In the ground state of the highly conjugated green fluorescent protein (GFP), the chromophore should be planar. However, numerous crystal structures of GFP and GFP-like proteins have been reported with slightly twisted chromophores. We have previously shown that the protein cavity surrounding the chromophore in wild-type GFP is not complementary with a planar chromophore. This study shows that the crystal structure of wild-type GFP is not an anomaly: most of the GFP and GFP-like proteins in the protein databank have a protein matrix that is not complementary with a planar chromophore. When the π-conjugation across the ethylenic bridge of the chromophore is removed the protein matrix will significantly twist the freely rotating chromophore from the relatively planar structures found in the crystal structures. The possible consequences of this nonplanar deformation on the photophysics of GFP are discussed. A volume analysis of the cis-trans-isomerization of HBDI, a GFP chromophore model compound, reveals that its hula-twist motion is volume conserving. This means that, if the GFP chromophore or GFP chromophore model compounds undergo a cis-trans-isomerization in a volume-constricting medium, such as a protein matrix or viscous liquid, it will probably isomerize by means of a HT–type motion.
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Vol. 82 • No. 2