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Chlorin–Bacteriochlorin Energy-transfer Dyads as Prototypes for Near-infrared Molecular Imaging Probes: Controlling Charge-transfer and Fluorescence Properties in Polar Media


*Corresponding author email: (Dewey Holten)


The photophysical properties of two energy-transfer dyads that are potential candidates for near-infrared (NIR) imaging probes are investigated as a function of solvent polarity. The dyads (FbC-FbB and ZnC-FbB) contain either a free base (Fb) or zinc (Zn) chlorin (C) as the energy donor and a free base bacteriochlorin (B) as the energy acceptor. The dyads were studied in toluene, chlorobenzene, 1,2-dichlorobenzene, acetone, acetonitrile and dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO). In both dyads, energy transfer from the chlorin to bacteriochlorin occurs with a rate constant of ∼(5–10 ps)−1 and a yield of >99% in nonpolar and polar media. In toluene, the fluorescence yields (Φf = 0.19) and singlet excited-state lifetimes (τ∼5.5 ns) are comparable to those of the benchmark bacteriochlorin. The fluorescence yield and excited-state lifetime decrease as the solvent polarity increases, with quenching by intramolecular electron (or hole) transfer being greater for FbC-FbB than for ZnC-FbB in a given solvent. For example, the Φf and τ values for FbC-FbB in acetone are 0.055 and 1.5 ns and in DMSO are 0.019 and 0.28 ns, whereas those for ZnC-FbB in acetone are 0.12 and 4.5 ns and in DMSO are 0.072 and 2.4 ns. The difference in fluorescence properties of the two dyads in a given polar solvent is due to the relative energies of the lowest energy charge-transfer states, as assessed by ground-state redox potentials and supported by molecular-orbital energies derived from density functional theory calculations. Controlling the extent of excited-state quenching in polar media will allow the favorable photophysical properties of the chlorin–bacteriochlorin dyads to be exploited in vivo. These properties include very large Stokes shifts (85 nm for FbC-FbB, 110 nm for ZnC-FbB) between the red-region absorption of the chlorin and the NIR fluorescence of the bacteriochlorin (λf = 760 nm), long bacteriochlorin excited-state lifetime (∼5.5 ns), and narrow (≤20 nm) absorption and fluorescence bands. The latter will facilitate selective excitation/detection and multiprobe applications using both intensity- and lifetime-imaging techniques.