Fluorescent sp3 Defect-Tailored Carbon Nanotubes Enable NIR-II Single Particle Imaging in Live Brain Slices at Ultra-Low Excitation Doses
Sci Rep. 2020-03-24; 10(1):
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Cellular and tissue imaging in the second near-infrared window (NIR-II, ~1000–1350 nm) is advantageous for in vivo studies because of low light extinction by biological constituents at these wavelengths. However, deep tissue imaging at the single molecule sensitivity has not been achieved in the NIR-II window due to lack of suitable bio-probes. Single-walled carbon nanotubes have emerged as promising near-infrared luminescent molecular bio-probes; yet, their inefficient photoluminescence (quantum yield ~1%) drives requirements for sizeable excitation doses (~1–10 kW/cm2) that are significantly blue-shifted from the NIR-II region (<850 nm) and may thus ultimately compromise live tissue. Here, we show that single nanotube imaging can be achieved in live brain tissue using ultralow excitation doses (~0.1 kW/cm2), an order of magnitude lower than those currently used. To accomplish this, we synthesized fluorescent sp3-defect tailored (6,5) carbon nanotubes which, when excited at their first order excitonic transition (~985 nm) fluoresce brightly at ~1160 nm. The biocompatibility of these functionalized nanotubes, which are wrapped by encapsulation agent (phospholipid-polyethylene glycol), is demonstrated using standard cytotoxicity assays. Single molecule photophysical studies of these biocompatible nanotubes allowed us to identify the optimal luminescence properties in the context of biological imaging.