Phosphonofluoresceins: Synthesis, Spectroscopy, and Applications
Xanthene fluorophores, like fluorescein, have been versatile molecules across diverse fields of chemistry and life sciences. Despite the ubiquity of 3-carboxy and 3-sulfuonofluorescein for the last 150 years, to date, no reports of 3-phosphonofluorescein exist. Here, we report the synthesis, spectroscopic characterization, and applications of 3-phosphonofluoresceins. The absorption and emission of 3-phosphonofluoresceins remain relatively unaltered from the parent 3-carboxyfluorescein. 3-phosphonofluoresceins show enhanced water solubility compared to 3-carboxyfluorescein and persist in an open, visible light-absorbing state even at low pH and in low dielectric media while 3-carboxyfluoresceins tend to lactonize. In contrast, the spirocyclization tendency of 3-phosphonofluoresceins can be modulated by esterification of the phosphonic acid. The bis-acetoxymethyl ester of 3-phosphonofluorescein readily enters living cells, showing excellent accumulation (>6x) and retention (>11x), resulting in a nearly 70-fold improvement in cellular brightness compared to 3-carboxyfluorescein. In a complementary fashion, the free acid form of 3-phosphonofluorescein does not cross cellular membranes, making it ideally suited for incorporation into a voltage-sensing scaffold. We develop a new synthetic route to functionalized 3-phosphonofluoresceins to enable the synthesis of phosphono-voltage sensitive fluorophores, or phosVF2.1.Cl. Phosphono-VF2.1.Cl shows excellent membrane localization, cellular brightness, and voltage sensitivity (26% ΔF/F per 100 mV), rivalling that of sulfono-based VF dyes. In sum, we develop the first synthesis of 3-phosphonofluoresceins, characterize the spectroscopic properties of this new class of xanthene dyes, and utilize these insights to show the utility of 3-phosphonofluoresceins in intracellular imaging and membrane potential sensing.