As the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is the compartment where disulfide bridges in secreted and cell surface proteins are formed, the disturbance of its redox state has profound consequences, yet regulation of ER redox potential remains poorly understood. To monitor the ER redox state in live cells, several fluorescence-based sensors have been developed. However, these sensors have yielded results that are inconsistent with each other and with earlier non-fluorescence-based studies. One particular green fluorescent protein (GFP)-based redox sensor, roGFP1-iL, could detect oxidizing changes in the ER despite having a reduction potential significantly lower than that previously reported for the ER. We have confirmed these observations and determined the mechanisms by which roGFP1-iL detects oxidizing changes. First, glutathione mediates the formation of disulfide-bonded roGFP1-iL dimers with an intermediate excitation fluorescence spectrum resembling a mixture of oxidized and reduced monomers. Second, glutathione facilitates dimerization of roGFP1-iL, which shifted the equilibrium from oxidized monomers to dimers, thereby increasing the molecule's reduction potential compared with that of a dithiol redox buffer. We conclude that the glutathione redox couple in the ER significantly increased the reduction potential of roGFP1-iL in vivo by facilitating its dimerization while preserving its ratiometric nature, which makes it suitable for monitoring oxidizing and reducing changes in the ER with a high degree of reliability in real time. The ability of roGFP1-iL to detect both oxidizing and reducing changes in ER and its dynamic response in glutathione redox buffer between approximately -190 and -130 mV in vitro suggests a range of ER redox potentials consistent with those determined by earlier approaches that did not involve fluorescent sensors.
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