Gold nanoparticle-fluorophore complex for conditionally fluorescing signal mediator

Jianting Wang, Samuel Achilefu, Michael Nantz, Kyung A. Kang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Fluorescent contrast agents with high specificity and sensitivity are valuable for accurate disease detection and diagnosis. Spherical gold nanoparticles (GNPs) can be smartly utilized for developing highly effective agents. The strong electromagnetic (plasmon) field on their surface can be very effective in influencing the electrons of fluorophores and, thus, manipulating the fluorescence output (i.e., either quenching or enhancement). Fluorescence quenching can be used for negative sensing, or for conditional de-quenching to increase the specificity. Fluorescence enhancement allows sensing to be more sensitive. The level of fluorescence alteration depends on the GNP size, the excitation and emission wavelengths and quantum yield of the fluorophore, and the distance between the GNP and the fluorophore. To understand the mechanisms of the fluorescence change by GNP, we have theoretically analyzed the parameters involved in the fluorescence alteration for commonly used fluorophores, with an emphasis on quenching. The results showed that the fluorescence of fluorophores with the excitation (Ex) and emission (Ex) wavelengths close to the GNP resonance peak tended to be significantly quenched by GNPs. For those fluorophores emitting fluorescence in red or near infrared, to achieve quenching, the distance between GNP and the fluorophore was required to be very short. In general, a shorter distance resulted in more quenching. Bigger GNPs require a shorter distance to achieve the same level of quenching. The fluorescence of a fluorophore with a lower quantum yield (especially the one with emission in far-red or near-infrared) is more difficult to be quenched by GNPs (requires very short distance). Instead, it can be enhanced. Based on the theoretical study, we have developed a near-infrared contrast agent, i.e., Cypate conjugated GNP via a short peptide spacer. Normally the fluorescence of Cypate was quenched. The spacer has a motif of a substrate for urokinase type plasminogen activator (uPA; cancer-secreting enzyme). This contrast agent emits fluorescence only in the presence of uPA, where the uPA cleaves the spacer. This design can be used in characterization of the cancer type and also in diagnosing other diseases with signature enzymes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)96-104
Number of pages9
JournalAnalytica Chimica Acta
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jun 10 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Contrast agent
  • Enzyme triggered detection
  • Fluorescence manipulation
  • Fluorescence quenching
  • Gold nanoparticle
  • Molecular imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Spectroscopy


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