Nitrogen-containing pyridine and quinoline are outstanding platforms on which excellent ionophores and sensors for metal ions can be built. Steric and stereochemical effects can be used to modulate the affinity and selectivity of such ligands toward different metal ions on the coordination chemistry front. On the signal transduction front, such effects can also be used to modulate optical responses of these ligands in metal sensing systems. In this review, steric modulation of achiral ligands and stereochemical modulation in chiral ligands, especially ionophores and sensors for zinc, copper, silver, and mercury, are examined using published structural and spectral data. Although it might be more challenging to construct chiral ligands than achiral ones, isotropic and anisotropic absorption signals from a single chiroptical fluorescent sensor provide not only detection but also differentiation of multiple analytes with high selectivity.
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