A facile synthesis of fluorescent silver nanoclusters with human ferritin as a synthetic and interfacing ligand†
Water-soluble fluorescent silver nanoclusters (NCs) formed on biomolecule ligands have been extensively studied due to their great potential as new biocompatible fluorescent materials for biosensors. As synthetic ligands, proteins in particular can provide unique structures and functions to the assembled fluorescent silver clusters. A key challenge, however, is to develop appropriate protein ligands and synthetic approaches for cluster formation, especially using native aqueous solutions, to fully preserve the valuable properties of the protein templates. Here we report a human ferritin-templated synthesis of fluorescent silver NCs under neutral aqueous buffer conditions. The unique metal binding property of ferritin and an optimized silver ion reduction allowed us to produce highly stable fluorescent silver NCs that are steadily assembled in the cage-like ferritin proteins. The fluorescent clusters were also successfully assembled on genetically engineered ferritin with antibody-binding protein G. The resulting protein G-ferritin-silver NC complex fully retained the ferritin structure as well as the antibody binding ability. The present silver nanoclusters on ferritin (Ft-Ag NCs) also showed highly specific Cu2+-induced fluorescence quenching. By exploiting the large but stable nature of ferritin, we fabricated a highly robust and porous hydrogel sensor system for rapid Cu2+ detection, where the Ft-Ag NCs were stably encapsulated in surface-bound hydrogels with large pore sizes. Our Ft-Ag NCs that are formed under native aqueous conditions will have great potential as a new fluorescent material with the high structural and functional diversities of ferritin.