Kevin is a postdoc in Prof. Carolyn Bertozzi's lab studying the roles of glycosylation in neurofibromatosis 1 (supported by a Children's Tumor Foundation Young Investigator Award). He received his Ph.D. in Chemistry from UC Berkeley in 2020, where he worked in Prof. Chris Chang's lab on activity-based sensing and proteomics methods to study formaldehyde in biology.

Institute Affiliations

  • Member, Maternal & Child Health Research Institute (MCHRI)

Honors & Awards

  • Young Investigator Award, Children's Tumor Foundation (2020 - present)
  • Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting Fellowship, University of California President's Office (2020 - 2021)
  • Poster Award, Gordon Research Conference in Bioorganic Chemistry (2019)
  • Graduate Research Fellowship, National Science Foundation (2016 - 2020)
  • Chemistry Department Scholar Award, University of California, Berkeley (2015)
  • Hamilton Scholar Undergraduate Research Award, Southern Methodist University (2013-2014)
  • Outstanding Undergraduate Student, Dallas Fort-Worth American Chemical Society (2013-2014)
  • Engaged Learning Undergraduate Research Award, Southern Methodist University (2012-2014)

Stanford Advisors

All Publications

  • Distinct RNA N-demethylation pathways catalyzed by nonheme iron ALKBH5 and FTO enzymes enable regulation of formaldehyde release rates. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America Toh, J. D., Crossley, S. W., Bruemmer, K. J., Ge, E. J., He, D., Iovan, D. A., Chang, C. J. 2020


    The AlkB family of nonheme Fe(II)/2-oxoglutarate-dependent oxygenases are essential regulators of RNA epigenetics by serving as erasers of one-carbon marks on RNA with release of formaldehyde (FA). Two major human AlkB family members, FTO and ALKBH5, both act as oxidative demethylases of N6-methyladenosine (m6A) but furnish different major products, N6-hydroxymethyladenosine (hm6A) and adenosine (A), respectively. Here we identify foundational mechanistic differences between FTO and ALKBH5 that promote these distinct biochemical outcomes. In contrast to FTO, which follows a traditional oxidative N-demethylation pathway to catalyze conversion of m6A to hm6A with subsequent slow release of A and FA, we find that ALKBH5 catalyzes a direct m6A-to-A transformation with rapid FA release. We identify a catalytic R130/K132/Y139 triad within ALKBH5 that facilitates release of FA via an unprecedented covalent-based demethylation mechanism with direct detection of a covalent intermediate. Importantly, a K132Q mutant furnishes an ALKBH5 enzyme with an m6A demethylation profile that resembles that of FTO, establishing the importance of this residue in the proposed covalent mechanism. Finally, we show that ALKBH5 is an endogenous source of FA in the cell by activity-based sensing of FA fluxes perturbed via ALKBH5 knockdown. This work provides a fundamental biochemical rationale for nonredundant roles of these RNA demethylases beyond different substrate preferences and cellular localization, where m6A demethylation by ALKBH5 versus FTO results in release of FA, an endogenous one-carbon unit but potential genotoxin, at different rates in living systems.

    View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.2007349117

    View details for PubMedID 32989163

  • Activity-Based Sensing: A Synthetic Methods Approach for Selective Molecular Imaging and Beyond ANGEWANDTE CHEMIE-INTERNATIONAL EDITION Bruemmer, K. J., Crossley, S. M., Chang, C. J. 2020; 59 (33): 13734–62


    Emerging from the origins of supramolecular chemistry and the development of selective chemical receptors that rely on lock-and-key binding, activity-based sensing (ABS)-which utilizes molecular reactivity rather than molecular recognition for analyte detection-has rapidly grown into a distinct field to investigate the production and regulation of chemical species that mediate biological signaling and stress pathways, particularly metal ions and small molecules. Chemical reactions exploit the diverse chemical reactivity of biological species to enable the development of selective and sensitive synthetic methods to decipher their contributions within complex living environments. The broad utility of this reaction-driven approach facilitates application to imaging platforms ranging from fluorescence, luminescence, photoacoustic, magnetic resonance, and positron emission tomography modalities. ABS methods are also being expanded to other fields, such as drug and materials discovery.

    View details for DOI 10.1002/anie.201909690

    View details for Web of Science ID 000527839400001

    View details for PubMedID 31605413

  • Activity-Based Sensing with a Metal-Directed Acyl Imidazole Strategy Reveals Cell Type-Dependent Pools of Labile Brain Copper. Journal of the American Chemical Society Lee, S. n., Chung, C. Y., Liu, P. n., Craciun, L. n., Nishikawa, Y. n., Bruemmer, K. J., Hamachi, I. n., Saijo, K. n., Miller, E. W., Chang, C. J. 2020; 142 (35): 14993–5003


    Copper is a required nutrient for life and particularly important to the brain and central nervous system. Indeed, copper redox activity is essential to maintaining normal physiological responses spanning neural signaling to metabolism, but at the same time copper misregulation is associated with inflammation and neurodegeneration. As such, chemical probes that can track dynamic changes in copper with spatial resolution, especially in loosely bound, labile forms, are valuable tools to identify and characterize its contributions to healthy and disease states. In this report, we present an activity-based sensing (ABS) strategy for copper detection in live cells that preserves spatial information by a copper-dependent bioconjugation reaction. Specifically, we designed copper-directed acyl imidazole dyes that operate through copper-mediated activation of acyl imidazole electrophiles for subsequent labeling of proximal proteins at sites of elevated labile copper to provide a permanent stain that resists washing and fixation. To showcase the utility of this new ABS platform, we sought to characterize labile copper pools in the three main cell types in the brain: neurons, astrocytes, and microglia. Exposure of each of these cell types to physiologically relevant stimuli shows distinct changes in labile copper pools. Neurons display translocation of labile copper from somatic cell bodies to peripheral processes upon activation, whereas astrocytes and microglia exhibit global decreases and increases in intracellular labile copper pools, respectively, after exposure to inflammatory stimuli. This work provides foundational information on cell type-dependent homeostasis of copper, an essential metal in the brain, as well as a starting point for the design of new activity-based probes for metals and other dynamic signaling and stress analytes in biology.

    View details for DOI 10.1021/jacs.0c05727

    View details for PubMedID 32815370

  • Caged luciferins for bioluminescent activity-based sensing CURRENT OPINION IN BIOTECHNOLOGY Su, T. A., Bruemmer, K. J., Chang, C. J. 2019; 60: 198–204


    Bioluminescence imaging is a powerful modality for in vivo imaging owing to its low background and high signal-to-noise ratio. Because bioluminescent emission occurs only upon the catalytic reaction between the luciferase enzyme and its luciferin substrate, caging luciferins with analyte-reactive triggers offers a general approach for activity-based sensing of specific biochemical processes in living systems across cell, tissue, and animal models. In this review, we summarize recent efforts in the development of synthetic caged luciferins for tracking enzyme, small molecule, and metal ion activity and their contributions to physiological and pathological processes.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.copbio.2019.06.002

    View details for Web of Science ID 000503095700026

    View details for PubMedID 31200275

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC6891152

  • A Chemiluminescent Probe for HNO Quantification and Real-Time Monitoring in Living Cells. Angewandte Chemie (International ed. in English) An, W. n., Ryan, L. S., Reeves, A. G., Bruemmer, K. J., Mouhaffel, L. n., Gerberich, J. L., Winters, A. n., Mason, R. P., Lippert, A. R. 2019; 58 (5): 1361–65


    Azanone (HNO) is a reactive nitrogen species with pronounced biological activity and high therapeutic potential for cardiovascular dysfunction. A critical barrier to understanding the biology of HNO and furthering clinical development is the quantification and real-time monitoring of its delivery in living systems. Herein, we describe the design and synthesis of the first chemiluminescent probe for HNO, HNOCL-1, which can detect HNO generated from concentrations of Angeli's salt as low as 138 nm with high selectivity based on the reaction with a phosphine group to form a self-cleavable azaylide intermediate. We have capitalized on this high sensitivity to develop a generalizable kinetics-based approach, which provides real-time quantitative measurements of HNO concentration at the picomolar level. HNOCL-1 can monitor dynamics of HNO delivery in living cells and tissues, demonstrating the versatility of this method for tracking HNO in living systems.

    View details for DOI 10.1002/anie.201811257

    View details for PubMedID 30476360

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC6396311

  • Activity-Based Sensing Methods for Monitoring the Reactive Carbon Species Carbon Monoxide and Formaldehyde in Living Systems. Accounts of chemical research Ohata, J. n., Bruemmer, K. J., Chang, C. J. 2019; 52 (10): 2841–48


    Carbon is central to the chemistry of life, and in addition to its fundamental roles as a static component of all major biomolecules spanning proteins, nucleic acids, sugars, and lipids, emerging evidence shows that small and transient carbon-based metabolites, termed reactive carbon species (RCS), are dynamic signaling/stress agents that can influence a variety of biological pathways. Recent examples include the identification of carbon monoxide (CO) as an ion channel blocker and endogenous formaldehyde (FA) as a one-carbon metabolic unit formed from the spontaneous degradation of dietary folate metabolites. These findings motivate the development of analytical tools for transient carbon species that can achieve high specificity and sensitivity to further investigate RCS signaling and stress pathways at the cell, tissue, and whole-organism levels. This Account summarizes work from our laboratory on the development of new chemical tools to monitor two important one-carbon RCS, CO and FA, through activity-based sensing (ABS), where we leverage the unique chemical reactivities of these small and transient analytes, rather than lock-and-key binding considerations, for selective detection. Classic inorganic/organometallic and organic transformations form the basis for this approach. For example, to distinguish CO from other biological diatomics of similar shape and size (e.g., nitric oxide and oxygen), we exploit palladium-mediated carbonylation as a synthetic method for CO sensing. The high selectivity of this carbonylation approach successfully enables imaging of dynamic changes in intracellular CO levels in live cells. Likewise, we apply the aza-Cope reaction for FA detection to provide high selectivity for this one-carbon unit over other larger biological aldehydes that are reactive electrophiles, such as acetaldehyde and methylglyoxal. By relying on an activity-based trigger as a design principle for small-molecule detection, this approach can be generalized to create a toolbox of selective FA imaging reagents, as illustrated by a broad range of FA probes spanning turn-on and ratiometric fluorescence imaging, positron emission tomography imaging, and chemiluminescence imaging modalities. Moreover, these chemical tools have revealed new one-carbon biology through the identification of folate as a dietary source of FA and alcohol dehydrogenase 5 as a target for FA metabolism. Indeed, these selective RCS detection methods have been expanded to a wider array of imaging platforms, such as metal-complex-based time-gated luminescence and materials-based imaging scaffolds (e.g., nanotubes, nanoparticles, and carbon dots), with modalities extending to Raman and Rayleigh scattering readouts. This pursuit of leveraging selective chemical reactivity to develop highly specific ABS probes for imaging of RCS provides not only practical tools for deciphering RCS-dependent biology but also a general design platform for developing ABS probes for a broader range of biological analytes encompassing elements across the periodic table.

    View details for DOI 10.1021/acs.accounts.9b00386

    View details for PubMedID 31487154

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC7081942

  • Chemiluminescent Probes for Activity-Based Sensing of Formaldehyde Released from Folate Degradation in Living Mice. Angewandte Chemie (International ed. in English) Bruemmer, K. J., Green, O. n., Su, T. A., Shabat, D. n., Chang, C. J. 2018; 57 (25): 7508–12


    Formaldehyde (FA) is a common environmental toxin that is also produced naturally in the body through a wide range of metabolic and epigenetic processes, motivating the development of new technologies to monitor this reactive carbonyl species (RCS) in living systems. Herein, we report a pair of first-generation chemiluminescent probes for selective formaldehyde detection. Caging phenoxy-dioxetane scaffolds bearing different electron-withdrawing groups with a general 2-aza-Cope reactive formaldehyde trigger provides chemiluminescent formaldehyde probes 540 and 700 (CFAP540 and CFAP700) for visible and near-IR detection of FA in living cells and mice, respectively. In particular, CFAP700 is capable of visualizing FA release derived from endogenous folate metabolism, providing a starting point for the use of CFAPs and related chemical tools to probe FA physiology and pathology, as well as for the development of a broader palette of chemiluminescent activity-based sensing (ABS) probes that can be employed from in vitro biochemical to cell to animal models.

    View details for DOI 10.1002/anie.201802143

    View details for PubMedID 29635731

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC6358013

  • Sensitivity of salivary hydrogen sulfide to psychological stress and its association with exhaled nitric oxide and affect PHYSIOLOGY & BEHAVIOR Kroll, J. L., Werchan, C. A., Reeves, A. G., Bruemmer, K. J., Lippert, A. R., Ritz, T. 2017; 179: 99–104


    Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is the third gasotransmitter recently discovered after nitric oxide (NO) and carbon monoxide. Both NO and H2S are involved in multiple physiological functions. Whereas NO has been shown to vary with psychological stress, the influence of stress on H2S and the relationship between H2S and NO are unknown. We therefore examined levels of salivary H2S and NO in response to a stressful final academic exam period.Measurements of stress, negative affect, and fraction of exhaled NO (FENO), were obtained from students (N=16) and saliva was collected at three time points: low-stress period in the semester, early exam period, and late exam period. Saliva was immediately analyzed for H2S with the fluorescent probe Sulfidefluor-4.H2S increased significantly during the early exam period and FENO decreased gradually towards the late exam period. H2S, FENO, negative affect, and stress ratings were positively associated with each other: as stress level and negative affect increased, values of H2S increased; in addition, as FENO levels decreased, H2S also decreased. Asthma status did not modify these associations.Sustained academic stress increases H2S and these changes are correlated with NO and the experience of stress and negative affect. These findings motivate research with larger samples to further explore the interaction and function of H2S and FENO during psychological stress.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.physbeh.2017.05.023

    View details for Web of Science ID 000411533000012

    View details for PubMedID 28527680

  • Development of a General Aza-Cope Reaction Trigger Applied to Fluorescence Imaging of Formaldehyde in Living Cells JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN CHEMICAL SOCIETY Bruemmer, K. J., Walvoord, R. R., Brewer, T. F., Burgos-Barragan, G., Wit, N., Pontel, L. B., Patel, K. J., Chang, C. J. 2017; 139 (15): 5338–50


    Formaldehyde (FA) is a reactive signaling molecule that is continuously produced through a number of central biological pathways spanning epigenetics to one-carbon metabolism. On the other hand, aberrant, elevated levels of FA are implicated in disease states ranging from asthma to neurodegenerative disorders. In this context, fluorescence-based probes for FA imaging are emerging as potentially powerful chemical tools to help disentangle the complexities of FA homeostasis and its physiological and pathological contributions. Currently available FA indicators require direct modification of the fluorophore backbone through complex synthetic considerations to enable FA detection, often limiting the generalization of designs to other fluorophore classes. To address this challenge, we now present the rational, iterative development of a general reaction-based trigger utilizing 2-aza-Cope reactivity for selective and sensitive detection of FA in living systems. Specifically, we developed a homoallylamine functionality that can undergo a subsequent self-immolative β-elimination, creating a FA-responsive trigger that is capable of masking a phenol on a fluorophore or any other potential chemical scaffold for related imaging and/or therapeutic applications. We demonstrate the utility of this trigger by creating a series of fluorescent probes for FA with excitation and emission wavelengths that span the UV to visible spectral regions through caging of a variety of dye units. In particular, Formaldehyde Probe 573 (FAP573), based on a resorufin scaffold, is the most red-shifted and FA sensitive in this series in terms of signal-to-noise responses and enables identification of alcohol dehydrogenase 5 (ADH5) as an enzyme that regulates FA metabolism in living cells. The results provide a starting point for the broader use of 2-aza-Cope reactivity for probing and manipulating FA biology.

    View details for DOI 10.1021/jacs.6b12460

    View details for Web of Science ID 000399966000015

    View details for PubMedID 28375637

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5501373

  • Fluorescent probes for imaging formaldehyde in biological systems. Current opinion in chemical biology Bruemmer, K. J., Brewer, T. F., Chang, C. J. 2017; 39: 17–23


    Formaldehyde (FA) is a common environmental toxin but is also endogenously produced through a diverse array of essential biological processes, including mitochondrial one-carbon metabolism, metabolite oxidation, and nuclear epigenetic modifications. Its high electrophilicity enables reactivity with a wide variety of biological nucleophiles, which can be beneficial or detrimental to cellular function depending on the context. New methods that enable detection of FA in living systems can help disentangle the signal/stress dichotomy of this simplest reactive carbonyl species (RCS), and fluorescent probes for FA with high selectivity and sensitivity have emerged as promising chemical tools in this regard.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cbpa.2017.04.010

    View details for PubMedID 28527906

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5604882

  • F-19 magnetic resonance probes for live-cell detection of peroxynitrite using an oxidative decarbonylation reaction CHEMICAL COMMUNICATIONS Bruemmer, K. J., Merrikhihaghi, S., Lollar, C. T., Morris, S., Bauer, J. H., Lippert, A. R. 2014; 50 (82): 12311–14


    We report a newly discovered oxidative decarbonylation reaction of isatins that is selectively mediated by peroxynitrite (ONOO(-)) to provide anthranilic acid derivatives. We have harnessed this rapid and selective transformation to develop two reaction-based probes, 5-fluoroisatin and 6-fluoroisatin, for the low-background readout of ONOO(-) using (19)F magnetic resonance spectroscopy. 5-fluoroisatin was used to non-invasively detect ONOO(-) formation in living lung epithelial cells stimulated with interferon-γ (IFN-γ).

    View details for DOI 10.1039/c4cc04292a

    View details for Web of Science ID 000342887100019

    View details for PubMedID 25180249

  • Ylide mediated carbonyl homologations for the preparation of isatin derivatives ORGANIC & BIOMOLECULAR CHEMISTRY Lollar, C. T., Krenek, K. M., Bruemmer, K. J., Lippert, A. R. 2014; 12 (3): 406–9


    An exceptionally mild method for the preparation of isatin derivatives has been developed using a sulfur ylide mediated carbonyl homologation sequence starting from anthranilic acid precursors. This method proceeds at ambient temperature via a sulfur ylide intermediate without the need for protection of the amine or chromatographic isolation of the intermediate ylide. Gentle oxidation of the sulfur ylides provides isatin derivatives with N-H, N-alkyl, N-aryl substitution, electron-rich and electron-poor aromatic rings, and heterocyclic aromatic systems. We anticipate that this method will greatly expand the accessibility of complex isatin derivatives.

    View details for DOI 10.1039/c3ob42024h

    View details for Web of Science ID 000329551800002

    View details for PubMedID 24281127