Ultrafast proton shuttling in Psammocora cyan fluorescent protein

John T M Kennis, Ivo H M Van Stokkum, Dayna S. Peterson, Anjali Pandit, Rebekka Wachter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Cyan, green, yellow, and red fluorescent proteins (FPs) homologous to green fluorescent protein (GFP) are used extensively as model systems to study fundamental processes in photobiology, such as the capture of light energy by protein-embedded chromophores, color tuning by the protein matrix, energy conversion by Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET), and excited-state proton transfer (ESPT) reactions. Recently, a novel cyan fluorescent protein (CFP) termed psamFP488 was isolated from the genus Psammocora of reef building corals. Within the cyan color class, psamFP488 is unusual because it exhibits a significantly extended Stokes shift. Here, we applied ultrafast transient absorption and pump-dump-probe spectroscopy to investigate the mechanistic basis of psamFP488 fluorescence, complemented with fluorescence quantum yield and dynamic light scattering measurements. Transient absorption spectroscopy indicated that, upon excitation at 410 nm, the stimulated cyan emission rises in 170 fs. With pump-dump-probe spectroscopy, we observe a very short-lived (110 fs) ground-state intermediate that we assign to the deprotonated, anionic chromophore. In addition, a minor fraction (14%) decays with 3.5 ps to the ground state. Structural analysis of homologous proteins indicates that Glu-167 is likely positioned in sufficiently close vicinity to the chromophore to act as a proton acceptor. Our findings support a model where unusually fast ESPT from the neutral chromophore to Glu-167 with a time constant of 170 fs and resulting emission from the anionic chromophore forms the basis of the large psamFP488 Stokes shift. When dumped to the ground state, the proton on neutral Glu is very rapidly shuttled back to the anionic chromophore in 110 fs. Proton shuttling in excited and ground states is a factor of 20-4000 faster than in GFP, which probably results from a favorable hydrogen-bonding geometry between the chromophore phenolic oxygen and the glutamate acceptor, possibly involving a short hydrogen bond. At any time in the reaction, the proton is localized on either the chromophore or Glu-167, which implies that most likely no low-barrier hydrogen bond exists between these molecular groups. This work supports the notion that proton transfer in biological systems, be it in an electronic excited or ground state, can be an intrinsically fast process that occurs on a 100 fs time scale. PsamFP488 represents an attractive model system that poses an ultrafast proton transfer regime in discrete steps. It constitutes a valuable model system in addition to wild type GFP, where proton transfer is relatively slow, and the S65T/H148D GFP mutant, where the effects of low-barrier hydrogen bonds dominate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11134-11143
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry B
Issue number38
StatePublished - Sep 26 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Surfaces, Coatings and Films
  • Materials Chemistry


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