Molecules. 2023 Aug 18;28(16):6121. doi: 10.3390/molecules28166121.
Phytochromes are bistable red/far-red light-responsive photoreceptor proteins found in plants, fungi, and bacteria. Light-activation of the prototypical phytochrome Cph1 from the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 allows photoisomerization of the bilin chromophore in the photosensory module and a subsequent series of intermediate states leading from the red absorbing Pr to the far-red-absorbing Pfr state. We show here via osmotic and hydrostatic pressure-based measurements that hydration of the photoreceptor modulates the photoconversion kinetics in a controlled manner. While small osmolytes like sucrose accelerate Pfr formation, large polymer osmolytes like PEG 4000 delay the formation of Pfr. Thus, we hypothesize that an influx of mobile water into the photosensory domain is necessary for proceeding to the Pfr state. We suggest that protein hydration changes are a molecular event that occurs during photoconversion to Pfr, in addition to light activation, ultrafast electric field changes, photoisomerization, proton release and uptake, and the major conformational change leading to signal transmission, or simultaneously with one of these events. Moreover, we discuss this finding in light of the use of Cph1-PGP as a hydration sensor, e.g., for the characterization of novel hydrogel biomaterials.