Cell surface FP brightness

When doing the Green FPs in HEK 293T cells experiment, we noticed how the same fluorescent protein, EGFP, could have vastly different brightness depending on the construct we were using.

Put another way, cytoplasmic EGFP gave us really high green fluorescence intensity, but a different construct wherein that same EGFP sequence was preceded by a signal sequence (thus causing it to become a secreted / extracellular protein), and succeeded by a transmembrane domain (thus causing the extracellular EGFP molecule to be anchored to the plasma membrane) gave us cells that were roughly 30 to 100-fold less bright. The amount of fluorescence of the transmembrane version was further susceptible to other sequence considerations; for example, addition of a his tag right after the signal sequence (such that the his tag is the most distal sequence on the protein, with the tag flapping around as part of a flexible N-terminus), resulted in a ~ 3-fold reduction in fluorescence as compared to an untagged version. My guess is that this repetitive, pseudo-charged region was interfering with efficient translation into the rough ER, but who knows.

Still, how do I explain this result? Well, I have no evidence-supported answer, but my guess is that it’s about translation process bandwidth and overall real-estate. I’m guessing that cytoplasmic translation and accumulation has pretty high bandwidth, where there are plenty of ribosomes to translate cytoplasmic protein, and there’s plenty of space to accommodate them. In contrast, I’m assuming there are comparatively fewer ribosomes capable of translating transmembrane proteins at the rough ER, and that the overall real-estate on cell-associated membranes (particularly in the vesicular pathway leading up to and including the plasma membrane) is also less (while an imperfect approximation, I’m thinking of it kind of like a difference in surface area or volume of a sphere, type of thing). Although who knows; maybe that’s all incorrect, and it’s more about the signal sequence (possibly from CD8?) and the transmembrane domaine sequence (seemingly from PDGFR-beta) that I used.

Edit 1: Although again, I need to keep reminding myself. Since these are cell surface proteins on adherent cells, some of the reduced signal with the transmembrane protein may be due to some proportion of proteins getting cleaved off the cells during routine trypsinization. I’ve talked to Olivia about trying a side-by-side experiment of resuspending the cells with trypsinization or Versene with gentle agitation. Stay tuned to see if I need to update the above plot or not!