Dynamic single-cell intracellular pH sensing using a SERS-active nanopipette†
Glass nanopipettes have shown promise for applications in single-cell manipulation, analysis, and imaging. In recent years, plasmonic nanopipettes have been developed to enable surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) measurements for single-cell analysis. In this work, we developed a SERS-active nanopipette that can be used to perform long-term and reliable intracellular analysis of single living cells with minimal damage, which is achieved by optimizing the nanopipette geometry and the surface density of the gold nanoparticle (AuNP) layer at the nanopipette tip. To demonstrate its ability in single-cell analysis, we used the nanopipette for intracellular pH sensing. Intracellular pH (pHi) is vital to cells as it influences cell function and behavior and pathological conditions. The pH sensitivity was realized by simply modifying the AuNP layer with the pH reporter molecule 4-mercaptobenzoic acid. With a response time of less than 5 seconds, the pH sensing range is from 6.0 to 8.0 and the maximum sensitivity is 0.2 pH units. We monitored the pHi change of individual HeLa and fibroblast cells, triggered by the extracellular pH (pHe) change. The HeLa cancer cells can better resist pHe change and adapt to the weak acidic environment. Plasmonic nanopipettes can be further developed to monitor other intracellular biomarkers.