Molecular rotors--fluorescent biosensors for viscosity and flow

Org Biomol Chem. 2007 Jun 7;5(11):1669-78. doi: 10.1039/b618415d. Epub 2007 Apr 12.


Viscosity is a measure of the resistance of a fluid against gradients in flow (shear rate). Both flow and viscosity play an important role in all biological systems from the microscopic (e.g., cellular) to the systemic level. Many methods to measure viscosity and flow have drawbacks, such as the tedious and time-consuming measurement process, expensive instrumentation, or the restriction to bulk sample sizes. Fluorescent environment-sensitive dyes are known to show high sensitivity and high spatial and temporal resolution. Molecular rotors are a group of fluorescent molecules that form twisted intramolecular charge transfer (TICT) states upon photoexcitation and therefore exhibit two competing deexcitation pathways: fluorescence emission and non-radiative deexcitation from the TICT state. Since TICT formation is viscosity-dependent, the emission intensity of molecular rotors depends on the solvent's viscosity. Furthermore, shear-stress dependency of the emission intensity was recently described. Although the photophysical processes are widely explored, the practical application of molecular rotors as sensors for viscosity and the fluid flow introduce additional challenges. Intensity-based measurements are influenced by fluid optical properties and dye concentration, and solvent-dye interaction requires calibration of the measurement system to a specific solvent. Ratiometric dyes and measurement systems help solve these challenges. In addition, the combination of molecular rotors with specific recognition groups allows them to target specific sites, for example the cell membrane or cytoplasm. Molecular rotors are therefore emerging as new biosensors for both bulk and local microviscosity, and for flow and fluid shear stress on a microscopic scale and with real-time response.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Biosensing Techniques / methods*
  • Molecular Probes / analysis*
  • Molecular Probes / chemistry*
  • Rheology / methods*
  • Spectrometry, Fluorescence
  • Viscosity


  • Molecular Probes