Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology


Program in Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology

First Thesis Advisor

Stephen C. Miller, Ph.D.


Cell Physiological Processes, rho GTP-Binding Proteins, Luminescent Measurements


The dynamic processes that occur at specific times and locations in cells and/or whole organisms during cellular division, migration, morphogenesis and development are critical. When these molecular events are not properly regulated, disease states can develop. Tools that can allow us to better understand the specific events that, when misregulated, result in disease development can also allow us to determine better ways to combat such misregulation. Specifically, tools that could allow us to better visualize cellular processes or those that allow us to control cellular functioning in a spatiotemporal manner could present great insight into the detailed inner workings of cells and/or whole organisms. Where chemistry and biology intersect presents a powerful starting point for the development of such tools.

The first half of this thesis addresses tools to allow the better visualization of cellular events, in particular the intriguing process of bioluminescence and the work that has been done to better understand and optimize its utilization, particularly in living organisms. The novel work presented here details a parallel approach to improve our ability to observe cellular functioning specifically by improving bioluminescence imaging through the generation and characterization of mutant luciferase proteins that can better utilize novel small molecule luciferin substrates.

The second half of this thesis discusses methods that have been developed to better control cellular events through the control of protein activity, specifically a family of proteins called the Rho GTPases. This family’s activation at specific times and locations is essential to proper cellular function and exemplifies the need for spatiotemporal control. Described are methods to control the activation states of the Rho GTPases to probe their cellular roles in a temporal and spatial manner using photosensitive small molecules. Taken together, the findings described herein demonstrate the application of chemistry to allow for the better observation and control of cellular processes, toward the ultimate goal of improving our understanding of the regulatory processes involved in the control of key factors leading to disease states.



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