Cucurbiturils brighten Au nanoclusters in water†
Gold nanoclusters (AuNCs) with well-defined atomically precise structures present promising emissive prospects for excellent biocompatibility and optical properties. However, the relatively low luminescence efficiency in solutions for most AuNCs is still a perplexing issue to be resolved. In this study, a facile supramolecular strategy was developed to rigidify the surface of FGGC-AuNCs by modifying transition rates in excited states via host–guest self-assembly between cucurbiturils (CBs) and FGGC (Phe–Gly–Gly–Cys peptide). In aqueous solutions, CB/FGGC-AuNCs presented an extremely enhanced red phosphorescence emission with a quantum yield (QY) of 51% for CB and 39% for CB, while simple FGGC-AuNCs only showed a weak emission with a QY of 7.5%. Furthermore, CB/FGGC-AuNCs showed excellent results in live cell luminescence imaging for A549 cancer cells. Our study demonstrates that host–guest self-assembly assisted by macrocycles is a facile and effective tool to non-covalently modify and adjust optical properties of nanostructures on ultra-small scales.