Highly luminescent, biocompatible ytterbium(iii) complexes as near-infrared fluorophores for living cell imaging†
Herein, we report the design and synthesis of biocompatible Yb3+ complexes for near-infrared (NIR) living cell imaging. Upon excitation at either the visible (Soret band) or red region (Q band), these β-fluorinated Yb3+ complexes display high NIR luminescence (quantum yields up to 23% and 13% in dimethyl sulfoxide and water, respectively) and have higher stabilities and prolonged decay lifetimes (up to 249 μs) compared to the β-non-fluorinated counterparts. This renders the β-fluorinated Yb3+ complexes as a new class of biological optical probes in both steady-state imaging and time-resolved fluorescence lifetime imaging (FLIM). NIR confocal fluorescence images showed strong and specific intracellular Yb3+ luminescence signals when the biocompatible Yb3+ complexes were uptaken into the living cells. Importantly, FLIM measurements showed an intracellular lifetime distribution between 100 and 200 μs, allowing an effective discrimination from cell autofluorescence, and afforded high signal-to-noise ratios as firstly demonstrated in the NIR region. These results demonstrated the prospects of NIR lanthanide complexes as biological probes for NIR steady-state fluorescence and time-resolved fluorescence lifetime imaging.