Chemical warfare agents (CWAs) are toxic chemicals that have been intentionally developed for targeted and deadly use on humans. Although intended for military targets, the use of CWAs more often than not results in mass civilian casualties. To prevent further atrocities from occurring during conflicts, a global ban was implemented through the chemical weapons convention, with the aim of eliminating the development, stockpiling, and use of CWAs. Unfortunately, because of their relatively low cost, ease of manufacture and effectiveness on mass populations, CWAs still exist in today's world. CWAs have been used in several recent terrorist-related incidents and conflicts (e.g., Syria). Therefore, they continue to remain serious threats to public health and safety and to global peace and stability. Analytical methods that can accurately detect CWAs are essential to global security measures and for forensic analysis. Small molecule fluorescent probes have emerged as attractive chemical tools for CWA detection, due to their simplicity, ease of use, excellent selectivity and high sensitivity, as well as their ability to be translated into handheld devices. This includes the ability to non-invasively image CWA distribution within living systems (in vitro and in vivo) to permit in-depth evaluation of their biological interactions and allow potential identification of therapeutic countermeasures. In this review, we provide an overview of the various reported fluorescent probes that have been designed for the detection of CWAs. The mechanism for CWA detection, change in optical output and application for each fluorescent probe are described in detail. The limitations and challenges of currently developed fluorescent probes are discussed providing insight into the future development of this research area. We hope the information provided in this review will give readers a clear understanding of how to design a fluorescent probe for the detection of a specific CWA. We anticipate that this will advance our security systems and provide new tools for environmental and toxicology monitoring.
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