Monitoring intracellular proteins using fluorescence techniques: from protein synthesis and localization to activity.
The recent breakthroughs in genomics and proteomics and improvements of optical methods have made it possible to obtain localized, real-time information on intracellular proteins dynamics, through dynamic three-dimensional (3D) maps of the living cell with nanometric resolution of individual molecules. On one side, brighter variants of the Green Fluorescence Protein (GFP) have been engineered that have different excitation and/or emission spectra that better match available light sources. Like their parent molecule, these variants retain their fluorescence when fused to heterologous proteins on the N- and C- terminals, and this binding generally does not affect the functionality of the tagged protein leading the way to their use as an intracellular reporter. On the other side, optical methods have been improved to allow reaching the level of single-molecule detection inside living cells. Nevertheless some limitations exist for the use of GFP variants for probing 3D conformational changes of proteins. First, these variants are fused to the N and/or C terminals of the studied protein, which are generally not the best location to detect conformational changes resulting from the binding to other proteins or enzyme substrates. Then their own relatively large size makes them unusable for tagging small proteins. These limitations suggest that new tagging processes, permitting the location of the right fluorescent markers at the right places, must be found to built up inter- and/or intra-molecular rulers allowing one to monitor conformational changes resulting from intracellular protein-protein, protein-membrane, and enzyme-substrate binding. These specific locations can be obtained from in vitro studies of 3D conformational changes that occur during protein docking.
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