TAX-2/4 in C. elegans muscle), BeCyclOp photoactivation induces a rapid conductance increase and depolarization at very low light intensities. In O2/CO2 sensory neurons of C. elegans, BeCyclOp activation evokes behavioural responses consistent with their normal sensory function. BeCyclOp therefore enables precise and rapid optogenetic manipulation of cGMP levels in cells and animals.
The rhodopsin-guanylyl cyclase of the aquatic fungus Blastocladiella emersonii enables fast optical control of cGMP signaling.
Blastocladiomycota fungi form motile zoospores that are guided by sensory photoreceptors to areas of optimal light conditions. We showed that the microbial rhodopsin of Blastocladiella emersonii is a rhodopsin-guanylyl cyclase (RhGC), a member of a previously uncharacterized rhodopsin class of light-activated enzymes that generate the second messenger cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP). Upon application of a short light flash, recombinant RhGC converted within 8 ms into a signaling state with blue-shifted absorption from which the dark state recovered within 100 ms. When expressed in Xenopus oocytes, Chinese hamster ovary cells, or mammalian neurons, RhGC generated cGMP in response to green light in a light dose-dependent manner on a subsecond time scale. Thus, we propose RhGC as a versatile tool for the optogenetic analysis of cGMP-dependent signaling processes in cell biology and the neurosciences.
A rhodopsin-guanylyl cyclase gene fusion functions in visual perception in a fungus.
Sensing light is the fundamental property of visual systems, with vision in animals being based almost exclusively on opsin photopigments . Rhodopsin also acts as a photoreceptor linked to phototaxis in green algae [2, 3] and has been implicated by chemical means as a light sensor in the flagellated swimming zoospores of the fungus Allomyces reticulatus ; however, the signaling mechanism in these fungi remains unknown. Here we use a combination of genome sequencing and molecular inhibition experiments with light-sensing phenotype studies to examine the signaling pathway involved in visual perception in the closely related fungus Blastocladiella emersonii. Our data show that in these fungi, light perception is accomplished by the function of a novel gene fusion (BeGC1) of a type I (microbial) rhodopsin domain and guanylyl cyclase catalytic domain. Photobleaching of rhodopsin function prevents accumulation of cGMP levels and phototaxis of fungal zoospores exposed to green light, whereas inhibition of guanylyl cyclase activity negatively affects fungal phototaxis. Immunofluorescence microscopy localizes the BeGC1 protein to the external surface of the zoospore eyespot positioned close to the base of the swimming flagellum [4, 5], demonstrating this is a photoreceptive organelle composed of lipid droplets. Taken together, these data indicate that Blastocladiomycota fungi have a cGMP signaling pathway involved in phototaxis similar to the vertebrate vision-signaling cascade but composed of protein domain components arranged as a novel gene fusion architecture and of distant evolutionary ancestry to type II rhodopsins of animals.