Unique Energy Transfer in Fluorescein-Conjugated Au22 Nanoclusters Leading to 160-Fold pH-Contrasting Photoluminescence
Kyunglim Pyo,† Nguyen Hoang Ly,‡ Sang Myeong Han,† Mohammad bin Hatshan,§ Abubkr Abuhagr,§ Gary Wiederrecht,∥ Sang-Woo Joo,*,‡,⊥ Guda Ramakrishna,*,§ and Dongil Lee*,†
Accurate measurements of intracellular pH are of crucial importance in understanding the cellular activities and in the development of intracellular drug delivery systems. Here we report a highly sensitive pH probe based on a fluorescein-conjugated Au22 nanocluster. Steady-state photoluminescence (PL) measurements have shown that, when conjugated to Au22, fluorescein exhibits more than 160-fold pH-contrasting PL in the pH range of 4.3−7.8. Transient absorption measurements show that there are two competing ultrafast processes in the fluorescein-conjugated Au22 nanocluster: the intracore-state relaxation and the energy transfer from the nonthermalized states of Au22 to fluorescein. The latter becomes predominant at a higher pH, leading to dramatic PL enhancement of fluorescein. In addition to the intrinsically low toxicity, fluorescein-conjugated Au22 nanoclusters exhibit high pH sensitivity, wide dynamic range, and excellent photostability, providing a powerful tool for the study of intracellular processes.