Azide-based bioorthogonal chemistry: Reactions and its advances in cellular and biomolecular imaging

Samira Husen Alamudi, Xiao Liu, Young Tae Chang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Since the term “bioorthogonal” was first demonstrated in 2003, new tools for bioorthogonal chemistry have been rapidly developed. Bioorthogonal chemistry has now been widely utilized for applications in imaging various biomolecules, such as proteins, glycoconjugates, nucleic acids, and lipids. Contrasting the chemical reactions or synthesis that are typically executed in vitro with organic solvents, bioorthogonal reactions can occur inside cells under physiological conditions. Functional groups or chemical reporters for bioorthogonal chemistry are highly selective and will not perturb the native functions of biological systems. Advances in azide-based bioorthogonal chemical reporters make it possible to perform chemical reactions in living systems for wide-ranging applications. This review discusses the milestones of azide-based bioorthogonal reactions, from Staudinger ligation and copper(I)-catalyzed azide-alkyne cycloaddition to strain-promoted azide-alkyne cycloaddition. The development of bioorthogonal reporters and their capability of being built into biomolecules in vivo have been extensively applied in cellular imaging. We focus on strategies used for metabolic incorporation of chemically tagged molecular building blocks (e.g., amino acids, carbohydrates, nucleotides, and lipids) into cells via cellular machinery systems. With the aid of exogenous bioorthogonally compatible small fluorescent probes, we can selectively visualize intracellular architectures, such as protein, glycans, nucleic acids, and lipids, with high specificity to help in answering complex biological problems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number021301
JournalBiophysics Reviews
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021


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