Selective chemical reactions enacted within a cellular environment can be powerful tools for elucidating biological processes or engineering novel interactions. A chemical transformation that permits the selective formation of covalent adducts among richly functionalized biopolymers within a cellular context is presented. A ligation modeled after the Staudinger reaction forms an amide bond by coupling of an azide and a specifically engineered triarylphosphine. Both reactive partners are abiotic and chemically orthogonal to native cellular components. Azides installed within cell surface glycoconjugates by metabolism of a synthetic azidosugar were reacted with a biotinylated triarylphosphine to produce stable cell-surface adducts. The tremendous selectivity of the transformation should permit its execution within a cell's interior, offering new possibilities for probing intracellular interactions.

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We acknowledge generous funding from the W. M. Keck Foundation, Glaxo Wellcome, and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. E.S. was supported by a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Predoctoral Fellowship. This research was supported by the Office of Naval Research, grant N00014-98-1-0605 and order N00014-98-F-0402 through the U.S. Department of Energy under contract DE-AC03-76SF00098, and by the National Institutes of Health (GM58867-01).


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Published In

Volume 287 | Issue 5460
17 March 2000

Submission history

Received: 1 December 1999
Accepted: 2 February 2000
Published in print: 17 March 2000


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Eliana Saxon
Departments of Chemistry and Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.
Carolyn R. Bertozzi*
Departments of Chemistry and Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.


To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: [email protected]

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