The ability to monitor proteolytic pathways that remove unwanted and damaged proteins from cells is essential for understanding the multiple processes used to maintain cellular homeostasis. In this study, we have developed a new protein-labeling probe that employs an 'OFF-ON-OFF' fluorescence switch to enable real-time imaging of the expression (fluorescence ON) and degradation (fluorescence OFF) of PYP-tagged protein constructs in living cells. Fluorescence switching is modulated by intramolecular contact quenching interactions in the unbound probe (fluorescence OFF) being disrupted upon binding to the PYP-tag protein, which turns fluorescence ON. Quenching is then restored when the PYP-tag-probe complex undergoes proteolytic degradation, which results in fluorescence being turned OFF. Optimization of probe structures and PYP-tag mutants has enabled this fast reacting 'OFF-ON-OFF' probe to be used to fluorescently image the expression and degradation of short-lived proteins.
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