Tuning molecular aggregation to achieve highly bright AIE dots for NIR-II fluorescence imaging and NIR-I photoacoustic imaging†
Currently, bright aggregation-induced emission luminogens (AIEgens) with high photoluminescence quantum yields (PLQYs) in the NIR-II region are still limited, and thus an efficient strategy to enhance NIR-II fluorescence performance through tuning molecular aggregation is proposed here. The synthesized donor–acceptor tailored AIEgen (DTPA-TBZ) not only exhibits an excellent absorptivity in the NIR-I region, but also good fluorescence signals in the NIR-II region with an emission extending to 1200 nm. Benefiting from such improved intramolecular restriction and aggregation, a significant absolute PLQY value of 8.98% was obtained in solid DTPA-TBZ. Encouragingly, the resulting AIE dots also exhibit a high relative PLQY of up to 11.1% with IR 26 as the reference (PLQY = 0.5%). Finally, the AIE dots were applied in high performance NIR-II fluorescence imaging and NIR-I photoacoustic (PA) imaging: visualization of abdominal vessels, hind limb vasculature, and cerebral vessels with high signal to background ratios was performed via NIR-II imaging; Moreover, PA imaging has also been performed to clearly observe tumors in vivo. These results demonstrate that by finely tuning molecular aggregation in DTPA-TBZ, a good NIR-I absorptivity and a highly emissive fluorescence in the NIR-II region can be achieved simultaneously, finally resulting in a promising dual-modal imaging platform for real-world applications to achieve precise cancer diagnostics.