Cancer-specific hNQO1-responsive biocompatible naphthalimides providing a rapid fluorescent turn-on with an enhanced enzyme affinity

Sun Young Park, Eugeine Jung, Jong Seung Kim, Sung Gil Chi, Min Hee Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Human NAD(P)H:quinone oxidoreductase 1 (hNQO1) is overexpressed in cancer cells and associated with the drug resistance factor of cancer. The objective of this work is the development of fluorescent probes for the efficient detection of hNQO1 activity in cancer cells, which can be employed for the cancer diagnosis and therapeutic agent development. Herein, we report naphthalimide-based fluorescent probes 1 and 2 that can detect hNQO1. For hNQO1 activity, the probes showed a significant fluorescence increase at 540 nm. In addition, probe 1, the naphthalimide containing a triphenylphosphonium salt, showed an enhanced enzyme efficiency and rapid detection under a physiological condition. The detection ability of probe 1 was superior to that of other previously reported probes. Moreover, probe 1 was less cytotoxic during the cancer cell imaging and readily provided a strong fluorescence in hNQO1-overexpressed cancer cells (A549). We proposed that probe 1 can be used to detect hNQO1 expression in live cells and it will be applied to develop the diagnosis and customized treatment of hNQO1-related disease.

Original languageEnglish
Article number53
JournalSensors (Switzerland)
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Jan 1

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: This research was supported by the CRI project (2018R1A3B1052702, J.S.K.), National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) (2018R1C1B6006110, M.H.L.) and the Sookmyung Women’s University BK21 Plus Scholarship.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Fluorescent off-on naphthalimides
  • Human NAD(P)H:quinone oxidoreductase 1 (hNQO1)
  • Trimethyl lock quinone
  • Triphenylphosphonium salt

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • Instrumentation
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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