Harris, P.D. & Lerner, E. Identification and Quantification of Within-Burst Dynamics in Singly-Labeled Single-Molecule Fluorescence Lifetime Experiments. (Submitted). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Single-molecule spectroscopy has revolutionized molecular biophysics and provided means to probe how structural moieties within biomolecules spatially reorganize at different timescales. There are several single-molecule methodologies that probe local structural dynamics in the vicinity of a single dye-labeled residue, which rely on fluorescence lifetimes as readout. Nevertheless, an analytical framework to quantify dynamics in such single-molecule single-dye fluorescence bursts, at timescales of microseconds to milliseconds, has not yet been demonstrated. Here, we suggest an analytical framework for identifying and quantifying within-burst lifetime-based dynamics, such as conformational dynamics recorded in single-molecule photo-isomerization related fluorescence enhancement. After testing the capabilities of the analysis on simulations, we proceed to exhibit within-burst millisecond local structural dynamics in the unbound α-synuclein monomer. The analytical framework provided in this work paves the way for extracting a full picture of the energy landscape for the coordinate probed by fluorescence-lifetime based single-molecule measurements.
Zamel, J., et al. Structural and Dynamic Insights Into α-Synuclein Dimer Conformations. (Submitted). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Parkinson's disease is associated with the aggregation of the protein α-synuclein. While α-synuclein can exist in multiple oligomeric states, the dimer has been a subject of extensive debates. Here, using an array of biophysical approaches, we demonstrate α-synuclein in vitro exhibits primarily a monomer-dimer equilibrium in nanomolar concentrations and up to a few micromolars. We then use spatial information from hetero-isotopic cross-linking mass spectrometry experiments as restrains in discrete molecular dynamics simulations to obtain the ensemble structure of dimeric species. Out of eight structural sub-populations of dimers we identify one that is compact, stable, abundant, and exhibits partially exposed β-sheet structures. This compact dimer is the only one where the hydroxyls of tyrosine 39 are in a proximity that can promote dityrosine covalent linkage implicated in amyloidogenesis. We propose that this α-synuclein dimer features etiological relevance to Parkinson's disease.
Drori, P., Razvag, Y., Moya, G., Cordes, T. & Lerner, E. Flow virometer for rapid detection of intact viruses. US patent application 63/148,181, (Submitted).Abstract
Filed Feb. 11, 2021
Harris, P.D., et al. Multi-parameter photon-by-photon hidden Markov modeling. Nature Communications 13, 1000 (2022). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Single molecule Förster resonance energy transfer (smFRET) is a unique biophysical approach for studying conformational dynamics in biomacromolecules. Photon-by-photon hidden Markov modeling (H2MM) is an analysis tool that can quantify FRET dynamics of single biomolecules, even if they occur on the sub-millisecond timescale. However, dye photophysical transitions intertwined with FRET dynamics may cause artifacts. Here, we introduce multi-parameter H2MM (mpH2MM), which assists in identifying FRET dynamics based on simultaneous observation of multiple experimentally-derived parameters. We show the importance of using mpH2MM to decouple FRET dynamics caused by conformational changes from photophysical transitions in confocal-based smFRET measurements of a DNA hairpin, the maltose binding protein, MalE, and the type-III secretion system effector, YopO, from Yersinia species, all exhibiting conformational dynamics ranging from the sub-second to microsecond timescales. Overall, we show that using mpH2MM facilitates the identification and quantification of biomolecular sub-populations and their origin.
Zaer, S. & Lerner, E. Utilizing Time-Resolved Protein-Induced Fluorescence Enhancement to Identify Stable Local Conformations One α-Synuclein Monomer at a Time. Journal of Visualized Experiments e62655 (2021). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Using spectroscopic rulers to track multiple conformations of single biomolecules and their dynamics have revolutionized the understanding of structural dynamics and its contributions to biology. While the FRET-based ruler reports on inter-dye distances in the 3-10 nm range, other spectroscopic techniques, such as protein-induced fluorescence enhancement (PIFE), report on the proximity between a dye and a protein surface in the shorter 0-3 nm range. Regardless of the method of choice, its use in measuring freely-diffusing biomolecules one at a time retrieves histograms of the experimental parameter yielding separate centrally-distributed sub-populations of biomolecules, where each sub-population represents either a single conformation that stayed unchanged within milliseconds, or multiple conformations that interconvert much faster than milliseconds, and hence an averaged-out sub-population. In single-molecule FRET, where the reported parameter in histograms is the inter-dye FRET efficiency, an intrinsically disordered protein, such as the α-Synuclein monomer in buffer, was previously reported as exhibiting a single averaged-out sub-population of multiple conformations interconverting rapidly. While these past findings depend on the 3-10 nm range of the FRET-based ruler, we sought to put this protein to the test using single-molecule PIFE, where we track the fluorescence lifetime of site-specific sCy3-labeled α-Synuclein proteins one at a time. Interestingly, using this shorter range spectroscopic proximity sensor, sCy3-labeled α-Synuclein exhibits several lifetime sub-populations with distinctly different mean lifetimes that interconvert in 10-100 ms. These results show that while α-Synuclein might be disordered globally, it nonetheless attains stable local structures. In summary, in this work we highlight the advantage of using different spectroscopic proximity sensors that track local or global structural changes one biomolecule at a time.
Chen, J., et al. The structural heterogeneity of α-synuclein is governed by several distinct subpopulations with interconversion times slower than milliseconds. Structure 29, (2021). Publisher's VersionAbstract
The intrinsically disordered protein, α-synuclein, implicated in synaptic vesicle homeostasis and neurotransmitter release, is also associated with several neurodegenerative diseases. The different roles of α-synuclein are characterized by distinct structural states (membrane-bound, dimer, tetramer, oligomer, and fibril), which are originated from its various monomeric conformations. The pathological states, determined by the ensemble of α-synuclein monomer conformations and dynamic pathways of interconversion between dominant states, remain elusive due to their transient nature. Here, we use inter-dye distance distributions from bulk time-resolved Forster resonance energy transfer as restraints in discrete molecular dynamics simulations to map the conformational space of the α-synuclein monomer. We further confirm the generated conformational ensemble in orthogonal experiments utilizing far-UV circular dichroism and cross-linking mass spectrometry. Single-molecule protein-induced fluorescence enhancement measurements show that within this conformational ensemble, some of the conformations of α-synuclein are surprisingly stable, exhibiting conformational transitions slower than milliseconds. Our comprehensive analysis of the conformational ensemble reveals essential structural properties and potential conformations that promote its various functions in membrane interaction or oligomer and fibril formation.
Lerner, E., et al. The FRET-based structural dynamics challenge – community contributions to consistent and open science practices. eLife 10, e60416 (2021). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Single-molecule FRET (smFRET) has become a mainstream technique for studying biomolecular structural dynamics. The rapid and wide adoption of smFRET experiments by an ever-increasing number of groups has generated significant progress in sample preparation, measurement procedures, data analysis, algorithms and documentation. Several labs that employ smFRET approaches have joined forces to inform the smFRET community about streamlining how to perform experiments and analyze results for obtaining quantitative information on biomolecular structure and dynamics. The recent efforts include blind tests to assess the accuracy and the precision of smFRET experiments among different labs using various procedures. These multi-lab studies have led to the development of smFRET procedures and documentation, which are important when submitting entries into the archiving system for integrative structure models, PDB-Dev. This position paper describes the current ‘state of the art’ from different perspectives, points to unresolved methodological issues for quantitative structural studies, provides a set of ‘soft recommendations’ about which an emerging consensus exists, and lists openly available resources for newcomers and seasoned practitioners. To make further progress, we strongly encourage ‘open science’ practices.
elife-60416-v2.pdf 60416-cover-a4.pdf
Hagai, D. & Lerner, E. Systematic Assessment of Burst Impurity in Confocal-Based Single-Molecule Fluorescence Detection Using Brownian Motion Simulations. Molecules 24, 2557 (2019). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Single-molecule fluorescence detection (SMFD) experiments are useful in distinguishing sub-populations of molecular species when measuring heterogeneous samples. One experimental platform for SMFD is based on a confocal microscope, where molecules randomly traverse an effective detection volume. The non-uniformity of the excitation profile and the random nature of Brownian motion, produce fluctuating fluorescence signals. For these signals to be distinguished from the background, burst analysis is frequently used. Yet, the relation between the results of burst analyses and the underlying information of the diffusing molecules is still obscure and requires systematic assessment. In this work we performed three-dimensional Brownian motion simulations of SMFD, and tested the positions at which molecules emitted photons that passed the burst analysis criteria for different values of burst analysis parameters. The results of this work verify which of the burst analysis parameters and experimental conditions influence both the position of molecules in space when fluorescence is detected and taken into account, and whether these bursts of photons arise purely from single molecules, or not entirely. Finally, we show, as an example, the effect of bursts that are not purely from a single molecule on the accuracy in single-molecule Förster resonance energy transfer measurements.
Segal, M., et al. High-throughput smFRET analysis of freely diffusing nucleic acid molecules and associated proteins. Methods (2019). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Single-molecule Förster resonance energy transfer (smFRET) is a powerful technique for nanometer-scale studies of single molecules. Solution-based smFRET, in particular, can be used to study equilibrium intra- and intermolecular conformations, binding/unbinding events and conformational changes under biologically relevant conditions without ensemble averaging. However, single-spot smFRET measurements in solution are slow. Here, we detail a high-throughput smFRET approach that extends the traditional single-spot confocal geometry to a multispot one. The excitation spots are optically conjugated to two custom silicon single photon avalanche diode (SPAD) arrays. Two-color excitation is implemented using a periodic acceptor excitation (PAX), allowing distinguishing between singly- and doubly-labeled molecules. We demonstrate the ability of this setup to rapidly and accurately determine FRET efficiencies and population stoichiometries by pooling the data collected independently from the multiple spots. We also show how the high throughput of this approach can be used o increase the temporal resolution of single-molecule FRET population characterization from minutes to seconds. Combined with microfluidics, this high-throughput approach will enable simple real-time kinetic studies as well as powerful molecular screening applications.
Cיung, S.Y., et al. The effect of macromolecular crowding on single-round transcription by Escherichia coli RNA polymerase. Nucleic Acid Research (2018). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Previous works have reported significant effects of macromolecular crowding on the structure and behavior of biomolecules. The crowded intracellular environment, in contrast to in vitro buffer solutions, likely imparts similar effects on biomolecules. The enzyme serving as the gatekeeper for the genome, RNA polymerase (RNAP), is among the most regulated enzymes. Although it was previously demonstrated that macromolecular crowding affects association of RNAP to DNA, not much is known about how crowding acts on late initiation and promoter clearance steps, which are considered to be the rate-determining steps for many promoters. Here, we demonstrate that macromolecular crowding enhances the rate of late initiation and promoter clearance using in vitro quenching-based single-molecule kinetics assays. Moreover, the enhancement’s dependence on crowder size notably deviates from predictions by the scaled-particle theory, commonly used for description of crowding effects. Our findings shed new light on how enzymatic reactions could be affected by crowded conditions in the cellular milieu.
Lerner, E., Ingargiola, A. & Weiss, S. Characterizing highly dynamic conformational states: The transcription bubble in RNAP-promoter open complex as an example. J Chem Phys 148, 123315 (2018). bioRxiv pre-print versionAbstract
Bio-macromolecules carry out complicated functions through structural changes. To understand their mechanism of action, the structure of each step has to be characterized. While classical structural biology techniques allow the characterization of a few “structural snapshots” along the enzymatic cycle (usually of stable conformations), they do not cover all (and often fast interconverting) structures in the ensemble, where each may play an important functional role. Recently, several groups have demonstrated that structures of different conformations in solution could be solved by measuring multiple distances between different pairs of residues using single-molecule Förster resonance energy transfer (smFRET) and using them as constrains for hybrid/integrative structural modeling. However, this approach is limited in cases where the conformational dynamics is faster than the technique’s temporal resolution. In this study, we combine existing tools that elucidate sub-millisecond conformational dynamics together with hybrid/integrative structural modeling to study the conformational states of the transcription bubble in the bacterial RNA polymerase-promoter open complex (RPo). We measured microsecond alternating laser excitation-smFRET of differently labeled lacCONS promoter dsDNA constructs. We used a combination of burst variance analysis, photon-by-photon hidden Markov modeling, and the FRET-restrained positioning and screening approach to identify two conformational states for RPo. The experimentally derived distances of one conformational state match the known crystal structure of bacterial RPo. The experimentally derived distances of the other conformational state have characteristics of a scrunched RPo. These findings support the hypothesis that sub-millisecond dynamics in the transcription bubble are responsible for transcription start site selection.
Ingargiola, A., Weiss, S. & Lerner, E. Monte-Carlo Diffusion-Enhanced Photon Inference: Distance Distributions And Conformational Dynamics In Single-Molecule FRET. J Phys Chem B 122, 11598–11615 (2018). bioRxiv pre-print versionAbstract
Single-molecule Förster Resonance Energy Transfer (smFRET) is utilized to study the structure and dynamics of many bio-molecules, such as proteins, DNA and their various complexes. The structural assessment is based on the well-known Förster relationship between the measured efficiency of energy transfer between a donor (D) and an acceptor (A) dye and the distance between them. Classical smFRET analysis methods called photon distribution analysis (PDA) take into account photon shot-noise, D-A distance distribution and, more recently, interconversion between states in order to extract accurate distance information. It is known that rapid D-A distance fluctuations on the order of the D lifetime (or shorter) can increase the measured mean FRET efficiency and thus decrease the estimated D-A distance. Nonetheless, this effect has been so far neglected in smFRET experiments, potentially leading to biases in estimated distances. Here we introduce a PDA approach dubbed Monte-Carlo-diffusion-enhanced photon inference (MC-DEPI). MC-DEPI recolor detected photons of smFRET experiments taking into account dynamics of D-A distance fluctuations, multiple interconverting states and photo-blinking. Using this approach, we show how different underlying conditions may yield identical FRET histograms and how the additional information from fluorescence decays helps distinguishing between the different conditions. We also introduce a machine learning fitting approach for retrieving the D-A distancedistribution, decoupled from the above-mentioned effects. We show that distance interpretation of smFRET experiments of even the simplest dsDNA is nontrivial and requires decoupling the effects of rapid D-A distance fluctuations on FRET in order to avoid systematic biases in the estimation of the D-A distance distribution.
Lerner, E., et al. Toward dynamic structural biology: Two decades of single-molecule Förster resonance energy transfer. Science 359, (2018). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Classical structural biology can only provide static snapshots of biomacromolecules. Single-molecule Förster resonance energy transfer (smFRET) paved the way for studying dynamics in macromolecular structures under biologically relevant conditions. Since its first implementation in 1996, smFRET experiments have confirmed previously hypothesized mechanisms and provided new insights into many fundamental biological processes, such as DNA maintenance and repair, transcription, translation, and membrane transport. We review 22 years of contributions of smFRET to our understanding of basic mechanisms in biochemistry, molecular biology, and structural biology. Additionally, building on current state-of-the-art implementations of smFRET, we highlight possible future directions for smFRET in applications such as biosensing, high-throughput screening, and molecular diagnostics.
Ingargiola, A., et al. 16-Ch Time-resolved Single-Molecule Spectroscopy Using Line Excitation. Proc SPIE Int Soc Opt Eng 10071, (2017). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Single-molecule spectroscopy on freely-diffusing molecules allows detecting conformational changes of biomolecules without perturbation from surface immobilization. Resolving fluorescence lifetimes increases the sensitivity in detecting conformational changes and overcomes artifacts common in intensity-based measurements. Common to all freely-diffusing techniques, however, are the long acquisition times. We report a time-resolved multispot system employing a 16-channel SPAD array and TCSPC electronics, which overcomes the throughput issue. Excitation is obtained by shaping a 532 nm pulsed laser into a line, matching the linear SPAD array geometry. We show that the line-excitation is a robust and cost-effective approach to implement multispot systems based on linear detector arrays.
Lerner, E., et al. Different types of pausing modes during transcription initiation. Transcription 8, 242–253 (2017). Publisher's VersionAbstract
In many cases, initiation is rate limiting to transcription. This due in part to the multiple cycles of abortive transcription that delay promoter escape and the transition from initiation to elongation. Pausing of transcription in initiation can further delay promoter escape. The previously hypothesized pausing in initiation was confirmed by two recent studies from Duchi et al. 1 and from Lerner, Chung et al. 2 In both studies, pausing is attributed to a lack of forward translocation of the nascent transcript during initiation. However, the two works report on different pausing mechanisms. Duchi et al. report on pausing that occurs during initiation predominantly on-pathway of transcript synthesis. Lerner, Chung et al. report on pausing during initiation as a result of RNAP backtracking, which is off-pathway to transcript synthesis. Here, we discuss these studies, together with additional experimental results from single-molecule FRET focusing on a specific distance within the transcription bubble. We show that the results of these studies are complementary to each other and are consistent with a model involving two types of pauses in initiation: a short-lived pause that occurs in the translocation of a 6-mer nascent transcript and a long-lived pause that occurs as a result of 1-2 nucleotide backtracking of a 7-mer transcript.
Ingargiola, A., et al. Multispot single-molecule FRET: High-throughput analysis of freely diffusing molecules. PLoS ONE 12, e0175766 (2017). Publisher's VersionAbstract
We describe an 8-spot confocal setup for high-throughput smFRET assays and illustrate its performance with two characteristic experiments. First, measurements on a series of freely diffusing doubly-labeled dsDNA samples allow us to demonstrate that data acquired in multiple spots in parallel can be properly corrected and result in measured sample characteristics consistent with those obtained with a standard single-spot setup. We then take advantage of the higher throughput provided by parallel acquisition to address an outstanding question about the kinetics of the initial steps of bacterial RNA transcription. Our real-time kinetic analysis of promoter escape by bacterial RNA polymerase confirms results obtained by a more indirect route, shedding additional light on the initial steps of transcription. Finally, we discuss the advantages of our multispot setup, while pointing potential limitations of the current single laser excitation design, as well as analysis challenges and their solutions.
Alhadid, Y., et al. Studying transcription initiation by RNA polymerase with diffusion-based single-molecule fluorescence. Protein Sci. 26, 1278–1290 (2017). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Over the past decade, fluorescence-based single-molecule studies significantly contributed to characterizing the mechanism of RNA polymerase at different steps in transcription, especially in transcription initiation. Transcription by bacterial DNA-dependent RNA polymerase is a multistep process that uses genomic DNA to synthesize complementary RNA molecules. Transcription initiation is a highly regulated step in E. coli, but it has been challenging to study its mechanism because of its stochasticity and complexity. In this review, we describe how single-molecule approaches have contributed to our understanding of transcription and have uncovered mechanistic details that were not observed in conventional assays because of ensemble averaging.
Lerner, E., et al. Backtracked and paused transcription initiation intermediate of Escherichia coli RNA polymerase. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 113, E6562–E6571 (2016). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Initiation is a highly regulated, rate-limiting step in transcription. We used a series of approaches to examine the kinetics of RNA polymerase (RNAP) transcription initiation in greater detail. Quenched kinetics assays, in combination with gel-based assays, showed that RNAP exit kinetics from complexes stalled at later stages of initiation (e.g., from a 7-base transcript) were markedly slower than from earlier stages (e.g., from a 2- or 4-base transcript). In addition, the RNAP-GreA endonuclease accelerated transcription kinetics from otherwise delayed initiation states. Further examination with magnetic tweezers transcription experiments showed that RNAP adopted a long-lived backtracked state during initiation and that the paused-backtracked initiation intermediate was populated abundantly at physiologically relevant nucleoside triphosphate (NTP) concentrations. The paused intermediate population was further increased when the NTP concentration was decreased and/or when an imbalance in NTP concentration was introduced (situations that mimic stress). Our results confirm the existence of a previously hypothesized paused and backtracked RNAP initiation intermediate and suggest it is biologically relevant; furthermore, such intermediates could be exploited for therapeutic purposes and may reflect a conserved state among paused, initiating eukaryotic RNA polymerase II enzymes.
Ploetz, E., et al. Förster resonance energy transfer and protein-induced fluorescence enhancement as synergetic multi-scale molecular rulers. Sci Rep 6, 33257 (2016). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Advanced microscopy methods allow obtaining information on (dynamic) conformational changes in biomolecules via measuring a single molecular distance in the structure. It is, however, extremely challenging to capture the full depth of a three-dimensional biochemical state, binding-related structural changes or conformational cross-talk in multi-protein complexes using one-dimensional assays. In this paper we address this fundamental problem by extending the standard molecular ruler based on Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) into a two-dimensional assay via its combination with protein-induced fluorescence enhancement (PIFE). We show that donor brightness (via PIFE) and energy transfer efficiency (via FRET) can simultaneously report on e.g., the conformational state of double stranded DNA (dsDNA) following its interaction with unlabelled proteins (BamHI, EcoRV, and T7 DNA polymerase gp5/trx). The PIFE-FRET assay uses established labelling protocols and single molecule fluorescence detection schemes (alternating-laser excitation, ALEX). Besides quantitative studies of PIFE and FRET ruler characteristics, we outline possible applications of ALEX-based PIFE-FRET for single-molecule studies with diffusing and immobilized molecules. Finally, we study transcription initiation and scrunching of E. coli RNA-polymerase with PIFE-FRET and provide direct evidence for the physical presence and vicinity of the polymerase that causes structural changes and scrunching of the transcriptional DNA bubble.
Ingargiola, A., Lerner, E., Chung, S., Weiss, S. & Michalet, X. FRETBursts: An Open Source Toolkit for Analysis of Freely-Diffusing Single-Molecule FRET. PLoS ONE 11, e0160716 (2016). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Single-molecule Förster Resonance Energy Transfer (smFRET) allows probing intermolecular interactions and conformational changes in biomacromolecules, and represents an invaluable tool for studying cellular processes at the molecular scale. smFRET experiments can detect the distance between two fluorescent labels (donor and acceptor) in the 3-10 nm range. In the commonly employed confocal geometry, molecules are free to diffuse in solution. When a molecule traverses the excitation volume, it emits a burst of photons, which can be detected by single-photon avalanche diode (SPAD) detectors. The intensities of donor and acceptor fluorescence can then be related to the distance between the two fluorophores. While recent years have seen a growing number of contributions proposing improvements or new techniques in smFRET data analysis, rarely have those publications been accompanied by software implementation. In particular, despite the widespread application of smFRET, no complete software package for smFRET burst analysis is freely available to date. In this paper, we introduce FRETBursts, an open source software for analysis of freely-diffusing smFRET data. FRETBursts allows executing all the fundamental steps of smFRET bursts analysis using state-of-the-art as well as novel techniques, while providing an open, robust and well-documented implementation. Therefore, FRETBursts represents an ideal platform for comparison and development of new methods in burst analysis. We employ modern software engineering principles in order to minimize bugs and facilitate long-term maintainability. Furthermore, we place a strong focus on reproducibility by relying on Jupyter notebooks for FRETBursts execution. Notebooks are executable documents capturing all the steps of the analysis (including data files, input parameters, and results) and can be easily shared to replicate complete smFRET analyzes. Notebooks allow beginners to execute complex workflows and advanced users to customize the analysis for their own needs. By bundling analysis description, code and results in a single document, FRETBursts allows to seamless share analysis workflows and results, encourages reproducibility and facilitates collaboration among researchers in the single-molecule community.