Designing azobenzene-based tools for controlling neurotransmission

Curr Opin Struct Biol. 2019 Aug;57:23-30. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2019 Feb 28.


Chemical and electrical signaling at the synapse is a dynamic process that is crucial to neurotransmission and pathology. Traditional pharmacotherapy has found countless applications in both academic labs and the clinic; however, diffusible drugs lack spatial and temporal precision when employed in heterogeneous tissues such as the brain. In the field of photopharmacology, chemical attachment of a synthetic photoswitch to a bioactive ligand allows cellular signaling to be controlled with light. Azobenzenes have remained the go-to photoswitch for biological applications due to their tunable photophysical properties, and can be leveraged to achieve reversible optical control of numerous receptors and ion channels. Here, we discuss the most recent advances in photopharmacology which will improve the use of azobenzene-based probes for neuroscience applications.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Azo Compounds* / metabolism
  • Drug Design*
  • Light
  • Molecular Probes* / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / radiation effects
  • Synaptic Transmission* / radiation effects


  • Azo Compounds
  • Molecular Probes
  • azobenzene