Staff member


Meritxell Serra Casablancas

Research Assistant
Smart Nano-Bio-Devices
mserra@ibecbarcelona.eu

Staff member publications

Light-regulated drugs allow remotely photoswitching biological activity and enable plausible therapies based on small molecules. However, only freely diffusible photochromic ligands have been shown to work directly in endogenous receptors and methods for covalent attachment depend on genetic manipulation. Here we introduce a chemical strategy to covalently conjugate and photoswitch the activity of endogenous proteins and demonstrate its application to the kainate receptor channel GluK1. The approach is based on photoswitchable ligands containing a short-lived, highly reactive anchoring group that is targeted at the protein of interest by ligand affinity. These targeted covalent photoswitches (TCPs) constitute a new class of light-regulated drugs and act as prosthetic molecules that photocontrol the activity of GluK1-expressing neurons, and restore photoresponses in degenerated retina. The modularity of TCPs enables the application to different ligands and opens the way to new therapeutic opportunities.


A new azobenzene-based photoswitch, 2, has been designed to enable optical control of ionotropic glutamate receptors in neurons via sensitized two-photon excitation with NIR light. In order to develop an efficient and versatile synthetic route for this molecule, a modular strategy is described which relies on the use of a new linear fully protected glutamate derivative stable in basic media. The resulting compound undergoes one-photon trans-cis photoisomerization via two different mechanisms: direct excitation of its azoaromatic unit, and irradiation of the pyrene sensitizer, a well known two-photon sensitive chromophore. Moreover, 2 presents large thermal stability of its cis isomer, in contrast to other two-photon responsive switches relying on the intrinsic non-linear optical properties of push-pull substituted azobenzenes. As a result, the molecular system developed herein is a very promising candidate for evoking large photoinduced biological responses during the multiphoton operation of neuronal glutamate receptors with NIR light, which require accumulation of the protein-bound cis state of the switch upon repeated illumination. A new azobenzene-based photoswitch, 2, has been designed to enable optical control of ionotropic glutamate receptors in neurons via sensitized two-photon excitation with NIR light. In order to develop an efficient and versatile synthetic route for this molecule, a modular strategy is described which relies on the use of a new linear fully protected glutamate derivative stable in basic media. The resulting compound undergoes one-photon trans-cis photoisomerization via two different mechanisms: direct excitation of its azoaromatic unit, and irradiation of the pyrene sensitizer, a well known two-photon sensitive chromophore. Moreover, 2 presents large thermal stability of its cis isomer, in contrast to other two-photon responsive switches relying on the intrinsic non-linear optical properties of push-pull substituted azobenzenes. As a result, the molecular system developed herein is a very promising candidate for evoking large photoinduced biological responses during the multiphoton operation of neuronal glutamate receptors with NIR light, which require accumulation of the protein-bound cis state of the switch upon repeated illumination.


Synthetic photochromic compounds can be designed to control a variety of proteins and their biochemical functions in living cells, but the high spatiotemporal precision and tissue penetration of two-photon stimulation has never been investigated in these molecules. Here we demonstrate two-photon excitation of azobenzene-based protein switches, and versatile strategies to enhance their photochemical responses. This enables new applications to control the activation of neurons and astrocytes with cellular and subcellular resolution.


The development of photochromic and photoswitchable ligands for ion channels and receptors has made important contributions to optopharmacology and optogenetic pharmacology. These compounds provide new tools to study ion channel proteins and to understand their function and pathological implications. Here, we describe the design, operation, and applications of the available photoswitches, with special emphasis on ligand- and voltage-gated channels.