Chemical modification of proteins at cysteine: opportunities in chemistry and biology

Chem Asian J. 2009 May 4;4(5):630-40. doi: 10.1002/asia.200800427.


Chemical modification of proteins is a rapidly expanding area in chemical biology. Selective installation of biochemical probes has led to a better understanding of natural protein modification and macromolecular function. In other cases such chemical alterations have changed the protein function entirely. Additionally, tethering therapeutic cargo to proteins has proven invaluable in campaigns against disease. For controlled, selective access to such modified proteins, a unique chemical handle is required. Cysteine, with its unique reactivity, has long been used for such modifications. Cysteine has enjoyed widespread use in selective protein modification, yet new applications and even new reactions continue to emerge. This Focus Review highlights the enduring utility of cysteine in protein modification with special focus on recent innovations in chemistry and biology associated with such modifications.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alkylation
  • Cysteine / chemistry*
  • Cysteine / metabolism
  • Disulfides / chemistry
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Proteins / metabolism


  • Disulfides
  • Proteins
  • Cysteine