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Chemistry. 2009;15(15):3720-8. doi: 10.1002/chem.200802425.

Responsive metal complexes: a click-based "allosteric scorpionate" complex permits the detection of a biological recognition event by EPR/ENDOR spectroscopy.

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School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Queen Mary, University of London, Mile End Road, London E1 4NS, UK.


Chemical sensing is a mature field, and many effective sensors for small anions and cations have been devised. Metal complexes have been used widely for this purpose, but there are fewer reports of their use in the detection of organic and biological analytes. To date metal complexes have been used in sensing via the direct displacement of a pre-existing ligand by an analyte, or by an adventitious complementarity between the complex and analyte. These strategies do not permit a general approach to the sensing of biological molecules with metal complexes because of the demands to engineer molecular recognition into the complex architecture. We describe a fundamentally new approach to this field-the "allosteric scorpionate" metal complex. The binding partner of a biological analyte is attached to a scorpionate ligand on a metal complex, remote from the metal centre. Binding of the analyte causes a change in the primary coordination sphere at the metal, thereby revealing the presence of the biological molecule. We show that azamacrocyclic complexes with a triazole scorpion ligand may be easily assembled with the [3+2] Huisgens 'click' cycloaddition. We demonstrate the synthesis of a biotin-functionalised cyclam derivative using this methodology. This, and our previously communicated zinc sensor, are to the best of our knowledge the first examples of a triazole being employed as a scorpion ligand on an azamacrocycle. Coordination by the triazole to the metal is perturbed by the binding of avidin to the pendant ligand. This event can be sensitively detected with EPR spectroscopy, and the details of the coordination change probed with ENDOR spectroscopy, confirming the loss of the axial triazole nitrogen donor upon binding to avidin. This represents the first metal complex where remote, 'allosteric' coordination of an analyte has been shown to cause a change in the primary coordination sphere of the metal. Since the synthesis is modular and straightforward, other biological ligands may easily be introduced, and the associated binding events may be probed.

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