March 3, 2021

Minimal genetically encoded tags for fluorescent protein labeling in living neurons

Modern light microscopy, including super-resolution techniques, brought about a demand for small labeling tags that bring the fluorophore closer to the target. This challenge can be addressed by labeling unnatural amino acids (UAAs) with click chemistry. UAAs are site-specifically incorporated into a protein of interest by genetic code expansion. If the UAA carries a strained alkene or alkyne moiety it can be conjugated to a tetrazine-bearing fluorophore via a strain-promoted inverse-electron-demand Diels-Alder cycloaddition (SPIEDAC), a variant of bioorthogonal click chemistry. The minimal size of the incorporated tag and the possibility to couple the fluorophores directly to the protein of interest with single-residue precision make SPIEDAC live-cell labeling unique. However, until now, this type of labeling has not been used in complex, non-dividing cells, such as neurons. Using neurofilament light chain as a target protein, we established SPIEDAC labeling in living primary neurons and applied it for fixed-cell, live-cell, dual-color pulse-chase and super-resolution microscopy. We also show that SPIEDAC labeling can be combined with CRISPR/Cas9 genome engineering for tagging endogenous NFL. Due to its versatile nature and compatibility with advanced microscopy techniques, we anticipate that SPIEDAC labeling will contribute to novel discoveries in neurobiology.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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