American Chemical Society
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Subtle Structural Changes of Dyes Lead to Distinctly Different Fluorescent Behaviors in Cellular Context: The Role of G‑Quadruplex DNA Interaction Using Coumarin–Quinazolinone Conjugates as a Case Study

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posted on 2021-03-16, 20:44 authored by Song Liu, Lingli Bu, Yuming Zhang, Jiangyu Yan, Ling Li, Guorui Li, Zhibin Song, Jing Huang
Fluorogenic organic materials have gained tremendous attention due to their unique properties. However, only a few of them are suitable for bioimaging. Their different behaviors in organic and cellular environments hinder their application in bioimaging. Thus understanding the photoluminescent behaviors of organic materials in a cellular context is particularly important for their rational design. Herein, we describe two coumarin-quinazolinone conjugates: CQ and MeCQ. The high structure similarity makes them possess similar physical and photophysical properties, including bright fluorescence ascribed to the monomer forms in organic solvents and aggregation-caused quenching (ACQ) effect due to self-assembly aggregation in aqueous solution. However, they behave quite differently in cellular context: that is, CQ exhibits bright fluorescence in living cells, while the fluorescence of MeCQ is almost undetectable. The different performance between CQ and MeCQ in living cells is attributed to their different scenario in G-quadruplex (G4) DNA interaction. CQ selectively binds with G4 DNA to recover its fluorescence via aggregation–disaggregation switching in living cells, while MeCQ remained in the aggregate form due to its poor interplay with G4 DNA. Furthermore, CQ is applied as a two-photon fluorescent dye, and its photoswitchable fluorescence capability is exploited for super-resolution imaging of the specific mitochondrial structure in living cells via the STORM technique.