Cyclometalated Ir(III) complexes exhibit strong phosphorescence emission with lifetime of submicroseconds to several microseconds at room temperature. Their synthetic versatility enables broad control of physical properties, such as charge and lipophilicity, as well as emission colors. These favorable properties have motivated the use of Ir(III) complexes in luminescent bioimaging applications. This review examines the recent progress in the development of phosphorescent biolabels and sensors based on Ir(III) complexes. It begins with a brief introduction about the basic principles of the syntheses and photophysical processes of cyclometalated Ir(III) complexes. Focus is placed on illustrating the broad imaging utility of Ir(III) complexes. Phosphorescent labels illuminating intracellular organelles, including mitochondria, lysosomes, and cell membranes, are summarized. Ir(III) complexes capable of visualization of tumor spheroids and parasites are also introduced. Facile chemical modification of the cyclometalating ligands endows the Ir(III) complexes with strong sensing ability. Sensors of temperature, pH, CO2, metal ions, anions, biosulfur species, reactive oxygen species, peptides, and viscosity have recently been added to the molecular imaging tools. This diverse utility demonstrates the potential of phosphorescent Ir(III) complexes toward bioimaging applications.
- Ir(III) complex