Substituted 9-Diethylaminobenzo[a]phenoxazin-5-ones (nile red analogues): Synthesis and photophysical properties

Mick Hornum*, Mads W. Mulberg, Maria Szomek, Peter Reinholdt, Jonathan R. Brewer, Daniel Wüstner, Jacob Kongsted, Poul Nielsen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Nile Red is a benzo[a]phenoxazone dye containing a diethylamino substituent at the 9-position. In recent years, it has become a popular histological stain for cellular membranes and lipid droplets due to its unrivaled fluorescent properties in lipophilic environments. This makes it an attractive lead for chemical decoration to tweak its attributes and optimize it for more specialized microscopy techniques, e.g., fluorescence lifetime imaging or two-photon excited fluorescence microscopy, to which Nile Red has never been optimized. Herein, we present synthesis approaches to a series of monosubstituted Nile Red derivatives (9-diethylbenzo[a]phenoxazin-5-ones) starting from 1-naphthols or 1,3-naphthalenediols. The solvatochromic responsiveness of these fluorophores is reported with focus on how the substituents affect the absorption and emission spectra, luminosity, fluorescence lifetimes, and two-photon absorptivity. Several of the analogues emerge as strong candidates for reporting the polarity of their local environment. Specifically, the one- and two-photon excited fluorescence of Nile Red turns out to be very responsive to substitution, and the spectroscopic features can be finely tuned by judiciously introducing substituents of distinct electronic character at specific positions. This new toolkit of 9-diethylbenzo[a]-phenoxazine-5-ones constitutes a step toward the next generation of optical molecular probes for advancing the understanding of lipid structures and cellular processes.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Organic Chemistry
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)1471–1488
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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