Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry

, Volume 410, Issue 12, pp 2961–2970 | Cite as

Highly cysteine-selective fluorescent nanoprobes based on ultrabright and directly synthesized carbon quantum dots

  • Chen Xuejiao 
  • Gong Fuchun 
  • Cao Zhong 
  • Zou Wu 
  • Tingting Gu
Research Paper


Strongly green fluorescent carbon dots (CQDs) have been directly synthesized from 2,4-diaminophenylhydrazine and 2-hydroxy-5-methylisophthalaldehyde through a facile solvothermal method. The novel CQDs exhibit high fluorescence quantum yield and excellent water solubility due to the abundant amino and hydroxy groups on their surface. The use of the as-prepared CQDs combined with Cu2+ constructed a “turn-on” switch cysteine-responsive nanoprobe. In the CQDs-Cu2+ assemblies, the binding of Cu2+ to CQDs results in the fluorescence quenching of CQDs by electron transfer mechanism, while the addition of cysteine leads to the fluorescence recovery because of the competitive binding between cysteine and CQDs to Cu2+. The nanoprobes showed high sensitivity to cysteine with the detection limit of 2.6 nmol L−1. The selectivity investigation results demonstrated that the Cu2+-integrated nanoparticles were highly selective toward cysteine over the other amino acids and biologically related metal ions. The proposed nanoprobe was then employed for detecting the recovery of cysteine in rabbit serum and plasma samples and imaging the cysteine in cancer cells, and the recovery was found to be 98.2–104.0%. This “synthesis-modification integration” strategy for the fabrication of CQDs may offer a new sight for the preparation of multifunctional nanostructures and broadening the application of CQDs in bioimaging.

Graphical abstract

Fluorescent carbon dots (CQDs) were directly synthesized from 2,4-diaminophenylhydrazine and 2-hydroxy-5-methylisophthalaldehyde. CQDs exhibit high fluorescence quantum yield and excellent water solubility due to the abundant amino and hydroxy groups on their surface. The use of CQDs combined with Cu2+ constructed a cysteine-responsive nanoprobe, which showed high sensitivity to cysteine with the detection limit of 2.6 nM.


Carbon dots Direct synthesis Ultrabright Cysteine-selective nanoprobes 


Funding information

This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Nos. 31527803 and 21545010).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Animal rights

The authors declare that the experiments have been conducted in accordance with the protocol of the China Council on Animal Care and approved by the Animal Care Committee of China Basic Science Institute.

Supplementary material

216_2018_980_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (379 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 379 kb)


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Copyright information

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

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Chemistry and Biologic EngineeringChangsha University of Science and TechnologyChangshaChina
  2. 2.Hunan Provincial Key Laboratory of Materials Protection for Electric Power and TransportationChangsha University of Science and TechnologyChangshaChina

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