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  • Light Now in Sight
Jan 2012
MUNICH, Jan. 17, 2012 — Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU) chemist Dirk Trauner received a European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant for a project based on optochemical genetics. The project’s innovative approach can create artificial photoreceptors by equipping neural receptor molecules with light-sensitive synthetic switching elements.

When nerve cells interact with one another, specialized receptor molecules at their surfaces play a key role in relaying signals between them. However, chemists at LMU and the University of California, Berkeley, have converted an intrinsically “blind” receptor molecule into a photoreceptor. They used molecular genetic techniques to attach a light-controlled chemical “switch” to a macromolecular receptor that normally is activated by the endogenous neurotransmitter acetylcholine.

Trauner hopes the synthetic construct will help clarify the roles of the brain’s natural receptor. He said that ultimately, such photoreceptors might restore sight in patients suffering from certain forms of blindness. The study was published in Nature Chemistry.

In 2010, Trauner received an endowed ERC Advanced Grant for a project that also was based on a “photopharmacological” approach. Its long-term goal is to find ways to compensate for the loss of dedicated photoreceptors in the eye — the most common cause of blindness. To achieve this, Trauner is developing hybrid photoreceptors.

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The inability to perceive visual images (visible radiant energy). In human beings, blindness is defined as a visual acuity of less than one-tenth normal vision.
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