Characterization of the pressure-induced intermediate and unfolded state of red-shifted green fluorescent protein - A static and kinetic FTIR, UV/VIS and fluorescence spectroscopy study

H. Herberhold, S. Marchal, R. Lange, C. H. Scheyhing, R. F. Vogel, R. Winter

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The green fluorescence proteins (GFP) are widely used as reporters in molecular and cell biology. For their use it in high-pressure microbiology and biotechnology studies, their structural properties, thermodynamic parameters and stability diagrams have to be known. We investigated the pressure stability of the red-shifted green fluorescent protein (rsGFP) using Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy, fluorescence and UV/Vis spectroscopy. We found that rsGFP does not unfold up to ∼9kbar at room temperature. Its unique three-dimensional structure is held responsible for the high-pressure stability. At higher temperatures, its secondary structure collapses below 9kbar (e.g. the denaturation pressure at 58 °C is 7.8kbar). The analysis of the IR data shows that the pressure-denatured state contains more disordered structures at the expense of a decrease of intramolecular β-sheets. As indicated by the large volume change of ΔV°u≈-250(±50)mlmol-1 at 58 °C, this highly cooperative transition can be interpreted as a collapse of the β-can structure of rsGFP. For comparison, the temperature-induced unfolding of rsGFP has also been studied. At high temperature (Tm=78°C), the unfolding resulted in the formation of an aggregated state. Contrary to the pressure-induced unfolding, the temperature-induced unfolding and aggregation of GFP is irreversible. From the FT-IR data, a tentative p,T-stability diagram for the secondary structure collapse of GFP has been obtained. Furthermore, changes in fluorescence and absorptivity were found which are not correlated to the secondary structural changes. The fluorescence and UV/Vis data indicate smaller conformational changes in the chromophore region at much lower pressures (∼4kbar) which are probably accompanied by the penetration of water into the β-can structure. In order to investigate also the kinetics of this initial step, pressure-jump relaxation experiments were carried out. The partial activation volumes observed indicate that the conformational changes in the chromophore region when passing the transition state are indeed rather small, thus leading to a comparably small volume change of -20 ml mol-1 only. The use of the chromophore absorption and fluorescence band of rsGFP in using GFP as reporter for gene expression and other microbiological studies under high pressure conditions is thus limited to pressures of about 4kbar, which still exceeds the pressure range relevant for studies in vivo in micro-organisms, including piezophilic bacteria from deep-sea environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1153-1164
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 25 Jul 2003


  • FT-IR
  • GFP
  • High pressure
  • Protein folding
  • Red-shifted green fluorescent protein


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