Self-assembled nanoscale biosensors based on quantum dot FRET donors


The potential of luminescent semiconductor quantum dots (QDs) to enable development of hybrid inorganic-bioreceptor sensing materials has remained largely unrealized. We report the design, formation and testing of QD–protein assemblies that function as chemical sensors. In these assemblies, multiple copies of Escherichia coli maltose-binding protein (MBP) coordinate to each QD by a C-terminal oligohistidine segment and function as sugar receptors. Sensors are self-assembled in solution in a controllable manner. In one configuration, a β-cyclodextrin-QSY9 dark quencher conjugate bound in the MBP saccharide binding site results in fluorescence resonance energy-transfer (FRET) quenching of QD photoluminescence. Added maltose displaces the β-cyclodextrin-QSY9, and QD photoluminescence increases in a systematic manner. A second maltose sensor assembly consists of QDs coupled with Cy3-labelled MBP bound to β-cyclodextrin-Cy3.5. In this case, the QD donor drives sensor function through a two-step FRET mechanism that overcomes inherent QD donor–acceptor distance limitations. Quantum dot–biomolecule assemblies constructed using these methods may facilitate development of new hybrid sensing materials.

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Figure 1: Comparison of the ability of MBP-5HIS (C-terminal penta-histidine) to coordinate with QDs as compared with MBP (minus the penta-histidine).
Figure 2: Function and properties of the 560QD-MBP nanosensor.
Figure 3: Excited-state properties of the 560QD-MBP nanosensor.
Figure 4: Function and properties of the 530 QD-MBP-Cy3-β-CD-Cy3.5 nanosensor.
Figure 5: Excited-state properties of the 530QD-MBP-Cy3-β-CD-Cy3.5 nanosensor.
Figure 6: Cutaway schematic depicting critical Förster distances.


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The authors thank H. Hellinga and D. Conrad (Duke University) for providing the plasmid with the MBP-HIS-tagged gene sequence used and P.T. Tran for helpful insight. I.L.M. and A.R.C. are supported by National Research Council Fellowships through the Naval Research Laboratory. B.F. acknowledges the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship Program for support. H.M., E.R.G. and J.M.M acknowledge K. Ward at the Office of Naval Research (ONR) for research support and grant number N001400WX20094 for financial support. The views, opinions, and/or findings described in this report are those of the authors and should not be construed as official Department of the Navy positions, policies, or decisions.

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Correspondence to Hedi Mattoussi or J. Matthew Mauro.

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Medintz, I., Clapp, A., Mattoussi, H. et al. Self-assembled nanoscale biosensors based on quantum dot FRET donors. Nature Mater 2, 630–638 (2003).

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