Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

The carbonyl group is now a widely useful, nonproteinogenic functional group in chemical biology, yet methods for its generation in proteins have relied upon either cotranslational incorporation of unnatural amino acids bearing carbonyls or oxidative conversion (chemical or enzymatic) of existing natural amino acids. If available, alternative strategies for directly adding the C=O group through C-C bond-forming C-carbonylation, particularly at currently inaccessible amino acid sites, would provide a powerful method for adding valuable reactivity and expanding possible function in proteins. Here, following a survey of methods for HCF2· generation, we show that reductive photoredox catalysis enables mild radical-mediated difluoromethylation-hydrolysis of native protein residues as an effective method for carbonylation. Inherent selectivity of HCF2· allowed preferential modification of Trp residues. The resulting C-2-difluoromethylated Trp undergoes Reimer-Tiemann-type dehalogenation providing highly effective spontaneous hydrolytic collapse in proteins to carbonylated HC(O)-Trp (C-formyl-Trp = CfW) residues. This new, unnatural protein residue CfW not only was found to be effective in bioconjugation, ligation, and labeling reactions but also displayed strong "red-shifting" of its absorption and fluorescent emission maxima, allowing direct use of Trp sites as UV-visualized fluorophores in proteins and even cells. In this way, this method for the effective generation of masked formyl-radical "HC(O)·" equivalents enables first examples of C-C bond-forming carbonylation in proteins, thereby expanding the chemical reactivity and spectroscopic function that may be selectively and post-translationally "edited" into biology.

Original publication




Journal article


ACS Cent Sci

Publication Date





145 - 155