Ultrabright two-photon excitable red-emissive fluorogenic probes for fast and wash-free bioorthogonal labeling in live cells

Marie Auvray, Delphine Naud-Martin, Gaëlle Fontaine, Frédéric Bolze, Gilles Clavier, Florence Mahuteau-Betzer

Fluorogenic bioorthogonal reactions are promising tools for tracking small molecules or biomolecules in living organisms. Two-photon excitation, by shifting absorption towards the red, significantly increases the signal-to-noise ratio and decreases photodamages, while allowing to image about 10 times deeper than with a confocal. However, efficient two-photon excitable fluorogenic probes are currently lacking. We report here the design and synthesis of fluorogenic probes based on a two-photon excitable fluorophore and a tetrazine quenching moiety. These probes react with bicyclo[6.1.0]no-4-yn-9yl)methanol (BCN) with good to impressive kinetic rate constant (up to 1.1x103 M-1.s-1) and emit in the red window with moderate to high turn-on. TDDFT allowed to rationalize both the kinetic and fluorogenic performance of the different probes. The best candidate displays a turn-on of 13.8-fold measured by fluorescence intensities quantification in living cells under one-photon excitation, whereas a value of 3 is enough for live-cell imaging with high contrast. Moreover, live-cell imaging under two-photon excitation confirmed that there was no need for washing to monitor the reaction between BCN and this probe as a turn-on of 8.0-fold was measured under two-photon excitation. Finally, the high two-photon brightness of the clicked adduct (>300 GM) allows the use of a weak laser power compatible with in vivo imaging.