Understanding the mechanisms responsible for the various biological activities of chalcones, particularly the direct cellular targets, presents an unmet challenge. Here, we prepared a series of fluorescent chalcone derivatives as chemical probes for their mechanistic investigation. Upon systematic physicochemical characterization, we explored their potential to elucidate the mode of action of chalcones’ cytotoxicity. The fluorescence of the chalcones was found to be highly sensitive to structural and environmental factors. Structurally, a 4-dialkylamino group on the B ring, suitable electronic properties of the A ring substituents, and the planar conformation of the chalcone's core structure were essential for optimal fluorescence. Environmental factors influencing fluorescence included solvent polarity, pH, and the interactions of the chalcones with proteins and detergents. It was found that 18 chalcones showed a fluorescent brightness greater than 6000 M−1 cm−1 in DMSO. However, water dramatically quenched the fluorescence, although it could be partially recovered in the presence of BSA or detergents. As expected, these fluorescent chalcones showed a sharp structure–activity relationship in their cellular cytotoxicity, leading to the identification of structurally similar cytotoxic and non-cytotoxic fluorescent chalcones as chemical probes. Confocal microscopy results revealed the co-localization of the cytotoxic probe C8 and tubulin in cells, supporting tubulin as the direct cellular target responsible for the cytotoxicity of chalcones.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Pharmaceutical Science
- Drug Discovery