Time-resolved luminescence resonance energy transfer imaging of protein-protein interactions in living cells

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Aug 3;107(31):13582-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1002025107. Epub 2010 Jul 19.


Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) with fluorescent proteins permits high spatial resolution imaging of protein-protein interactions in living cells. However, substantial non-FRET fluorescence background can obscure small FRET signals, making many potential interactions unobservable by conventional FRET techniques. Here we demonstrate time-resolved microscopy of luminescence resonance energy transfer (LRET) for live-cell imaging of protein-protein interactions. A luminescent terbium complex, TMP-Lumi4, was introduced into cultured cells using two methods: (i) osmotic lysis of pinocytic vesicles; and (ii) reversible membrane permeabilization with streptolysin O. Upon intracellular delivery, the complex was observed to bind specifically and stably to transgenically expressed Escherichia coli dihydrofolate reductase (eDHFR) fusion proteins. LRET between the eDHFR-bound terbium complex and green fluorescent protein (GFP) was detected as long-lifetime, sensitized GFP emission. Background signals from cellular autofluorescence and directly excited GFP fluorescence were effectively eliminated by imposing a time delay (10 micros) between excitation and detection. Background elimination made it possible to detect interactions between the first PDZ domain of ZO-1 (fused to eDHFR) and the C-terminal YV motif of claudin-1 (fused to GFP) in single microscope images at subsecond time scales. We observed a highly significant (P<10(-6)), six-fold difference between the mean, donor-normalized LRET signal from cells expressing interacting fusion proteins and from control cells expressing noninteracting mutants. The results show that time-resolved LRET microscopy with a selectively targeted, luminescent terbium protein label affords improved speed and sensitivity over conventional FRET methods for a variety of live-cell imaging and screening applications.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Survival
  • Dogs
  • Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer / methods*
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods*
  • Protein Binding
  • Proteins / analysis*
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Time Factors


  • Proteins