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J Biol Chem. 1990 Nov 25;265(33):20335-45.

A calcium-sensitive fluorescent analog of calmodulin based on a novel calmodulin-binding fluorophore.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213.


Structure-activity studies of tetramethinemerocyanine fluorophores enabled the synthesis of novel dyes which showed spectral changes during reversible, calcium-dependent association with calmodulin. These spectral changes were greatly enhanced in dyes with a quaternary nitrogen and specifically placed hydrophobic chains. One such dye was covalently attached to calmodulin, producing a calmodulin analog with calcium-sensitive fluorescence. The analog, MeroCaM, showed a calcium-induced 3.4-fold increase in excitation ratio (608/532 nm excitation, 623 nm emission), which was fully reversed by lowering free calcium levels. MeroCaM's excitation ratio showed a half-maximal change at 300-400 nM calcium, below calcium concentrations reported to produce half-maximal saturation of calcium-calmodulin binding. However, the calcium dependence of MeroCaM's phosphodiesterase activation paralleled that of calmodulin. MeroCaM's fluorescence changes therefore appear to reflect primarily calcium binding to high affinity sites. MeroCaM's maximal phosphodiesterase activation was 30-40% that of calmodulin. In myosin light chain kinase activation, MeroCaM and calmodulin displayed indistinguishable maximal activation levels and concentration dependence of activation. Changes in MeroCaM's calcium affinity induced by magnesium, phosphodiesterase, and melittin were similar to those reported for calmodulin. Experiments with melittin revealed that target protein interaction could alter the fluorescence changes produced by calcium binding. MeroCaM showed promising brightness and photostability when imaged in individual living fibroblasts. The long excitation and emission wavelengths of MeroCaM, and the strong dependence of its excitation ratio on calcium concentrations, suit it well for use as a probe of calmodulin-dependent calcium signaling in living cells, as well as for experiments in vitro.

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