Directed self-assembly of fluorescence responsive nanoparticles and their use for real-time surface and cellular imaging.
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Directed self-assemblies in water are known as the most efficient means of forming complex higher ordered structures in nature. Here we show a straightforward and robust method for particle assembly which utilises the amphiphilic tri-block co-polymer poloxamer-188 and a hydrophobic fluorophore as the two designer components, which have a built-in ability to convey spatial and temporal information about their surroundings to an observer. Templating of particle self-assembly is attributed to interactions between the fluorophore and hydrophobic segment of the poloxamer. Particle fluorescence in water is quenched but can be induced to selectively switch on in response to temperature, surface adsorption and cellular uptake. The ability of the particles to dynamically modulate emission intensity can be exploited for selective labelling and real-time imaging of drug crystal surfaces, natural fibres and insulin fibrils, and cellular delivery. As particle solutions are easily prepared, further applications for this water-based NIR-fluorescent paint are anticipated.