Christopher Chang

Christopher J. Chang

Class of 1942 Chair, Professor of Chemistry and Molecular and Cell Biology, Member of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute
Dept of Chemistry
Dept of Molecular & Cell Biology
(510) 642-4704
Research Expertise and Interest
chemistry, inorganic chemistry, neuroscience, bioinorganic chemistry, general physiology, organic chemistry, new chemical tools for biological imaging and proteomics, new metal complexes for energy catalysis and green chemistry, chemical biology
Research Description

Bioinorganic Chemistry and Chemical Biology; Inorganic and Organic Chemistry

Drawing from core disciplines of inorganic, organic, and biological chemistry, The Chang Lab pursues new concepts in sensing and catalysis to study metals in biology and energy. They have developed activity-based sensing (ABS) as a general technology platform to enable biological applications that include imaging and diagnostics, proteomics, and drug delivery. These molecular probes have identified copper and hydrogen peroxide as signals for regulating processes spanning neural activity and neurogenesis to fat metabolism, opening a field of transition metal signaling. Their efforts have advanced artificial photosynthesis through the development of molecular catalysts that mimic enzyme biocatalysts or heterogeneous materials catalysts, as well as hybrid bioinorganic, organometallic, and supramolecular systems that merge molecules with biological and/or materials components. Representative project areas are summarized below.

Transition Metal Signaling. Their laboratory has advanced a new paradigm of transition metal signaling, where essential elements like copper and iron can serve as dynamic regulators of biological function. This concept broadens the traditional view of metals in biology that narrowly defines redox-active elements as static metabolic cofactors that must tightly-bound within buried protein active sites to protect against oxidative stress, and with only redox-innocent metals (e.g., sodium, potassium, calcium, zinc) having the capacity to serve as mobile signals. They are developing activity-based sensing (ABS) probes and related chemical tools for imaging dynamic transition metal pools by fluorescence, bioluminescence and MRI, as well as for proteomic identification and characterization of new metalloprotein targets. These technologies are being applied in cell, tissue, zebrafish, and mouse models to study the contributions of transition metal signaling to fat metabolism in obesity, diabetes, and cancer, along with neural circuitry.

Activity-Based Sensing. Activity-based sensing (ABS) is an emerging field that utilizes chemical reactivity, rather than conventional lock-and-key molecular recognition, to probe and manipulate biological systems. The Chang Lab is advancing the ABS concept and applying it to study the biology of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and their reactive sulfur and carbonyl analogs by exploiting organic and inorganic chemistries to report on these specific analytes in living cells, tissues, and animals. ABS is also being utilized to develop bioconjugation reactions for chemoproteomics, small-molecule inhibitor discovery, and antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) therapies. Finally, we are creating optogenetic tools for controlling redox signals that govern information transfer in neural circuits.

Metals in Neurobiology. The unique biology of the brain as the center of consciousness, from learning and memory to senses like sight, smell, and taste, is underpinned by unique chemistry that remains insufficiently understood. They seek to decipher why the brain accumulates unexpected chemical elements at higher concentrations than any other part of the body, including redox-active transition metals like copper and iron, and how they are dysregulated in neurodegenerative Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases as well as neurological disorders affecting sleep and obesity. They are applying activity-based sensing (ABS) in conjunction with CRISPR, optogenetics, and behavioral assays to identify roles of transition metal chemistry in neural signaling and neurodegeneration using zebrafish and mouse models.

Artificial Photosynthesis. New catalysts for carbon-neutral energy conversion processes are essential to addressing climate change and rising global energy demands. Inspired by natural photosynthesis, which utilizes the abundant chemical resources of light, water, and carbon dioxide to produce the value-added products needed to sustain life, they are taking a unified approach to this small-molecule activation problem by developing molecular catalysts for carbon dioxide reduction, water splitting, and nitrogen cycling that are inspired by and/or can be used in conjunction with biological and materials catalysts under environmentally green aqueous conditions.

In the News

June 6, 2016

Copper is Key in Burning Fat

A new study is further burnishing copper’s reputation as an essential nutrient for human physiology. A research team has found that copper plays a key role in metabolizing fat.

May 17, 2016

Copper: A new player in health and disease

Chris Chang, who is part of the Sackler Sabbatical Exchange Program, carries out experiments to find proteins that bind to copper and may influence the storage and burning of fat.

April 16, 2015

Major Advance in Artificial Photosynthesis Poses Win/Win for the Environment

A potentially game-changing breakthrough in artificial photosynthesis has been achieved with the development of a system that can capture carbon dioxide emissions before they are vented into the atmosphere and then, powered by solar energy, convert that carbon dioxide into valuable chemical products.