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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Photo-activation of the hydrophobic probe iodonaphthylazide in cells alters membrane protein function leading to cell death

Mathias Viard12, Himanshu Garg1, Robert Blumenthal1* and Yossef Raviv12*

Author affiliations

1 Nanobiology Program, Center of Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute, Frederick, Maryland, USA

2 Basic Research Program, SAIC-Frederick Inc, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Frederick, Maryland, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Cell Biology 2009, 10:21  doi:10.1186/1471-2121-10-21

Published: 26 March 2009



Photo-activation of the hydrophobic membrane probe 1, 5 iodonaphthylazide (INA) by irradiation with UV light (310–380 nm) results in the covalent modification of transmembrane anchors of membrane proteins. This unique selectivity of INA towards the transmembrane anchor has been exploited to specifically label proteins inserted in membranes. Previously, we have demonstrated that photo-activation of INA in enveloped viruses resulted in the inhibition of viral membrane protein-induced membrane fusion and viral entry into cells. In this study we show that photo-activation of INA in various cell lines, including those over-expressing the multi-drug resistance transporters MRP1 or Pgp, leads to cell death. We analyzed mechanisms of cell killing by INA-UV treatment. The effects of INA-UV treatment on signaling via various cell surface receptors, on the activity of the multi-drug resistance transporter MRP1 and on membrane protein lateral mobility were also investigated.


INA treatment of various cell lines followed by irradiation with UV light (310–380 nm) resulted in loss of cell viability in a dose dependent manner. The mechanism of cell death appeared to be apoptosis as indicated by phosphatidylserine exposure, mitochondrial depolarization and DNA fragmentation. Inhibition by pan-caspase inhibitors and cleavage of caspase specific substrates indicated that at low concentrations of INA apoptosis was caspase dependent. The INA-UV treatment showed similar cell killing efficacy in cells over-expressing MRP1 function as control cells. Efflux of an MRP1 substrate was blocked by INA-UV treatment of the MRP1-overexpressing cells. Although INA-UV treatment resulted in inhibition of calcium mobilization triggered by chemokine receptor signaling, Akt phosphorylation triggered by IGF1 receptor signaling was enhanced. Furthermore, fluorescence recovery after photobleaching experiments indicated that INA-UV treatment resulted in reduced lateral mobility of a seven transmembrane G protein-coupled receptor.


INA is a photo-activable agent that induces apoptosis in various cancer cell lines. It reacts with membrane proteins to alter the normal physiological function resulting in apoptosis. This activity of INA maybe exploited for use as an anti-cancer agent.