Rationally designed azobenzene photoswitches for efficient two-photon neuronal excitation

G. Cabre, A. Garrido-Charles, M. Moreno, M. Bosch, M. Porta-de-la-Riva, M. Krieg, M. Gascon-Moya, N. Camarero, R. Gelabert, J.-M. Lluch, F. Busque, J. Hernando, P. Gorostiza, R. Alibes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


© 2019, The Author(s). Manipulation of neuronal activity using two-photon excitation of azobenzene photoswitches with near-infrared light has been recently demonstrated, but their practical use in neuronal tissue to photostimulate individual neurons with three-dimensional precision has been hampered by firstly, the low efficacy and reliability of NIR-induced azobenzene photoisomerization compared to one-photon excitation, and secondly, the short cis state lifetime of the two-photon responsive azo switches. Here we report the rational design based on theoretical calculations and the synthesis of azobenzene photoswitches endowed with both high two-photon absorption cross section and slow thermal back-isomerization. These compounds provide optimized and sustained two-photon neuronal stimulation both in light-scattering brain tissue and in Caenorhabditis elegans nematodes, displaying photoresponse intensities that are comparable to those achieved under one-photon excitation. This finding opens the way to use both genetically targeted and pharmacologically selective azobenzene photoswitches to dissect intact neuronal circuits in three dimensions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number907
Pages (from-to)907
Number of pages12
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 22 Feb 2019


  • Animals
  • Azo Compounds/chemistry
  • Caenorhabditis elegans/physiology
  • Calcium Channels/metabolism
  • Cell Line
  • Computational Biology/methods
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Infrared Rays
  • Neurons/metabolism
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Photochemical Processes
  • Photons

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