Fluorescent probes for "off-on" highly sensitive detection of Hg²⁺ and L-cysteine based on nitrogen-doped carbon dots

Yi Zhang, Peipei Cui, Feng Zhang, Xiaoting Feng, Yaling Wang, Yongzhen Yang, Xuguang Liu
Talanta 2016 May 15, 152: 288-300
Fluorescent nitrogen-doped carbon dots (NCDs) were synthesized by a facile, and low-cost one-step hydrothermal strategy using citric acid as carbon source and ammonia solution as nitrogen source for the first time. The obtained NCDs show stable blue fluorescence with a high quantum yield of 35.4%, along with the fluorescence lifetime of ca. 6.75 ns. Most importantly, Hg(2+) can completely quench the fluorescence of NCDs as a result of the formation of a non-fluorescent stable NCDs-Hg(2+) complex. Static fluorescence quenching towards Hg(2+) is proved by the Stern-Volmer equation, ultraviolet-visible absorption spectra, temperature dependent quenching and fluorescence lifetime measurements. Subsequently, the fluorescence of the NCDs-Hg(2+) system is completely recovered with the addition L-cysteine (L-Cys) owing to the dissociation of NCDs-Hg(2+) complex to form a more stable Hg(2+)-L-Cys complex by Hg(2+)-S bonding. Therefore, such NCDs can be used as an effective fluorescent "turn-off" probe for rapid, rather highly selective and sensitive detection of Hg(2+), with a limit of detection (LOD) as low as 1.48 nM and a linear detection range of 0-10 μM. Interestingly, NCDs-Hg(2+) system can be conveniently employed as a fluorescent "turn-on" sensor for highly selective and sensitive detection of L-Cys with a low LOD of 0.79 nM and a wide linear detection range of 0-50 μM. Further, the sensitivity of NCDs to Hg(2+) is preserved in tap water with a LOD of 1.65 nM and a linear detection range of 0-10 μM.

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