Photonics of Trimethine Cyanine Dyes as Probes for Biomolecules

Molecules. 2022 Sep 27;27(19):6367. doi: 10.3390/molecules27196367.


Cyanine dyes are widely used as fluorescent probes in biophysics and medical biochemistry due to their unique photophysical and photochemical properties (their photonics). This review is focused on a subclass of the most widespread and studied cyanine dyes-trimethine cyanines, which can serve as potential probes for biomolecules. The works devoted to the study of the noncovalent interaction of trimethine cyanine dyes with biomolecules and changing the properties of these dyes upon the interaction are reviewed. In addition to the spectral-fluorescent properties, elementary photochemical properties of trimethine cyanines are considered, including: photoisomerization and back isomerization of the photoisomer, generation and decay of the triplet state, and its quenching by oxygen and other quenchers. The influence of DNA and other nucleic acids, proteins, and other biomolecules on these properties is covered. The interaction of a monomer dye molecule with a biomolecule usually leads to a fluorescence growth, damping of photoisomerization (if any), and an increase in intersystem crossing to the triplet state. Sometimes aggregation of dye molecules on biomolecules is observed. Quenching of the dye triplet state in a complex with biomolecules by molecular oxygen usually occurs with a rate constant much lower than the diffusion limit with allowance for the spin-statistical factor 1/9. The practical application of trimethine cyanines in biophysics and (medical) biochemistry is also considered. In conclusion, the prospects for further studies on the cyanine dye-biomolecule system and the development of new effective dye probes (including probes of a new type) for biomolecules are discussed.

Keywords: DNA; albumins; biomolecules; isomerization; photonics; spectral-fluorescent properties; trimethine cyanine dyes; triplet state.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carbocyanines / chemistry
  • DNA / chemistry
  • Fluorescent Dyes* / chemistry
  • Optics and Photonics
  • Oxygen
  • Quinolines*


  • Carbocyanines
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Quinolines
  • DNA
  • Oxygen