Special Issue "The Advances and Applications of Optogenetics"

A special issue of Applied Sciences (ISSN 2076-3417). This special issue belongs to the section "Applied Biosciences and Bioengineering".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 December 2019).

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Elena G. Govorunova
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Texas Medical School at Houston, Houston, USA
Interests: channelrhodopsins; optogenetics; neuroscience; cardiology
Prof. Dr. Oleg A. Sineshchekov
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Texas Medical School at Houston, Houston, USA
Interests: microbial rhodopsins; photocycle; photocurrent; optogenetics; phototaxis; photosensing; flagellate algae

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

When Karl Deisseroth coined the word “optogenetics” in 2006, he had in mind using genetically-encoded actuators to control the membrane potential and, thus, cellular excitability with light. Recruiting microbial rhodopsins to this end has yielded a revolution in neuroscience, led to clinical trials to cure blindness and is considered for the treatment of many psychiatric and neurological disorders. Other light-sensitive protein domains, mostly of plant origin, have been harnessed for photoregulation of gene expression, protein activity, oligomerization and trafficking. These efforts have been complemented by engineering proteins to bind photoswitchable ligands. Finally, an array of photosensors responsive to physiological changes in the membrane voltage or intracellular concentrations of specific ions has been created, leading to the possibility of all-optical interrogation of cellular activity. This Special Issue focuses on recent advances in the ever-broadening and exciting field of optogenetics that are expected to boost both fundamental research and clinical practice.

Dr. Elena G. Govorunova
Prof. Dr. Oleg A. Sineshchekov
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

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Keywords

  • optogenetics
  • photoswitching
  • photocontrol
  • all-optical electrophysiology
  • microbial rhodopsins
  • ion channels
  • LOV domains
  • phytochromes
  • membrane potential
  • gene expression
  • oligomerization
  • intracellular trafficking
  • protein-protein interaction
  • signaling

Published Papers (9 papers)

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Research

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Open AccessArticle
Atomistic Insight into the Role of Threonine 127 in the Functional Mechanism of Channelrhodopsin-2
Appl. Sci. 2019, 9(22), 4905; https://doi.org/10.3390/app9224905 - 15 Nov 2019
Abstract
Channelrhodopsins (ChRs) belong to the unique class of light-gated ion channels. The structure of channelrhodopsin-2 from Chlamydomonas reinhardtii (CrChR2) has been resolved, but the mechanistic link between light-induced isomerization of the chromophore retinal and channel gating remains elusive. Replacements of residues [...] Read more.
Channelrhodopsins (ChRs) belong to the unique class of light-gated ion channels. The structure of channelrhodopsin-2 from Chlamydomonas reinhardtii (CrChR2) has been resolved, but the mechanistic link between light-induced isomerization of the chromophore retinal and channel gating remains elusive. Replacements of residues C128 and D156 (DC gate) resulted in drastic effects in channel closure. T127 is localized close to the retinal Schiff base and links the DC gate to the Schiff base. The homologous residue in bacteriorhodopsin (T89) has been shown to be crucial for the visible absorption maximum and dark–light adaptation, suggesting an interaction with the retinylidene chromophore, but the replacement had little effect on photocycle kinetics and proton pumping activity. Here, we show that the T127A and T127S variants of CrChR2 leave the visible absorption maximum unaffected. We inferred from hybrid quantum mechanics/molecular mechanics (QM/MM) calculations and resonance Raman spectroscopy that the hydroxylic side chain of T127 is hydrogen-bonded to E123 and the latter is hydrogen-bonded to the retinal Schiff base. The C=N–H vibration of the Schiff base in the T127A variant was 1674 cm−1, the highest among all rhodopsins reported to date. We also found heterogeneity in the Schiff base ground state vibrational properties due to different rotamer conformations of E123. The photoreaction of T127A is characterized by a long-lived P2380 state during which the Schiff base is deprotonated. The conservative replacement of T127S hardly affected the photocycle kinetics. Thus, we inferred that the hydroxyl group at position 127 is part of the proton transfer pathway from D156 to the Schiff base during rise of the P3530 intermediate. This finding provides molecular reasons for the evolutionary conservation of the chemically homologous residues threonine, serine, and cysteine at this position in all channelrhodopsins known so far. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Advances and Applications of Optogenetics)
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Open AccessArticle
Modular Diversity of the BLUF Proteins and Their Potential for the Development of Diverse Optogenetic Tools
Appl. Sci. 2019, 9(18), 3924; https://doi.org/10.3390/app9183924 - 19 Sep 2019
Abstract
Organisms can respond to varying light conditions using a wide range of sensory photoreceptors. These photoreceptors can be standalone proteins or represent a module in multidomain proteins, where one or more modules sense light as an input signal which is converted into an [...] Read more.
Organisms can respond to varying light conditions using a wide range of sensory photoreceptors. These photoreceptors can be standalone proteins or represent a module in multidomain proteins, where one or more modules sense light as an input signal which is converted into an output response via structural rearrangements in these receptors. The output signals are utilized downstream by effector proteins or multiprotein clusters to modulate their activity, which could further affect specific interactions, gene regulation or enzymatic catalysis. The blue-light using flavin (BLUF) photosensory module is an autonomous unit that is naturally distributed among functionally distinct proteins. In this study, we identified 34 BLUF photoreceptors of prokaryotic and eukaryotic origin from available bioinformatics sequence databases. Interestingly, our analysis shows diverse BLUF-effector arrangements with a functional association that was previously unknown or thought to be rare among the BLUF class of sensory proteins, such as endonucleases, tet repressor family (tetR), regulators of G-protein signaling, GAL4 transcription family and several other previously unidentified effectors, such as RhoGEF, Phosphatidyl-Ethanolamine Binding protein (PBP), ankyrin and leucine-rich repeats. Interaction studies and the indexing of BLUF domains further show the diversity of BLUF-effector combinations. These diverse modular architectures highlight how the organism’s behaviour, cellular processes, and distinct cellular outputs are regulated by integrating BLUF sensing modules in combination with a plethora of diverse signatures. Our analysis highlights the modular diversity of BLUF containing proteins and opens the possibility of creating a rational design of novel functional chimeras using a BLUF architecture with relevant cellular effectors. Thus, the BLUF domain could be a potential candidate for the development of powerful novel optogenetic tools for its application in modulating diverse cell signaling. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Advances and Applications of Optogenetics)
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Open AccessArticle
Light Stimulation Parameters Determine Neuron Dynamic Characteristics
Appl. Sci. 2019, 9(18), 3673; https://doi.org/10.3390/app9183673 - 05 Sep 2019
Abstract
Optogenetics is a recently developed technique that is widely used to study neuronal function. In optogenetic experiments, neurons encode opsins (channelrhodopsins, halorhodopsins or their derivatives) by means of viruses, plasmids or genetic modification (transgenic lines). Channelrhodopsin are light activated ion channels. Their expression [...] Read more.
Optogenetics is a recently developed technique that is widely used to study neuronal function. In optogenetic experiments, neurons encode opsins (channelrhodopsins, halorhodopsins or their derivatives) by means of viruses, plasmids or genetic modification (transgenic lines). Channelrhodopsin are light activated ion channels. Their expression in neurons allows light-dependent control of neuronal activity. The duration and frequency of light stimulation in optogenetic experiments is critical for stable, robust and reproducible experiments. In this study, we performed systematic analyses of these parameters using primary cultures of hippocampal neurons transfected with channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2). The main goal of this work was to identify the optimal parameters of light stimulation that would result in stable neuronal activity during a repeated light pulse train. We demonstrated that the dependency of the photocurrent on the light pulse duration is described by a right-skewed bell-shaped curve, while the dependence on the stimulus intensity is close to linear. We established that a duration between 10–30 ms of stimulation was the minimal time necessary to achieve a full response. Obtained results will be useful in planning and interpretation of optogenetic experiments. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Advances and Applications of Optogenetics)
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Open AccessArticle
Ion Channel Properties of a Cation Channelrhodopsin, Gt_CCR4
Appl. Sci. 2019, 9(17), 3440; https://doi.org/10.3390/app9173440 - 21 Aug 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
We previously reported a cation channelrhodopsin, Gt_CCR4, which is one of the 44 types of microbial rhodopsins from a cryptophyte flagellate, Guillardia theta. Due to the modest homology of amino acid sequences with a chlorophyte channelrhodopsin such as Cr_ChR2 from [...] Read more.
We previously reported a cation channelrhodopsin, Gt_CCR4, which is one of the 44 types of microbial rhodopsins from a cryptophyte flagellate, Guillardia theta. Due to the modest homology of amino acid sequences with a chlorophyte channelrhodopsin such as Cr_ChR2 from Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, it has been proposed that a family of cryptophyte channelrhodopsin, including Gt_CCR4, has a distinct molecular mechanism for channel gating and ion permeation. In this study, we compared the photocurrent properties, cation selectivity and kinetics between well-known Cr_ChR2 and Gt_CCR4 by a conventional path clamp method. Large and stable light-induced cation conduction by Gt_CCR4 at the maximum absorbing wavelength (530 nm) was observed with only small inactivation (15%), whereas the photocurrent of Cr_ChR2 exhibited significant inactivation (50%) and desensitization. The light sensitivity of Gt_CCR4 was higher (EC50 = 0.13 mW/mm2) than that of Cr_ChR2 (EC50 = 0.80 mW/mm2) while the channel open life time (photocycle speed) was in the same range as that of Cr_ChR2 (25~30 ms for Gt_CCR4 and 10~15 ms for Cr_ChR2). This observation implies that Gt_CCR4 enables optical neuronal spiking with weak light in high temporal resolution when applied in neuroscience. Furthermore, we demonstrated high Na+ selectivity of Gt_CCR4 in which the selectivity ratio for Na+ was 37-fold larger than that for Cr_ChR2, which primarily conducts H+. On the other hand, Gt_CCR4 conducted almost no H+ and no Ca2+ under physiological conditions. These results suggest that ion selectivity in Gt_CCR4 is distinct from that in Cr_ChR2. In addition, a unique red-absorbing and stable intermediate in the photocycle was observed, indicating a photochromic property of Gt_CCR4. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Advances and Applications of Optogenetics)
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Open AccessArticle
Channelrhodopsin-2 Function is Modulated by Residual Hydrophobic Mismatch with the Surrounding Lipid Environment
Appl. Sci. 2019, 9(13), 2674; https://doi.org/10.3390/app9132674 - 30 Jun 2019
Abstract
Channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2) is a light-gated ion channel that conducts cations of multiple valencies down the electrochemical gradient. This light-gated property has made ChR2 a popular tool in the field of optogenetics, allowing for the spatial and temporal control of excitable cells with light. [...] Read more.
Channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2) is a light-gated ion channel that conducts cations of multiple valencies down the electrochemical gradient. This light-gated property has made ChR2 a popular tool in the field of optogenetics, allowing for the spatial and temporal control of excitable cells with light. A central aspect of protein function is the interaction with the surrounding lipid environment. To further explore these membrane-protein interactions, we demonstrate the role of residual hydrophobic mismatch (RHM) as a mechanistically important component of ChR2 function. We combined computational and functional experiments to understand how RHM between the lipid environment and ChR2 alters the structural and biophysical properties of the channel. Analysis of our results revealed significant RHM at the intracellular/lipid interface of ChR2 from a triad of residues. The resulting energy penalty is substantial and can be lowered via mutagenesis to evaluate the functional effects of this change in lipid-protein interaction energy. The experimental measurement of channel stability, conductance and selectivity resulting from the reduction of the RHM energy penalty showed changes in progressive H+ permeability, kinetics and open-state stability, suggesting how the modulation of ChR2 by the surrounding lipid membrane can play an important biological role and contribute to the design of targeted optogenetic constructs for specific cell types. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Advances and Applications of Optogenetics)
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Open AccessArticle
Engineering Optogenetic Control of Endogenous p53 Protein Levels
Appl. Sci. 2019, 9(10), 2095; https://doi.org/10.3390/app9102095 - 21 May 2019
Abstract
The transcription factor p53 is a stress sensor that turns specific sets of genes on to allow the cell to respond to the stress depending on its severity and type. p53 is classified as tumor suppressor because its function is to maintain genome [...] Read more.
The transcription factor p53 is a stress sensor that turns specific sets of genes on to allow the cell to respond to the stress depending on its severity and type. p53 is classified as tumor suppressor because its function is to maintain genome integrity promoting cell cycle arrest, apoptosis, or senescence to avoid proliferation of cells with damaged DNA. While in many human cancers the p53 gene is itself mutated, there are some in which the dysfunction of the p53 pathway is caused by the overexpression of negative regulators of p53, such as Mdm2, that keep it at low levels at all times. Here we develop an optogenetic approach to control endogenous p53 levels with blue light. Specifically, we control the nuclear localization of the Mmd2-binding PMI peptide using the light-inducible export system LEXY. In the dark, the PMI-LEXY fusion is nuclear and binds to Mdm2, consenting to p53 to accumulate and transcribe the target gene p21. Blue light exposure leads to the export of the PMI-LEXY fusion into the cytosol, thereby Mdm2 is able to degrade p53 as in the absence of the peptide. This approach may be useful to study the effect of localized p53 activation within a tissue or organ. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Advances and Applications of Optogenetics)
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Open AccessFeature PaperArticle
Mutated Channelrhodopsins with Increased Sodium and Calcium Permeability
Appl. Sci. 2019, 9(4), 664; https://doi.org/10.3390/app9040664 - 15 Feb 2019
Cited by 3
Abstract
(1) Background: After the discovery and application of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii channelrhodopsins, the optogenetic toolbox has been greatly expanded with engineered and newly discovered natural channelrhodopsins. However, channelrhodopsins of higher Ca2+ conductance or more specific ion permeability are in demand. (2) Methods: In [...] Read more.
(1) Background: After the discovery and application of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii channelrhodopsins, the optogenetic toolbox has been greatly expanded with engineered and newly discovered natural channelrhodopsins. However, channelrhodopsins of higher Ca2+ conductance or more specific ion permeability are in demand. (2) Methods: In this study, we mutated the conserved aspartate of the transmembrane helix 4 (TM4) within Chronos and PsChR and compared them with published ChR2 aspartate mutants. (3) Results: We found that the ChR2 D156H mutant (XXM) showed enhanced Na+ and Ca2+ conductance, which was not noticed before, while the D156C mutation (XXL) influenced the Na+ and Ca2+ conductance only slightly. The aspartate to histidine and cysteine mutations of Chronos and PsChR also influenced their photocurrent, ion permeability, kinetics, and light sensitivity. Most interestingly, PsChR D139H showed a much-improved photocurrent, compared to wild type, and even higher Na+ selectivity to H+ than XXM. PsChR D139H also showed a strongly enhanced Ca2+ conductance, more than two-fold that of the CatCh. (4) Conclusions: We found that mutating the aspartate of the TM4 influences the ion selectivity of channelrhodopsins. With the large photocurrent and enhanced Na+ selectivity and Ca2+ conductance, XXM and PsChR D139H are promising powerful optogenetic tools, especially for Ca2+ manipulation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Advances and Applications of Optogenetics)
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Review

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Open AccessReview
Two-Photon Excitation of Azobenzene Photoswitches for Synthetic Optogenetics
Appl. Sci. 2020, 10(3), 805; https://doi.org/10.3390/app10030805 - 23 Jan 2020
Abstract
Synthetic optogenetics is an emerging optical technique that enables users to photocontrol molecules, proteins, and cells in vitro and in vivo. This is achieved by use of synthetic chromophores—denoted photoswitches—that undergo light-dependent changes (e.g., isomerization), which are meticulously designed to interact with unique [...] Read more.
Synthetic optogenetics is an emerging optical technique that enables users to photocontrol molecules, proteins, and cells in vitro and in vivo. This is achieved by use of synthetic chromophores—denoted photoswitches—that undergo light-dependent changes (e.g., isomerization), which are meticulously designed to interact with unique cellular targets, notably proteins. Following light illumination, the changes adopted by photoswitches are harnessed to affect the function of nearby proteins. In most instances, photoswitches absorb visible light, wavelengths of poor tissue penetration, and excessive scatter. These shortcomings impede their use in vivo. To overcome these challenges, photoswitches of red-shifted absorbance have been developed. Notably, this shift in absorbance also increases their compatibility with two-photon excitation (2PE) methods. Here, we provide an overview of recent efforts devoted towards optimizing azobenzene-based photoswitches for 2PE and their current applications. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Advances and Applications of Optogenetics)
Open AccessReview
Advances in Engineering and Application of Optogenetic Indicators for Neuroscience
Appl. Sci. 2019, 9(3), 562; https://doi.org/10.3390/app9030562 - 08 Feb 2019
Cited by 3Correction
Abstract
Our ability to investigate the brain is limited by available technologies that can record biological processes in vivo with suitable spatiotemporal resolution. Advances in optogenetics now enable optical recording and perturbation of central physiological processes within the intact brains of model organisms. By [...] Read more.
Our ability to investigate the brain is limited by available technologies that can record biological processes in vivo with suitable spatiotemporal resolution. Advances in optogenetics now enable optical recording and perturbation of central physiological processes within the intact brains of model organisms. By monitoring key signaling molecules noninvasively, we can better appreciate how information is processed and integrated within intact circuits. In this review, we describe recent efforts engineering genetically-encoded fluorescence indicators to monitor neuronal activity. We summarize recent advances of sensors for calcium, potassium, voltage, and select neurotransmitters, focusing on their molecular design, properties, and current limitations. We also highlight impressive applications of these sensors in neuroscience research. We adopt the view that advances in sensor engineering will yield enduring insights on systems neuroscience. Neuroscientists are eager to adopt suitable tools for imaging neural activity in vivo, making this a golden age for engineering optogenetic indicators. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Advances and Applications of Optogenetics)
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