The 3-hydroxyflavone (3HF) and its derivatives are the classical objects in the studies of the mechanisms of excited-state intramolecular proton transfer (ESIPT) reaction due to very frequent observation of two separate bands in fluorescence emission belonging to reactant and reaction product. Those of them possessing electron-donor groups in 4' position find many applications as fluorescence sensors and probes because of their much higher sensitivity of their two-band ratiometric response to interactions with the environment. We report on the strong differences between 3HF and such derivatives in the behavior of their fluorescence spectra as a function of temperature. The thermal quenching changes the intensity ratio of two bands strongly for 3HF but does not change it for its studied derivatives. These results are interpreted in terms of different kinetic mechanisms of ESIPT reaction. In 3HF the equilibrium between the two excited-state species is not established prior to emission, so that the ESIPT reaction is under kinetic control, but in these derivatives the equilibrium is established faster than the emission and the reaction is under thermodynamic control. We suggest that the thermal perturbation of fluorescence spectra can be an extremely simple and convenient alternative to time-resolved spectroscopy for determining if slow irreversible or fast reversible ESIPT reaction gives rise to two bands of fluorescence spectra of similar magnitude. This is essential for the development of new wavelength-ratiometric fluorescence sensors and probes. (c) 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.