An improved fluorescent noncanonical amino acid for measuring conformational distributions using time-resolved transition metal ion FRET

Elife. 2021 Oct 8;10:e70236. doi: 10.7554/eLife.70236.


With the recent explosion in high-resolution protein structures, one of the next frontiers in biology is elucidating the mechanisms by which conformational rearrangements in proteins are regulated to meet the needs of cells under changing conditions. Rigorously measuring protein energetics and dynamics requires the development of new methods that can resolve structural heterogeneity and conformational distributions. We have previously developed steady-state transition metal ion fluorescence resonance energy transfer (tmFRET) approaches using a fluorescent noncanonical amino acid donor (Anap) and transition metal ion acceptor to probe conformational rearrangements in soluble and membrane proteins. Here, we show that the fluorescent noncanonical amino acid Acd has superior photophysical properties that extend its utility as a donor for tmFRET. Using maltose-binding protein (MBP) expressed in mammalian cells as a model system, we show that Acd is comparable to Anap in steady-state tmFRET experiments and that its long, single-exponential lifetime is better suited for probing conformational distributions using time-resolved FRET. These experiments reveal differences in heterogeneity in the apo and holo conformational states of MBP and produce accurate quantification of the distributions among apo and holo conformational states at subsaturating maltose concentrations. Our new approach using Acd for time-resolved tmFRET sets the stage for measuring the energetics of conformational rearrangements in soluble and membrane proteins in near-native conditions.

Keywords: FRET; Fluorescence; biochemistry; chemical biology; fluorescence lifetime; maltose binding protein; molecular biophysics; noncanonical amino acid; none; protein dynamics; structural biology.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Copper / chemistry*
  • Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer*
  • Fluorometry
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Maltose-Binding Proteins / chemistry
  • Maltose-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • Maltose-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Models, Chemical
  • Mutation
  • Protein Conformation, alpha-Helical
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Time Factors
  • beta-Alanine / analogs & derivatives*
  • beta-Alanine / chemistry


  • 3-(6-acetylnaphthalen-2-ylamino)-2-aminopropanoic acid
  • Maltose-Binding Proteins
  • beta-Alanine
  • Copper