Optical control of membrane tethering and interorganellar communication at nanoscales
Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) forms an extensive intracellular membranous network in eukaryotes that dynamically connects and communicates with diverse subcellular compartments such as plasma membrane (PM) through membrane contact sites (MCSs), with the inter-membrane gaps separated by a distance of 10–40 nm. Phosphoinositides (PI) constitute an important class of cell membrane phospholipids shared by many MCSs to regulate a myriad of cellular events, including membrane trafficking, calcium homeostasis and lipid metabolism. By installing photosensitivity into a series of engineered PI-binding domains with minimal sizes, we have created an optogenetic toolkit (designated as ‘OptoPB’) to enable rapid and reversible control of protein translocation and inter-membrane tethering at MCSs. These genetically-encoded, single-component tools can be used as scaffolds for grafting lipid-binding domains to dissect molecular determinants that govern protein–lipid interactions in living cells. Furthermore, we have demonstrated the use of OptoPB as a versatile fusion tag to photomanipulate protein translocation toward PM for reprogramming of PI metabolism. When tethered to the ER membrane with the insertion of flexible spacers, OptoPB can be applied to reversibly photo-tune the gap distances at nanometer scales between the two organellar membranes at MCSs, and to gauge the distance requirement for the free diffusion of protein complexes into MCSs. Our modular optical tools will find broad applications in non-invasive and remote control of protein subcellular localization and interorganellar contact sites that are critical for cell signaling.