Optogenetic approaches facilitate the study of signaling and metabolic pathways in animal cell systems. In the past 10 years, a plethora of light-regulated switches for the targeted control over the induction of gene expression, subcellular localization of proteins, membrane receptor activity, and other cellular processes have been developed and successfully implemented. However, only a few tools have been engineered toward the quantitative and spatiotemporally resolved downregulation of proteins. Here we present a protocol for reversible and rapid blue light-induced reduction of protein levels in mammalian cells. By implementing a dual-regulated optogenetic switch (Blue-OFF), both repression of gene expression and degradation of the target protein are triggered simultaneously. We apply this system for the blue light-mediated control of programmed cell death. HEK293T cells are transfected with the proapoptotic proteins PUMA and BID integrated into the Blue-OFF system. Overexpression of these proteins leads to programmed cell death, which can be prevented by irradiation with blue light. This experimental approach is very straightforward, requires just simple hardware, and therefore can be easily implemented in state-of-the-art equipped mammalian cell culture labs. The system can be used for targeted cell signaling studies and biotechnological applications.
Keywords: Blue-OFF; Blue-light degron; Blue-light gene repression; Dual optogenetic switch; Optogenetic apoptosis control; Optogenetics; Protein downregulation.