Universal Single-Residue Terminal Labels for Fluorescent Live Cell Imaging of Microproteins

J Am Chem Soc. 2020 Nov 25;142(47):20080-20087. doi: 10.1021/jacs.0c09574. Epub 2020 Nov 11.


Genetically encoded fluorescent tags for visualization of proteins in living cells add six to several hundred amino acids to the protein of interest. While suitable for most proteins, common tags easily match and exceed the size of microproteins of 60 amino acids or less. The added molecular weight and structure of such fluorescent tag may thus significantly affect in vivo biophysical and biochemical properties of microproteins. Here, we develop single-residue terminal labeling (STELLA) tags that introduce a single noncanonical amino acid either at the N- or C-terminus of a protein or microprotein of interest for subsequent specific fluorescent labeling. Efficient terminal noncanonical amino acid mutagenesis is achieved using a precursor tag that is tracelessly cleaved. Subsequent selective bioorthogonal reaction with a cell-permeable organic dye enables live cell imaging of microproteins with minimal perturbation of their native sequence. The use of terminal residues for labeling provides a universally applicable and easily scalable strategy, which avoids alteration of the core sequence of the microprotein.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Fluorescent Dyes / chemistry*
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / chemistry
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / genetics
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / metabolism
  • Neoplasm Proteins / chemistry
  • Neoplasm Proteins / genetics
  • Neoplasm Proteins / metabolism
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Proteins / genetics
  • Proteins / metabolism


  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Mitochondrial Proteins
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • Proteins