Designing magnesium-selective ligands using coordination chemistry principles

Edward R.H. Walter*, Christopher Hogg, David Parker, J. A. Gareth Williams

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Progress in the selective binding and detection of magnesium ions has been slower than other biologically important divalent metal ions like calcium and zinc. The most widely used ligands for Mg2+ are by no means optimal, as they are not selective for it. Nevertheless, Mg2+ is a major cation in all cells, with physiologically critical functions. There is a need for improved sensors for Mg2+. In this review, we consider how an appreciation of fundamental coordination chemistry principles may inform the development of new ligands for Mg2+. A number of representative examples of ligands of differing denticity are discussed in this context. Low-denticity ligands such as β-keto acids offer the best selectivities, but speciation is an issue as other polydentate ligands such as pyrophosphate may complete the coordination sphere. High-denticity ligands based on aminocarboxylates such as APTRA typically offer the highest stability constants, but they bind Ca2+ and Zn2+ more strongly than Mg2+. We highlight recent examples featuring related aminophosphinates, where the longer bonds and smaller bite angles favour selectivity towards Mg2+. Macrocyclic receptors for magnesium are not discussed explicitly.

Original languageEnglish
Article number213622
JournalCoordination Chemistry Reviews
Early online date17 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2021

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Materials Chemistry

User-Defined Keywords

  • Fluorescence imaging
  • Fluorescence spectroscopy
  • Ligand design
  • Magnesium
  • Selectivity
  • Sensing


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