Lanthanide complexes have unique chemical characteristics compared with typical organic complexes, and have recently attracted much interest because of the expanding need for new bioanalytical sensors. For example, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) permits noninvasive three-dimensional imaging inside opaque organisms, and gadolinium ion (Gd3+) complexes have become important tools as MRI contrast agents. However, most of them are nonspecific, and report solely on anatomy. Therefore, responsive MRI contrast agents, so-called “smart” MRI contrast agents whose ability to relax water protons is greatly enhanced by recognition of a particular biomolecule, have great potential for elucidating biological phenomena. On the other hand, lanthanide complexes such as europium (Eu3+) and terbium (Tb3+) complexes have excellent luminescence properties for biological applications, i.e., long luminescence lifetime of the order of milliseconds and a large Stoke's shift of >200 nm. Their long-lived luminescence is especially suitable for time-resolved measurements, because the interference from short-lived background fluorescence and scattered light rapidly decays to a negligible level after a pulse of excitation light is applied, and the emitted light can be collected after an appropriate delay time. These luminescent lanthanide complexes have already found commercial use as highly sensitive luminescent probes in heterogeneous and homogeneous assays. This paper reviews our research on the design and synthesis of responsive lanthanide-based MRI and luminescent probes for advanced bioimaging.
2010 The Pharmaceutical Society of Japan