Impact of external amino acids on fluorescent protein chromophore biosynthesis revealed by molecular dynamics and mutagenesis studies.
The precise positioning of catalytic amino acids against the substrate in an enzyme active site is a crucial factor in biocatalysis. Biosynthesis of the chromophores of fluorescent proteins (FPs) is an autocatalytic process that must conform to these requirements. Here, we show that, in addition to the internal amino acid residues in the proximity of the chromophore, chromophore biosynthesis is influenced by the remote amino acids exposed on the outer surface of the β-barrel structure of the FP. It has been shown earlier that chromophore biosynthesis of the red FP from Zoanthus sp. (zoan2RFP) proceeds via an immature green state. At the same time, the green state is the final stage of chromophore biosynthesis of green FP (zoanGFP), which is highly homologous to zoan2RFP. It was also shown that a single N66D substitution in the chromophore-forming sequence of zoanGFP might trigger the synthesis of the red chromophore. However, in this case, the synthesis of the red chromophore is incomplete and occurs only at elevated temperatures. Here, we tried to uncover additional structural determinants that govern the biosynthesis of the red chromophore. A comparison of zoanGFP and zoan2RFP revealed intrabarrel amino acid differences at five positions. Exhaustive substitutions of these five positions in zoanGFP-N66D gave rise to zoanGFPmut with the same intrabarrel amino acid composition as zoan2RFP. zoanGFPmut showed only partial green-to-red chromophore transformation at elevated temperatures. To elucidate the extra factors that can affect red chromophore biosynthesis, we performed comparative molecular dynamics simulations of zoan2RFP and zoanGFPmut. The simulations revealed several external amino acids that might influence the arrangement and flexibility of the chromophore-surrounding amino acid residues in these proteins. Mutagenesis experiments confirmed the crucial role of these residues in red chromophore biosynthesis. The obtained zoanGFPmut2 exhibited complete green-to-red transformation, suggesting that the mutated amino acids exposed on the surface of the β-barrel contribute to red chromophore biosynthesis.