Multifunctional, Tunable Metal–Organic Framework Materials Platform for Bioimaging Applications

Herein, we describe a novel multifunctional metal–organic framework (MOF) materials platform that displays both porosity and tunable emission properties as a function of the metal identity (Eu, Nd, and tuned compositions of Nd/Yb). Their emission collectively spans the deep red to near-infrared (NIR) spectral region (∼614–1350 nm), which is highly relevant for in vivo bioimaging. These new materials meet important prerequisites as relevant to biological processes: they are minimally toxic to living cells and retain structural integrity in water and phosphate-buffered saline. To assess their viability as optical bioimaging agents, we successfully synthesized the nanoscale Eu analog as a proof-of-concept system in this series. In vitro studies show that it is cell-permeable in individual RAW 264.7 mouse macrophage and HeLa human cervical cancer tissue culture cells. The efficient discrimination between the Eu emission and cell autofluorescence was achieved with hyperspectral confocal fluorescence microscopy, used here for the first time to characterize MOF materials. Importantly, this is the first report that documents the long-term conservation of the intrinsic emission in live cells of a fluorophore-based MOF to date (up to 48 h). This finding, in conjunction with the materials’ very low toxicity, validates the biocompatibility in these systems and qualifies them as promising for use in long-term tracking and biodistribution studies.