A microenvironment-sensitive red emissive probe with a large Stokes shift for specific recognition and quantification of serum albumin in complex biofluids and live cells

J Mater Chem B. 2024 May 8;12(18):4478-4488. doi: 10.1039/d3tb02985a.


Human serum albumin (HSA) is regarded as a useful biomarker for rapid medical diagnosis of various disorders mainly related to the kidneys and liver. Hence, it is crucial to identify and monitor the HSA level in complex biofluids (urine and blood samples) using a simple approach. Herein, we have designed and synthesized an intramolecular charge transfer (ICT) based environment-sensitive fluorescent molecular probe, (E)-2-(3-(2-(5-methoxy-1H-indol-3-yl)vinyl)-5,5-dimethylcyclohex-2-en-1-ylidene)malononitrile (DCI-MIN), that can selectively interact with HSA in PBS buffer solution and exhibit a ∼78-fold enhancement in fluorescence intensity with a significant Stokes shift (∼126 nm), which is important to avoid interference from the excitation light. The significant red fluorescence response can be attributed to the suppression of free intramolecular rotation of the DCI-MIN probe inside the hydrophobic binding cavity of HSA and the low polar microenvironment present within HSA. According to the 3σ/slope method, the detection limit was found to be 1.01 nM (0.0671 mg L-1) in aqueous solutions, which is significantly lower than the normal level of HSA in healthy urine and blood serum, indicating its high sensitivity. DCI-MIN has the ability to exhibit useful applications, including the detection and quantification of HSA concentration in complex biofluids (human urine and blood samples) as well as the imaging of serum albumin in living cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Fluorescent Dyes* / chemical synthesis
  • Fluorescent Dyes* / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Molecular Structure
  • Optical Imaging
  • Serum Albumin, Human* / analysis
  • Serum Albumin, Human* / chemistry
  • Serum Albumin, Human* / metabolism
  • Spectrometry, Fluorescence


  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Serum Albumin, Human