Long-Wavelength AIE-Based Fluorescent Probes for Mitochondria-Targeted Imaging and Photodynamic Therapy of Hepatoma Cells

Dan Zhao, Hai Hao Han, Ling Zhu, Fang Zhou Xu, Xing Yu Ma, Jia Li, Tony D. James, Yi Zang, Xiao Peng He, Chengyun Wang

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With this research, we have developed two long-wavelength theranostic probes (DCMT and DCMC) with aggregation-induced emission (AIE)-based properties for image-guided photodynamic therapy (PDT) of hepatoma cells. Introduction of a triphenylamine or carbazole group to a dicyanomethylene-4H-pyran dye with long-wavelength fluorescence emission produces the AIE-based probes, which were subsequently modified with triphenyl-phosphonium cation for actively targeting the mitochondria of hepatoma cells. Solution-based experiments show that the probes exhibit a mixed photophysical mechanism of twisted-intramolecular charge transfer and AIE at different aggregation states. The molecular aggregation of the probes also leads to an enhanced ability for oxygen photosensitization, suggesting their potential for PDT of cancer cells. Our subsequent cell-based assays show that the probes localize in the mitochondria of hepatoma cells and the use of light leads to cell death through the intracellular production of reactive oxygen species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7016-7024
Number of pages9
JournalACS Applied Bio Materials
Issue number9
Early online date7 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sept 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 21788102), the National Science and Technology Major Project of China (No. 2018ZX10732202), the Shanghai Municipal Science and Technology Major Project (No. 2018SHZDZX03), the International Cooperation Program of Shanghai Science and Technology Committee (No. 17520750100), and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (222201717003) for financial support. T.D.J. wishes to thank the Royal Society for a Wolfson Research Merit Award and the Open Research Fund of the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Henan Normal University for support (2020ZD01). H.-H.H. would like to thank the Project funded by China Postdoctoral Science Foundation (No. 2020M681196).


  • aggregation-induced emission (AIE)
  • mitochondria
  • photodynamic therapy (PDT)
  • photosensitizer
  • theranostic probe

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biomaterials
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Biochemistry, medical


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