The synthesis and photochemical characterization of caged derivatives of the adrenergic receptor agonists phenylephrine, epinephrine and isoproterenol are described. These compounds were prepared using 2-nitrobenzyl or substituted 2-nitrobenzyl photolabile protecting groups, and were designed to allow agonist concentration jumps to be made during pharmacological/physiological experiments. The advantage of this approach over conventional methods for changing the concentrations of agonists near receptors in mechanistic studies is the exquisite spatial and temporal resolution afforded by the use of light. Flash photolysis experiments revealed that photorelease is more than two orders of magnitude faster when the 2-nitrobenzyl group is attached to the β-amino group rather than one of the phenolic oxygens of the catecholamine. For the caged phenylephrine derivatives, for example, the rate constants of release from the N-linked and O-linked derivatives are 1.8 × 104 s-1 and 1.1 × 102s-1 respectively. However, the quantum yields of photorelease from the N-linked and O-linked derivatives are similar. In addition, several model compounds were prepared to allow examination of the effects of substituents on the aromatic ring and benzylic carbon (of the 2-nitrobenzyl moiety) on the rates and efficiencies of photorelease. These studies revealed that, although substituents had little effect on the rates of photorelease from the N-linked caged derivatives, electron-donating groups on the 2-nitrobenzyl ring increased the quantum yield of release by approximately fourfold, from 0.10 to 0.40. A summary of the studies completed to evaluate the biological properties of the caged adrenergic receptor agonists is also presented.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-137
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Photochemistry and Photobiology, B: Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1995


  • Neurotransmitter
  • Norepinephrine
  • Phenylephrine
  • Photorelease
  • o-Nitrobenzyl


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