Shuttles and muscles: linear molecular machines based on transition metals

Acc Chem Res. 2001 Jun;34(6):477-87. doi: 10.1021/ar0001766.


Transition-metal-containing rotaxanes can behave as linear motors at the molecular level. The molecules are set into motion either by an electrochemical reaction or using a chemical signal. In a first example, a simple rotaxane is described that consists of a ring threaded by a two-coordination-site axle. The ring contains a bidentate ligand, coordinated to a copper center. The axle incorporates both a bidentate and a terdentate ligand. By oxidizing or reducing the copper center to Cu(II) or Cu(I) respectively, the ring glides from a given position on the axle to another position and vice versa. By generalizing the concept to a rotaxane dimer, whose synthesis involves a quantitative double-threading reaction triggered by copper(I) complexation, a molecular assembly reminiscent of a muscle is constructed. By exchanging the two metal centers of the complex (copper(I)/zinc(II)), a large-amplitude movement is generated, which corresponds to a contraction/stretching process. The copper(I)-containing rotaxane dimer is in a stretched situation (overall length approximately 8 nm), whereas the zinc(II) complexed compound is contracted (length approximately 6.5 nm). The stretching/contraction process is reversible and it is hoped that, in the future, other types of signals can be used (electrochemical or light pulse) to trigger the motion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Metals, Heavy / chemistry
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Motor Proteins / chemistry*
  • Muscle Proteins / chemistry*


  • Metals, Heavy
  • Molecular Motor Proteins
  • Muscle Proteins