Activity-Based Sensing of Ascorbate by Using Copper-Mediated Oxidative Bond Cleavage

Zuo Hang Yu, Christopher J. Reinhardt, Thomas Hin Fung Wong, Ka Yan Tong, Jefferson Chan, Ho Yu Au-Yeung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ascorbate is an important biological reductant and enzyme cofactor. Although direct detection through ascorbate-mediated reduction is possible, this approach suffers from poor selectivity due to the wide range of cellular reducing agents. To overcome this limitation, we leverage reduction potential of ascorbate to mediate a copper-mediated oxidative bond cleavage of ether-caged fluorophores. The copper(II) complexes supported by a {bis(2-pyridylmethyl)}benzylamine or a {bis(2-pyridylmethyl)}(2-methoxybenzyl)amine ligand were identified as an ascorbate responsive unit and their reaction with ascorbate yields a copper-based oxidant that enables rapid benzylic oxidation and the release of an ether-caged dye (coumarin or fluorescein). The copper-mediated bond cleavage is specific to ascorbate and the trigger can be readily derivatized for tuning photophysical properties of the probes. The probes were successfully applied for the fluorometric detection of ascorbate in commercial food samples, human plasma, and serum, and within live cells by using confocal microscopy and flow cytometry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8794-8800
Number of pages7
JournalChemistry - A European Journal
Issue number40
StatePublished - Jul 17 2020


  • ascorbate
  • copper
  • fluorescent probes
  • oxidation
  • sensors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Organic Chemistry


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