Staff member

Carlo Matera

Staff member publications

Sortino R, Cunquero M, Castro-Olvera G, Gelabert R, Moreno M, Riefolo F, Matera C, Fernàndez-Castillo N, Agnetta L, Decker M, Lluch JM, Hernando J, Loza-Alvarez P, Gorostiza P, (2023). Three-Photon Infrared Stimulation of Endogenous Neuroreceptors in Vivo Angewandte Chemie (International Ed. Print) , e202311181

To interrogate neural circuits and crack their codes, in vivo brain activity imaging must be combined with spatiotemporally precise stimulation in three dimensions using genetic or pharmacological specificity. This challenge requires deep penetration and focusing as provided by infrared light and multiphoton excitation, and has promoted two-photon photopharmacology and optogenetics. However, three-photon brain stimulation in vivo remains to be demonstrated. We report the regulation of neuronal activity in zebrafish larvae by three-photon excitation of a photoswitchable muscarinic agonist at 50 pM, a billion-fold lower concentration than used for uncaging, and with mid-infrared light of 1560 nm, the longest reported photoswitch wavelength. Robust, physiologically relevant photoresponses allow modulating brain activity in wild-type animals with spatiotemporal and pharmacological precision. Computational calculations predict that azobenzene-based ligands have high three-photon absorption cross-section and can be used directly with pulsed infrared light. The expansion of three-photon pharmacology will deeply impact basic neurobiology and neuromodulation phototherapies.© 2023 Wiley-VCH GmbH.

JTD Keywords: Photopharmacology, azobenzene, muscarinic neuromodulation, multiphoton excitation, two-photon lithography and polymerization

Matera, Carlo, Calvé, Pablo, Casadó-Anguera, Verònica, Sortino, Rosalba, Gomila, Alexandre MJ., Moreno, Estefanía, Gener, Thomas, Delgado-Sallent, Cristina, Nebot, Pau, Costazza, Davide, Conde-Berriozabal, Sara, Masana, Mercè, Hernando, Jordi, Casadó, Vicent, Puig, MVictoria, Gorostiza, Pau, (2022). Reversible Photocontrol of Dopaminergic Transmission in Wild-Type Animals International Journal Of Molecular Sciences 23, 10114

Understanding the dopaminergic system is a priority in neurobiology and neuropharmacology. Dopamine receptors are involved in the modulation of fundamental physiological functions, and dysregulation of dopaminergic transmission is associated with major neurological disorders. However, the available tools to dissect the endogenous dopaminergic circuits have limited specificity, reversibility, resolution, or require genetic manipulation. Here, we introduce azodopa, a novel photoswitchable ligand that enables reversible spatiotemporal control of dopaminergic transmission. We demonstrate that azodopa activates D1-like receptors in vitro in a light-dependent manner. Moreover, it enables reversibly photocontrolling zebrafish motility on a timescale of seconds and allows separating the retinal component of dopaminergic neurotransmission. Azodopa increases the overall neural activity in the cortex of anesthetized mice and displays illumination-dependent activity in individual cells. Azodopa is the first photoswitchable dopamine agonist with demonstrated efficacy in wild-type animals and opens the way to remotely controlling dopaminergic neurotransmission for fundamental and therapeutic purposes.

JTD Keywords: azobenzene, behavior, brainwave, d-1, dopamine, gpcr, in vivo electrophysiology, inhibitors, optogenetics, optopharmacology, photochromism, photopharmacology, photoswitch, stimulation, zebrafish, Azobenzene, Receptors, Zebrafish

Castagna R, Maleeva G, Pirovano D, Matera C, Gorostiza P, (2022). Donor-Acceptor Stenhouse Adduct Displaying Reversible Photoswitching in Water and Neuronal Activity Journal Of The American Chemical Society 144, 15595-15602

The interest in the photochromism and functional applications of donor-acceptor Stenhouse adducts (DASAs) soared in recent years owing to their outstanding advantages and flexible design. However, their low solubility and irreversible conversion in aqueous solutions hampered exploring DASAs for biology and medicine. It is notably unknown whether the barbiturate electron acceptor group retains the pharmacological activity of drugs such as phenobarbital, which targets γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)-type A receptors (GABAARs) in the brain. Here, we have developed the model compound DASA-barbital based on a scaffold of red-switching second-generation DASAs, and we demonstrate that it is active in GABAARs and alters the neuronal firing rate in a physiological medium at neutral pH. DASA-barbital can also be reversibly photoswitched in acidic aqueous solutions using cyclodextrin, an approved ingredient of drug formulations. These findings clarify the path toward the biological applications of DASAs and to exploit the versatility displayed in polymers and materials science.

JTD Keywords: behavior, receptor, visible-light, wavelength, Optical control

Garrido-Charles, A, Huet, A, Matera, C, Thirumalai, A, Hernando, J, Llebaria, A, Moser, T, Gorostiza, P, (2022). Fast Photoswitchable Molecular Prosthetics Control Neuronal Activity in the Cochlea Journal Of The American Chemical Society 144, 9229-9239

Artificial control of neuronal activity enables the study of neural circuits and restoration of neural functions. Direct, rapid, and sustained photocontrol of intact neurons could overcome the limitations of established electrical stimulation such as poor selectivity. We have developed fast photoswitchable ligands of glutamate receptors (GluRs) to enable neuronal control in the auditory system. The new photoswitchable ligands induced photocurrents in untransfected neurons upon covalently tethering to endogenous GluRs and activating them reversibly with visible light pulses of a few milliseconds. As a proof of concept of these molecular prostheses, we applied them to the ultrafast synapses of auditory neurons of the cochlea that encode sound and provide auditory input to the brain. This drug-based method afforded the optical stimulation of auditory neurons of adult gerbils at hundreds of hertz without genetic manipulation that would be required for their optogenetic control. This indicates that the new photoswitchable ligands are also applicable to the spatiotemporal control of fast spiking interneurons in the brain.

JTD Keywords: Acid, Azobenzene, Glutamate-receptor, Ion channels, Mechanisms, Nerve, Optical switches, Release, Stimulation

Barbero-Castillo A, Riefolo F, Matera C, Caldas-Martínez S, Mateos-Aparicio P, Weinert JF, Garrido-Charles A, Claro E, Sanchez-Vives MV, Gorostiza P, (2021). Control of Brain State Transitions with a Photoswitchable Muscarinic Agonist Advanced Science 8, e2005027

The ability to control neural activity is essential for research not only in basic neuroscience, as spatiotemporal control of activity is a fundamental experimental tool, but also in clinical neurology for therapeutic brain interventions. Transcranial-magnetic, ultrasound, and alternating/direct current (AC/DC) stimulation are some available means of spatiotemporal controlled neuromodulation. There is also light-mediated control, such as optogenetics, which has revolutionized neuroscience research, yet its clinical translation is hampered by the need for gene manipulation. As a drug-based light-mediated control, the effect of a photoswitchable muscarinic agonist (Phthalimide-Azo-Iper (PAI)) on a brain network is evaluated in this study. First, the conditions to manipulate M2 muscarinic receptors with light in the experimental setup are determined. Next, physiological synchronous emergent cortical activity consisting of slow oscillations-as in slow wave sleep-is transformed into a higher frequency pattern in the cerebral cortex, both in vitro and in vivo, as a consequence of PAI activation with light. These results open the way to study cholinergic neuromodulation and to control spatiotemporal patterns of activity in different brain states, their transitions, and their links to cognition and behavior. The approach can be applied to different organisms and does not require genetic manipulation, which would make it translational to humans.

JTD Keywords: brain states, light-mediated control, muscarinic acetylcholine receptors, neuromodulation, Activation, Alternating/direct currents, Basal forebrain, Brain, Brain states, Clinical research, Clinical translation, Controlled drug delivery, Cortex, Forebrain cholinergic system, Genetic manipulations, Higher frequencies, Hz oscillation, Light‐, Light-mediated control, Mediated control, Muscarinic acetylcholine receptors, Muscarinic agonists, Muscarinic receptor, Neurology, Neuromodulation, Neurons, Noradrenergic modulation, Parvalbumin-positive interneurons, Photopharmacology, Receptor-binding, Slow, Spatiotemporal control, Spatiotemporal patterns

Prischich D, Gomila AMJ, Milla-Navarro S, Sangüesa G, Diez-Alarcia R, Preda B, Matera C, Batlle M, Ramírez L, Giralt E, Hernando J, Guasch E, Meana JJ, de la Villa P, Gorostiza P, (2021). Adrenergic Modulation With Photochromic Ligands Angewandte Chemie (International Ed. Print) 60, 3625-3631

© 2020 Wiley-VCH GmbH Adrenoceptors are ubiquitous and mediate important autonomic functions as well as modulating arousal, cognition, and pain on a central level. Understanding these physiological processes and their underlying neural circuits requires manipulating adrenergic neurotransmission with high spatio-temporal precision. Here we present a first generation of photochromic ligands (adrenoswitches) obtained via azologization of a class of cyclic amidines related to the known ligand clonidine. Their pharmacology, photochromism, bioavailability, and lack of toxicity allow for broad biological applications, as demonstrated by controlling locomotion in zebrafish and pupillary responses in mice.

JTD Keywords: adrenergic receptors, azo compounds, neurotransmitters, photochromism, Adrenergic receptors, Azo compounds, Neurotransmitters, Photochromism, Photopharmacology

Riefolo, F, Sortino, R, Matera, C, Claro, E, Preda, B, Vitiello, S, Traserra, S, Jimenez, M, Gorostiza, P, (2021). Rational Design of Photochromic Analogues of Tricyclic Drugs Journal Of Medicinal Chemistry 64, 9259-9270

Tricyclic chemical structures are the core of many important drugs targeting all neurotransmitter pathways. These medicines enable effective therapies to treat from peptic ulcer disease to psychiatric disorders. However, when administered systemically, they cause serious adverse effects that limit their use. To obtain localized and on-demand pharmacological action using light, we have designed photoisomerizable ligands based on azobenzene that mimic the tricyclic chemical structure and display reversibly controlled activity. Pseudo-analogues of the tricyclic antagonist pirenzepine demonstrate that this is an effective strategy in muscarinic acetylcholine receptors, showing stronger inhibition upon illumination both in vitro and in cardiac atria ex vivo. Despite the applied chemical modifications to make pirenzepine derivatives sensitive to light stimuli, the most potent candidate of the set, cryptozepine-2, maintained a moderate but promising M-1 vs M-2 subtype selectivity. These photoswitchable crypto-azologs of tricyclic drugs might open a general way to spatiotemporally target their therapeutic action while reducing their systemic toxicity and adverse effects.

JTD Keywords: Binding, M1, Pirenzepine, Rat-brain, Receptor

Fuentes, E., Gerth, M., Berrocal, J. A., Matera, C., Gorostiza, P., Voets, I. K., Pujals, S., Albertazzi, L., (2020). An azobenzene-based single-component supramolecular polymer responsive to multiple stimuli in water Journal of the American Chemical Society 142, (22), 10069-10078

One of the most appealing features of supramolecular assemblies is their ability to respond to external stimuli due to their noncovalent nature. This provides the opportunity to gain control over their size, morphology, and chemical properties and is key toward some of their applications. However, the design of supramolecular systems able to respond to multiple stimuli in a controlled fashion is still challenging. Here we report the synthesis and characterization of a novel discotic molecule, which self-assembles in water into a single-component supramolecular polymer that responds to multiple independent stimuli. The building block of such an assembly is a C3-symmetric monomer, consisting of a benzene-1,3,5-tricarboxamide core conjugated to a series of natural and non-natural functional amino acids. This design allows the use of rapid and efficient solid-phase synthesis methods and the modular implementation of different functionalities. The discotic monomer incorporates a hydrophobic azobenzene moiety, an octaethylene glycol chain, and a C-terminal lysine. Each of these blocks was chosen for two reasons: to drive the self-assembly in water by a combination of H-bonding and hydrophobicity and to impart specific responsiveness. With a combination of microscopy and spectroscopy techniques, we demonstrate self-assembly in water and responsiveness to temperature, light, pH, and ionic strength. This work shows the potential to integrate independent mechanisms for controlling self-assembly in a single-component supramolecular polymer by the rational monomer design and paves the way toward the use of multiresponsive systems in water.


Riefolo, F., Matera, C., Garrido-Charles, A., Gomila, A., Sortino, R., Agnetta, L., Claro, E., Masgrau, R., Holzgrabe, U., Batlle, M., Decker, M., Guasch, E., Gorostiza, P., (2019). Optical control of cardiac function with a photoswitchable muscarinic agonist Journal of the American Chemical Society 141, (18), 7628-7636

Light-triggered reversible modulation of physiological functions offers the promise of enabling on-demand spatiotemporally controlled therapeutic interventions. Optogenetics has been successfully implemented in the heart, but significant barriers to its use in the clinic remain, such as the need for genetic transfection. Herein, we present a method to modulate cardiac function with light through a photoswitchable compound and without genetic manipulation. The molecule, named PAI, was designed by introduction of a photoswitch into the molecular structure of an M2 mAChR agonist. In vitro assays revealed that PAI enables light-dependent activation of M2 mAChRs. To validate the method, we show that PAI photoisomers display different cardiac effects in a mammalian animal model, and demonstrate reversible, real-time photocontrol of cardiac function in translucent wildtype tadpoles. PAI can also effectively activate M2 receptors using two-photon excitation with near-infrared light, which overcomes the scattering and low penetration of short-wave-length illumination, and offers new opportunities for intravital imaging and control of cardiac function.


Agnetta, L., Bermudez, M., Riefolo, F., Matera, C., Claro, E., Messerer, R., Littmann, T., Wolber, G., Holzgrabe, U., Decker, M., (2019). Fluorination of photoswitchable muscarinic agonists tunes receptor pharmacology and photochromic properties Journal of Medicinal Chemistry 62, (6), 3009-3020

Red-shifted azobenzene scaffolds have emerged as useful molecular photoswitches to expand potential applications of photopharmacological tool compounds. As one of them, tetra-ortho-fluoro azobenzene is well compatible for the design of visible-light-responsive systems, providing stable and bidirectional photoconversions and tissue-compatible characteristics. Using the unsubstituted azobenzene core and its tetra-ortho-fluorinated analogue, we have developed a set of uni- and bivalent photoswitchable toolbox derivatives of the highly potent muscarinic acetylcholine receptor agonist iperoxo. We investigated the impact of the substitution pattern on receptor activity and evaluated the different binding modes. Compounds 9b and 15b show excellent photochemical properties and biological activity as fluorination of the azobenzene core alters not only the photochromic behavior but also the pharmacological profile at the muscarinic M1 receptor. These findings demonstrate that incorporation of fluorinated azobenzenes not just may alter photophysical properties but can exhibit a considerably different biological profile that has to be carefully investigated.


Matera, C., Gomila, A. M. J., Camarero, N., Libergoli, M., Soler, C., Gorostiza, P., (2019). Photochromic antifolate for light-activated chemotherapy Proceedings of SPIE 17th International Photodynamic Association World Congress , SPIE (Cambridge, USA) 11070, 110709H

Although cytotoxic chemotherapy is one of the primary pharmacological treatments for chronic hyperproliferative diseases such as cancer and psoriasis, its efficacy and tolerability are in many cases dramatically limited by off-target toxicity. A promising approach to improve these therapies is to activate the drugs exclusively at their desired place of action. In fact, in those diseases that would benefit from a highly localized treatment, a precise spatiotemporal control over the activity of a chemotherapeutic agent would allow reducing the concentration of active compound outside the targeted region, improving the tolerability of the treatment. Light is a powerful tool in this respect: it offers unparalleled opportunities as a non-invasive regulatory signal for pharmacological applications because it can be delivered with high precision regarding space, time, intensity and wavelength. Photopharmacology represents a new and emerging approach in this regard since the energy of light is used to change the structure of the drug and hence to switch its pharmacological activity on and off on demand. We describe here phototrexate, the first light-regulated inhibitor of the human DHFR. Enzyme and cell viability assays demonstrated that phototrexate behaves as a potent antifolate in its cis configuration, obtained under UVA illumination, and that it is nearly inactive in its dark-relaxed trans form. Experiments in zebrafish confirmed that phototrexate can disrupt folate metabolism in a light-dependent fashion also in vivo. Overall, phototrexate represents a potential candidate towards the development of an innovative photoactivated antifolate chemotherapy.

JTD Keywords: Cancer, Dermatology, Methotrexate, Photoactivated chemotherapy, Photodynamic therapy, Phototherapy, Psoriasis, Rheumatoid arthritis

Matera, Carlo, Gomila-Juaneda, Alexandre, Camarero, Núria, Libergoli, Michela, Soler, Concepció, Gorostiza, Pau, (2018). A photoswitchable antimetabolite for targeted photoactivated chemotherapy Journal of the American Chemical Society 140, (46), 15764-15773

The efficacy and tolerability of systemically administered anticancer agents are limited by their off-target effects. Precise spatiotemporal control over their cytotoxic activity would allow improving chemotherapy treatments, and light-regulated drugs are well suited to this purpose. We have developed phototrexate, the first photoswitchable inhibitor of the human dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR), as a photochromic analog of methotrexate, a widely prescribed chemotherapeutic drug to treat cancer and psoriasis. Quantification of the light-regulated DHFR enzymatic activity, cell proliferation, and in vivo effects in zebrafish show that phototrexate behaves as a potent antifolate in its photoactivated cis configuration, and that it is nearly inactive in its dark-relaxed trans form. Thus, phototrexate constitutes a proof-of-concept to design light-regulated cytotoxic small molecules, and a step forward to develop targeted anticancer photochemotherapies with localized efficacy and reduced adverse effects.

JTD Keywords: Photopharmacology, Photodynamic therapy, Antiproliferative, Arthritis, Psoriasis, Nanomedicine

Quadri, M., Matera, C., Silnovi, Pismataro, M. C., Horenstein, N. A., Stokes, C., Papke, R. L., Dallanoce, C., (2017). Identification of α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor silent agonists based on the spirocyclic quinuclidine-Δ2-isoxazoline scaffold: Synthesis and electrophysiological evaluation ChemMedChem XXIV National Meeting in Medicinal Chemistry (NMMC 2016) , Wiley Online Library (Perugia, Spain) 12, (16), 1335-1348

Compound 11 (3-(benzyloxy)-1′-methyl-1′-azonia-4H-1′-azaspiro[isoxazole-5,3′-bicyclo[2.2.2]octane] iodide) was selected from a previous set of nicotinic ligands as a suitable model compound for the design of new silent agonists of α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). Silent agonists evoke little or no channel activation but can induce the α7 desensitized Ds state, which is sensitive to a type II positive allosteric modulator, such as PNU-120596. Introduction of meta substituents into the benzyloxy moiety of 11 led to two sets of tertiary amines and quaternary ammonium salts based on the spirocyclic quinuclidinyl-Δ2-isoxazoline scaffold. Electrophysiological assays performed on Xenopus laevis oocytes expressing human α7 nAChRs highlighted four compounds that are endowed with a significant silent-agonism profile. Structure–activity relationships of this group of analogues provided evidence of the crucial role of the positive charge at the quaternary quinuclidine nitrogen atom. Moreover, the present study indicates that meta substituents, in particular halogens, on the benzyloxy substructure direct specific interactions that stabilize a desensitized conformational state of the receptor and induce silent activity

JTD Keywords: Agonists, Cycloaddition, Nitrogen heterocycles, Receptors, Spiro compounds