Background The green fluorescent protein (GFP) of the jellyfish Aequorea victoria has recently attracted great interest as the first example of a cloned reporter protein that is intrinsically fluorescent. Although successful in some organisms, heterologous expression of GFP has not always been straight forward. In particular, expression of GFP in cells that require incubation temperatures around 37°C has been problematic. Results We have carried out a screen for mutant forms of GFP that fluoresce more intensely than the wild-type protein when expressed in E. coli at 37°C. We have characterized a bright mutant (GFPA) with reduced sensitivity to temperature in both bacteria and yeast, and have shown that the amino acids substituted in GFPA act by preventing temperature-dependent misfolding of the GFP apoprotein. We have shown that the excitation and emission spectra of GFPA can be manipulated by site-directed mutagenesis without disturbing its improved folding characteristics, and have produced a thermostable folding mutant (GFP5) that can be efficiently excited using either long-wavelength ultraviolet or blue light. Expression of GFP5 results in greatly improved levels of fluorescence in both microbial and mammalian cells cultured at 37°C. Conclusions The thermotolerant mutants of GFP greatly improve the sensitivity of the protein as a visible reporter molecule in bacterial, yeast and mammalian cells. The fluorescence spectra of these mutants can be manipulated by further mutagenesis without deleteriously affecting their improved folding characteristics, so it may be possible to engineer a range of spectral variants with improved tolerance to temperature. Such a range of sensitive reporter proteins will greatly improve the prospects for GFP-based applications in cells that require relatively high incubation temperatures.
Current Biology – Elsevier
Published: Dec 1, 1996
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