Pressurized Liquid Extraction of a Phycocyanobilin Chromophore and Its Reconstitution with a Cyanobacteriochrome Photosensor for Efficient Isotopic Labeling

Plant Cell Physiol. 2021 May 11;62(2):334-347. doi: 10.1093/pcp/pcaa164.


Linear tetrapyrrole compounds (bilins) are chromophores of the phytochrome and cyanobacteriochrome classes of photosensors and light-harvesting phycobiliproteins. Various spectroscopic techniques, such as resonance Raman, Fourier transform-infrared and nuclear magnetic resonance, have been used to elucidate the structures underlying their remarkable spectral diversity, in which the signals are experimentally assigned to specific structures using isotopically labeled bilin. However, current methods for isotopic labeling of bilins require specialized expertise, time-consuming procedures and/or expensive reagents. To address these shortcomings, we established a method for pressurized liquid extraction of phycocyanobilin (PCB) from the phycobiliprotein powder Lina Blue and also the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 (Synechocystis). PCB was efficiently cleaved in ethanol with three extractions (5 min each) under nitrogen at 125�C and 100 bars. A prewash at 75�C was effective for removing cellular pigments of Synechocystis without PCB cleavage. Liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry suggested that PCB was cleaved in the C3-E (majority) and C3-Z (partial) configurations. 15N- and 13C/15N-labeled PCBs were prepared from Synechocystis cells grown with NaH13CO3 and/or Na15NO3, the concentrations of which were optimized based on cell growth and pigmentation. Extracted PCB was reconstituted with a recombinant apoprotein of the cyanobacteriochrome-class photosensor RcaE. Yield of the photoactive holoprotein was improved by optimization of the expression conditions and cell disruption in the presence of Tween 20. Our method can be applied for the isotopic labeling of other PCB-binding proteins and for the commercial production of non-labeled PCB for food, cosmetic and medical applications.

Keywords: Bilin; Isotopic labeling; Linear tetrapyrrole; Phycocyanin; Phytochrome.

MeSH terms

  • Cyanobacteria / metabolism*
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Isotope Labeling / methods*
  • Phycobilins / chemistry
  • Phycobilins / isolation & purification*
  • Phycocyanin / chemistry
  • Phycocyanin / isolation & purification*
  • Phytochrome / metabolism*
  • Synechocystis / metabolism
  • Temperature


  • Phycobilins
  • Phycocyanin
  • Phytochrome
  • phycocyanobilin