Semiconducting polymer dots with bright narrow-band emission at 800 nm for biological applications
The development of near-infrared (NIR) fluorescent probes is critical for in vivo exploration of the fundamental and complex processes in living systems by noninvasive fluorescence imaging techniques. Semiconducting polymer dots (Pdots) are emerging as important probes that exhibit several advantages, such as high brightness and biocompatibility. However, NIR-emitting Pdots are very rare, particularly at the center (∼800 nm) of the first optical window of biological tissues (between 650 nm and 950 nm). In this paper, we describe the synthesis of a semiconducting polymer with bright and narrow-band emission at 800 nm. The polymer was designed by incorporating a NIR porphyrin unit into a conjugated backbone; the polymer used a cascade energy transfer to produce the signal. The resulting Pdots possessed a narrow emission bandwidth (FWHM ∼ 23 nm) and good fluorescence quantum yield (QY = 8%), which is high for a near-IR emitter. The Pdots were bioconjugated with streptavidin for specific labeling of cellular targets, yielding higher staining index when compared with commercial NIR probes, such as PE-Cy7. Moreover, the NIR polymer was combined with a long-wavelength absorbing polymer to make bright Pdots (QY = 15%) for in vivo noninvasive imaging. These NIR Pdots with surface PEGylation led to high-contrast imaging of lymph nodes and tumors in a mouse model. This work highlights the great potential of the NIR Pdots for cellular and in vivo imaging applications.