Light-Up Mitophagy in Live Cells with Dual-Functional Theranostic Phosphorescent Iridium(III) Complexes

Mu He Chen, Fang Xin Wang, Jian Jun Cao, Cai Ping Tan, Liang Nian Ji, Zong Wan Mao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

79 Citations (Scopus)


Phosphorescent Ir(III) complexes are expected to be new multifunctional theranostic platforms that enable the integration of imaging capabilities and anticancer properties. Mitophagy is an important selective autophagic process that degrades dysfunctional mitochondria. Until now, the regulation of mitophagy is still poorly understood. Herein, we present two phosphorescent cyclometalated iridium(III) complexes (Ir1 and Ir2) that can accumulate in mitochondria and induce mitophagy. Because of their intrinsic phosphorescence, they can specially image mitochondria and track mitochondrial morphological alterations. Mechanism studies show that Ir1 and Ir2 induce mitophagy by depolarization of mitochondrial membrane potential, depletion of cellular ATP, perturbation in mitochondrial metabolic status, and induction of oxidative stress. Moreover, no sign of apoptosis is observed in Ir1- and Ir2-treated cells under the same conditions that an obvious mitophagic response is initiated. We demonstrate that Ir1 is a promising theranostic agent that can induce mitophagy and visualize changes in mitochondrial morphology simultaneously.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13304-13314
Number of pages11
JournalACS Applied Materials & Interfaces
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - 19 Apr 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • iridium(III) complex
  • mitochondria
  • mitophagy
  • phosphorescent emission
  • theranostic

Cite this