Intercalation is not required for DNA light-switch behavior.
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The DNA light-switch complex [Ru(bpy)2(tpphz)]2+ (1, bpy = 2,2'-bipyridine, tpphz = tetrapyrido[3,2-a:2',3'-c:3'',2''-h:2''',3'''-j]phenazine) is luminescent when bound to DNA and in organic solvents and weakly emissive in water. To date, light-switch behavior by transition metal complexes has generally been regarded as confirmation of DNA intercalation. In contrast, the present work demonstrates that the nonintercalating bimetallic complex [(bpy)2Ru(tpphz)Ru(bpy)2]4+ (2) behaves as a DNA light-switch. Weak emission from the 3MLCT excited state of 2 is observed in water with lambda(em) = 623 nm (phi(em) = 1.4 x 10(-4)), and a red shift (lambda(em) = 702 nm) and 40-fold increase in intensity are observed upon addition of 100 microM calf thymus DNA (ct-DNA). Addition of increasing concentrations of 2 to 1 mM herring sperm DNA does not result in an increase in the viscosity of the solution, indicating that the complex is not an intercalator. Additionally, experiments were conducted to ensure that the emission enhancement did not arise from threading intercalation of the complex. The in situ generation of 2 intercalated between the base pairs of ct-DNA in a threading fashion, however, exhibits emission maximum at 685 nm, which is blue-shifted from that of surface-bound 2. DFT calculations show low-lying orbitals in 2 that are expected to exhibit nonemissive character when contributing to the MLCT state, in accord with the lower emission intensity observed for 2 relative to that for 1. To our knowledge, the present work is the first example of a nonintercalating light-switch metal complex, thus showing that light-switch behavior cannot be used exclusively as confirmation of intercalation.