Highly photostable fluorescent labeling of proteins in live cells using exchangeable coiled coils heterodimerization

Maxim M. Perfilov, Nadya G. Gurskaya, Ekaterina O. Serebrovskaya, Pavel A. Melnikov, Sergey L. Kharitonov, Tylor R. Lewis, Vadim Y. Arshavsky, Vladimir P. Baklaushev, Alexander S. Mishin, Konstantin A. Lukyanov

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    5 Citations (Scopus)


    Fluorescent proteins are commonly used to label target proteins in live cells. However, the conventional approach based on covalent fusion of targeted proteins with fluorescent protein probes is limited by the slow rate of fluorophore maturation and irretrievable loss of fluorescence due to photobleaching. Here, we report a genetically encoded protein labeling system utilizing transient interactions of small, 21–28 residues-long helical protein tags (K/E coils, KEC). In this system, a protein of interest, covalently tagged with a single coil, is visualized through binding to a cytoplasmic fluorescent protein carrying a complementary coil. The reversible heterodimerization of KECs, whose affinity can be tuned in a broad concentration range from nanomolar to micromolar, allows continuous exchange and replenishment of the tag bound to a targeted protein with the entire cytosolic pool of soluble fluorescent coils. We found that, under conditions of partial illumination of living cells, the photostability of labeling with KECs exceeds that of covalently fused fluorescent probes by approximately one order of magnitude. Similarly, single-molecule localization microscopy with KECs provided higher labeling density and allowed a much longer duration of imaging than with conventional fusion to fluorescent proteins. We also demonstrated that this method is well suited for imaging newly synthesized proteins, because the labeling efficiency by KECs is not dependent on the rate of fluorescent protein maturation. In conclusion, KECs can be used to visualize various target proteins which are directly exposed to the cytosol, thereby enabling their advanced characterization in time and space.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)4429-4440
    Number of pages12
    JournalCellular and Molecular Life Sciences
    Issue number21
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2020


    • Coiled coil tag
    • Exchangeable labels
    • Live-cell localization microscopy
    • Protein-PAINT


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