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Nanomaterial-based on-off-on fluorescence sensing strategies are significant particularly in intracellular nucleic acids imaging assay. There still remains challenge to rationally balance fluorescence quenching efficiency and recovery dynamics. We assume that the performance of on-off-on fluorescence sensing strategy can be fundamentally improved on small zero-dimensional (0D) nanomaterial with precisely modulated surface charge. For a proof-of-concept demonstration, silicon nanoparticle (SiNP) with ~4 nm was synthesized and used as the quencher model, of which the surface charge density was modulated by modification of triphenylphosphonium (TPP). The influence of particle size, surface charge and charge density of the nanomaterials on sensing performance was systematically investigated. The strategy showed a low limit of detection (LOD) as 26 pM for target model miR-494, which is one of the lowest in nanomaterial-based on-off-on sensing platforms. And the LOD is even comparable to amplification-based methods in a greatly shortened assay time (2.5 h). The miR-494 expresses in cancerous and normal living cells of human cervical carcinoma (HeLa), human lung carcinoma (A549), human breast cancer (MCF-7), and normal human mammary epithelial (MCF-10A) cells were imaged and localized with significantly improved sensitivity and specificity. These excellent performances insure it a promising candidate as convenient and non-enzymatic sensing platform for miRNA-associated disease detection and early diagnosis. Copyright © 2021 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Chunrong Li, Yanfei Zhang, Jun Chen, Liping Liu, Huihui Yang, Si-Yang Liu, Yuzhi Xu, Zong Dai, Xiaoyong Zou. Fluorescence on-off-on with small and charge-tunable nanoparticles enables highly sensitive intracellular microRNA imaging in living cells. Talanta. 2021 May 01;226:122114

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PMID: 33676670

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