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Photopharmacology is an attractive approach for achieving targeted drug action with the use of light. In photopharmacology, molecular photoswitches are introduced into the structure of biologically active small molecules to allow for the optical control of their potency. Going beyond trial and error, photopharmacology has progressively applied rational drug design methodologies to devise light-controlled bioactive ligands. In this review, we categorize photopharmacological efforts from the standpoint of medicinal chemistry strategies, focusing on diffusible photochromic ligands modified with photoswitches that operate through E-Z bond isomerization. In the vast majority of cases, photoswitchable ligands are designed as analogs of existing compounds, through a variety of approaches. By analyzing in detail a comprehensive list of instructive examples, we describe the state of the art and discuss future opportunities for rational design in photopharmacology.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere202300681
JournalAngewandte Chemie - International Edition
Issue number30
Publication statusPublished - 24-Jul-2023


  • Drug Design
  • Medicinal Chemistry
  • Photopharmacology
  • Photoswitchable Molecule

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