Imaging strategies using cyanine probes and materials for biomedical visualization of live animals

Guiqiang Fei, Siyue Ma, Chao Wang, Tao Chen, Yulin Li, Yuxia Liu, Bo Tang, Tony D. James, Guang Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

28 Citations (SciVal)


In vivo fluorescence imaging provides vital information required for biomedical research in living animals, and as such plays an essential role in disease assessment. Unfortunately, due to the lack of coherent approaches, in vivo fluorescence visualization is challenging, wasting not only time but the animals used. In recent years, cyanine-based systems have been found to exhibit attractive optical properties with appropriate bio-functionality and therefore have become go-to probes for in vivo research. Herein, we collected the recent breakthroughs using cyanine-based systems associated with use in living mammals, to provide researchers with the required information to develop appropriate strategies able to meet the increasing stringent requirements for practical applications. We concentrate on 6 sites within the cyanine skeleton, including the: meso-position (1), N-indole (2), phenyl-indole (2), cyclohexane (1), which have been used to design symmetric or asymmetric cyanine structures. Substitutions at the meso-position provide fluorescence probes featuring a switch of EWG and EDG, PET, spiro-cyclization, ICT within the cyanine skeleton, or FRET, for visualizing analytes in vivo. Substitution at the N-indole forms a positively charged system with long wavelength emission suitable for in vivo imaging. While, modification of the phenyl-indole contributes to the functional properties, including photoacoustic, photothermal and photodynamic behavior, which can be used for multimodal imaging as well as functional imaging in vivo. With a specific trigger at the N-indole or meso-position, NIR fluorescence pro-drugs could be developed for in vivo tracing of the efficiency of drug delivery. While modification of the cyclohexane can introduce a targeting moiety for the accurate monitoring of tumors or organs. Using these strategies appropriate design platforms can be developed to provide the next generation of optical systems for living animal research. Moreover, we hope this review will enable researchers to design systems with high efficiency for in vivo research, which will reduce both the development time and number of animals required to progress the research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number214134
JournalCoordination Chemistry Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors wish to thank the publishers for their copyrights. This work was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (Nos: 21475074 , and 21403123 ), Key Laboratory of Emergency and Trauma (Hainan Medical University), Ministry of Education (Grant. KLET-201903 ), the Open Funds of the Shandong Province Key Laboratory of Detection Technology for Tumor Markers ( KLDTTM2015-6 ; KLDTTM2015-9 ), and the Natural Science Foundation of Shandong Province ( ZR201709240033 ). TDJ wishes to thank the Royal Society for a Wolfson Research Merit Award, Shaanxi University of Science & Technology for a Guest Professorship and the Open Research Fund of the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Henan Normal University for support (2020ZD01). The authors would like to thank Aoran Chen for drawing the cartoon in Scheme 1 .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier B.V.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Biomedical visualization
  • Cyanine
  • In vivo fluorescence imaging
  • Strategies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Materials Chemistry


Dive into the research topics of 'Imaging strategies using cyanine probes and materials for biomedical visualization of live animals'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this