The Department of Chemistry


Janet R. Morrow

Janet MorrowProfessor
Office: 526 Natural Sciences Complex
Phone: (716) 645-4187
Fax: (716) 645-6963
Information on the Morrow Research Group
Information on the Morrow Research Group 2



  • B. S., University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Ph.D., University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
  • NSF Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Bordeaux
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, University of California, San Diego
  • NSF Visiting Professor, University of Rochester (1996-1997)

Awards and Honors:

  • NIH First Award (1991-1996)
  • Alfred P. Sloan Fellow (1994-1996)
  • NSF Visiting Professor, University of Rochester (1996-1997)

  • Chair’s fellow, Medicinal Chemistry Gordon Research conference (2006)

  • Director, Research Experiences for Undergraduates Site (2004-present)

  • Chair, Bioinorganic chemistry section of the Inorganic division of the ACS (2005)

  • NSF Special Creativity Award (2007)
  • Elected council member, Society of Biological Inorganic chemistry (2009-2012)

  • Co-chair of the NSF workshop in Inorganic Chemistry (2009-present)


The central theme in our research is the synthesis of inorganic complexes for medicinal, diagnostic, sensing or catalytic applications.

Research Summary:

  • Synthesis of compounds for the recognition and cleavage of RNA and DNA
  • Modified and natural nucleic acids that bind metal ions
  • Luminescent lanthanide complexes as sensors 
  • Responsive and targeted magnetic resonance imaging contrast agents for diagnosis of disease 


Synthesis of compounds for the recognition and cleavage of RNA and DNABev4eupstero.png

One of our primary goals is to combine recognition and cleaving agents to create catalysts for probing RNA structures in vitro and in vivo.  Structural biology aspects of this project are carried out in collaboration with Professor Matthew Fountain of SUNY, Fredonia.  We are focusing on the following research topics:

  • Design of bulge-specific cleavage agents for RNA
  • Mapping metal ion and metallodrug binding sites in RNA and DNA by using a combination of luminescence and NMR spectroscopy.

Students working in this area become familiar with synthesis, luminescence spectroscopy and NMR spectroscopic techniques.


Hybrid nucleic acid - inorganic materials

There is much interest in the combination of nucleic acids with inorganic complexes to exploit the self-assembly and sensing and switching properties of nucleic acids with the interesting redox and spectroscopic properties of metal ions.

       Our work involves the incorporation of different ligands into DNA to create materials with unique function including imaging applications.

  • DNA with non-nucleosidic linkers and ligand conjugates that bind metal ions
  • Hybrids that bind lanthanide ions for the preparation of optical/MRI probes

Students working on this project will become familiar with nucleic acid modifications, and characterization by using NMR and luminescence spectroscopy.


Luminescent lanthanide complexes as optical sensors

Lanthanide ion complexes are the premier luminescence sensors for biological applications given their long luminescence life times, resistance to photobleaching and the possibility of using multiple emission bands for ratiometric sensing.  

We are investigating the application of lanthanide complexes as optical sensors for phosphate, carbonate and other anionic metabolites to prepare dual optical MRI probes.

Students involved in this project will work with a laser/MOPO system for the direct excitation of lanthanide ions, the synthesis of macrocyclic complexes for luminescence sensing and  fluorescence microscopy studies in cell culture.


Responsive and targeted magnetic resonance imaging contrast agents    

Paramagnetic complexes are widely used in clinical medicine as contrast agents for MRI.

Work in our laboratory centers on the development of paramagnetic lanthanide complexes that act as chemical exchange saturation transfer agents (CEST).  The following projects are underway:

  • Lanthanide macrocyclic complexes with alcohol groups with CEST spectra that change upon anion binding.
  • Dinuclear lanthanide complexes with unusual recognition properties
  • CEST agents designed as supramolecular complexes with DNA and other polymers.

communication TOC1

Students working on this project will become familiar with macrocycle synthesis and DNA modification as well as CEST MR imaging methods.


Selected Recent Publications:

  1. Dorazio, S. J.; Olatunde, A. O.; Tsitovich, P. B.; Morrow, J. R. “Comparison of Divalent Transition metal ion paraCEST MRI Contrast Agents”, J. Biol. Inorg. Chem. 2013, online DOI 10.1007/s00775-013-1059-4.

  2. Tsitovich, P. B.; Burns, P. J.;  McKay, A. M.; Morrow, J. R. “Redox-activated MRI Contrast Agents Based on Lanthanide and Transition Metal Ions”, accepted for publication in J. Inorg. Biochem. 2014.

  3. Siters, K. E.; Sander, S. A.; Morrow, J. R.* “Selective Binding of Zn2+ Complexes to Non-Canonical Thymine or Uracil in DNA or RNA”, Prog. Inorg. Chem. 2014 in press.

  4. Dorazio, S. J.; Olatunde, A. O.; Spernyak, J. A.; Morrow, J. R. “CoCEST: Cobalt(II) Amide-appended ParaCEST MRI Contrast Agents”, Chem. Commun. 2013, 49, 10025-10027.

  5. Tsitovich, P. B.; Spernyak, J. A.; Morrow, J. R. “A redox-activated MRI Contrast Agent that Switches between Paramagnetic and Diamagnetic States”, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2013, 52, 13997-14000.

  6. Dorazio, S. J.; Tsitovich, P. B.; Gardina, S. A.; Morrow, J. R. “The Reactivity of Macrocyclic Fe(II) paraCEST MRI Contrast Agents towards Biologically Relevant Anions, Cations, Oxygen or Peroxide”, J. Inorg. Biochem. 2012, 117, 212-219.

  7. Tsitovich, P. B.;  Morrow, J. R. “Macrocyclic ligands for Fe(II) paraCEST and Chemical Shift MRI Contrast Agents”, Inorg. Chim. Acta 2012, 393, 3-11.

  8. Olatunde, A.; Dorazio, S. J.; Spernyak, J. A.; Morrow, J. R. “The NiCEST Approach: Ni(II) PARACEST MRI Contrast Agents”, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2012, 134, 18503-18505.

  9. De Leon, A. R.; Olatunde, A. O.; Morrow, J. R.; Achim, C. “Binding of Eu(III) to 1,2-hydroxypyridinone-modified peptide nucleic acids”, Inorg. Chem. 2012, 51, 12597-12599.

For more of Janet R. Morrow's Publications, please click here.





The Department of Chemistry