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A novel naphthalimide-based fluorescent sensor bearing the N,N′-bis(salicylidene)diethylenetriamine receptor was developed, which exhibited dual signaling behaviors for Cd2+ and Cu2+, and was applicable to the environmental and biological milieus. Upon addition of Cd2+, the fluorescence intensity enhanced in a linear fashion with the maximum fluorescence intensity increase of about 4-fold. Moreover, with the sensor 1 and 1–Cd2+ complex, Cu2+ was easily recognized by marked fluorescence quenching. The selectivity and sensitivity of the sensor 1 for Cd2+ were satisfactory and achieving a detection limit at the nanomolar level. The living cell image experiments demonstrated the value of sensor 1 in fluorescent visualization of Cd2+ ions in biological systems.
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