Optically-Gated Self-Calibrating Nanosensors: Monitoring pH and Metabolic Activity of Living Cells

A new paradigm in the development of optoelectrical sensing nanodevices with built-in self-calibrating capabilities
Hagit Peretz-Soroka †, Alexander Pevzner †, Guy Davidi †, Vladimir Naddaka †, Reuven Tirosh †, Eliezer Flaxer †, and Fernando Patolsky *†‡ 

†School of Chemistry, the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Faculty of Exact Sciences and ‡The Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, Tel-Aviv University, Tel Aviv 69978, Israel
Nano Lett., 2013, 13 (7), pp 3157–3168
Publication Date (Web): June 17, 2013


Quantitative detection of biological and chemical species is critical to numerous areas of medical and life sciences. In this context, information regarding pH is of central importance in multiple areas, from chemical analysis, through biomedical basic studies and medicine, to industry. Therefore, a continuous interest exists in developing new, rapid, miniature, biocompatible and highly sensitive pH sensors for minute fluid volumes. Here, we present a new paradigm in the development of optoelectrical sensing nanodevices with built-in self-calibrating capabilities.

The proposed electrical devices, modified with a photoactive switchable molecular recognition layer, can be optically switched between two chemically different states, each having different chemical binding constants and as a consequence affecting the device surface potential at different extents, thus allowing the ratiometric internal calibration of the sensing event. 

At each point in time, the ratio of the electrical signals measured in the ground and excited states, respectively, allows for the absolute concentration measurement of the molecular species under interest, without the need for electrical calibration of individual devices. Furthermore, we applied these devices for the real-time monitoring of cellular metabolic activity, extra- and intracellularly, as a potential future tool for the performance of basic cell biology studies and high-throughput personalized medicine-oriented research, involving single cells and tissues.

This new concept can be readily expanded to the sensing of additional chemical and biological species by the use of additional photoactive switchable receptors. Moreover, this newly demonstrated coupling between surface-confined photoactive molecular species and nanosensing devices could be utilized in the near future in the development of devices of higher complexity for both the simultaneous control and monitoring of chemical and biological processes with nanoscale resolution control.    

Date: Monday, June 17, 2013