BODIPY Fluorophores for Membrane Potential Imaging

Fluorophores based on the BODIPY scaffold are prized for their tunable excitation and emission profiles, mild syntheses, and biological compatibility. Improving the water-solubility of BODIPY dyes remains an outstanding challenge. The development of water-soluble BODIPY dyes usually involves direct modification of the BODIPY fluorophore core with ionizable groups or substitution at the boron center. While these strategies are effective for the generation of water-soluble fluorophores, they are challenging to implement when developing BODIPY-based indicators: direct modification of BODIPY core can disrupt the electronics of the dye, complicating the design of functional indicators; and substitution at the boron center often renders the resultant BODIPY incompatible with the chemical transformations required to generate fluorescent sensors. In this study, we show that BODIPYs bearing a sulfonated aromatic group at the meso position provide a general solution for water-soluble BODIPYs. We outline the route to a suite of 5 new sulfonated BODIPYs with 2,6-disubstitution patterns spanning a range of electron-donating and -withdrawing propensities. To highlight the utility of these new, sulfonated BODIPYs, we further functionalize them to access 13 new, BODIPY-based voltage-sensitive fluorophores. The most sensitive of these BODIPY VF dyes displays a 48% ΔF/F per 100 mV in mammalian cells. Two additional BODIPY VFs show good voltage sensitivity (≥24% ΔF/F) and excellent brightness in cells. These compounds can report on action potential dynamics in both mammalian neurons and human stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes. Accessing a range of substituents in the context of a water soluble BODIPY fluorophore provides opportunities to tune the electronic properties of water-soluble BODIPY dyes for functional indicators.