Strategic engineering of alkyl spacer length for a pH-tolerant lysosome marker and dual organelle localization†
Long-term visualization of lysosomal properties is extremely crucial to evaluate diseases related to their dysfunction. However, many of the reported lysotrackers are less conducive to imaging lysosomes precisely because they suffer from fluorescence quenching and other inherent drawbacks such as pH-sensitivity, polarity insensitivity, water insolubility, slow diffusibility, and poor photostability. To overcome these limitations, we have utilized an alkyl chain length engineering strategy and synthesized a series of lysosome targeting fluorescent derivatives namely NIMCs by attaching a morpholine moiety at the peri position of the 1,8-naphthalimide (NI) ring through varying alkyl spacers between morpholine and 1,8-naphthalimide. The structural and optical properties of the synthesized NIMCs were explored by 1H-NMR, single-crystal X-ray diffraction, UV-Vis, and fluorescence spectroscopy. Afterward, optical spectroscopic measurements were carefully performed to identify a pH-tolerant, polarity sensitive, and highly photostable fluoroprobes for further live-cell imaging applications. NIMC6 displayed excellent pH-tolerant and polarity-sensitive properties. Consequently, all NIMCs were employed in kidney fibroblast cells (BHK-21) to investigate their applicability for lysosome targeting and probing lysosomal micropolarity. Interestingly, a switching of localization from lysosomes to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) was also achieved by controlling the linker length and this phenomenon was subsequently applied in determining ER micropolarity. Additionally, the selected probe NIMC6 was also employed in BHK-21 cells for 3-D spheroid imaging and in Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) for in vivo imaging, to evaluate its efficacy for imaging animal models.