AIE-active non-conjugated poly(N-vinylcaprolactam) as a fluorescent thermometer for intracellular temperature imaging†
Since temperature is one of the most significant physiological parameters that dictate the cellular status of living organisms, accurate intracellular temperature measurement is crucial and a valuable biomarker for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases. Herein, we introduce the foremost example of a non-conjugated polymer as a next generation fluorescent thermometer which is capable of addressing the key shortcomings including toxicity and thermal-induced fluorescence quenching associated with π–π conjugated system-based thermometers developed so far. We revealed, for the first time, the unique photophysical and aggregation-induced emission (AIE) characteristics of well-known thermoresponsive poly(N-vinylcaprolactam) (PNVCL) devoid of any classical fluorophore entity. PNVCL underwent a coil to globular conformational transition in an aqueous medium and appeared to be fluorescent above its lower critical solution temperature (LCST) near body temperature (38 °C). Eventually, this intriguing aspect enabled higher cellular uptake of PNVCL at the LCST boundary. By virtue of the AIE effect, the thermo-induced aggregation phenomenon has been ingeniously utilized to apply PNVCL as a novel fluorescent thermometer for intracellular temperature determination.