Fluorescent probes are known for their ability to sense changes in their direct environment. We introduce here the idea that common red-emitting fluorophores recommended for biological labeling and typically used for simple visualization of biomolecules can also act as reporters of the water content in their first solvent sphere by a simple measurement of their fluorescence lifetime. Using fluorescence spectroscopy, we investigated the excited-state dynamics of seven commercially available fluorophores emitting between 650 and 800 nm that are efficiently quenched by H2O. The amount of H2O in their direct surrounding was modulated in homogeneous H2O-D2O mixtures or, in heterogeneous systems, by confining them into reverse micelles, by encapsulating them into host-guest complexes with cyclodextrins, or by attaching them to peptides and proteins. We found that their fluorescence properties can be rationalized in terms of the amount of H2O in their direct surroundings, which provides a general mechanism for protein-induced fluorescence enhancements of red-emitting dyes and opens perspectives for directly counting water molecules in key biological environments or in polymers.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
- Surfaces, Coatings and Films
- Materials Chemistry