Structure 29 (2) 151-160.e3 [2021-02-04; online 2020-09-10]
Phytochrome proteins guide the red/far-red photoresponse of plants, fungi, and bacteria. Crystal structures suggest that the mechanism of signal transduction from the chromophore to the output domains involves refolding of the so-called PHY tongue. It is currently not clear how the two other notable structural features of the phytochrome superfamily, the so-called helical spine and a knot in the peptide chain, are involved in photoconversion. Here, we present solution NMR data of the complete photosensory core module from Deinococcus radiodurans. Photoswitching between the resting and the active states induces changes in amide chemical shifts, residual dipolar couplings, and relaxation dynamics. All observables indicate a photoinduced structural change in the knot region and lower part of the helical spine. This implies that a conformational signal is transduced from the chromophore to the helical spine through the PAS and GAF domains. The discovered pathway underpins functional studies of plant phytochromes and may explain photosensing by phytochromes under biological conditions.