Living cells are crowded with macromolecules and organelles. As a result, there is an urgent need for molecular sensors for quantitative, site-specific assessment of the macromolecular crowding effects on a myriad of biochemical processes toward quantitative cell biology and biophysics. Here we investigate the excited-state dynamics and translational diffusion of a novel FRET sensor (mCerulean-linker-mCitrine) in a buffer (PBS, pH 7.4) at room temperature. Complementary experiments were carried out on free CFP, YFP, and the cleaved FRET probe as controls. The wavelength-dependent fluorescence lifetime measurements of the donor and acceptor in the FRET probe, using the time-correlated single-photon counting technique, indicate an energy transfer efficiency of 6.8 ± 0.9% in PBS, with distinct excited-state dynamics from the recombinant CFP and YFP. The estimated mCerulean - mCitrine distance in this FRET probe is 7.7 ± 0.2 nm. The energy transfer efficiency increases (11.5 ± 0.9%) as the concentration of Ficoll-70 increases over the range of 0-300 g/L with an estimated mCerulean-mCitrine distance of 6.1 ± 0.2 nm. Complementary time-resolved anisotropy measurements suggest that the rotational diffusion of hetero-FRET in PBS is sensitive to the energy transfer from the donor to the acceptor. The results also suggest that the linker, -(GSG)6A(EAAAK)6A(GSG)6A(EAAAK)6A(GSG)6-, is rather flexible, and the observed rotational dynamics is likely to be due to a segmental mobility of the FRET pairs rather than an overall tumbling motion of a rigid probe. Comparative studies on a new construct of a FRET probe with a shorter, more flexible linker, mCerulean-(GSG)18-mCitrine, reveal enhanced energy transfer efficiency. On the millisecond time scale, fluorescence fluctuation analyses of the acceptor (excited at 488 nm) provide a means to examine the translational diffusion coefficient of the FRET probe. The results also suggest that the linker is flexible in this FRET probe, and the observed diffusion coefficient is faster than predicted as compared to the cleaved FRET probe. Our results serve as a point of reference for this FRET probe in a buffer toward its full potential as a sensor for macromolecular crowding in living cells and tissues.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank Ben Orpen, Claire Baetzold, Sheila Paintsil, Kaelt Simpson, and Nathan Korson for their technical help during the course of these studies. A.J.B. acknowledges the financial support of The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research Vidi grant. E.D.S. and A.A.H. also acknowledge the financial support provided by the University of Minnesota Grant-in-Aid, the National Science Foundation (MCB 0718741), and the National Institutes of Health (AG030949). Additionally, the financial support was provided by a Chancellor's Small Grant, the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, the Swenson College of Science and Engineering, all of which are from the University of Minnesota Duluth. M.C., J.S., and H.L. were supported by teaching fellowships from the University of Minnesota Duluth Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.