Staff member

Xavier Rovira Clavé

Staff member publications

Gomila, Alexandre M. J., Rustler, Karin, Maleeva, Galyna, Nin-Hill, Alba, Wutz, Daniel, Bautista-Barrufet, Antoni, Rovira, Xavier, Bosch, Miquel, Mukhametova, Elvira, Petukhova, Elena, Ponomareva, Daria, Mukhamedyarov, Marat, Peiretti, Franck, Alfonso-Prieto, Mercedes, Rovira, Carme, König, Burkhard, Bregestovski, Piotr, Gorostiza, Pau, (2020). Photocontrol of endogenous glycine receptors in vivo Cell Chemical Biology 27, (11), 1425-1433.e7

Glycine receptors (GlyRs) are indispensable for maintaining excitatory/inhibitory balance in neuronal circuits that control reflexes and rhythmic motor behaviors. Here we have developed Glyght, a GlyR ligand controlled with light. It is selective over other Cys-loop receptors, is active in vivo, and displays an allosteric mechanism of action. The photomanipulation of glycinergic neurotransmission opens new avenues to understanding inhibitory circuits in intact animals and to developing drug-based phototherapies.

JTD Keywords: Glycine receptors, Photopharmacology, Optopharmacology, Inhibitory neurotransmission, CNS, Photoswitch

Nin-Hill, Alba, Maleeva, Galyna, Gomila-Juaneda, Alexandre, Wutz, Daniel, Rustler, Karin, Bautista-Barrufet, Antoni, Rovira, Xavier, Bosch, Miquel, Scholze, Petra, Peiretti, Franck, Rovira, Carme, König, Burkhard, Gorostiza, Pau, Bregestovski, Piotr, Prieto, Mercedes Alfonso, (2020). Photomodulation of inhibitory neurotransmission. Insights from molecular modeling Biophysical Journal Biophysical Society 64th Annual Meeting , CellPress (San Diego (USA)) 118, (3), 325a-326a

Photoswitches are molecules that change their conformation with light of specific wavelength. These light-regulated molecules can be designed to target ion channels, thus providing a unique tool for precise spatial and temporal control of ion channel functioning. Recently, we have applied a multidisciplinary approach to design, synthesize and functionally characterize two of such photoswitches, azo-NZ1 [Maleeva et al. Br. J. Pharmacol. 2019] and Glyght [Gomila-Juaneda et al. BioRxiv 2019], targeting GABA and glycine receptors, respectively. Using homology modeling and molecular docking, we have provided a molecular explanation of the light-dependent effect of these two photoswitchable ligands, as observed in in vitro electrophysiology experiments and in vivo tadpole behavioral assays. Azo-NZ1 is composed of a nitrazepam moiety merged to an azobenzene photoisomerizable group, yet it has an inhibitory effect on GABA A receptors under visible light and also inhibits benzodiazepine-insensitive GABA C (rho2) receptors. Molecular modeling, combined with electrophysiology and mutagenesis experiments, shows that addition of the sulfonyl azobenzene unexpectedly converts the ligand into a pore blocker. Glyght is also an azobenzene-containing benzodiazepine, yet it acts selectively on glycine receptors as a negative modulator and its inhibitory action increases under UV light. Molecular modeling suggests that Glyght binds to a novel allosteric site located at the interface between the extracellular and transmembrane domains. The two aforementioned photoswitches pave the way towards photomanipulation of inhibitory (gabaergic and glycinergic) neurotransmission, with potential applications in understanding inhibitory circuits in intact animals and in development of drug-based phototherapies


Gómez-Santacana, Xavier, Pittolo, Silvia, Rovira, Xavier, Lopez, Marc, Zussy, Charleine, Dalton, James A. R., Faucherre, Adèle, Jopling, Chris, Pin, Jean-Philippe, Ciruela, Francisco, Goudet, Cyril, Giraldo, Jesús, Gorostiza, Pau, Llebaria, Amadeu, (2017). Illuminating phenylazopyridines to photoswitch metabotropic glutamate receptors: From the flask to the animals ACS Central Science , 3, (1), 81-91

Phenylazopyridines are photoisomerizable compounds with high potential to control biological functions with light. We have obtained a series of phenylazopyridines with light dependent activity as negative allosteric modulators (NAM) of metabotropic glutamate receptor subtype 5 (mGlu5). Here we describe the factors needed to achieve an operational molecular photoisomerization and its effective translation into in vitro and in vivo receptor photoswitching, which includes zebrafish larva motility and the regulation of the antinociceptive effects in mice. The combination of light and some specific phenylazopyridine ligands displays atypical pharmacological profiles, including light-dependent receptor overactivation, which can be observed both in vitro and in vivo. Remarkably, the localized administration of light and a photoswitchable compound in the peripheral tissues of rodents or in the brain amygdalae results in an illumination-dependent analgesic effect. The results reveal a robust translation of the phenylazopyridine photoisomerization to a precise photoregulation of biological activity.


Gómez-Santacana, Xavier, Dalton, James A. R., Rovira, Xavier, Pin, Jean Philippe, Goudet, Cyril, Gorostiza, Pau, Giraldo, Jesús, Llebaria, Amadeu, (2017). Positional isomers of bispyridine benzene derivatives induce efficacy changes on mGlu5 negative allosteric modulation European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry 127, 567-576

Modulation of metabotropic glutamate receptor 5 (mGlu5) with partial allosteric antagonists has received increased interest due to their favourable in vivo activity profiles compared to the unfavourable side-effects of full inverse agonists. Here we report on a series of bispyridine benzene derivatives with a functional molecular switch affecting antagonistic efficacy, shifting from inverse agonism to partial antagonism with only a single change in the substitution pattern of the benzene ring. These efficacy changes are explained through computational docking, revealing two different receptor conformations of different energetic stability and different positional isomer binding preferences.

JTD Keywords: mGlu5, Isomers, Partial efficacy, NAM, Antagonist, Inverse agonist

Rovira, Xavier, Trapero, Ana, Pittolo, Silvia, Zussy, Charleine, Faucherre, Adèle, Jopling, Chris, Giraldo, Jesús, Pin, Jean-Philippe, Gorostiza, Pau, Goudet, Cyril, Llebaria, Amadeu, (2016). OptoGluNAM4.1, a Photoswitchable allosteric antagonist for real-time control of mGlu4 receptor activity Cell Chemical Biology 23, (8), 929-934

OptoGluNAM4.1, a negative allosteric modulator (NAM) of metabotropic glutamate receptor 4 (mGlu4) contains a reactive group that covalently binds to the receptor and a blue-light-activated, fast-relaxing azobenzene group that allows reversible receptor activity photocontrol in vitro and in vivo. OptoGluNAM4.1 induces light-dependent behavior in zebrafish and reverses the activity of the mGlu4 agonist LSP4-2022 in a mice model of chronic pain, defining a photopharmacological tool to better elucidate the physiological roles of the mGlu4 receptor in the nervous system.


A. R. Dalton, J., Lans, I., Rovira, X., Malhaire, F., Gómez-Santacana, X., Pittolo, S., Gorostiza, P., Llebaria, A., Goudet, C., Pin, J-P., Giraldo, J., (2016). Shining light on an mGlu5 photoswitchable NAM: A theoretical perspective Current Neuropharmacology , 14, (5), 441-454

Metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) are important drug targets because of their involvement in several neurological diseases. Among mGluRs, mGlu5 is a particularly high-profile target because its positive or negative allosteric modulation can potentially treat schizophrenia or anxiety and chronic pain, respectively. Here, we computationally and experimentally probe the functional binding of a novel photoswitchable mGlu5 NAM, termed alloswitch-1, which loses its NAM functionality under violet light. We show alloswitch-1 binds deep in the allosteric pocket in a similar fashion to mavoglurant, the co-crystallized NAM in the mGlu5 transmembrane domain crystal structure. Alloswitch-1, like NAM 2-Methyl-6-(phenylethynyl)pyridine (MPEP), is significantly affected by P655M mutation deep in the allosteric pocket, eradicating its functionality. In MD simulations, we show alloswitch-1 and MPEP stabilize the co-crystallized water molecule located at the bottom of the allosteric site that is seemingly characteristic of the inactive receptor state. Furthermore, both NAMs form H-bonds with S809 on helix 7, which may constitute an important stabilizing interaction for NAM-induced mGlu5 inactivation. Alloswitch-1, through isomerization of its amide group from trans to cis is able to form an additional interaction with N747 on helix 5. This may be an important interaction for amide-containing mGlu5 NAMs, helping to stabilize their binding in a potentially unusual cis-amide state. Simulated conformational switching of alloswitch-1 in silico suggests photoisomerization of its azo group from trans to cis may be possible within the allosteric pocket. However, photoexcited alloswitch-1 binds in an unstable fashion, breaking H-bonds with the protein and destabilizing the co-crystallized water molecule. This suggests photoswitching may have destabilizing effects on mGlu5 binding and functionality.

JTD Keywords: Allosteric modulation, Docking, Metabotropic glutamate receptor, Molecular dynamics, Mutation, Protein structure, Transmembrane domain

Pittolo, Silvia, Gómez-Santacana, Xavier, Eckelt, Kay, Rovira, Xavier, Dalton, James, Goudet, Cyril, Pin, Jean-Philippe, Llobet, Artur, Giraldo, Jesús, Llebaria, Amadeu, Gorostiza, Pau, (2014). An allosteric modulator to control endogenous G protein-coupled receptors with light Nature Chemical Biology , 10, (10), 813-815

Controlling drug activity with light offers the possibility of enhancing pharmacological selectivity with spatial and temporal regulation, thus enabling highly localized therapeutic effects and precise dosing patterns. Here we report on the development and characterization of what is to our knowledge the first photoswitchable allosteric modulator of a G protein–coupled receptor. Alloswitch-1 is selective for the metabotropic glutamate receptor mGlu5 and enables the optical control of endogenous mGlu5 receptors.


Gomez-Santacana, X., Rovira, X., Dalton, J. A., Goudet, C., Pin, J. P., Gorostiza, P., Giraldo, J., Llebaria, A., (2014). A double effect molecular switch leads to a novel potent negative allosteric modulator of metabotropic glutamate receptor 5 MedChemComm , 5, (10), 1548-1554

Compounds that modulate the function of G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) by binding to their allosteric sites are of potential interest for the treatment of multiple CNS and non-CNS disorders. Allosteric ligands can act either as positive (PAM), negative (NAM), or silent (SAM) receptor modulators and have numerous advantages over classic orthosteric compounds, including improved GPCR-subtype selectivity; the capacity to adapt to physiological conditions; and better safety profiles. Despite these benefits, allosteric modulators are difficult to design and optimize and are often prone to "molecular switching": a structural phenomenon by which very subtle chemical variations in the ligand result in unexpected changes in selectivity profiles or pharmacology, changing PAMs to NAMs or vice versa. Here, we report the discovery of a nanomolar and subtype selective NAM of metabotropic glutamate receptor 5 (mGlu5) through a targeted "double effect molecular switch" of a potent mGlu4 PAM, and suggests a promising approach towards the discovery of novel mGluR allosteric modulators.