Fluorescence Imaging of Cellular Metabolites with RNA

Department of Pharmacology, Weill Medical College, Cornell University, New York, NY 10065, USA.
Science (Impact Factor: 31.48). 03/2012; 335(6073):1194. DOI: 10.1126/science.1218298
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Genetically encoded sensors are powerful tools for imaging intracellular metabolites and signaling molecules. However, developing sensors is challenging because they require proteins that undergo conformational changes upon binding the desired target molecule. We describe an approach for generating fluorescent sensors based on Spinach, an RNA sequence that binds and activates the fluorescence of a small-molecule fluorophore. We show that these sensors can detect a variety of different small molecules in vitro and in living cells. These RNAs constitute a versatile approach for fluorescence imaging of small molecules and have the potential to detect essentially any cellular biomolecule.

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    ABSTRACT: Genetically encodable RNA devices that directly detect small molecules in the cellular environment are of increasing interest for a variety of applications including live cell imaging and synthetic biology. Riboswitches are naturally occurring sensors of intracellular metabolites, primarily found in the bacterial mRNA leaders and regulating their expression. These regulatory elements are generally composed of two domains: an aptamer that binds a specific effector molecule and an expression platform that informs the transcriptional or translational machinery. While it was long established that riboswitch aptamers are modular and portable, capable of directing different output domains including ribozymes, switches, and fluorophore-binding modules, the same has not been demonstrated until recently for expression platforms. We have engineered and validated a set of expression platforms that regulate transcription through a secondary structural switch that can host a variety of different aptamers, including those derived through in vitro selection methods, to create novel chimeric riboswitches. These synthetic switches are capable of a highly specific regulatory response both in vitro and in vivo. Here we present the methodology for the design and engineering of chimeric switches using biological expression platforms. © 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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    ABSTRACT: The development of fluorescent biosensors has been motivated by the interest to monitor and measure the levels of specific metabolites in live cells in real time. Common approaches include fusing a protein-based receptor to fluorescent proteins or synthesizing a small molecule reactive probe. Natural metabolite-sensing riboswitches also have been used in reporter-based systems that take advantage of ligand-dependent regulation of downstream gene expression. More recently, it has been shown that RNA-based fluorescent biosensors can be generated by fusing a riboswitch aptamer to the in vitro selected Spinach aptamer, which binds a cell-permeable and conditionally fluorescent molecule. Here, we describe methods to design, prepare, and analyze riboswitch-Spinach aptamer fusion RNAs for ligand-dependent activation of fluorescence in vitro. Examples of procedures to measure fluorescence activation, ligand binding selectivity and affinity, and binding kinetics are given for a cyclic di-GMP-responsive biosensor. The relative ease of in vitro RNA synthesis and purification should make this method accessible to other researchers interested in developing riboswitch-based fluorescent biosensors. © 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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    ABSTRACT: With rising interest in utilizing cell-free gene expression systems in bottom-up synthetic biology projects, novel labeling tools need to be developed to accurately report the dynamics and performance of the biosynthesis machinery operating in various reaction conditions. Monitoring the transcription activity has been simplified by the Spinach technology, an RNA aptamer that emits fluorescence upon binding to a small organic dye. Recently, we tracked the fluorescence of Spinach-tagged messenger RNA (mRNA) and its translation product the yellow fluorescent protein (YFP), both synthesized in the protein synthesis using recombinant elements system from a DNA template. Building on our previous study, we describe here an improved Spinach reporter with modified flanking sequences that confer higher propensity for aptamer folding and, thus, enhanced fluorescence brightness. Hence, the kinetics of mRNA and YFP production could be simultaneously monitored with unprecedented sensitivity. A combination of methodologies, comprising RNA gel analysis, real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction, absorbance measurements, and fluorescence correlation spectroscopy, was used to convert fluorescence intensity units into absolute concentrations of transcript and YFP translational product. Furthermore, we demonstrated that the new Spinach construct greatly enhanced mRNA detection when gene expression was confined inside self-assembled lipid vesicles. Therefore, we argue that this assay could be used to evaluate systematically the performance of transcription and translation in model vesicle-based artificial cells. © 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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