Photochemical Methods Applied to DNA Encoded Library (DEL) Synthesis

Bianca Matsuo, Albert Granados, Guillaume Levitre, Gary A. Molander

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


DNA-encoded library technology (DELT) is a new screening modality that allows efficient, cost-effective, and rapid identification of small molecules with potential biological activity. This emerging technique represents an enormous advancement that, in combination with other technologies such as high-throughput screening (HTS), fragment-based lead generation, and structure-based drug design, has the potential to transform how drug discovery is carried out. DELT is a hybrid technique in which chemically synthesized compounds are linked to unique genetic tags (or “barcodes”) that contain readable information. In this way, millions to billions of building blocks (BBs) attached on-DNA via split-and-pool synthesis can be evaluated against a biological target in a single experiment. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification and next-generation sequencing (NGS) analysis of the unique sequence of oligonucleotides in the DNA tag are used to identify those ligands with high affinity for the target. This innovative fusion of genetic and chemical technologies was conceived in 1992 by Brenner and Lerner (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 1992, 89, 5381–5383) and is under accelerated development with the implementation of new synthetic techniques and protocols that are compatible with DNA. In fact, reaction compatibility is a key parameter to increasing the chances of identification of a drug target ligand, and a central focus has been the development of new transformations and the transition to robust protocols for on-DNA synthesis. Because the sole use of the DNA tag is as an amplifiable identification barcode, its structural integrity during a new chemical process is mandatory. As such, the use of these sensitive, polyfunctional biological molecules as substrates typically requires aqueous solutions within defined pH and temperature ranges, which is considered a notable challenge in DEL synthesis.
Using low-energy visible light as the driving force to promote chemical transformations represents an attractive alternative to classical synthetic methods, and it is an important and well-established synthetic tool for forging chemical bonds in a unique way via radical intermediates. Recent advances in the field of photocatalysis are extraordinary, and this powerful research arena is still under continuous development. Several applications taking advantage of the mild reaction conditions of photoinduced transformations have been directed toward DEL synthesis, allowing the expansion of chemical space available for the evaluation of new building blocks on-DNA. There are no doubts that visible-light-driven reactions have become one of the most powerful approaches for DELT, given the easy way they provide to construct new bonds and the challenges to achieve equal success via classical protocols.
Key characteristics of photocatalytic synthesis include the short reaction times and efficiency, which translate into retention of DNA integrity. In this Account, we describe recent advances in the photoinduced diversification of building blocks prepared on-DNA, highlighting the amenability of the techniques employed for preserving the genetic structure of the molecules. We demonstrate with recent research from our group the applicability of photocatalysis to the field and include in the summary a table containing all the photoinduced methods reported to date for DELT, demonstrating their key aspects such as scope, applications, and DNA compatibilities. With this information, practitioners are provided with compelling reasons for developing/choosing photocatalytic methods for DELT applications.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)385-401
Number of pages17
JournalAccounts of Chemical Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 7 Feb 2023


  • DNA/chemistry
  • Drug Design
  • Drug Discovery
  • High-Throughput Screening Assays
  • Oligonucleotides


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