Microchimica Acta

, 186:31 | Cite as

Colorimetric determination of mercury(II) using gold nanoparticles and double ligand exchange

  • Danlian HuangEmail author
  • Xigui Liu
  • Cui LaiEmail author
  • Lei Qin
  • Chen Zhang
  • Huan Yi
  • Guangming Zeng
  • Bisheng Li
  • Rui Deng
  • Shiyu Liu
  • Yujin Zhang
Original Paper


A colorimetric assay is described for highly selective and sensitive determination of Hg(II) ions by using gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) functionalized with dithioerythritol (DETL). This method relies on the unique optical properties of DETL-functionalized AuNPs as well as the thiophilicity of both AuNPs and Hg(II). In the presence of DETL, the AuNPs aggregate due to ligand exchange between thiol groups of DETL and the citrate ions on the surface of AuNPs. This induces a color change from red to blue. On addition of Hg(II), the thiol groups preferably interact with Hg(II) rather than with AuNPs. Thus, the DETL is released from the surface of the AuNPs and binds to Hg(II). This triggers the redispersion of the AuNPs. The ratio of absorbances at 650 and 525 nm drops linearly in two Hg(II) concentration ranges (viz. from 0.1 to 0.5 μM, and from 0.5 to 5 μM). The ions Cu(II), Pb(II), and Cd(II) do not interfere even in the absence of masking agents. The detection limit is as low as 24 nM.

Graphical abstract

A highly selective colorimetric method based on gold nanoparticles via double ligand exchange reaction is described for determination of Hg2+. This assay can selective detect Hg2+ with no response to major interfering metal ions such as Cu2+, Pb2+, and Cd2+ in the absence of masking agents compared with previous works.


Colorimetric assay Gold nanoparticles Dithioerythritol Hg(II) ions Cu(II) ions Pb(II) ions Cd(II) ions Thiophilicity Ligand exchange Masking agents 



This study was financially Supported by the Program for the National Natural Science Foundation of China (51879101,51579098, 51779090, 51709101, 51408206, 51521006), the National Program for Support of Top–Notch Young Professionals of China (2014), The Science and Technology Plan Project of Hunan Province (2018SK20410, 2017SK2243, 2016RS3026), the Program for Changjiang Scholars and Innovative Research Team in University (IRT-13R17), and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (531109200027,531107050978, 531107051080).

Compliance with ethical standards

The author(s) declare that they have no competing interests.

Supplementary material

604_2018_3126_MOESM1_ESM.docx (429 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 429 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Austria, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Danlian Huang
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Xigui Liu
    • 1
    • 2
  • Cui Lai
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Lei Qin
    • 1
    • 2
  • Chen Zhang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Huan Yi
    • 1
    • 2
  • Guangming Zeng
    • 1
    • 2
  • Bisheng Li
    • 1
    • 2
  • Rui Deng
    • 1
    • 2
  • Shiyu Liu
    • 1
    • 2
  • Yujin Zhang
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.College of Environmental Science and EngineeringHunan UniversityChangshaPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Key Laboratory of Environmental Biology and Pollution Control, Ministry of EducationHunan UniversityChangshaChina

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