The spectroscopy of anthranilic acid (AA) was examined in neat and binary solvents of varying polarity and hydrogen bonding strength in order to understand the role of water in solvating the polar sites of the molecule. With the exception of water, the Stokes shift of AA in different solvents was found to be linearly correlated with the normalized molar transition energy of solvent polarity (ETN), indicating the major role of the hydrogen bonding effect in solution. Analysis of the absorption and fluorescence spectra reveals that AA exists as an anion in neutral water. The pKa (4.50) and pK a* (4.44) values were estimated from the spectral shift in the absorption and fluorescence spectra measured in different pH solutions. The shortest fluorescence lifetime was measured in cyclohexane and is attributed to intramolecular hydrogen dislocation/transfer in the excited state. The lifetime values in polar solvents point to the dominant effect of the hydrogen-bond donating strength (α value) of the solvent. The number of water molecules solvating the polar region of the neutral form of AA was estimated to be three from the absorbance change in dioxane/buffer (pH 3.5) binary mixtures. The structures of AA:water complexes were calculated from density functional theory using the B3LYP method with a 6-311++G(2d,p) basis set. A stepwise addition of water molecules (1-3) to the polar region of AA leads to a preferential solvation of the COOH group of the molecule in a closed-cyclic geometry. It is worth noting that the spectral shift as a function of pH suggests the suitability of AA as a probe to estimate the local acidity of binding sites in macromolecules in the pH range 3.0-7.0.
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