Methods Appl. Fluoresc. 11 (4) - [2023-10-03; online 2023-10-03]
Photo-induced dark transient states of fluorophores can pose a problem in fluorescence spectroscopy. However, their typically long lifetimes also make them highly environment sensitive, suggesting fluorophores with prominent dark-state formation yields to be used as microenvironmental sensors in bio-molecular spectroscopy and imaging. In this work, we analyzed the singlet-triplet transitions of fluorescein and three synthesized carboxy-fluorescein derivatives, with one, two or four bromines linked to the anthracence backbone. Using transient state (TRAST) spectroscopy, we found a prominent internal heavy atom (IHA) enhancement of the intersystem crossing (ISC) rates upon bromination, inferred by density functional theory calculations to take place via a higher triplet state, followed by relaxation to the lowest triplet state. A corresponding external heavy atom (EHA) enhancement was found upon adding potassium iodide (KI). Notably, increased KI concentrations still resulted in lowered triplet state buildup in the brominated fluorophores, due to relatively lower enhancements in ISC, than in the triplet decay. Together with an antioxidative effect on the fluorophores, adding KI thus generated a fluorescence enhancement of the brominated fluorophores. By TRAST measurements, analyzing the average fluorescence intensity of fluorescent molecules subject to a systematically varied excitation modulation, dark state transitions within very high triplet yield (>90%) fluorophores can be directly analyzed under biologically relevant conditions. These measurements, not possible by other techniques such as fluorescence correlation spectroscopy, opens for bio-sensing applications based on high triplet yield fluorophores, and for characterization of high triplet yield photodynamic therapy agents, and how they are influenced by IHA and EHA effects.