Neuronal firing modulation by a membrane-targeted photoswitch

Nat Nanotechnol. 2020 Apr;15(4):296-306. doi: 10.1038/s41565-019-0632-6. Epub 2020 Feb 3.


Optical technologies allowing modulation of neuronal activity at high spatio-temporal resolution are becoming paramount in neuroscience. In this respect, azobenzene-based photoswitches are promising nanoscale tools for neuronal photostimulation. Here we engineered a light-sensitive azobenzene compound (Ziapin2) that stably partitions into the plasma membrane and causes its thinning through trans-dimerization in the dark, resulting in an increased membrane capacitance at steady state. We demonstrated that in neurons loaded with the compound, millisecond pulses of visible light induce a transient hyperpolarization followed by a delayed depolarization that triggers action potential firing. These effects are persistent and can be evoked in vivo up to 7 days, proving the potential of Ziapin2 for the modulation of membrane capacitance in the millisecond timescale, without directly affecting ion channels or local temperature.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials*
  • Animals
  • Azo Compounds / chemical synthesis
  • Azo Compounds / chemistry
  • Azo Compounds / metabolism*
  • Azo Compounds / pharmacology
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism*
  • Hippocampus / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Neurons / metabolism*


  • Azo Compounds
  • azobenzene