The Group
Dirk Trauner

Our Research

Neuroscience and Photopharmacology

Neuroscience is one of the most exciting fields of research today and synthetic chemistry can contribute much to its growth. Our current focus lies on the functional manipulation of ion channels, GPCRs, and transporters with synthetic photoswitches, usually azobenzenes. The artificial photoreceptors so obtained can be inserted into neurons and other cell types and can be used to control various biological pathways with light (Photopharmacology). One of our major biological goals is the restoration of vision in the blind using synthetic photoswitches.

The reach of photopharmacology, however, goes well beyond applications in neuroscience and sensory physiology. It is already clear that this approach is very useful for controlling the highly dynamic systems that underlie cell motility, cell division and (unwanted) proliferation. As such, photopharmacology provides powerful tools for cell biology and could open a new direction in precison medicine.

A recent "Chemistry and Industry" article on photopharmacology: C&I –2015.

Chemical synthesiS, natural product chemistry, And NaNoThreads

A substantial part of our research program is dedicated to chemical synthesis, natural product chemistry, and the chemistry of nanothreads.

We are convinced that the vast majority of natural products have not yet been found and that a wealth of interesting chemistry and biology awaits discovery. As synthetic organic chemists, we are intrigued by the structural beauty and functional sophistication of these molecules. Through total synthesis, we gain insight into their mechanism of action and biosynthetic origin. In addition, the total synthesis of complex natural products provides an ideal platform for the invention or discovery of new synthetic methodology or the validation of modern reactions in a challenging environment.

More thoughts on the future of natural product synthesis can be found here: “Finding Function and Form”. Also, check out our list of completed synthetic targets. And test your retrosynthetic skills and synthetic knowledge with our Denksport. Denksport meetings take place on Wednesdays at 4pm at the University of Pennsylvania.

Another topic of interest to our group are certain types of hydrocarbons and so-called nanothreads. Some of these fascinating molecules were predicted by us and some were recently realized experimentally through high-pressure chemistry. They are at the heart of a new NSF Center of Chemical Innovation, the Center of Nanothread Chemistry, which we are a proud member of.