AggFluor: Fluorogenic Toolbox Enables Direct Visualization of the Multi-Step Protein Aggregation Process in Live Cells

Charles H. Wolstenholme, Hang Hu, Songtao Ye, Brian E. Funk, Divya Jain, Chia Heng Hsiung, Gang Ning, Yu Liu, Xiaosong Li, Xin Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


Aberrantly processed or mutant proteins misfold and assemble into a variety of soluble oligomers and insoluble aggregates, a process that is associated with an increasing number of diseases that are not curable or manageable. Herein, we present a chemical toolbox, AggFluor, that allows for live cell imaging and differentiation of complex aggregated conformations in live cells. Based on the chromophore core of green fluorescent proteins, AggFluor is comprised of a series of molecular rotor fluorophores that span a wide range of viscosity sensitivity. As a result, these compounds exhibit differential turn-on fluorescence when incorporated in either soluble oligomers or insoluble aggregates. This feature allows us to develop, for the first time, a dual-color imaging strategy to distinguish unfolded protein oligomers from insoluble aggregates in live cells. Furthermore, we have demonstrated how small molecule proteostasis regulators can drive formation and disassembly of protein aggregates in both conformational states. In summary, AggFluor is the first set of rationally designed molecular rotor fluorophores that evenly cover a wide range of viscosity sensitivities. This set of fluorescent probes not only change the status quo of current imaging methods to visualize protein aggregation in live cells but also can be generally applied to study other biological processes that involve local viscosity changes with temporal and spatial resolutions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17515-17523
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Issue number41
StatePublished - Oct 14 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Catalysis
  • General Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Colloid and Surface Chemistry


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