Ratiometric fluorescent sensor proteins with subnanomolar affinity for Zn(II) based on copper chaperone domains

J Am Chem Soc. 2006 Aug 23;128(33):10754-62. doi: 10.1021/ja0610030.


The ability to image the concentration of transition metals in living cells in real time is important for further understanding of transition metal homeostasis and its involvement in diseases. The goal of this study was to develop a genetically encoded FRET-based sensor for copper(I) based on the copper-induced dimerization of two copper binding domains involved in human copper homeostasis, Atox1 and the fourth domain of ATP7B (WD4). A sensor has been constructed by linking these copper binding domains to donor and acceptor fluorescent protein domains. Energy transfer is observed in the presence of Cu(I), but the Cu(I)-bridged complex is easily disrupted by low molecular weight thiols such as DTT and glutathione. To our surprise, energy transfer is also observed in the presence of very low concentrations of Zn(II) (10(-)(10) M), even in the presence of DTT. Zn(II) is able to form a stable complex by binding to the cysteines present in the conserved MXCXXC motif of the two copper binding domains. Co(II), Cd(II), and Pb(II) also induce an increase in FRET, but other, physiologically relevant metals are not able to mediate an interaction. The Zn(II) binding properties have been tuned by mutation of the copper-binding motif to the zinc-binding consensus sequence MDCXXC found in the zinc transporter ZntA. The present system allows the molecular mechanism of copper and zinc homeostasis to be studied under carefully controlled conditions in solution. It also provides an attractive platform for the further development of genetically encoded FRET-based sensors for Zn(II) and other transition metal ions.

MeSH terms

  • Copper / chemistry*
  • Luminescent Proteins / chemistry*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Zinc / chemistry*


  • Luminescent Proteins
  • Copper
  • Zinc