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Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) technology has been used to develop genetically encoded fluorescent indicators for a variety of intracellular molecular events. Often, however, the poor dynamic range of such reporters prevents detection of subtle but physiologically relevant signals. Here we present a strategy for improving FRET efficiency between donor and acceptor fluorophores in a green fluorescent protein (GFP)-based protein indicator for cAMP. Such indicator is based on protein kinase A (PKA) and was generated by fusion of CFP and YFP to the regulatory and catalytic subunits of PKA, respectively. Our approach to improve FRET efficiency was to perform molecular dynamic simulations and modelling studies of the linker peptide (L11) joining the CFP moiety and the regulatory subunit in order to define its structure and use this information to design an improved linker. We found that L11 contains the X-Y-P-Y-D motif, which adopts a turn-like conformation that is stiffly conserved along the simulation time. Based on this finding, we designed a new linker, L22 in which the YPY motif was doubled in order to generate a stiffer peptide and reduce the mobility of the chromophore within the protein complex, thus favouring CFP/YFP dipole-dipole interaction and improving FRET efficiency. Molecular dynamic simulations of L22 showed, unexpectedly, that the conformational behaviour of L22 was very loose. Based on the analysis of the three principal conformational states visited by L22 during the simulation time, we modified its sequence in order to increase its rigidity. The resulting linker L20 displayed lower flexibility and higher helical content than L22. When inserted in the cAMP indicator, L20 yielded a probe showing almost doubled FRET efficiency and a substantially improved dynamic range.

Original publication




Journal article


J Mol Biol

Publication Date





546 - 555


Amino Acid Sequence, Cell Line, Cross-Linking Reagents, Cyclic AMP, Cyclic AMP-Dependent Protein Kinases, Drug Design, Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer, Humans, Kinetics, Microscopy, Fluorescence, Models, Molecular, Molecular Sequence Data, Peptides, Protein Structure, Tertiary, Spectrometry, Fluorescence