Fluorescence techniques have drawn increasing attention because they provide crucial information about molecular interactions in protein-ligand systems beyond that obtained by other methods. The advantage of fluorescence spectroscopy stems from the fact that the majority of molecules in biological systems do not exhibit fluorescence, making fluorescent probes useful with high sensitivity. Also, the fluorescence emission is highly sensitive to the local environment, providing a valuable tool to investigate the nature of binding sites in macromolecules. In this review, we discuss some of the important applications of a class of molecules that have been used as fluorescent probes in a variety of studies. Hydroxyphenyl benzazoles (HBXs) show distinct spectroscopic features that make them suitable probes for the study of certain biological mechanisms in DNA, protein and lipid. In particular, the complex photophysics of 2-(2′-hydroxyphenyl)benzoxazole (HBO) and the distinguished fluorescence signatures of its different tautomeric forms make this molecule a useful probe in several applications. Among these are probing the DNA local environment, study of the flexibility and specificity of protein-binding sites, and detecting the heterogeneity and ionization ability of the head groups of different lipidic phases. The spectroscopy of HBX molecules and some of their chemically modified structures is also reviewed.
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