A porous phospholipid nanoshell (PPN) sensor functionalized with a specific aptamer sensor agent was prepared for rapid detection of Hg<sup>2+</sup> in human urine with minimal sample preparation. Aptamer sensors provide an important class of optical transducers that can be readily and reproducibly synthesized. A key limitation of aptamer sensors, and many other optical sensors, is the potential of biofouling or biodegradation when used in complex biological matrices such as serum or urine, particularly when high levels of nucleases are present. We prepared Hg<sup>2+</sup>-responsive, PPN-encapsulated aptamer sensors that overcome these limitations. PPNs provide a protective barrier to encapsulate the aptamer sensor in an aqueous environment free of diffusional restrictions encountered with many polymer nanomaterials. The unique porous properties of the PPN membrane enable ready and rapid transfer of small molecular weight ions and molecules into the sensor interior while minimizing the macromolecular interactions between the transducer and degradants or interferents in the exterior milieu. Using Hg<sup>2+</sup>-responsive, PPN-encapsulated aptamer sensors, we were able to detect sub-100 ppb (chronic threshold limit from urine test) Hg<sup>2+</sup> in human urine with no sample preparation, whereas free aptamer sensors yielded inaccurate results due to interferences from the matrix. The PPN architecture provides a new platform for construction of aptamer-functionalized sensors that target low molecular weight species in complex matrices, beyond the Hg<sup>2+</sup> demonstrated here.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Analytical Chemistry