A series of luminescent Ir(iii) complexes were synthesised and evaluated for their ability to act as luminescent G-quadruplex-selective probes. The Ir(iii) complex 9, [Ir(phq)2(phen)]PF6 (where phq = 2-phenylquinoline; phen = 1,10-phenanthroline), exhibited high luminescence in the presence of G-quadruplex DNA compared to dsDNA and ssDNA, and was employed to construct a label-free G-quadruplex-based assay for hepatitis C virus NS3 helicase activity in aqueous solution. Moreover, the application of the assay for screening potential helicase inhibitors was demonstrated. To our knowledge, this is the first G-quadruplex-based assay for helicase activity.
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