A light-induced reaction with oxygen leads to chromophore decomposition and irreversible photobleaching in GFP-type proteins
Photobleaching and photostability of proteins of the green fluorescent protein (GFP) family are crucially important for practical applications of these widely used biomarkers. On the basis of simulations, we propose a mechanism for irreversible bleaching in GFP-type proteins under intense light illumination. The key feature of the mechanism is a photoinduced reaction of the chromophore with molecular oxygen (O2) inside the protein barrel leading to the chromophore's decomposition. Using quantum mechanics/ molecular mechanics (QM/MM) modeling we show that a model system comprising the protein-bound Chro− and O2 can be excited to an electronic state of the intermolecular charge-transfer (CT) character (Chro.···O2−.). Once in the CT state, the system undergoes a series of chemical reactions with low activation barriers resulting in the cleavage of the bridging bond between the phenolic and imidazolinone rings and disintegration of the chromophore.