Rational Design for High Bioorthogonal Fluorogenicity of Tetrazine-Encoded Green Fluorescent Proteins

Nat Sci (Weinh). 2022 Oct;2(4):e20220028. doi: 10.1002/ntls.20220028. Epub 2022 Aug 8.


The development of bioorthogonal fluorogenic probes constitutes a vital force to advance life sciences. Tetrazine-encoded green fluorescent proteins (GFPs) show high bioorthogonal reaction rate and genetic encodability, but suffer from low fluorogenicity. Here, we unveil the real-time fluorescence mechanisms by investigating two site-specific tetrazine-modified superfolder GFPs via ultrafast spectroscopy and theoretical calculations. Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) is quantitatively modeled and revealed to govern the fluorescence quenching; for GFP150-Tet with a fluorescence turn-on ratio of ~9, it contains trimodal subpopulations with good (P1), random (P2), and poor (P3) alignments between the transition dipole moments of protein chromophore (donor) and tetrazine tag (Tet-v2.0, acceptor). By rationally designing a more free/tight environment, we created new mutants Y200A/S202Y to introduce more P2/P1 populations and improve the turn-on ratios to ~14/31, making the fluorogenicity of GFP150-Tet-S202Y the highest among all up-to-date tetrazine-encoded GFPs. In live eukaryotic cells, the GFP150-Tet-v3.0-S202Y mutant demonstrates notably increased fluorogenicity, substantiating our generalizable design strategy.

Keywords: bioorthogonal toolkit; femtosecond laser spectroscopy; genetic code expansion; rational protein design; turn-on fluorescence; ultrafast energy transfer.