Ultrafast Formation of the Charge-Transfer State of Prodan Reveals Unique Aspects of the Chromophore Environment

Lipiophilic dyes such as Laurdan and Prodan are widely used in membrane biology due to a strong bathochromic shift in emission that reports structural parameters of the membrane such as area per molecule. Disentangling the factors which control the spectral shift is complicated by the stabilization of a charge-transfer-like excitation of the dye in polar environments. Predicting the emission therefore requires modeling both the relaxation of the environment and the corresponding evolution of the excited state. Here an approach is presented in which (i) the local environment is sampled by classical molecular dynamics (MD) simulation of the dye and solvent; (ii) the electronically excited state of Prodan upon light absorption is predicted by numerical quantum mechanics (QM); (iii) iterative relaxation of the environment around the excited dye by MD coupled with evolution of the excited state is performed; (iv) the emission properties are predicted by QM. The QM steps are computed using many-body Green's functions theory in the GW approximation and the Bethe-Salpeter Equation with the environment modeled as fixed point charges, sampled in the MD simulation steps. Comparison to ultrafast time resolved transient absorption measurements demonstrates that the iterative MM/QM approach agrees quantitatively with both the polarity dependent shift in emission and the timescale over which the charge transfer state is stabilized. Together the simulations and experimental measurements suggest that evolution into the charge-transfer state is slower in amphiphilic solvents.