Neuroscience and Photopharmacology

Neuroscience is one of the most exciting areas of research and synthetic chemistry can contribute much to its further development. Until recently, the molecular basis of neuronal activity was relatively little understood. With the emergence of numerous X-ray crystal structures of ion channels and G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs), this situation has changed dramatically and systems can now be rationally designed that were out of reach a few years ago. Our current focus lies on the functional manipulation of endogenous ion channels and GPCRs with synthetic photoswitches, usually azobenzenes. The artificial photoreceptors so obtained can be inserted into neurons and other cell types and can be used to control various biological pathways with light (Photopharmacology). One of our major biological goals is the restoration of vision in the blind using synthetic photoswitches.

The reach of photopharmacology, however, will go well beyond applications in neuroscience and sensory physiology. It is already clear that this approach is particular useful to controlling the highly dynamic systems that underlie cell motility, cell division and (unwanted) proliferation. As such, photopharmacology provides powerful tools for cell biology and could open a new direction in targeted cancer chemotherapy.

A recent "Chemistry and Industry" article on photopharmacology: C&I-2015