Dynamic FRET-FLIM based screening of signal transduction pathways

Sci Rep. 2021 Oct 20;11(1):20711. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-00098-9.


Fluorescence Lifetime Imaging (FLIM) is an intrinsically quantitative method to screen for protein-protein interactions and is frequently used to record the outcome of signal transduction events. With new highly sensitive and photon efficient FLIM instrumentation, the technique also becomes attractive to screen, with high temporal resolution, for fast changes in Förster Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET), such as those occurring upon activation of cell signaling. The second messenger cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) is rapidly formed following activation of certain cell surface receptors. cAMP is subsequently degraded by a set of phosphodiesterases (PDEs) which display cell-type specific expression and may also affect baseline levels of the messenger. To study which specific PDEs contribute most to cAMP regulation, we knocked down individual PDEs and recorded breakdown rates of cAMP levels following transient stimulation in HeLa cells stably expressing the FRET/FLIM sensor, Epac-SH189. Many hundreds of cells were recorded at 5 s intervals for each condition. FLIM time traces were calculated for every cell, and decay kinetics were obtained. cAMP clearance was significantly slower when PDE3A and, to a lesser amount, PDE10A were knocked down, identifying these isoforms as dominant in HeLa cells. However, taking advantage of the quantitative FLIM data, we found that knockdown of individual PDEs has a very limited effect on baseline cAMP levels. By combining photon-efficient FLIM instrumentation with optimized sensors, systematic gene knockdown and an automated open-source analysis pipeline, our study demonstrates that dynamic screening of transient cell signals has become feasible. The quantitative platform described here provides detailed kinetic analysis of cellular signals in individual cells with unprecedented throughput.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cyclic AMP / metabolism
  • Fluorescence
  • Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer / methods
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods
  • Optical Imaging / methods
  • Phosphoric Diester Hydrolases / metabolism
  • Photons
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Proteins
  • Cyclic AMP
  • Phosphoric Diester Hydrolases