Open access peer-reviewed chapter

Fluorogenic Polyfunctional Coumarin-Based Chemosensors for Multianalyte Detection

Written By

Alexander Dubonosov and Vladimir Bren

Submitted: March 2nd, 2020 Reviewed: June 4th, 2020 Published: September 30th, 2020

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.93118

Chapter metrics overview

642 Chapter Downloads

View Full Metrics


Fluorogenic sensors capable of selective interaction with analyte, which leads to a change in the position or intensity of the fluorescence band, allow to detect ions or molecules in situ and in vivo and possess high sensitivity and efficiency. Currently, they are widely used in organic, biological, and medical chemistry and environmental sciences for express monitoring of the ionic composition of the medium. They represent a serious alternative to the bulky, expensive, non-transportable technical devices traditionally used for this purpose, such as atomic absorption, atomic emission, and XRF spectrometers. Polyfunctional sensors capable of independent detection of two or more kinds of “guests” from a multiple mixture of cations, anions, or molecules due to specific spectral responses via the same or different channels constitute a rapidly developing area of chemosensory science. This specific feature is associated with the presence of two or more coordination centers in their molecules, or the capability of one center to selectively respond to various analytes with individual spectral changes. Coumarin (2H-chromene-2-one) core is one of the most versatile frameworks for the design of fluorogenic polyfunctional chemosensors for multianalyte detection. In this chapter, we report on the review of sensing properties of this group of chemosensors based on functionalized coumarin derivatives, including their applications in bioimaging.


  • coumarin
  • polyfunctional chemosensor
  • fluorescence
  • cations
  • anions
  • amino acids
  • bioimaging

1. Introduction

Сhemosensor is a molecule of abiotic origin capable of selective interaction with analyte causing corresponding changes in the physical properties of the initial system (absorption spectra, fluorescence spectra, etc.) [1]. If a change occurs in spectral characteristics, the chemosensor relates to an optical type. There are two main types of optical chemosensors according to their mechanisms of action: chromogenic and fluorogenic [2, 3, 4]. In the case of chromogenic chemosensors after binding of analyte, there occurs a change in the electronic absorption spectra of the initial compounds. If this change can be seen with the human eye, we are dealing with a “naked-eye” chemosensor. Fluorogenic chemosensors can change their fluorescence spectrum after the interaction of analyte with receptor. It is highly desirable that this process is also accompanied by a “naked-eye” effect—contrast change in the color of emission. Chromogenic and fluorogenic chemosensor systems are widely used in organic, biological, and medical chemistry and environmental sciences for monitoring cations and anions. They represent a real alternative to the bulky, expensive, non-transportable technical devices, such as atomic absorption, atomic emission, and XRF spectrometers, that are traditionally used for this purpose. Of special efficiency are fluorogenic sensors, which use fluorescence for detection of various analytes, allow measurements in situ and in vivo, and are distinguished by highest sensitivity and selectivity. Recently a new scientific area in chemosensorics arose, which is associated with the design of poly- and bifunctional sensors capable of independent detection of two or more kinds of ions-“guests” due to the specific spectral responses via the same or different channels [5, 6, 7, 8]. Using a single molecule possessing different reactions against multiple analytes is cost-effective and useful for practical applications.

Herein we report on the review of spectral, fluorescent, and sensing properties of new representatives of this group of chemosensors based on functionalized coumarin derivatives, including their applications in bioimaging.

Coumarins (derivatives of 2H-chromene-2-one) constitute a comprehensive group of extensively studied heterocyclic compounds in organic, physical, and medical chemistry [9, 10]. Some coumarins have been selected as privileged scaffolds for drug design [11, 12, 13], and a number of antitumor, antiproliferative, antioxidant, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral agents have been obtained on their basis [14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19]. As a rule, substituted coumarins possess fluorescence in the visible part of the spectrum, as well as other useful photophysical properties. They are widely used in laser dyes, light-emitting devices, and solar cells. In addition, 2H-chromene-2-one is considered one of the most versatile frameworks for design of fluorescent, chemo- and biosensor systems [20, 21, 22, 23].

There are several excellent reviews devoted entirely or partially to coumarin chemosensors [24, 25, 26, 27, 28], but polyfunctional coumarin-based sensors for multianalyte detection until now have not been considered.


2. Sensing of multiple metal cations

Fluorescent polyfunctional sensors for detection of metal cations must contain a metal chelating or binding fragment attached to a coumarin core capable of absorbing and emitting light. The formation of complexes with ions should cause a change in the electronic structure or molecular conformation, which should result in an increase or decrease in the emission intensity.

A fluorescent sensor 1 (Figure 1) demonstrates a high selectivity toward Al3+ and Zn2+ in the presence of many various metal cations. Aluminum is the third most common element in the earth’s crust. It is used in food additives and cookware, although its cations are highly toxic and may be associated with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, microcytic anemia, dialysis dementia, and osteomalacia. Zinc is the second most abundant d-metal cation, which plays a crucial role in gene transcription, regulation of metalloenzymes, and transmission of nerve signals. However, it has some toxicity and its excess in living cells can cause neurodegenerative disorders, epilepsy, and seizures.

Figure 1.

Detection of Al3+ and Zn2+ by sensor 1.

A new emission band at 427 nm (an increase in intensity ~500 times) in the presence of Al3+ in ethanol-water mixture appears due to hydrolysis of imine 1. The detection limit (LOD) was calculated to be 3.7 × 10−6 M. Detection of Zn2+ leads to a substantial initial fluorescence intensity enhancement at 489 nm due to the inhibition of PET process (photoinduced electron transfer) [29].

Coumarin 2 exhibits a significant enhancement of fluorescence intensity upon detection of Zn2+ (535 nm, 270-fold) or Al3+ ions (518 nm, 230-fold) in MeOH/H2O mixture with LODs 3.75 × 10−8 and 1.14 × 10−8 M, respectively [30]. It has been shown that the sensing mechanism is based on inhibition of ICT process (intramolecular charge transfer) (Figure 2).

Figure 2.

Proposed scheme of detection Zn2+ and Al3+ by sensor 2.

Compound 2 possesses a low toxicity and was used for fluorescent bioimaging of Zn2+ and Al3+ cations in PC12 cells.

Coumarin-crown compound 3 exhibits a high selectivity for the detection of Al3+, Cu2+, and Mg2+ in ethanol [31] (Figure 3). Copper(II) cations play an important role in biological systems. Their lack can lead to anemia and low white cell amount while an excess is accountable for neurodegenerative, Alzheimer’s, and Wilson’s diseases. Magnesium(II) cations are among the most abundant divalent cations in living cells. They are responsible for the formation of bone tissue, enzymatic biochemical reactions, cell proliferation, and DNA conformation stabilization, whereas their excessive concentration in the cytosol can lead to diabetes, hypertension, epilepsy, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Figure 3.

Possible binding mechanisms of Cu2+, Mg2+, and Al3+ by coumarin 3.

While copper(II) is identified by color change of solution from a slight yellow to orange, Al3+ and Mg2+ ions cause a significant fluorescence enhancement at 592 nm and 547 nm with low detection limits of 0.31 μM and 0.23 μM, respectively.

Chemosensor 4 was developed for dual detection of Fe3+ and Zn2+ ions [32] (Figure 4). Iron(III) is the most common d-metal cation in the human organism, it plays a significant role in many enzymatic reactions and in specialized transport and storage of proteins. Its lack can cause anemia, diabetes, hemochromatosis, and Parkinson’s disease. Further development of this work led to the obtaining of a polyfunctional sensor 5 for Fe3+, Zn2+, and Cu2+ cations [33] (Figure 4). Formation of complex with Fe(III) ion and 4 or 5 is accompanied by a contrast color change from colorless to deep yellow.

Figure 4.

Complexation of coumarins 4 and 5 with Zn2+ and Cu2+.

Upon interaction with Zn2+ in CH3OH/H2O mixture, the emission intensity at 484 nm increases by five times compared to other metal ions. The LOD was found to be ~10−6 M. Since Cu2+ is a paramagnetic ion, its presence in the solution causes a substantial quenching of initial fluorescence of 4 and 5. The detection limit was calculated and found to be ~10−5 M.

A similar approach was used in design of a dual chemosensor 6 [34] (Figure 5). While Fe3+ ions in EtOH/H2O solution cause only a visible color change from colorless to brown, the addition of Zn2+ ion resulted in 45-fold enhancement in the fluorescence intensity at 473 nm. The LOD was found to be 0.6 × 10−8 M.

Figure 5.

Sensing of Fe3+ and Zn2+ by coumarin 6.

Application of compound 6 as bioimaging fluorescent sensor for detection of Zn2+ in human cancer cells was also observed by fluorescent cell imager (Figure 6).

Figure 6.

Fluorescence microscopic images of cancer cells treated with coumarin 6 (5 μM) in bright field (a) and merged field (b), pretreated with 6 (5 μM) followed by addition of 10 μM of Zn2+ in bright field (c) and merged field (d) [34].

Chemosensor 7, as well as 4 and 5, in water (1% EtOH) solution demonstrates the quenching of the fluorescent properties when adding Cu(II) ions and significantly increases the emission intensity in the presence of Zn(II) ions [35] (Figure 7).

Figure 7.

Binding modes of Cu2+ and Zn2+ by coumarin 7.

When Cu2+ and Zn2+ were monitored by sensor 7, the LODs were 141 nM and 72 nM, respectively. About 85% of cells survive upon addition of 80 μM of 7 indicating its hypotoxicity and possibility of using it for cell imaging (Figure 8).

Figure 8.

Relative confocal fluorescence images of MRC-5 cells under different conditions with 7. MRC-5 cells treated with 5 μM of 7 (A–D), then further incubated with 5 μM of Cu(II) (E–H) and Zn(II) (I–L) ions for 10 min. Fluorescence images from left to right: Bright field, green channel, red channel, and overlap [35].

Coumarin-naphthalene chemosensor 8 in the CH3OH/H2O mixture acts as a chemodosimeter for Ag+ ions and a fluorescent sensor in relation to Cu2+ ions [36]. Silver is a potentially toxic and potentially carcinogenic element. It is known that Ag+ can react with proteins in the body, block thiol groups of enzyme systems, and inhibit tissue respiration. Excessive concentration of Ag+ ions in the body can lead to brain damage. Compound 8 possesses fluorescence at 480 nm, and its intensity is enhanced upon the addition of Cu2+ ions. However, the fluorescence intensity is quenched upon addition of Ag+ ions due to irreversible desulfurization (Figure 9).

Figure 9.

Chemodosimeter and chemosensor properties of 8.

The detection limits of 8 are 8.1 × 10−9 M and 44.0 × 10−9 M for Cu2+ and Ag+ ions, respectively. Compound 8 represents a safe and nontoxic to live cells biosensor. Only weak emission was observed in human osteosarcoma cells U-2 OS when exposed to 8, while strong blue and green fluorescence was observed upon addition of Cu2+ ions.

A dual-function coumarin chemosensor 9 could monitor Cu2+ and Hg2+ in CH3CN/H2O mixture [37]. The addition of Cu(II) cations changes the solution color from yellowish-brown to yellowish-green, while Hg2+ causes the fluorescence intensity enhancement at 572 nm (Figure 10).

Figure 10.

The binding modes of 9 with Cu2+ and Hg2+ ions.

The detection limit for Hg2+ was calculated to be 2.96 × 10−7 M.

Coumarin chemosensor 10 for detection of Ag+ and Ce3+ ions in an aqueous solution was developed [38]. Cerium is the most abundant of the lanthanides and refers to the conventionally toxic rare earth ultramicroelements. In the presence of Ag+, the color of the solution of 10 in EtOH/H2O changes from pale yellow to brown. The addition of Ce3+ ion results in the substantial emission intensity enhancement at 350 nm (Figure 11).

Figure 11.

Complexation of 10 with Ce3+.

The detection limit of Ce3+ ion by the sensor 10 was estimated to be 2.07 × 10−7 M.

Selective fluorescent coumarin-triazole chemosensor 11 toward Ca2+ and Fe3+ ions was synthesized [39]. Calcium(II) plays an important role in bone formation and as a second messenger in neurotransmitter release from neurons, in contraction of all muscle cell types and in fertilization. Inhibition of the PET process in 11 with Ca2+ ions leads to the fluorescence intensity increase at 473 nm, whereas complexation with Fe3+ causes its almost complete quenching (Figure 12).

Figure 12.

Sensing of Ca2+ and Fe3+ by 11.

The limit of detection was found to be 0.14 μM for Ca2+ and 0.25 μM for Fe3+.


3. Sensing of multiple anions

A very small number of fluorogenic polyfunctional coumarin-based chemosensors for multianalyte detection has been created so far. This is due to the fact that the recognition of anions is in principle a very difficult problem, since charges of anions are more diffused than those of cations, which leads to rather weak electrostatic interactions between anions and receptor part of the sensor. As a result, the receptors connected with the coumarin core must have the ability to either form of hydrogen bonds with anions up to complete deprotonation, or to nucleophilic addition reactions. Anions play an important role in medicine, biology, and industry. A deficiency of fluoride ions can cause gum disease and osteoporosis, and an excess leads to fluorosis due to its nephrotoxic action. Both excess and deficiency of bromide and iodide anions affect the functioning of the thyroid gland and can cause serious diseases. Acetate anion is involved in various metabolic processes. Cyanide ion is highly toxic to humans even in small concentrations due to its strong interaction with cytochrome-oxidase.

Coumarin chemosensor 12 is capable of detecting CN, F, and AcO in the presence of other ions-competitors [40]. Only cyanide anions caused a significant increase in the fluorescence intensity at 506 nm. However, only emission quenching was observed upon addition of CN, F, and AcO to the solution of 12 in DMSO. According to 1H NMR titration data, this is due to the removal of the NH proton and the formation of the anionic form of 12 (Figure 13).

Figure 13.

Binding mode of coumarin 12 with CN, F, and AcO in DMSO.

The fluorogenic and chromogenic chemosensor 13 in acetonitrile showed a change in the solution color upon addition of F and AcO ions from a yellow-green to red and orange, respectively [41]. In an aqueous medium, 13 selectively reacted with cyanide anion via a nucleophilic addition reaction, and the nonfluorescent solution turned a fluorescent blue-green at 495 nm (Figure 14).

Figure 14.

The possible mode of binding for 13 and CN.

The addition of cyanide anions to an aqueous solution of 13 containing blood plasma caused a significant fuorescence enhancement at 450 nm by ~7.7 times and a change in the nonfluorescent color of solution to blue. The LOD to detect cyanide anion in blood plasma was found to be 0.37 mM.

Coumarin-thiazole chemosensor 14 for CN, F, and AcO ions was synthesized [42]. Compound 14 demonstrated a color change in DMSO upon addition of these anions from yellow to deep red in the visible region and yellow fluorescence with CN.

1H NMR and DFT calculation data correspond to the deprotonation mechanism, while for CN it is simultaneously supplemented by the addition reaction (Figure 15).

Figure 15.

Detection mechanisms of 14 with CN, AcO, and F.

Coumarin 15 with the structure analogues to 14 was designed and synthesized for the selective detection of fluoride and cyanide anions [43]. Chemosensor 15 in acetonitrile selectively reacts with F via deprotonation mode, accompanied by a change in the color of the solution from colorless to deep red and a significant enhancement in the intensity of a yellow fluorescence. However, in an aqueous medium a substantial increase in the emission intensity at 506 nm was registered only in the presence of CN ions (Figure 16).

Figure 16.

Binding modes of 15 with F and CN.

The LOD of fluoride ions in organic medium is 0.72 μM, while for cyanide ions in aqueous environment the LOD is 2.7 μM.

Coumarin thiosemicarbazones 16 act via naked-eye and fluorescence mechanisms [44] (Figure 17). They were found to be selective chemosensors for F with 1:1 receptor-anion ratio due to the appearance of a new emission band at 452 nm upon the addition of TBAF.

Figure 17.

Sensing of F by 16.


4. Sensing of metal cations and anions

As a rule, polyfunctional coumarin sensors for detection of metal cations and anions should include sites of various nature for the detection of these types of ions. Another displacement approach is based on the initial in situ formation of a complex with a cation, which then interacts with the anion, releasing the original sensor.

Diethylamine coumarin derivatives 17 and 18 were designed and synthesized to detect cyanide and copper(II) ions [45, 46]. The sensing mechanism is associated with the formation of a covalent bond between cyanide anions and 4-C carbon atom of coumarin (Figure 18). Red fluorescence of 17 at 669 nm is completely quenched, which is clearly visible to the naked eye. Complexation of 17 with Cu2+ exhibits color change from red to maroon and decreases the fluorescence intensity. LODs are 0.018 μM and 0.004 μM for CN and Cu2+, respectively. Compound 18 also recognizes cyanide anions based on nucleophilic addition and copper(II) cations based on coordination reaction (Figure 18). However, in this case CN causes an obvious enhancement of fluorescence at 473 nm.

Figure 18.

Structures of 17 and 18 and the proposed sensing mechanism of 18.

The detection limits of the compound 18 are 0.0071 μM (CN) and 0.014 μM (Cu2+).

Coumarin-based chemosensor 19 was obtained for selective fluorescent recognition of Cu2+ in MeOH/H2O mixture and subsequent detection of CN via displacement approach [47]. Compound 19 demonstrates strong emission at 448 nm, which is selectively quenched upon addition of Cu2+ due to the formation of the complex (Figure 19) with the LOD of 3.76 × 10−7 M.

Figure 19.

Sensing of Cu2+ and CN by 19.

This in situ prepared chelate easily reacts with CN to form a very stable complex [Cu(CN)x]n− and the initial fluorescence is restored with the LOD of 1.35 × 10−6 M, which is much lower than the WHO limit of CN (1.9 μM) for drinking water.

Coumarin 20 exhibits a significant increase in fluorescence intensity at 514 nm in the presence of Zn2+ ions, which is associated with the cessation of C=N isomerization process [48]. The detection limit reached at 5.76 × 10−7 M. As expected, the Cu(II) cations almost completely quenched this fluorescence due to their inherent paramagnetic properties (Figure 20). The LOD reached at 3.1 × 10−7 M.

Figure 20.

Sensing of Zn2+, Cu2+, and S2− by 20.

Thus, prepared in situ complex with copper regenerates the initial fluorescence of 20 upon addition of S2− even in the presence of F, Cl, Br, and I due to the formation of a very stable CuS. The LOD for S2− was measured to be 1.9 × 10−5 M.

Further development of this approach has been applied in the design of chemosensory systems 21 and 22 suitable for intracellular biology applications. Coumarin 21 demonstrates an intensive emission at 516 nm [49, 50]. The fluorescence intensity decreases (∼14-fold) upon addition of Cu2+ and reappears in the presence of S2− anions (Figure 21). The LOD toward Cu(II) was found to be 2 × 10−8 M, which is lower than the most of the values reported in literature, and toward S2−—6 × 10−8 M.

Figure 21.

Structures of 21 and 22 and the proposed sensing mechanism of 21.

For the purpose of Cu2+ and S2− biovisualization, confocal fluorescent imaging was performed using A375 cells. It is clearly visible in the dark field images that green fluorescence is significantly quenched by Cu2+ and restored after subsequent treatment by S2− (Figure 22). The A375 cells were viable and maintained good shape in the entire process of this experiment, which means that 21 can successfully cross the cell membrane.

Figure 22.

Confocal fluorescence imaging of A375 cells. Cells incubated with ascorbate (1 mM) for 3 h and stained with 21 (L, 10 μM) for 30 min (a–c); cells treated with 21 (10 μM) for 30 min (d–f); cells treated with 21 (10 μM) and cu2+ (20 μM) for 30 min (g–i); cells treated with 21-Cu (10 μM) and S2− (20 μM) for 30 min (j–l) [49].

Similar results were obtained for 22. HeLa cells were incubated with 22 (10 mM) at 37°C for 30 min and displayed bright green fluorescence (Figure 23). After incubation with Cu2+ for another 30 min, the emission of cells decreased. Upon addition of S2− anions, the fluorescence intensity was restored. This indicates that 22 represents a potent candidate for sensing intracellular Cu2+ cations and S2− anions in living cells.

Figure 23.

Confocal fluorescence images of HeLa cells. (a) Cells incubated with 22 (10 mM) for 30 min. (b) Cells incubated with 22 (10 mM) for 30 min, further incubated with Cu2+ (20 mM) for 30 min. (c) Cells incubated with 22 (10 mM) for 30 min, further incubated with Cu2+ (20 mM) for 30 min, and then incubated with S2− (40 mM). (d-f) Bright-field pictures. (g-i) Overlapped pictures. Scale bar, 40 mm [50].

The chemodosimeter approach was exploited for detection of Hg2+ and F ions by a simple coumarin derivative 23 [51] (Figure 24).

Figure 24.

Irreversible chemodosimeter sensing of Hg2+ and F by 23.

Upon addition of Hg2+ and F ions, 23 underwent desulfurization and desilylation to induce an increase in the fluorescence intensity at 491 nm and 526 nm, respectively.

Aroylhydrazones 24 and bis-aroylhydrazones of coumarin 25 display the properties of bifunctional fluorescent and colorimetric naked-eye chemosensors for mercury(II) cations and fluoride anions detection [52, 53, 54] (Figure 25).

Figure 25.

Structures of 24 and 25 and a tentative scheme of sensing Hg2+ and F ions by the bifunctional chemosensors 25.

The addition of Hg2+ ions in acetonitrile solution of 25 allows to observe a distinct naked-eye effect with the change of color from pale-yellow to bright-orange. Simultaneously, the initial fluorescence is almost completely quenched. The LOD of mercury(II) cation sensing is 2.7 μM. In the presence of fluoride, cyanide, and acetate anions, a new absorption maximum in the visible spectral region appears. Furthermore, the formation of complex of 25 with fluoride anions is accompanied by the decrease in the relative intensity of the initial fluorescence I0/I in ≈22 times.

Coumarin-based chemosensors 26–28 with complex chemical architecture were designed and synthesized for selective sequential recognition of Cu2+ and pyrophosphate anion (PPi) [55, 56, 57]. PPi is the main product of adenosine triphosphate hydrolysis in living cells, which is involved in important metabolic processes. The structures of 26–28 and the sensing mechanism are shown in Figure 26. These compounds demonstrate on–off fluorescence quenching toward the Cu2+ cation due to the formation of complexes that show off–on fluorescence enhancement upon addition of PPi over many competitive anions.

Figure 26.

Structures and sensing mechanism of 26–28.

Chemosensor 28 showed sequential on–off–on fluorescent bioimaging of Cu2+ and PPi in HeLa cells. After the addition of 28, the intense green fluorescence appeared (Figure 27). Cells incubated with Cu(II) cations efficiently quenched this emission, which was restored when treated with PPi. These data indicate that the sensor 28 possesses good cell permeability and can be used for bioimaging in live cells. The LOD for Cu2+ is 0.06 μM and for PPi it is 0.01 μM.

Figure 27.

Bright-field (a, b, c, d), fluorescence (a′, b′, c′, d′), and confocal fluorescence microscope (a″, b″, c″, d″) images of HeLa cells: Blank cell (a, a′, a″); cells treated with 5 μM 28 (b, b′, b″), then treated with 50 μM Cu2+ (c, c′, c″) and further treated with 50 μM PPi (d, d′, d″). the scale bar was 50 μm [57].


5. Sensing of metal cations and amino acids

Polyfunctional coumarin sensing of amino acids usually includes the initial detection of the appropriate metal cations, and in the second stage, the obtained in situ complex interacts with amino acid via displacement approach. A more complex problem is the creation of chemosensors capable of forming covalent bonds with the analyzed amino acid.

Amino acids are part of macromolecular proteins and represent essential substances for the growth and development of the human body. Cysteine (Cys) is of great importance in age defying, skin whitening, detoxifying, and improving immunity. Its deficiency causes premature senility, skin lesions, and uremia, while its excess can lead to senile dementia, neural tube defects, and osteoporosis. Histidine (His) is extremely important for the absorption of Fe2+ cations, vasodilation, and lowering blood pressure. The lack of His increases the risk of developing epilepsy, rheumatoid arthritis, and red cell aplasia, although its excessive content is associated with chronic kidney disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Arginine (Arg) plays a vital role in cell replication, wound healing, and protein synthesis.

A simple coumarin sensor 29 selectively detects Hg2+ and Cys in an aqueous solution [58] (Figure 28). The addition of Hg(II) leads to a hypsochromic shift of the fluorescence emission band, while Cys almost completely quenches the emission of 29. The latter process is seen by the naked eye under UV irradiation. The detection limit of 29 toward Cys is 8 μmol/L.

Figure 28.

Sensing mechanism of 29.

Coumarin 30 possesses a strong green emission at 527 nm [59]. Upon the addition of Cu2+, 30 displays a significant fluorescence quenching. After the addition of Cys or His, the initial fluorescence is recovered due to the liberation of 30 (Figure 29).

Figure 29.

Sensing mechanism of 30.

Living A549 cells incubated with 30 exhibit notable emission. This fluorescence is quenched almost completely upon addition of Cu2+. Further incubation of cells with Cys and His leads to the restoration of the initial fluorescence.

With the addition of Cu2+, the solution of coumarin-rhodamine hybrid 31 in CH3CN▬H2O mixture exhibits a naked-eye change from pale yellow to pink [60] (Figure 30). The fluorescence color converses from blue to pink (new maxima appear at 490 and 615 nm, which correspond to the emission of coumarin and rhodamine B moieties, respectively). The LOD for Cu2+ is 0.47 mM. The 31-Cu2+ complex sequentially detects Arg with the restoration of blue fluorescence. The LOD for Arg is 0.33 mM.

Figure 30.

Sequential detection of Cu2+ and Arg by 31.

The HeLa cells were incubated with 31 (20 mM) for 30 min, and a strong blue emission of the coumarin group was observed. Upon addition of Cu2+, the HeLa cells exhibit strong pink fluorescence. These data show that 31 is cell permeable and can be applied to fluorescence imaging of intracellular Cu2+ (Figure 31).

Figure 31.

Confocal fluorescence images of HeLa cells incubated with 31 (20 mM) for 30 min (A–C) and then treated with Cu2+ (2 mM) for another 30 min (D–F). Images were obtained using an excitation of 405 nm and emission channels of (B) at 430–530 nm and (E) at 550–650 nm; (C and F) merge images of (A, B and D, E); (A and D) bright-field images of the cell culture [60].

Coumarin 32 was prepared for the detection of Cu2+ and glutathione (γ-glutamylcysteinylglycine, GSH) [61]. Overexpression of tumor biomarker GSH was found in many types of cancer. In the presence of Cu2, 32 exhibits selective fluorescence quenching and color change from yellow to orange-red. When GSH was added to the solution, the initial fluorescence was recovered (Figure 32).

Figure 32.

Sequential detection of Cu2+ and GSH by 32.

The LODs were calculated as 2.40 × 10−8 M and 1.29 × 10−7 M for Cu2+ and GSH, respectively.

MCF-7 and HUVEC cells were both incubated with 32-Cu2+ complex for 30 min and then imaged under the same conditions (Figure 33). The fluorescence intensity in MCF-7 cells was above twofold higher than that in HUVEC cells, suggesting a higher GSH concentration in tumor cells. This is probably due to generation of additional GSH in tumor cells for resisting intrinsic oxidative stress.

Figure 33.

Comparison of endogenous GSH level in MCF-7 and HUVEC cells after incubation with 32-Cu2+ complex. Left: Fluorescence images; middle: Bright-field images; right: Merged images [61].

Chemosensor 33 was designed for simultaneous detection of Cys, Hcy (homocysteine), and GSH [62]. Due to different binding mechanisms, compound 33 demonstrates enhancing of fluorescence intensity with 108-, 128-, and 30-fold at 457, 559, and 529 nm for Cys, Hcy, and GSH, respectively, through different excitation wavelengths (Figure 34).

Figure 34.

Proposed mechanisms of bonding 33 with Cys, Hcy, and GSH.

For exogenous biothiols, the BEL-7402 cells were firstly pretreated with NEM and cellular biothiols and SH-containing proteins were deactivated. After incubation with 33, no fluorescence could be observed (Figure 35).

Figure 35.

Confocal fluorescence images of Cys, GSH, and Hcy in BEL-7402 cells. C: Control, en: Endogenous, ex: Exogenous. (A1−A3) cells were incubated for 30 min, then imaged. (B1−B3) cells were incubated with 33 (2.5 μM) for 30 min, then imaged. (C1−C3) cells were pretreated with NEM (0.5 mM, 30 min), subsequently incubated with Cys/GSH/Hcy (500 μM, 30 min) and 33 (2.5 μM, 30 min), then imaged (λex = 405 nm, λem = 421–475 nm for the blue channel; λex = 458 nm, λem = 500–550 nm for the green channel; and λex = 543 nm, λem = 552–617 nm for the red channel). Scale bar: 20 μm [62].

After subsequent treatment with Cys, Hcy, and GSH, respectively, blue, red, and green fluorescence was observed from three different emission channels in living cells with high selectivity.


6. Conclusion

The design, synthesis, and investigation of fluorogenic polyfunctional coumarin chemosensors for multianalyte detection is an intriguing and extensively developing area of organic, medical, and biological chemistry. These sensors demonstrate high efficiency and selectivity combined with low cost and simplicity of analysis. Due to the limited size of the chapter, only sensors for the detection of metal cations, anions, and amino acids were considered, while sensors for proteins, DNA, RNA, etc. were ignored. Nevertheless, these data suggest that this group of polyfunctional chemosensors is extremely suitable for express analysis and bioimaging of various objects.



This research was financially supported by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation, project 0852-2020-2100-19. A. Dubonosov worked in the framework of the State assignment of the Southern Scientific Centre of the RAS No. 01201354239.


Conflict of interest

The authors declare “no conflict of interest.”


  1. 1. Anslyn EV, Wang B. Chemosensors: Principles, Strategies, and Applications. Hoboken: Wiley; 2011. p. 540 DOI: 10.1002/97811180195802
  2. 2. Singh R, Das G. Towards fluorogenic and chromogenic sensing of heavy metal ions in aqueous medium: A mini-review. In: Singh DK, Das S, Materny A, editors. Advances in Spectroscopy: Molecules to Materials. Singapore: Springer Nature; 2019. pp. 57-65
  3. 3. Suganya S, Naha S, Velmathi S. A critical review on colorimetric and fluorescent probes for the sensing of analytes via relay recognition. ChemistrySelect. 2018;3(25):7231-7268. DOI: 10.1002/slct.201801222
  4. 4. Liu Z, He W, Guo Z. Metal coordination in photoluminescent sensing. Chemical Society Reviews. 2013;42(4):1568-1600. DOI: 10.1039/c2cs35363f
  5. 5. Yu L, Wang S, Huang K, Liu Z, Gao F, Zeng W. Fluorescent probes for dual and multi analyte detection. Tetrahedron. 2015;71(29):4679-4706. DOI: 10.1016/j.tet.2015.04.115
  6. 6. Wu J, Kwon B, Liu W, Anslyn EV, Wang P, Kim JS. Chromogenic/fluorogenic ensemble chemosensing systems. Chemical Reviews. 2015;115(15):7893-7943. DOI: 10.1021/cr500553d
  7. 7. Chhatwal M, Kumar A, Singh V, Gupta RD, Awasthi SK. Addressing of multiple-metal ions on a single platform. Coordination Chemistry Reviews. 2015;292:30-55. DOI: 10.1016/j.ccr.2015.02.009
  8. 8. Singh H, Bhargava G, Kumar S, Singh P. Quadruple-signaling (PET, ICT, ESIPT, C=N rotation) mechanism-based dual chemosensor for detection of Cu2+ and Zn2+ ions: TRANSFER, INH and complimentary OR/NOR logic circuits. Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology A. 2018;357:175-184. DOI: 10.1016/j.jphotochem.2018.02.030
  9. 9. Penta S, editor. Advances in Structure and Activity Relationship of Coumarin Derivatives. Amsterdam: Elsevier-Academic Press; 2015. p. 190
  10. 10. Calcio Gaudino E, Tagliapietra S, Martina K, Palmisano G, Cravotto G. Recent advances and perspectives in the synthesis of bioactive coumarins. RSC Advances. 2016;6:46394-46405. DOI: 10.1039/C6RA07071J
  11. 11. Bräse S. Privileged Scaffolds in Medicinal Chemistry. Design, Synthesis, Evaluation. Cambridge: RSC; 2015. p. 476 DOI: 10.1039/9781782622246
  12. 12. Anamika UD, Ekta JN, Sharma S. Advances in synthesis and potentially bioactive of coumarin derivatives. Current Organic Chemistry. 2019;22(26):2509-2536. DOI: 10.2174/1385272822666181029102140
  13. 13. Grover J, Jachak SM. Coumarins as privileged scaffold for anti-inflammatory drug development. RSC Advances. 2015;5(49):38892-38905. DOI: 10.1039/C5RA05643H
  14. 14. Emami S, Dadashpour S. Current developments of coumarin-based anti-cancer agents in medicinal chemistry. European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. 2015;102:611-630. DOI: 10.1016/j.ejmech.2015.08.033
  15. 15. Medina FG, Marrero JG, Macias-Alonso M, González MC, Córdova-Guerrero I, Teissier García AG, et al. Coumarin heterocyclic derivatives: Chemical synthesis and biological activity. Natural Product Reports. 2015;32(10):1472-1507. DOI: 10.1039/c4np00162a
  16. 16. An R, Hou Z, Li JT, Yu HN, Mou YH, Guo C. Design, synthesis and biological evaluation of novel 4-substituted coumarin derivatives as antitumor agents. Molecules. 2018;23(9):E2281. DOI: 10.3390/molecules23092281
  17. 17. Matos MJ, Vazquez-Rodriguez S, Fonseca A, Uriarte E, Santana L, Borges F. Heterocyclic antioxidants in nature: Coumarins. Current Organic Chemistry. 2017;21(4):311-324. DOI: 10.2174/1385272820666161017170652
  18. 18. Kathiravan MK, Salake AB, Chothe AS, Dudhe PB, Watode RP, Mukta MS, et al. The biology and chemistry of antifungal agents: A review. Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry. 2012;20(19):5678-5695. DOI: 10.1016/j.bmc.2012.04.045
  19. 19. Hassan MZ, Osman H, Ali MA, Ahsan MJ. Therapeutic potential of coumarins as antiviral agents. European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. 2016;123:236-255. DOI: 10.1016/j.ejmech.2016.07.056
  20. 20. Yamaji M, Hakoda Y, Okamoto H, Tani F. Photochemical synthesis and photophysical properties of coumarins bearing extended polyaromatic rings studied by emission and transient absorption measurements. Photochemical and Photobiological Sciences. 2017;12(4):555-563. DOI: 10.1039/c6pp00399k
  21. 21. Al-Masoudi NA, Al-Salihi NJ, Marich YA, Markus T. Synthesis, and fluorescence properties of coumarin and benzocoumarin derivatives conjugated pyrimidine scaffolds for biological imaging applications. Journal of Fluorescence. 2015;25(6):1847-1854. DOI: 10.1007/s10895-015-1677-z
  22. 22. Nazir R, Stasyuk AJ, Gryko DT. Vertically π-expanded coumarins: The synthesis and optical properties. Journal of Organic Chemistry. 2016;81(22):11104-11114. DOI: 10.1021/acs.joc.6b02094
  23. 23. Wang ZS, Cui Y, Hara K, Dan-oh Y, Kasada C, Shinpo A. A high-light-harvesting-efficiency coumarin dye for stable dye-sensitized solar cells. Advanced Materials. 2007;19(8):1138-1141. DOI: 10.1002/adma.200601020
  24. 24. Cao D, Liu Z, Verwilst P, Koo S, Jangjili P, Kim JS, et al. Coumarin-based small-molecule fluorescent chemosensors. Chemical Reviews. 2019;119(18):10403-10519. DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemrev.9b00145
  25. 25. Katerinopoulos HE. The coumarin moiety as chromophore of fluorescent ion indicators in biological systems. Current Pharmaceutical Design. 2004;10(30):3835-3852. DOI: 10.2174/1381612043382666
  26. 26. Formica M, Fusi V, Giorgi L, Micheloni M. New fluorescent chemosensors for metal ions in solution. Coordination Chemistry Reviews. 2012;256:170-192. DOI: 10.1016/j.ccr.2011.09.010
  27. 27. Song Y, Chen Z, Li H. Advances in coumarin-derived fluorescent chemosensors for metal ions. Current Organic Chemistry. 2012;16(22):2690-2707. DOI: 10.2174/138527212804004544
  28. 28. Sareen D, Kaur P. Strategies in detection of metal ions using dyes. Coordination Chemistry Reviews. 2014;265:125-154. DOI: 10.1016/j.ccr.2014.01.015
  29. 29. Qin J, Fan L, Wang B, Yang Z, Li T. The design of a simple fluorescent chemosensor for Al3+/Zn2+ via two different approaches. Analytical Methods. 2015;7(2):716-722. DOI: 10.1039/C4AY02351J
  30. 30. Fu J, Chang Y, Li B, Wang X, Xie X, Xu K. A dual fluorescence probe for Zn2+ and Al3+ through differentially response and bioimaging in living cells. Spectrochimica Acta A. 2020;225. Article 117493. DOI: 10.1016/j.saa.2019.117493
  31. 31. Zhang Q , Ma R, Li Z, Liu Z. A multi-responsive crown ether-based colorimetric/fluorescent chemosensor for highly selective detection of Al3+, Cu2+ and Mg2+. Spectrochimica Acta A. 2020;228. Article 117857. DOI: 10.1016/j.saa.2019.117857
  32. 32. Roy N, Dutta A, Mondal P, Paul PC, Singh TS. A new coumarin based dual functional chemosensor for colorimetric detection of Fe3+ and fluorescence turn-on response of Zn2+. Sensors and Actuators B. 2016;236:719-731. DOI: 10.1016/j.snb.2016.06.061
  33. 33. Roy N, Nath S, Dutta A, Mondal P, Paul PC, Singh TS. A highly efficient and selective coumarin based fluorescent probe for colorimetric detection of Fe3+ and fluorescence dual sensing of Zn2+ and Cu2+. RSC Advances. 2016;6(68):63837-63847. DOI: 10.1039/C6RA12217E
  34. 34. Wang L, Li W, Zhi W, Huang Y, Han J, Wang Y, et al. A new coumarin schiff based fluorescent-colorimetric chemosensor for dual monitoring of Zn2+ and Fe3+ in different solutions: An application to bio-imaging. Sensors and Actuators B. 2018;260:243-254. DOI: 10.1016/j.snb.2017.12.200
  35. 35. He X, Xie Q , Fan J, Xu C, Xu W, Li Y, et al. Dual-functional chemosensor with colorimetric/ratiometric response to Cu(II)/Zn(II) ions and its applications in bioimaging and molecular logic gates. Dyes and Pigments. 2020;177. Article 108255. DOI: 10.1016/j.dyepig.2020.108255
  36. 36. Kumar A, Mondal S, Kayshap KS, Hira SK, Manna PP, Dehaend W, et al. Water switched aggregation/disaggregation strategies of a coumarin-naphthalene conjugated sensor and its selectivity towards Cu2+ and Ag+ ions along with cell imaging studies on human osteosarcoma cells (U-2 OS). New Journal of Chemistry. 2018;42(13):10983-10988. DOI: 10.1039/c8nj01631c
  37. 37. Xu P, Liu X, Zhao X, Zhu W, Fang M, Wu Z, et al. A dual-function chemosensor based on coumarin for fluorescent turn-on recognition of Hg2+ and colorimetric detection of Cu2+ in aqueous media. Journal of the Chinese Chemical Society. 2020;67(2):298-305. DOI: 10.1002/jccs.201900188
  38. 38. Liu M, Xu Z, Song Y, Li H, Xian C. A novel coumarin-based chemosensor for colorimetric detection of Ag(I) ion and fluorogenic sensing of Ce(III) ion. Journal of Luminescence. 2018;198:337-341. DOI: 10.1016/j.jlumin.2018.02.047
  39. 39. Puthiyedath T, Bahulayan D. A click derived triazole-coumarin derivative as fluorescence on-off PET based sensor for Ca2+ and Fe3+ ions. Sensors and Actuators B. 2018;272:110-117. DOI: 10.1016/j.snb.2018.05.126
  40. 40. Yanar U, Babür B, Pekyilmaz D, Yahaya I, Aydiner B, Dede Y, et al. A fluorescent coumarin-thiophene hybrid as a ratiometric chemosensor for anions: Synthesis, photophysics, anion sensing and orbital interactions. Journal of Molecular Structure. 2016;1108:269-277. DOI: 10.1016/j.molstruc.2015.11.081
  41. 41. Razi SS, Ali R, Srivastava P, Shahid M, Misra A. An efficient multichannel probe to detect anions in different media and its real application in human blood plasma. RSC Advances. 2014;4(43):22308-22317. DOI: 10.1039/c4ra02388a
  42. 42. Şahin Ö, Özdemir ÜÖ, Seferoğlu N, Genc ZK, Kaya K, Aydiner B, et al. New platinum(II) and palladium(II) complexes of coumarin-thiazole Schiff base with a fluorescent chemosensor properties: Synthesis, spectroscopic characterization, X-ray structure determination, in vitro anticancer activity on various human carcinoma cell lines and computational studies. Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B. 2018;178:428-439. DOI: 10.1016/j.jphotobiol.2017.11.030
  43. 43. Padhan SK, Podh MB, Sahu PK, Sahu SN. Optical discrimination of fluoride and cyanide ions by coumarinsalicylidene based chromofluorescent probes in organic and aqueous medium. Sensors and Actuators B. 2018;255(2):1376-1390. DOI: 10.1016/j.snb.2017.08.133
  44. 44. Islam M, Hameed A, Ayub K, Naseer MM, Hussain J, Alharthy RD, et al. Receptor-spacer-fluorophore based coumarin-thiosemicarbazones as anion chemosensors with “turn on” response: Spectroscopic and computational (DFT) studies. ChemistrySelect. 2018;3(26):7633-7642. DOI: 10.1002/slct.201801035
  45. 45. Shan Y, Sun Y, Suna N, Guan R, Cao D, Wang K, et al. One diethylamine coumarin derivative with nitro substituted chalcone structure as chemosensor for cyanide and copper ions. Inorganic Chemistry Communications. 2015;59:68-70. DOI: 10.1016/j.inoche.2015.06.031
  46. 46. Wang K, Feng W, Wang Y, Cao D, Guan R, Yu X, et al. A coumarin derivative with benzothiazole Schiff’s base structure as chemosensor for cyanide and copper ions. Inorganic Chemistry Communications. 2016;71:102-104. DOI: 10.1016/j.inoche.2016.07.013
  47. 47. Mukherjee S, Talukder S. A coumarin-based luminescent chemosensor for recognition of Cu2+ and its in-situ complex for CN-sensing via Cu2+ displacement approach. Journal of Fluorescence. 2017;27:1567-1572. DOI: 10.1007/s10895-016-1974-1
  48. 48. Qin J, Yang Z. Design of a novel coumarin-based multifunctional fluorescent probe for Zn2+/Cu2+/S2− in aqueous solution. Materials Science and Engineering C. 2015;57:265-271. DOI: 10.1016/j.msec.2015.07.064
  49. 49. Feng Y, Yang Y, Wang Y, Qiu F, Song X, Tang X, et al. Dual-functional colorimetric fluorescent probe for sequential Cu2+ and S2− detection in bio-imaging. Sensors and Actuators B. 2019;288:27-37. DOI: 10.1016/j.snb.2019.02.062
  50. 50. Liu Z, Liu L, Li J, Qin Y, Zhao C, Mi C, et al. A new coumarin-based fluorescent probe for selective recognition of Cu2+ and S2− in aqueous solution and living cells. Tetrahedron. 2019;75:3951-3957. DOI: 10.1016/j.tet.2019.05.057
  51. 51. Gu L, Zheng T, Xu Z, Song Y, Li H, Xia S, et al. A novel bifunctional fluorescent and colorimetric probe for detection of mercury and fluoride ions. Spectrochimica Acta A. 2019;207:88-95. DOI: 10.1016/j.saa.2018.08.060
  52. 52. Dubonosov AD, Bren VA, Minkin VI. Enolimine-ketoenamine tautomerism for chemosensing. In: Antonov L, editor. Tautomerism: Concepts and Applications in Science and Technology. Weinheim: Wiley-VCH; 2016. pp. 229-252. DOI: 10.1002/9783527695713.ch10
  53. 53. Nikolaeva OG, Shepelenko EN, Tikhomirova KS, Revinskii YV, Dubonosov AD, Bren VA, et al. Bifunctional fluorescent and colorimetric “naked eye” aroylhydrazone chemosensors for Hg2+ and F ions detection. Mendeleev Communications. 2016;26(5):402-404. DOI: 10.1016/j.mencom.2016.09.012
  54. 54. Nikolaeva OG, Karlutova OY, Dubonosov AD, Bren VA, Minkin VI. Synthesis and luminescence and ionochromic properties of 9-hydroxy-1-methyl-3-oxo-3H-benzo[f]chromene-8-carbaldehyde imines and hydrazones. Russian Journal of General Chemistry. 2020;90(2):196-201. DOI: 10.1134/S107036322002005X
  55. 55. Meng X, Cao D, Hu Z, Han X, Li Z, Liang D, et al. A coumarin based highly selective fluorescent chemosensor for sequential recognition of Cu2+ and PPi. Tetrahedron Letters. 2018;59(49):4299-4304. DOI: 10.1016/j.tetlet.2018.10.048
  56. 56. Zhao C, Chen J, Cao D, Wang J, Ma W. Novel coumarin-based containing denrons selective fluorescent chemosesor for sequential recognition of Cu2+ and PPi. Tetrahedron. 2019;75(13):1997-2003. DOI: 10.1016/j.tet.2019.02.024
  57. 57. Li S, Cao D, Meng X, Hu Z, Li Z, Yuan C, et al. A novel fluorescent chemosensor based on coumarin and quinolinylbenzothiazole for sequential recognition of Cu2+ and PPi and its applicability in live cell imaging. Spectrochimica Acta A. 2020;230. Article 118022. DOI: 10.1016/j.saa.2019.118022
  58. 58. Tao P, Chen D, Xu Z, Song Y, Li H, Xian C. A fluorescent probe for the dual detection of mercury ions and thiols based on a simple coumarin derivative. Coloration Technology. 2020;136(1):75-86. DOI: 10.1111/cote.12447
  59. 59. Xie Y, Yan L, Li J. An on-off-on fluorescence probe based on Coumarin for Cu2+, cysteine, and histidine detections. Applied Spectroscopy. 2019;73(7):794-800. DOI: 10.1177/0003702818821329
  60. 60. Wang S, Ding H, Wang Y, Fan C, Liu G, Pu S. A colorimetric and ratiometric fluorescent sensor for sequentially detecting Cu2+ and arginine based on a coumarin-rhodamine B derivative and its application for bioimaging. RSC Advances. 2019;9(12):6643-6649. DOI: 10.1039/c8ra09943j
  61. 61. Wang Z, Ding X, Huang Y, Yan X, Ding B, Li Q , et al. The development of coumarin Schiff base system applied as highly selective fluorescent/colorimetric probes for Cu2+ and tumor biomarker glutathione detection. Dyes and Pigments. 2020;175. Article 108156. DOI: 10.1016/j.dyepig.2019.108156
  62. 62. Yin G, Niu T, Gan Y, Yu T, Yin P, Chen H, et al. A multi-signal fluorescent probe with multiple binding sites for simultaneous sensing of Cys, Hcy and GSH. Angewandte Chemie. 2018;57(18):4991-4994. DOI: 10.1002/anie.201800485

Written By

Alexander Dubonosov and Vladimir Bren

Submitted: March 2nd, 2020 Reviewed: June 4th, 2020 Published: September 30th, 2020