The secret of Trauner's light-sensitive switches lies in their chemical structure. The agents synthesized in his laboratory all contain a characteristic chemical double bond at a specific position, which enables their shape to be altered by light. In effect, these molecules can be flipped from a bent to an extended form, and back again, depending on the wavelength of light used. Trauner explains the advantages of the method as follows: "The properties of light can be very precisely manipulated, so that we can modulate the state of the cells in a defined fashion. Furthermore, the reaction is fully reversible."
"The ability to control the functional states of opioid receptors is of particular interest because they belong to the large family of so-called G-protein-coupled transmembrane receptors (GPCRs), which make up a large fraction of the proteins targeted by pharmaceutical agents," says Matthias Schnberger, first author of the new study. "The capacity to regulate an opioid receptor by means of light will make it possible to obtain new insights into the mode of action of this eminently important class of receptors, and could offer a route to novel treatments of chronic pain syndromes," he adds.
Bypassing damaged retinal cells
The light-sensitive photoreceptors made by the rod and cone cells in the retina also belong to the GPCR class. Moreover, they are the only GPCRs that are intrinsically sensitive to light. Functional damage to these photoreceptors, or pathological loss of the cells that bear them, results in inability to register light impinging on the retina and is responsible
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