Amino-isocyanoacridines (ICAAcs), as first members of their class, turned out to be a novel, multifunctional acridine orange (AO) type dye family with a number of additional favorable properties. They have enhanced solvatochromic emission range, low quantum yields (ΦF = 2.9–0.4%) in water, reduced basicity (pKa = 7.05–7.58), and their optical behavior could be fine-tuned by complexation with Ag(I) ions, too. Based on both their vibronic absorption and the charge transfer bands, ICAAcs can be applied as stable pH-probes with great precision (2–3% error) in the physiological pH range of 6–8 using UV-vis and fluorescence detection. The dyes are also able to sense pH change in different microenvironments, such as the Stern layer, as it was demonstrated on sodium lauryl sulfate micelles. The optical behavior of the ICAAc derivatives is discussed based on high-level quantum chemical calculations. All three dyes are well-applicable with conventional epifluorescence imaging. Furthermore, at the blue excitation, diMICAAc is optimally suited as a whole-cell probe for both the conventional microscopic and the laser-illumination studies, like flow- and imaging cytometric, or confocal laser-scanning microscopic examinations.
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