Optogenetic Approaches for the Spatiotemporal Control of Signal Transduction Pathways

Int J Mol Sci. 2021 May 18;22(10):5300. doi: 10.3390/ijms22105300.


Biological signals are sensed by their respective receptors and are transduced and processed by a sophisticated intracellular signaling network leading to a signal-specific cellular response. Thereby, the response to the signal depends on the strength, the frequency, and the duration of the stimulus as well as on the subcellular signal progression. Optogenetic tools are based on genetically encoded light-sensing proteins facilitating the precise spatiotemporal control of signal transduction pathways and cell fate decisions in the absence of natural ligands. In this review, we provide an overview of optogenetic approaches connecting light-regulated protein-protein interaction or caging/uncaging events with steering the function of signaling proteins. We briefly discuss the most common optogenetic switches and their mode of action. The main part deals with the engineering and application of optogenetic tools for the control of transmembrane receptors including receptor tyrosine kinases, the T cell receptor and integrins, and their effector proteins. We also address the hallmarks of optogenetics, the spatial and temporal control of signaling events.

Keywords: control of function; optogenetics; signal transduction.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Communication / physiology
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology
  • Humans
  • Integrins / metabolism
  • Light
  • Optogenetics / methods*
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / genetics*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Integrins
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases