Electron transfer pathways in a light, oxygen, voltage (LOV) protein devoid of the photoactive cysteine
Blue-light absorption by the flavin chromophore in light, oxygen, voltage (LOV) photoreceptors triggers photochemical reactions that lead to the formation of a flavin-cysteine adduct. While it has long been assumed that adduct formation is essential for signaling, it was recently shown that LOV photoreceptor variants devoid of the photoactive cysteine can elicit a functional response and that flavin photoreduction to the neutral semiquinone radical is sufficient for signal transduction. Currently, the mechanistic basis of the underlying electron- (eT) and proton-transfer (pT) reactions is not well understood. We here reengineered pT into the naturally not photoreducible iLOV protein, a fluorescent reporter protein derived from the Arabidopsis thaliana phototropin-2 LOV2 domain. A single amino-acid substitution (Q489D) enabled efficient photoreduction, suggesting that an eT pathway is naturally present in the protein. By using a combination of site-directed mutagenesis, steady-state UV/Vis, transient absorption and electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy, we investigate the underlying eT and pT reactions. Our study provides strong evidence that several Tyr and Trp residues, highly conserved in all LOV proteins, constitute the eT pathway for flavin photoreduction, suggesting that the propensity for photoreduction is evolutionary imprinted in all LOV domains, while efficient pT is needed to stabilize the neutral semiquinone radical.