Light control of motility behavior (phototaxis and photophobic responses) in green flagellate algae is mediated by sensory rhodopsins homologous to phototaxis receptors and light-driven ion transporters in prokaryotic organisms. In the phototaxis process, excitation of the algal sensory rhodopsins leads to generation of transmembrane photoreceptor currents. When expressed in animal cells, the algal phototaxis receptors function as light-gated cation channels, which has earned them the name "channelrhodopsins." Channelrhodopsins have become useful molecular tools for light control of cellular activity. Only four channelrhodopsins, identified in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii and Volvox carteri, have been reported so far. By screening light-induced currents among algal species, we identified that the phylogenetically distant flagellate Mesostigma viride showed photoelectrical responses in vivo with properties suggesting a channelrhodopsin especially promising for optogenetic use. We cloned an M. viride channelrhodopsin, MChR1, and studied its channel activity upon heterologous expression. Action spectra in HEK293 cells match those of the photocurrents observed in M. viride cells. Comparison of the more divergent MChR1 sequence to the previously studied phylogenetically clustered homologs and study of several MChR1 mutants refine our understanding of the sequence determinants of channelrhodopsin function. We found that MChR1 has the most red-shifted and pH-independent spectral sensitivity so far reported, matches or surpasses known channelrhodopsins' channel kinetics features, and undergoes minimal inactivation upon sustained illumination. This combination of properties makes MChR1 a promising candidate for optogenetic applications.
© 2011 Govorunova et al.