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What Is DBCO Click Chemistry?

In the world of modern chemistry, researchers are constantly striving to develop versatile and efficient methods for constructing complex molecules. One such method that has gained significant attention in recent years is DBCO click chemistry. DBCO, short for “Dibenzocyclooctyne,” is a powerful chemical scaffold that enables the selective and rapid formation of chemical bonds.

Illustration of a molecule strand for the article about DBCO click chemistry.

The Foundations of Click Chemistry

Click chemistry, a concept introduced by K. Barry Sharpless in 2001, encompasses a set of highly reliable and selective chemical reactions designed for a wide range of applications. The hallmark of click chemistry reactions is their efficiency, high yield, minimal byproduct formation, and the ability to occur under mild conditions. These characteristics make click chemistry particularly valuable in drug discovery, materials science, and bioconjugation.

DBCO click chemistry is a specific branch of click chemistry that utilizes DBCO-functionalized compounds as a central component. DBCO molecules are particularly well-suited for click reactions due to their strained cyclic structure, which readily undergoes ring-opening reactions.

Key Components of DBCO Click Chemistry

DBCO click chemistry, with its remarkable selectivity, efficiency, and compatibility with various applications, has become a fundamental tool for researchers in chemistry, biology, and materials science.

1. DBCO-functionalized compounds

These are the core reagents in DBCO click chemistry. DBCO molecules contain a cyclooctyne ring structure, which possesses inherent reactivity towards azides, a key partner in the click reaction. Functionalizing compounds with DBCO groups enables them to participate in selective and efficient click reactions.

2. Azides

Azides, organic compounds containing the N3 functional group (-N=N=N), play a vital role in DBCO click chemistry. They readily react with DBCO-functionalized compounds to form stable triazole linkages, making them suitable for various applications.

3. The DBCO Click Chemistry Reaction

The DBCO click reaction is a straightforward and highly selective chemical reaction between DBCO-functionalized compounds and azides. This reaction proceeds efficiently under mild conditions, including in aqueous environments, and produces stable triazole bonds.

Applications of DBCO Click Chemistry

As our understanding of DBCO Click Chemistry continues to grow, we can anticipate further breakthroughs in research, development, and innovation across numerous fields. 

1. Bioconjugation

DBCO click chemistry has found extensive applications in bioconjugation and bioorthogonal labeling. Researchers can attach DBCO-functionalized probes to azide-labeled biomolecules, such as proteins or nucleic acids, without interfering with natural biological processes. This technique is invaluable for studying and tracking cellular processes.

2. Materials Science

DBCO click chemistry plays a pivotal role in materials science, enabling precise functionalization of materials like polymers, nanoparticles, and surfaces. This precision control over material properties is vital in the development of advanced materials, sensors, and coatings.

3. Drug Discovery

DBCO click chemistry has transformed drug discovery by allowing researchers to selectively modify drug molecules or their delivery systems. This facilitates the attachment of targeting ligands, imaging agents, or other functional groups to drug candidates, enhancing their specificity and efficacy.

4. Radiolabeling Molecules

In essence, radiolabeling plays a pivotal role in advancing our understanding of biological processes, improving medical diagnostics and treatments, and addressing environmental and scientific challenges. It allows researchers and healthcare professionals to gain invaluable insights into the behavior and fate of molecules in complex systems, leading to advancements in various scientific and medical fields.

It involves introducing a radioactive atom into a molecule, allowing scientists to track and study the behavior of that molecule in biological systems.

Mushtaq, Yun, and Jeon describe the benefit of radiolabeling with DBCO click chemistry: 

“In SPAAC, the ring strain of cyclic alkynes such as dibenzocyclooctyne (DBCO) is used to drive the reaction with azide groups in the absence of copper(I) catalysis. Generally, two strategies have been employed for SPAAC-based radiolabeling. The first is the synthesis of radiolabeled cyclooctyne precursors, which can be used for the labeling of azide containing biomolecules, and the other is the preparation of radioisotope-tagged azide tracers which are reacted with cyclooctyne modified biomolecules. In 2011, Feringa group investigated SPAAC reaction for the efficient 18F-labeling of biomolecules. In this study, three 18F-labeled azides were synthesized, and the prepared tracers were conjugated with DBCO modified bombesin peptide derivatives. Notably, the reaction proceeded with high efficiency to provide 18F-labeled cancer-targeting peptides in 15 min with good radiochemical yields (RCYs). Particularly, radiolabeling studies using these reactions were also explored in human plasma to determine their reactivity and specificity in biological media.”[1]

5. Chemical Biology

DBCO click chemistry has emerged as a powerful tool in chemical biology due to its unique ability to facilitate precise and selective chemical conjugations in complex biological systems. In chemical biology, DBCO click chemistry aids in constructing small molecule libraries and developing chemical probes for studying biological pathways and interactions. It has revolutionized chemical biology by providing a versatile and bioorthogonal platform for controlled and selective chemical conjugations within biological systems. Its applications extend to a wide range of research areas, including biomolecule labeling, molecular imaging, drug delivery, and the development of chemical tools for probing intricate biological processes. 

Some of those applications include:

  • Bioconjugation
  • Imaging
  • Chemical probes
  • Target identification
  • Cell surface engineering 
  • Clickable biomolecules

Final Word: What is DBCO Click Chemistry?

DBCO click chemistry has undoubtedly earned its place as a valuable asset in the toolkit of scientists working to solve complex problems and advance our understanding of the world around us. 

Located within North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, Creative PEGWorks is a biotechnology company that specializes in advancing, manufacturing, and delivering state-of-the-art functional polymer materials, with a particular focus on hydrogels. If you’re looking for further details about the field of biochemistry, or you’re ready to order DBCO click chemistry tools, reach out to us today!


  1. Mushtaq S, Yun S-J, Jeon J. Recent Advances in Bioorthogonal Click Chemistry for Efficient Synthesis of Radiotracers and Radiopharmaceuticals. Molecules. 2019; 24(19):3567.