Getting the most from fluorescent proteins

Fluorescent proteins (FPs) are an indispensable component of the biology toolbox, providing a robust and straightforward method to optically label nearly any protein of interest.

While most FPs can be used for a wide variety of experimental setups and conditions, getting the best quality data from your hard efforts requires some forethought. Here are a few tips to get the most out of FP imaging:

1.Reduce pre-measurement photobleaching.

All FPs photobleach upon exposure to excitation light. Some, like commonly used YFPs, bleach rather quickly, while others, such as Allele’s mTFP1, are substantially more photostable. However, even the most photostable FPs can be susceptible to excessive pre-measurement bleaching if precautions are not taken.

While searching for your favorite cell on the microscope, try to use the lowest possible excitation light intensity. Close the shutter when you’re setting up software or other experimental apparatus, and use short exposure times whenever possible during focusing.

2.Consider pH and other variables.

Most FPs are somewhat sensitive to acidic pH. Some, such as mTFP1 and many of the red FPs, are reasonably resistant to pH changes, while others, such as EYFP, are highly sensitive. If you’re imaging acidic compartments such as lysosomes or plant vacuoles, you’re unlikely to see any fluorescent signal if you’re using EYFP or any other pH-sensitive FP, so choose wisely!

Information on the fluorescence pKa (the pH at which 50% of the fluorescence emission is quenched) of new fluorescent proteins is generally easy to find, so do your homework!

3.Be careful with fusions and linkers.

One big advantage of using FPs is that they may be genetically fused to virtually any protein of interest. While FPs usually have a negligible effect on the properties of their fusion partners, it’s always a good idea to double-check and validate data on new proteins.

If you don’t know where your protein should localize, check both N- and C-terminal FP fusions to be sure they give the same results. If not, validate your localization by other methods, such as antibody staining. If you can devise a functional assay for your FP-labeled protein, this is also a good way to be sure the fusion isn’t causing trouble.

If you’re having problems with a particular FP fusion, try a few different linkers between the FP and the protein of interest. Floppy linkers, such as poly-(Gly-Gly-Ser-Gly-Gly-Thr) frequently work well, but occasionally rigid linkers (such as poly-proline) or other sequences will give better results. Unfortunately, the process of optimizing a fusion construct is largely empirical.If you can put in the effort early in your experiments to produce the best possible FP fusion, you’ll benefit greatly in later experiments!

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Monday, August 18th, 2008 Fluorescent proteins

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