Chemical control of excited-state reactivity of the anionic green fluorescent protein chromophore


Nanna H. List, Chey M. Jones, Todd J. Martínez

Commun Chem 7, 25 (2024)

Controlling excited-state reactivity is a long-standing challenge in photochemistry, as a desired pathway may be inaccessible or compete with other unwanted channels. An important example is internal conversion of the anionic green fluorescent protein (GFP) chromophore where non-selective progress along two competing torsional modes (P: phenolate and I: imidazolinone) impairs and enables Z-to-E photoisomerization, respectively. Developing strategies to promote photoisomerization could drive new areas of applications of GFP-like proteins. Motivated by the charge-transfer dichotomy of the torsional modes, we explore chemical substitution on the P-ring of the chromophore as a way to control excited-state pathways and improve photoisomerization. As demonstrated by methoxylation, selective P-twisting appears difficult to achieve because the electron-donating potential effects of the substituents are counteracted by inertial effects that directly retard the motion. Conversely, these effects act in concert to promote I-twisting when introducing electron-withdrawing groups. Specifically, 2,3,5-trifluorination leads to both pathway selectivity and a more direct approach to the I-twisted intersection which, in turn, doubles the photoisomerization quantum yield. Our results suggest P-ring engineering as an effective approach to boost photoisomerization of the anionic GFP chromophore.