Fluorescent protein biosensors applied to microphysiological systems

Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2015 Jun;240(6):795-808. doi: 10.1177/1535370215584934. Epub 2015 May 19.


This mini-review discusses the evolution of fluorescence as a tool to study living cells and tissues in vitro and the present role of fluorescent protein biosensors (FPBs) in microphysiological systems (MPSs). FPBs allow the measurement of temporal and spatial dynamics of targeted cellular events involved in normal and perturbed cellular assay systems and MPSs in real time. FPBs evolved from fluorescent analog cytochemistry (FAC) that permitted the measurement of the dynamics of purified proteins covalently labeled with environmentally insensitive fluorescent dyes and then incorporated into living cells, as well as a large list of diffusible fluorescent probes engineered to measure environmental changes in living cells. In parallel, a wide range of fluorescence microscopy methods were developed to measure the chemical and molecular activities of the labeled cells, including ratio imaging, fluorescence lifetime, total internal reflection, 3D imaging, including super-resolution, as well as high-content screening. FPBs evolved from FAC by combining environmentally sensitive fluorescent dyes with proteins in order to monitor specific physiological events such as post-translational modifications, production of metabolites, changes in various ion concentrations, and the dynamic interaction of proteins with defined macromolecules in time and space within cells. Original FPBs involved the engineering of fluorescent dyes to sense specific activities when covalently attached to particular domains of the targeted protein. The subsequent development of fluorescent proteins (FPs), such as the green fluorescent protein, dramatically accelerated the adoption of studying living cells, since the genetic "labeling" of proteins became a relatively simple method that permitted the analysis of temporal-spatial dynamics of a wide range of proteins. Investigators subsequently engineered the fluorescence properties of the FPs for environmental sensitivity that, when combined with targeted proteins/peptides, created a new generation of FPBs. Examples of FPBs that are useful in MPS are presented, including the design, testing, and application in a liver MPS.

Keywords: Microphysiology systems; fluorescence microscopy; fluorescent probes; fluorescent protein biosensors; fluorescent proteins; high-content screening.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biosensing Techniques / methods*
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional*
  • Luminescent Proteins / chemistry*
  • Molecular Imaging / methods*


  • Luminescent Proteins