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Journal Of The American Chemical Society


Fluorogenic dyes such as FlAsH and ReAsH are used widely to localize, monitor, and characterize proteins and their assemblies in live cells. These bis-arsenical dyes can become fluorescent when bound to a protein containing four proximal Cys thiols—a tetracysteine (Cys4) motif. Yet the mechanism by which bis-arsenicals become fluorescent upon binding a Cys4 motif is unknown, and this nescience limits more widespread application of this tool. Here we probe the origins of ReAsH fluorogenicity using both computation and experiment. Our results support a model in which ReAsH fluorescence depends on the relative orientation of the aryl chromophore and the appended arsenic chelate: the fluorescence is rotamer-restricted. Our results do not support a model in which fluorogenicity arises from the relief of ring strain. The calculations identify those As–aryl rotamers that support fluorescence and those that do not and correlate well with prior experiments. The rotamer-restricted model we propose is supported further by biophysical studies: the excited-state fluorescence lifetime of a complex between ReAsH and a protein bearing a high-affinity Cys4 motif is longer than that of ReAsH-EDT2, and the fluorescence intensity of ReAsH-EDT2 increases in solvents of increasing viscosity. By providing a higher resolution view of the structural basis for fluorogenicity, these results provide a clear strategy for the design of more selective bis-arsenicals and better-optimized protein targets, with a concomitant improvement in the ability to characterize previously invisible protein conformational changes and assemblies in live cells.


This work is a preprint that has been provided to PubMed Central courtesy of the American Chemical Society.