PHOTACs Enable Optical Control of Protein Degradation

PROTACs (proteolysis targeting chimeras) are bifunctional molecules that tag proteins for ubiquitylation by an E3 ligase complex and subsequent degradation by the proteasome. They have emerged as powerful tools to control the levels of specific cellular proteins and are on the verge of being clinically used. We now introduce photoswitchable PROTACs that can be activated with the temporal and spatial precision that light provides. These trifunctional molecules, which we named PHOTACs, consist of a ligand for an E3 ligase, a photoswitch, and a ligand for a protein of interest. We demonstrate this concept by using PHOTACs that target either BET family proteins (BRD2,3,4) or FKBP12. Our lead compounds display little or no activity in the dark but can be reversibly activated to varying degrees with different wavelengths of light. Our modular and generalizable approach provides a method for the optical control of protein levels with photopharmacology and could lead to new types of precision therapeutics that avoid undesired systemic toxicity.