Photoactivated Protein Degrader for Optical Control of Synaptic Function

Tongil Ko, Claudia Jou, Alejandro B. Grau-Perales, Martin Reynders, André A. Fenton, Dirk Trauner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Hundreds of proteins determine the function of synapses, and synapses define the neuronal circuits that subserve myriad brain, cognitive, and behavioral functions. It is thus necessary to precisely manipulate specific proteins at specific sub-cellular locations and times to elucidate the roles of particular proteins and synapses in brain function. We developed PHOtochemically TArgeting Chimeras (PHOTACs) as a strategy to optically degrade specific proteins with high spatial and temporal precision. PHOTACs are small molecules that, upon wavelength-selective illumination, catalyze ubiquitylation and degradation of target proteins through endogenous proteasomes. Here, we describe the design and chemical properties of a PHOTAC that targets Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II alpha (CaMKIIα), which is abundant and crucial for the baseline synaptic function of excitatory neurons. We validate the PHOTAC strategy, showing that the CaMKIIα-PHOTAC is effective in mouse brain tissue. Light activation of CaMKIIα-PHOTAC removed CaMKIIα from regions of the mouse hippocampus only within 25 μm of the illuminated brain surface. The optically controlled degradation decreases synaptic function within minutes of light activation, measured by the light-initiated attenuation of evoked field excitatory postsynaptic potential (fEPSP) responses to physiological stimulation. The PHOTACs methodology should be broadly applicable to other key proteins implicated in synaptic function, especially for evaluating their precise roles in the maintenance of long-term potentiation and memory within subcellular dendritic domains.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3704-3713
Number of pages10
JournalACS Chemical Neuroscience
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 4 2023


  • electrophysiology
  • immunohistochemistry
  • protein homeostasis
  • synaptic function

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cell Biology


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