Low quantum yields of near infrared (NIR) fluorophores have limited their capabilities as imaging probes in a transparent, low background imaging window. Here for the first time we reported near-infrared fluorescence enhance (NIR-FE) cell imaging using nanostructured Au substrate, which was employed as a general platform for both single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs) and organic fluorescent labels in the NIR region. Fluorescence intensity, as well as cell targeting specificity, was greatly improved by this novel imaging technique. With NIR-FE imaging, we were able to image SWNT-stained cells at short exposure time of 300ms, and push the detectable limit of SWNT staining of cells down to an ultralow concentration of ~50 pM. Further, different degrees of fluorescence enhancement for endocytosed, intracellular SWNTs vs. nanotubes on the cell membrane at the cell/gold interface were observed, suggesting the possibility of using this technique to track the transmembrane behavior of NIR fluorophores.Comment: in press at Angewandte Chemi
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