Mammalian Expression of Infrared Fluorescent Proteins Engineered from a Bacterial Phytochrome

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Science  08 May 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5928, pp. 804-807
DOI: 10.1126/science.1168683

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Infrared Vision

Proteins from jellyfish and corals that fluoresce in the visible wavelength range have revolutionized optical imaging of cells. However, these wavelengths are absorbed by hemoglobin, water, and lipids and the proteins are thus not appropriate for deep-tissue imaging. Now Shu et al. (p. 804) have engineered a bacteriophytochrome from Deinococcus radiodurans that incorporates biliverdin as the chromophore, to fluoresce with excitation and emission spectra of 648 and 708 nanometers, respectively. These infrared fluorescent proteins are expressed well in mammalian cells and mice, and can be used for whole-body imaging.


Visibly fluorescent proteins (FPs) from jellyfish and corals have revolutionized many areas of molecular and cell biology, but the use of FPs in intact animals, such as mice, has been handicapped by poor penetration of excitation light. We now show that a bacteriophytochrome from Deinococcus radiodurans, incorporating biliverdin as the chromophore, can be engineered into monomeric, infrared-fluorescent proteins (IFPs), with excitation and emission maxima of 684 and 708 nm, respectively; extinction coefficient >90,000 M−1 cm−1; and quantum yield of 0.07. IFPs express well in mammalian cells and mice and spontaneously incorporate biliverdin, which is ubiquitous as the initial intermediate in heme catabolism but has negligible fluorescence by itself. Because their wavelengths penetrate tissue well, IFPs are suitable for whole-body imaging. The IFPs developed here provide a scaffold for further engineering.

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