Recent advances in target characterization and identification by photoaffinity probes

Molecules. 2013 Aug 29;18(9):10425-51. doi: 10.3390/molecules180910425.


Target identification of biologically active molecules such as natural products, synthetic small molecules, peptides, and oligonucleotides mainly relies on affinity chromatography, activity-based probes, or photoaffinity labeling (PAL). Amongst them, activity-based probes and PAL have offered great advantages in target identification technology due to their ability to form covalent bonds with the corresponding targets. Activity-based probe technology mainly relies on the chemical reactivity of the target proteins, thereby limiting the majority of the biological targets to enzymes or proteins which display reactive residues at the probe-binding site. In general, the probes should bear a reactive moiety such as an epoxide, a Michael acceptor, or a reactive alkyl halide in their structures. On the other hand, photoaffinity probes (PAPs) are composed of a target-specific ligand and a photoactivatable functional group. When bound to the corresponding target proteins and activated with wavelength-specific light, PAPs generate highly reactive chemical species that covalently cross-link proximal amino acid residues. This process is better known as PAL and is widely employed to identify cellular targets of biologically active molecules. This review highlights recent advances in target identification by PAL, with a focus on the structure and chemistry of the photoaffinity probes developed in the recent decade, coupled to the target proteins identified using these probes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Azides / chemistry
  • Benzophenones / chemistry
  • Click Chemistry
  • Cross-Linking Reagents / chemistry
  • Diazonium Compounds / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Photoaffinity Labels / chemistry*
  • Propofol / chemistry
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Pyrimidinones / chemistry
  • Pyrones / chemistry
  • Staining and Labeling


  • Azides
  • Benzophenones
  • Cross-Linking Reagents
  • Diazonium Compounds
  • Photoaffinity Labels
  • Proteins
  • Pyrimidinones
  • Pyrones
  • Propofol