Photoconvertible fluorescent proteins and the role of dynamics in protein evolution

Rebekka Wachter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Photoconvertible fluorescent proteins (pcFPs) constitute a large group of fluorescent proteins related to green fluorescent protein (GFP) that, when exposed to blue light, bear the capability of irreversibly switching their emission color from green to red. Not surprisingly, this fascinating class of FPs has found numerous applications, in particular for the visualization of biological processes. A detailed understanding of the photoconversion mechanism appears indispensable in the design of improved variants for applications such as super-resolution imaging. In this article, recent work is reviewed that involves using pcFPs as a model system for studying protein dynamics. Evidence has been provided that the evolution of pcFPs from a green ancestor involved the natural selection for altered dynamical features of the beta-barrel fold. It appears that photoconversion may be the outcome of a long-range positional shift of a fold-anchoring region. A relatively stiff, rigid element appears to have migrated away from the chromophore-bearing section to the opposite edge of the barrel, thereby endowing pcFPs with increased active site flexibility while keeping the fold intact. In this way, the stage was set for the coupling of light absorption with subsequent chemical transformations. The emerging mechanistic model suggests that highly specific dynamic motions are linked to key chemical steps, preparing the system for a concerted deprotonation and β-elimination reaction that enlarges the chromophore’s π-conjugation to generate red color.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1792
JournalInternational journal of molecular sciences
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 18 2017


  • Green fluorescent protein
  • Proton transfer
  • Reverse protonation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Molecular Biology
  • Spectroscopy
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry


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