Synergistic Coordination and Hydrogen Bonding Interaction Modulate the Emission of Iridium Complex for Highly Sensitive Glutamine Imaging in Live Cells

Highly selective detection of intracellular glutamine (Gln) is very essential to understand the roles of Gln in some biological processes. Here, we report a new fluorescent method for selective imaging of Gln in live cells with an aldehyde-containing iridium complex, [Ir­(pba)2(DMSO)2]­PF6 (Hpba = 4-(2-pyridiyl)­benzaldehyde) (Ir1), as the probe. Density functional theory (DFT) calculation and experimental results suggest that the coordination and hydrogen bonding interaction between Ir1 and Gln synergistically stabilize the Ir1–Gln complex, modulate charge-transfer characteristics and emission of Ir1, and as a consequence, enable Ir1 as the probe for the fluorescent sensing of Gln. The sensing strategy is well-responsive to Gln without interference from other amino acids or Gln-containing peptides and is demonstrated to be useful for in situ Gln imaging in live cells. The study provides a new method for fluorescent imaging of Gln in live cells, which is envisioned to find interesting applications in understanding the roles of Gln in some physiological processes.