Simple Biosensor with High Selectivity and Sensitivity: Thiol-Specific Biomolecular Probing and Intracellular Imaging by AIE Fluorogen on a TLC Plate through a Thiol-Ene Click Mechanism
A handy, specific, sensitive bioprobe has been developed. Tetraphenylethene (TPE) was functionalized by a maleimide (MI) group, giving a TPE-MI adduct that was nonemissive in both solution and the solid state. It was readily transformed into a fluorogen showing an aggregation-induced emission (AIE) property by the click addition of thiol to its MI pendant. The click reaction and the AIE effect enabled TPE-MI to function as a thiol-specific bioprobe in the solid state. Thus, the spot of TPE-MI on a TLC plate became emissive when it had been exposed to L-cysteine, an amino acid containing a thiol group, but remained nonemissive when exposed to other amino acids that lack free thiol units. The thiol-activated emission was rapid and strong, readily detected by the naked eye at an analyte concentration as low as approximately 1 ppb, thanks to the "lighting up" nature of the bioprobing process. Similarly, the emission of TPE-MI was turned on only by the proteins containing free thiol units, such as glutathione. Clear fluorescence images were taken when living cells were stained by using TPE-MI as a visualization agent, affording a facile fluorescent maker for mapping the distribution of thiol species in cellular systems.