FRET-based screening for potential modulators of the Gαi1 protein/GoLoco interaction

Stephanie Q. Hutsell Adam J. Kimple David P. Siderovski University of North Carolina 09/2009
  • CFP-YFP FRET based assay utilized to screen for potential inhibitors of Gαi1/GoLoco interaction
  • Inhibitors of the G protein/GoLoco protein interaction are putative pharmacological tools
  • The POLARstar® Omega allows for fast screening and easy data evaluation

Table of contents


Many extracellular signals, including hormones, neurotransmitters, and growth factors, are relayed intracellularly by binding the extracellular portion of a seven-transmembrane domain (7TM) receptor that is coupled to an intracellular heterotrimeric G protein. The stimulated G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) propagates the extracellular signal through activation  of the alpha subunit of heterotrimeric G proteins (Gα), which occurs when Gα exchanges GDP for GTP. The Gα subunit is also modulated by a family of proteins containing the GoLoco motif, which serves to inhibit the exchange of GDP for GTP by the Gα subunit. The G protein/GoLoco interaction is therefore an attractive pharmacological target because it serves as a point  of regulation for downstream GPCR signaling.


Presently, no small molecule inhibitors of the Gα/GoLoco interaction are available for study. Although there is currently a lack of inhibitors for this recently discovered class of proteins, the potential applications of a GoLoco inhibitor are significant. Combining existing GPCR agonists with specific GoLoco motif inhibitors  could synergistically increase the specificity of existing drugs and serve as useful chemical probes.

To identify and assess potential modulators of the  Gα/GoLoco interaction, putative inhibitors were screened in a FRET (Fluorescence/Förster Resonance Energy Transfer) assay using BMG LABTECH’s POLARstar Omega.

Assay Principle

The ground state Gαi1 binds GDP. The GoLoco motif selectively recognizes Gαi1 (GDP) and binds with  nanomolar affinity. In a FRET-based assay which measures the Gα/GoLoco interaction, the FRET partners CFP-Gαi1·GDP and YFP-GoLoco yield a significantly increased (530/485 nm) FRET ratio when bound to  each other than when compared with the non-interacting state of CFP-Gαi1 (as formed using aluminum tetrafluoride which mimics the transition state for GTP hydrolysis).

An inhibitor of this interaction could possibly perturb  or displace the nucleotide from the Gα binding pocket or it could occlude the GoLoco motif binding surface, thus preventing the protein/protein interaction. When Gα and GoLoco are no longer interacting, the (530/485 nm) FRET ratio decreases (Figure 1).

Materials & Methods

  • Black polystyrene 96-well plates, Corning
  • YFP: amino acids 1-237 of pEYFP-C1 open reading  frame (ORF), BD Biosciences Clontech
  • CFP: amino acids 1-239 of pECFP-C1 ORF, BD Biosciences Clontech
  • POLARstar Omega, BMG LABTECH


The RGS12 Gα·GDP binding region (GoLoco motif, aa 1187-1221) was produced as a fluorescent chimera with the yellow fluorescent protein (YFP). Compounds were titrated into an optimized concentration of YFP-RGS12GoLoco and cyan fluorescent protein labeled Gαi1(CFP Gαi1) to confirm inhibitor activity. Ground state Gαi1 is GDP bound and the GoLoco motif binds readily, thus producing a higher emission ratio in the FRET assay from the non-directly excited fluorophore. In the mimicked GTP hydrolysis transition state, created by the binding of aluminum tetrafluoride (denoted AMF), the Gαi1/GoLoco interaction does not occur. This is evident by the decrease  in the observed FRET ratio of non-directly excited fluorophore emission versus directly excited fluorophore emission.

For FRET measurements, the POLARstar Omega was used with filters optimized for CFP/YFP FRET. Excitation filter with wavelength at 422 nm and dual emission wavelength filters at 530 nm and 485 nm were used. Instrument settings can be found below.

Instrument settings 


Positioning delay: 0.2 sec
Measurement start time: 0.0 sec
No. of flashes per well: 10
No. of multichromatics: 1


Simultaneous dual emission activated (only sequential measurements available on CLARIOstar and FLUOstar Omega)


Excitation filter: 422 nm
Emission A filter: 530 nm
Emission B filter: 485 nm



The FRET pair (100 nM CFP-Gαi1 and 100 nM YFP-RGS12GoLoco) in either buffer (GDP or AMF buffer) was aliquotted in duplicate 60 mL volumes with increasing concentrations of non-labeled competitor. The plate was read immediately and the FRET ratio (530/485) determined using the MARS Data Analysis Software.

GDP Buffer: 10 mM Hepes pH 7.4, 150 mM NaCl,  0.0005 % NP40 alternative, 100 mM GDP, 50 mM EDTA


AMF Buffer: 10 mM Hepes pH 7.4, 150 mM NaCl, 0.0005 % NP40 alternative, 100 mM GDP, 50 mM EDTA, 10 mM MgCl2, 10 mM NaF, 30 mM AlCl3

Results & Discussion

The G-protein/GoLoco interaction is dependent on the nucleotide bound state of the G-protein. The interaction occurs with the GDP bound state of the G-protein, but not in the GTP hydrolysis-mimicking state (AMF). Figure 2 shows the FRET ratio obtained in both buffers for different concentrations of unlabeled competitor Gαi1.

A Z’ value of 0.853 was obtained when the reaction volume was at 60 μL. The assay system also demonstrated a robust tolerance to DMSO (up to 5%), a commonly used solvent for small molecule screening (Figure 3). 

The CFP/YFP FRET based assay is a robust assay and was used in a medium-throughput small molecule screen of 57 compounds (Figure 4).


The results show that the CFP-YFP FRET based assay is a robust assay that tolerates DMSO in concentrations often used to dissolve small molecules. A very good Z’ value of 0.853 in a low volume of only 60 μL shows the potential to perform the assay in 384-well format. The POLARstar Omega proved to be a reliable and robust instrument to perform these FRET-based measurements. With the MARS Data Analysis Software, the FRET ratio and Z’ value are automatically calculated providing fast and efficient evaluation.