Background: In the 15 years that have passed since the cloning of Aequorea victoria green fluorescent protein (avGFP), the expanding set of fluorescent protein (FP) variants has become entrenched as an indispensable toolkit for cell biology research. One of the latest additions to the toolkit is monomeric teal FP (mTFP1), a bright and photostable FP derived from Clavularia cyan FP. To gain insight into the molecular basis for the blue-shifted fluorescence emission we undertook a mutagenesis-based study of residues in the immediate environment of the chromophore. We also employed site-directed and random mutagenesis in combination with library screening to create new hues of mTFP1-derived variants with wavelength-shifted excitation and emission spectra.
Results: Our results demonstrate that the protein-chromophore interactions responsible for blue-shifting the absorbance and emission maxima of mTFP1 operate independently of the chromophore structure. This conclusion is supported by the observation that the Tyr67Trp and Tyr67His mutants of mTFP1 retain a blue-shifted fluorescence emission relative to their avGFP counterparts (that is, Tyr66Trp and Tyr66His). Based on previous work with close homologs, His197 and His163 are likely to be the residues with the greatest contribution towards blue-shifting the fluorescence emission. Indeed we have identified the substitutions His163Met and Thr73Ala that abolish or disrupt the interactions of these residues with the chromophore. The mTFP1-Thr73Ala/His163Met double mutant has an emission peak that is 23 nm red-shifted from that of mTFP1 itself. Directed evolution of this double mutant resulted in the development of mWasabi, a new green fluorescing protein that offers certain advantages over enhanced avGFP (EGFP). To assess the usefulness of mTFP1 and mWasabi in live cell imaging applications, we constructed and imaged more than 20 different fusion proteins.
Conclusion: Based on the results of our mutagenesis study, we conclude that the two histidine residues in close proximity to the chromophore are approximately equal determinants of the blue-shifted fluorescence emission of mTFP1. With respect to live cell imaging applications, the mTFP1-derived mWasabi should be particularly useful in two-color imaging in conjunction with a Sapphire-type variant or as a fluorescence resonance energy transfer acceptor with a blue FP donor. In all fusions attempted, both mTFP1 and mWasabi give patterns of fluorescent localization indistinguishable from that of well-established avGFP variants.