Cyclometalated iridium(III) complexes for phosphorescence sensing of biological metal ions

Youngmin You, Somin Cho, Wonwoo Nam

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

136 Scopus citations


Phosphorescence signaling provides a valuable alternative to conventional bioimaging based on fluorescence. The benefits of using phosphorescent molecules include improved sensitivity and capabilities for effective elimination of background signals by time-gated acquisition. Cyclometalated Ir(III) complexes are promising candidates for facilitating phosphorescent bioimaging because they provide synthetic versatility and excellent phosphorescence properties. In this Forum Article, we present our recent studies on the development of phosphorescence sensors for the detection of metal ions based on cyclometalated iridium(III) complexes. The constructs contained cyclometalating (C^N) ligands with the electron densities and band-gap energies of the C^N ligand structures systematically varied. Receptors that chelated zinc, cupric, and chromium ions were tethered to the ligands to create phosphorescence sensors. The alterations in the C^N ligand structures had a profound influence on the phosphorescence responses to metal ions. Mechanistic studies suggested that the phosphorescence responses could be explained on the basis of the modulation of photoinduced electron transfer (PeT) from the receptor to the photoexcited iridium species. The PeT behaviors strictly adhered to the Rehm-Weller principle, and the occurrence of PeT was located in the Marcus-normal region. It is thus anticipated that improved responses will be obtainable by increasing the excited-state reduction potential of the iridium(III) complexes. Femtosecond transient absorption experiments provided evidence for the presence of an additional photophysical mechanism that involved metal-ion-induced alteration of the intraligand charge-transfer (ILCT) transition state. Utility of the mechanism by PeT and ILCT has been demonstrated for the phosphorescence sensing of biologically important transition-metal ions. In particular, the phosphorescence zinc sensor could report the presence of intracellular zinc pools by using confocal laser scanning microscopy and photoluminescence lifetime imaging microscopy techniques. We hope that the significant knowledge gained from our studies will be of great help in the design of new molecules as phosphorescence sensors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1804-1815
Number of pages12
JournalInorganic Chemistry
Issue number4
StatePublished - 17 Feb 2014


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