Photoactivation of bioactive molecules allows manipulation of cellular processes with high spatiotemporal precision. The recent emergence of visible-light excitable photoprotecting groups has the potential to further expand the established utility of the photoactivation strategy in biological applications by offering higher tissue penetration, diminished phototoxicity, and compatibility with other light-dependent techniques. Nevertheless, a critical barrier to such applications remains the significant hydrophobicity of most visible-light excitable photocaging groups. Here, we find that applying the conventional 2,6-sulfonation to meso-methyl BODIPY photocages is incompatible with their photoreaction due to an increase in the excited state barrier for photorelease. We present a simple, remote sulfonation solution to BODIPY photocages that imparts water solubility and provides control over cellular permeability while retaining their favorable spectroscopic and photoreaction properties. Peripherally disulfonated BODIPY photocages are cell impermeable, making them useful for modulation of cell-surface receptors, while monosulfonated BODIPY retains the ability to cross the cellular membrane and can modulate intracellular targets. This new approach is generalizable for controlling BODIPY localization and was validated by sensitization of mammalian cells and neurons by visible-light photoactivation of signaling molecules.
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