Protein expression-independent response of intensity-based pH-sensitive fluorophores in Escherichia coli
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Fluorescent proteins that modulate their emission intensities when protonated serve as excellent probes of the cytosolic pH. Since the total fluorescence output fluctuates significantly due to variations in the fluorophore levels in cells, eliminating the dependence of the signal on protein concentration is crucial. This is typically accomplished with the aid of ratiometric fluorescent proteins such as pHluorin. However, pHluorin is excited by blue light, which can complicate pH measurements by adversely impacting bacterial physiology. Here, we characterized the response of intensity-based, pH-sensitive fluorescent proteins that excite at longer wavelengths where the blue light effect is diminished. The pH-response was interpreted in terms of an analytical model that assumed two emission states for each fluorophore: a low intensity protonated state and a high intensity deprotonated state. The model suggested a scaling to eliminate the dependence of the signal on the expression levels as well as on the illumination and photon-detection settings. Experiments successfully confirmed the scaling predictions. Thus, the internal pH can be readily determined with intensity-based fluorophores with appropriate calibrations irrespective of the fluorophore concentration and the signal acquisition setup. The framework developed in this work improves the robustness of intensity-based fluorophores for internal pH measurements in E. coli, potentially extending their applications.
author list (cited authors)
Rhee, K. Y., Chawla, R., & Lele, P. P.