The rational design of nitric oxide selectivity in single-walled carbon nanotube near-infrared fluorescence sensors for biological detection


A major challenge in the synthesis of nanotube or nanowire sensors is to impart selective analyte binding through means other than covalent linkages, which compromise electronic and optical properties. We synthesized a 3,4-diaminophenyl-functionalized dextran (DAP-dex) wrapping for single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs) that imparts rapid and selective fluorescence detection of nitric oxide (NO), a messenger for biological signalling. The near-infrared (nIR) fluorescence of SWNTDAP-dex is immediately and directly bleached by NO, but not by other reactive nitrogen and oxygen species. This bleaching is reversible and shown to be caused by electron transfer from the top of the valence band of the SWNT to the lowest unoccupied molecular orbital of NO. The resulting optical sensor is capable of real-time and spatially resolved detection of NO produced by stimulating NO synthase in macrophage cells. We also demonstrate the potential of the optical sensor for in vivo detection of NO in a mouse model.

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Figure 1: Schematic illustration for NO detection using SWNT–polymer hybrid.
Figure 2: nIR fluorescence response of SWNTDAP-dex hybrid (6) to NO.
Figure 3: Selectivity, sensitivity and bleaching rate of SWNTDAP-dex hybrid (6) for NO.
Figure 4: Spectroscopic analysis for the fluorescence bleaching mechanism of the SWNTDAP-dex hybrid by NO.
Figure 5: Biological NO detection using SWNTDAP-dex hybrid.


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This work was supported by a Beckman Young Investigator Award to M.S.S., the National Science Foundation and a seed grant from the Center for Environmental Health and Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). J.H. Kim is grateful for a postdoctoral fellowship from the Korea Research Foundation Grant funded by the Korean Government (KRF-2007-357-D00086). We also thank W.M. Deen in the Department of Chemical Engineering at MIT for discussions on NO diffusion.

Author information

J.H.K. and M.S.S. conceived and designed the experiments. J.H.K. performed the experiments and analysed the data. D.A.H., H.J., P.W.B., C.S. and J.Z. assisted in doing experiments. L.J.T., G.N.W. and S.R.T. discussed the results of biological NO detection and commented on them. J.H.K. and M.S.S. co-wrote the paper.

Correspondence to Michael S. Strano.

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Kim, J., Heller, D., Jin, H. et al. The rational design of nitric oxide selectivity in single-walled carbon nanotube near-infrared fluorescence sensors for biological detection. Nature Chem 1, 473–481 (2009).

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