Chemistry ETDs


Yanting Cao

Publication Date



Small organic molecules, including small molecule based fluorescent probes, small molecule based drugs or prodrugs, and smart multifunctional fluorescent drug delivery systems play important roles in biological research, drug discovery, and clinical practices. Despite the significant progress made in these fields, the development of novel and diverse small molecules is needed to meet various demands for research and clinical applications. My Ph.D study focuses on the development of novel functional molecules for recognition, imaging and drug release. In the first part, a turn-on fluorescent probe is developed for the detection of intracellular adenosine-5'-triphosphate (ATP) levels based on multiplexing recognitions. Considering the unique and complicated structure of ATP molecules, a fluorescent probe has been implemented with improved sensitivity and selectivity due to two synergistic binding recognitions by incorporating of 2, 2'-dipicolylamine (Dpa)-Zn(II) for targeting of phospho anions and phenylboronic acid group for cis-diol moiety. The novel probe is able to detect intracellular ATP levels in SH-SY5Y cells. Meanwhile, the advantages of multiplexing recognition design concept have been demonstrated using two control molecules. In the second part, a prodrug system is developed to deliver multiple drugs within one small molecule entity. The prodrug is designed by using 1-(2-nitrophenyl)ethyl (NPE) as phototrigger, and biphenol biquaternary ammonium as the prodrug. With controlled photo activation, both DNA cross-linking agents mechlorethamine and o-quinone methide are delivered and released at the preferred site, leading to efficient DNA cross-links formation and cell death. The prodrug shows negligible cytotoxicity towards normal skin cells (Hekn cells) with and without UV activation, but displays potent activity towards cancer cells (HeLa cells) upon UV activation. The multiple drug release system may hold a great potential for practical application. In the last part, a new photo-initiated fluorescent anticancer prodrug for DNA alkylating agent mechlorethamine releasing and monitoring has been developed. The theranostic prodrug consists a photolabile NPE group, an inactive form of mechlorethamine and a nonfluorescent coumarin in one small molecule. It is demonstrated that the prodrug shows negligible cytotoxicity towards normal skin cells (Hekn cells) with and without UV activation, while the original parent drug mechlorethamine can be photocontrol-released and induces effective DNA cross-linking activity. Importantly, the drug release progress can be conveniently monitored by the 'off-on' fluorescence enhancement in cells. Moreover, the selective prodrug is not only cell permeable but also nuclear permeable. Therefore, the prodrug serves as a promising drug delivery system for spatiotemporal control release and monitoring of an anticancer drug to obtain the optimal treatment efficacy.




anticancer prodrug, DNA cross-linking, drug delivery system, drug release, fluorescent imaging, fluorescent probe, mechlorethamine, multiple drugs delivery, multiplexing recognitions, photo-activated prodrug, prodrug

Document Type


Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology

First Advisor

Wang, Wei

First Committee Member (Chair)

Wang, Wei

Second Committee Member

Qin, Yang

Third Committee Member

Melancon, Charles

Fourth Committee Member

Feng, Changjian