The pH dependencies of the UV-vis and fluorescent spectra of new water-soluble dendritic porphyrins and tetrabenzoporphyrins were studied. Because of extended pi-conjugation and nonplanar distortion, the absorption and the emission bands of tetraaryltetrabenzoporphyrins (Ar4TBP) are red-shifted and do not overlap with those of regular tetraarylporphyrins (Ar4P). When encapsulated inside dendrimers with hydrophilic outer layers, Ar(4)Ps and Ar(4)TBPs become water soluble and can serve as pH indicators, with pKs adjustable by the peripheral charges on the dendrimers. Two new dendritic porphyrins, Gen 4 polyglutamic porphyrin dendrimer H2P-Glu(4)OH (1) with 64 peripheral carboxylates and Gen 1 poly(ester amide) Newkome-type tetrabenzoporphyrin dendrimer H2TBP-Nw(1)OH (2) with 36 peripheral carboxylates, were synthesized and characterized. The pKs of the encapsulated porphyrins (pK(H2P-Glu)(OH)(4) = 6.2 and pK(H2TBP)-Nw(1)OH = 6.3) were found to be strongly influenced by the dendrimers, revealing significant electrostatic shielding of the cores by the peripheral charges. The titration curves obtained by differential excitation using the mixtures of the dendrimers were shown to be identical to those determined for the dendrimers individually. Due to their peripheral carboxylates and nanometric molecular size, porphyrin dendrimers cannot penetrate through phospholipid membranes. Dendrimer 1 was captured inside phospholipid liposomes, which were suspended in a solution containing dendrimer 2. No response from 1 was detected upon pH changes in the bulk solution, while the response from 2 was predictably strong. When proton channels were created in the liposome walls, both compounds responded equally to the bulk pH changes. These results suggest that porphyrin dendrimers can be used as fluorescent pH indicators for proton gradient measurements.
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