Visible Light Control over the Cytolytic Activity of a Toxic Pore-Forming Protein

Jana Volarić, Nieck J. van der Heide, Natalie L. Mutter, Douwe F. Samplonius, Wijnand Helfrich, Giovanni Maglia, Wiktor Szymanski, Ben L. Feringa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Enabling control over the bioactivity of proteins with light, along with the principles of photopharmacology, has the potential to generate safe and targeted medical treatments. Installing light sensitivity in a protein can be achieved through its covalent modification with a molecular photoswitch. The general challenge in this approach is the need for the use of low energy visible light for the regulation of bioactivity. In this study, we report visible light control over the cytolytic activity of a protein. A water-soluble visible-light-operated tetra-ortho-fluoro-azobenzene photoswitch was synthesized by utilizing the nucleophilic aromatic substitution reaction for installing a solubilizing sulfonate group onto the electron-poor photoswitch structure. The azobenzene was attached to two cysteine mutants of the pore-forming protein fragaceatoxin C (FraC), and their respective activities were evaluated on red blood cells. For both mutants, the green-light-irradiated sample, containing predominantly the cis-azobenzene isomer, was more active compared to the blue-light-irradiated sample. Ultimately, the same modulation of the cytolytic activity pattern was observed toward a hypopharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma. These results constitute the first case of using low energy visible light to control the biological activity of a toxic protein.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)451-461
Number of pages11
JournalACS Chemical Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 6 Feb 2024

Research Field

  • Molecular Diagnostics


  • Proteins/metabolism
  • Porins/metabolism
  • Azo Compounds/toxicity
  • Humans
  • Light
  • Isomerism
  • Uv
  • Azobenzene photoswitches
  • Photopharmacology
  • Purification
  • Optical control
  • Red
  • Sphingomyelin
  • Fluoroazobenzenes
  • In-vivo
  • Fragaceatoxin c


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