Tetrapyrrole derivatives such as porphyrins, phthalocyanines, naphthalocyanines, and porpholactones, are highly stable macrocyclic compounds that play important roles in many phenomena linked to the development of life. Their complexes with lanthanides are known for more than 60 years and present breath-taking properties such as a range of easily accessible redox states leading to photo- and electro-chromism, paramagnetism, large non-linear optical parameters, and remarkable light emission in the visible and near-infrared (NIR) ranges. They are at the centre of many applications with an increasing focus on their ability to generate singlet oxygen for photodynamic therapy coupled with bioimaging and biosensing properties. This review first describes the synthetic paths leading to lanthanide-tetrapyrrole complexes together with their structures. The initial synthetic protocols were plagued by low yields and long reaction times; they have now been replaced with much more efficient and faster routes, thanks to the stunning advances in synthetic organic chemistry, so that quite complex multinuclear edifices are presently routinely obtained. Aspects such as redox properties, sensitization of NIR-emitting lanthanide ions, and non-linear optical properties are then presented. The spectacular improvements in the quantum yield and brightness of YbIII-containing tetrapyrrole complexes achieved in the past five years are representative of the vitality of the field and open welcome opportunities for the bio-applications described in the last section. Perspectives for the field are vast and exciting as new derivatizations of the macrocycles may lead to sensitization of other LnIII NIR-emitting ions with luminescence in the NIR-II and NIR-III biological windows, while conjugation with peptides and aptamers opens the way for lanthanide-tetrapyrrole theranostics.
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