A series of meso-ester-substituted BODIPY derivatives 1-6 are synthesized and characterized. In particular, dyes functionalized with oligo(ethylene glycol) ether styryl or naphthalene vinylene groups at the α positions of the BODIPY core (3-6) become partially soluble in water, and their absorptions and emissions are located in the far-red or near-infrared region. Three synthetic approaches are attempted to access the meso-carboxylic acid (COOH)-substituted BODIPYs 7 and 8 from the meso-ester-substituted BODIPYs. Two feasible synthetic routes are developed successfully, including one short route with only three steps. The meso-COOH-substituted BODIPY 7 is completely soluble in pure water, and its fluorescence maximum reaches around 650 nm with a fluorescence quantum yield of up to 15 %. Time-dependent density functional theory calculations are conducted to understand the structure-optical properties relationship, and it is revealed that the Stokes shift is dependent mainly on the geometric change from the ground state to the first excited singlet state. Furthermore, cell staining tests demonstrate that the meso-ester-substituted BODIPYs (1 and 3-6) and one of the meso-COOH-substituted BODIPYs (8) are very membrane-permeable. These features make these meso-ester- and meso-COOH-substituted BODIPY dyes attractive for bioimaging and biolabeling applications in living cells. Copyright © 2014 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim.
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