Genetic encoding of a highly photostable, long lifetime fluorescent amino acid for imaging in mammalian cells†
Acridonylalanine (Acd) is a fluorescent amino acid that is highly photostable, with a high quantum yield and long fluorescence lifetime in water. These properties make it superior to existing genetically encodable fluorescent amino acids for monitoring protein interactions and conformational changes through fluorescence polarization or lifetime experiments, including fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM). Here, we report the genetic incorporation of Acd using engineered pyrrolysine tRNA synthetase (RS) mutants that allow for efficient Acd incorporation in both E. coli and mammalian cells. We compare protein yields and amino acid specificity for these Acd RSs to identify an optimal construct. We also demonstrate the use of Acd in FLIM, where its long lifetime provides strong contrast compared to endogenous fluorophores and engineered fluorescent proteins, which have lifetimes less than 5 ns.