Blue-light photoreceptors play a pivotal role in detecting the quality and quantity of light in the environment, controlling a wide range of biological responses. Several families of blue-light photoreceptors have been characterized in detail using biophysics and biochemistry, beginning with photon absorption, through intervening signal transduction, to regulation of biological activities. Here we review the light oxygen voltage, cryptochrome, and sensors of blue light using FAD families, three different groups of proteins that offer distinctly different modes of photochemical activation and signal transduction yet play similar roles in a vast array of biological responses. We cover mechanisms of light activation and propagation of conformational responses that modulate protein-protein interactions involved in biological signaling. Discovery and characterization of these processes in natural proteins are now allowing the design of photoregulatable engineered proteins, facilitating the generation of novel reagents for biochemical and cell biological research.
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