Kipper K, Eremina N, Marklund E, Tubasum S, Mao G, Lehmann LC, Elf J, Deindl S
PLoS ONE 13 (6) e0198416 [2018-06-01; online 2018-06-01]
The lactose operon repressor protein LacI has long served as a paradigm of the bacterial transcription factors. However, the mechanisms whereby LacI rapidly locates its cognate binding site on the bacterial chromosome are still elusive. Single-molecule fluorescence imaging approaches are well suited for the study of these mechanisms but rely on a functionally compatible fluorescence labeling of LacI. Particularly attractive for protein fluorescence labeling are synthetic fluorophores due to their small size and favorable photophysical characteristics. Synthetic fluorophores are often conjugated to natively occurring cysteine residues using maleimide chemistry. For a site-specific and functionally compatible labeling with maleimide fluorophores, the target protein often needs to be redesigned to remove unwanted native cysteines and to introduce cysteines at locations better suited for fluorophore attachment. Biochemical screens can then be employed to probe for the functional activity of the redesigned protein both before and after dye labeling. Here, we report a mutagenesis-based redesign of LacI to enable a functionally compatible labeling with maleimide fluorophores. To provide an easily accessible labeling site in LacI, we introduced a single cysteine residue at position 28 in the DNA-binding headpiece of LacI and replaced two native cysteines with alanines where derivatization with bulky substituents is known to compromise the protein's activity. We find that the redesigned LacI retains a robust activity in vitro and in vivo, provided that the third native cysteine at position 281 is retained in LacI. In a total internal reflection microscopy assay, we observed individual Cy3-labeled LacI molecules bound to immobilized DNA harboring the cognate O1 operator sequence, indicating that the dye-labeled LacI is functionally active. We have thus been able to generate a functional fluorescently labeled LacI that can be used to unravel mechanistic details of LacI target search at the single molecule level.