M. Rossano-Tapia, J.M.H. Olsen, Alex Brown
Frontiers of Molecular Biosciences
Publication year: 2020

Multi-photon absorption properties, particularly two-photon absorption (2PA), of fluorescent proteins (FPs) have made them attractive tools in deep-tissue clinical imaging. Although the diversity of photophysical properties for FPs is wide, there are some caveats predominant among the existing FP variants that need to be overcome, such as low quantum yields and small 2PA cross-sections. From a computational perspective, Salem, Twelves, and Brown (Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys. (2016) 18, 24408‚Äì24416) suggested the inclusion of non-canonical amino acids to the chromophore of the red fluorescent protein DsRed, through the replacement of the tyrosine amino acid. The 2PA properties of these new non-canonical chromophores (nCCs) were determined in vacuum, i.e., without taking into account the protein environment. However, in the computation of response properties, such as 2PA cross-sections, the environment plays an important role. To account for environment and protein–chromophore coupling effects, quantum mechanical/molecular mechanical (QM/MM) schemes can be useful. In this work, the polarizable embedding (PE) model is employed along with time-dependent density functional theory to describe the 2PA properties of a selected set of chromophores made from non-canonical amino acids as they are embedded in the DsRed protein matrix. The objective is to provide insights to determine whether or not the nCCs could be developed and, thus, generate a new class of FPs. Results from this investigation show that within the DsRed environment, the nCC 2PA cross-sections are diminished relative to their values in vacuum. However, further studies towards understanding the 2PA limit of these nCC using different protein environments are needed.