OptoREACT: Optogenetic Receptor Activation on Nonengineered Human T Cells

Optogenetics is a versatile and powerful tool for the control and analysis of cellular signaling processes. The activation of cellular receptors by light using optogenetic switches usually requires genetic manipulation of cells. However, this considerably limits the application in primary, nonengineered cells, which is crucial for the study of physiological signaling processes and for controlling cell fate and function for therapeutic purposes. To overcome this limitation, we developed a system for the light-dependent extracellular activation of cell surface receptors of nonengineered cells termed OptoREACT (Optogenetic Receptor Activation) based on the light-dependent protein interaction of A. thaliana phytochrome B (PhyB) with PIF6. In the OptoREACT system, a PIF6-coupled antibody fragment binds the T cell receptor (TCR) of Jurkat or primary human T cells, which upon illumination is bound by clustered phytochrome B to induce receptor oligomerization and activation. For clustering of PhyB, we either used tetramerization by streptavidin or immobilized PhyB on the surface of cells to emulate the interaction of a T cell with an antigen-presenting cell. We anticipate that this extracellular optogenetic approach will be applicable for the light-controlled activation of further cell surface receptors in primary, nonengineered cells for versatile applications in fundamental and applied research.