The control of supramolecular systems requires a thorough understanding of their dynamics on a molecular level. We present fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (FCS) as a powerful spectroscopic tool to study supramolecular dynamics with single molecule sensitivity. The formation of a supramolecular complex between beta-cyclodextrin (beta-CD) as host and pyronines Y (PY) and B (PB) as guests is studied by FCS. Global target analysis of full correlation curves with a newly derived theoretical model yields in a single experiment the fluorescence lifetimes and the diffusion coefficients of free and complexed guests and the rate constants describing the complexation dynamics. These data give insight into the recently published surprising fact that the association equilibrium constant of beta-CD with PY is much lower than that with the much bulkier guest PB. FCS shows that the stability of the complexes is dictated by the dissociation and not by the association process. The association rate constants are very similar for both guests and among the highest reported for this type of systems, although much lower than the diffusion-controlled collision rate constant. A two-step model including the formation of an encounter complex allows one to identify the unimolecular inclusion reaction as the rate-limiting step. Simulations indicate that this step may be controlled by geometrical and orientational requirements. These depend on critical molecular dimensions which are only weakly affected by the different alkyl substituents of PY and PB. Diffusion coefficients of PY and PB, of their complexes, and of rhodamine 110 are given and compared to those of similar molecules.
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