Highly sensitive and quantitative FRET–FLIM imaging in single dendritic spines using improved non-radiative YFP
Two-photon fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (TPFLIM) enables the quantitative measurements of fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) in small subcellular compartments in light scattering tissue. We evaluated and optimized the FRET pair of mEGFP (monomeric EGFP with the A206K mutation) and REACh (non-radiative YFP variants) for TPFLIM. We characterized several mutants of REACh in terms of their “darkness,” and their ability to act as a FRET acceptor for mEGFP in HeLa cells and hippocampal neurons. Since the commonly used monomeric mutation A206K increases the brightness of REACh, we introduced a different monomeric mutation (F223R) which does not affect the brightness. Also, we found that the folding efficiency of original REACh, as measured by the fluorescence lifetime of a mEGFP–REACh tandem dimer, was low and variable from cell to cell. Introducing two folding mutations (F46L, Q69M) into REACh increased the folding efficiency by ∼50%, and reduced the variability of FRET signal. Pairing mEGFP with the new REACh (super-REACh, or sREACh) improved the signal-to-noise ratio compared to the mEGFP–mRFP or mEGFP–original REACh pair by ∼50%. Using this new pair, we demonstrated that the fraction of actin monomers in filamentous and globular forms in single dendritic spines can be quantitatively measured with high sensitivity. Thus, the mEGFP–sREACh pair is suited for quantitative FRET measurement by TPFLIM, and enables us to measure protein–protein interactions in individual dendritic spines in brain slices with high sensitivity.