A far-red cyanobacteriochrome lineage specific for verdins

Marcus V. Moreno, Nathan C. Rockwell, Manuel Mora, Andrew J. Fisher, J. Clark Lagarias

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Cyanobacteriochromes (CBCRs) are photoswitchable linear tetrapyrrole (bilin)-based light sensors in the phytochrome superfamily with a broad spectral range from the near UV through the far red (330 to 760 nm). The recent discovery of far-red absorbing CBCRs (frCBCRs) has garnered considerable interest from the optogenetic and imaging communities because of the deep penetrance of far-red light into mammalian tissue and the small size of the CBCR protein scaffold. The present studies were undertaken to determine the structural basis for far-red absorption by JSC1_58120g3, a frCBCR from the thermophilic cyanobacterium Leptolyngbya sp. JSC-1 that is a representative member of a phylogenetically distinct class. Unlike most CBCRs that bind phycocyanobilin (PCB), a phycobilin naturally occurring in cyanobacteria and only a few eukaryotic phototrophs, JSC1_58120g3’s far-red absorption arises from incorporation of the PCB biosynthetic intermediate 181,182-dihydrobiliverdin (181,182-DHBV) rather than the more reduced and more abundant PCB. JSC1_58120g3 can also yield a far-red–absorbing adduct with the more widespread linear tetrapyrrole biliverdin IXα (BV), thus circumventing the need to coproduce or supplement optogenetic cell lines with PCB. Using high-resolution X-ray crystal structures of 181,182-DHBV and BV adducts of JSC1_58120g3 along with structure-guided mutagenesis, we have defined residues critical for its verdin-binding preference and far-red absorption. Far-red sensing and verdin incorporation make this frCBCR lineage an attractive template for developing robust optogenetic and imaging reagents for deep tissue applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)27962-27970
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number45
StatePublished - Nov 10 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Biliprotein | photochromism | bilin-protein interaction | spectral tuning | phylogenic analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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