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Collective fluorescence switching of counterion-assembled dyes in polymer nanoparticles

Reisch, A., Didier, P., Richert, L., Oncul, S., Arntz, Y., Mély, Y., Klymchenko, AS.
Nat Commun


The current challenge in the field of fluorescent nanoparticles (NPs) for bioimaging is to achieve extreme brightness and external control of their emission using biodegradable materials. Here we propose a new concept of fluorescent polymer NPs, doped with ionic liquid-like salts of a cationic dye (octadecyl rhodamine B) with a bulky hydrophobic counterion (fluorinated tetraphenylborate) that serves as spacer minimizing dye aggregation and self-quenching. The obtained 40-nm poly(D,L-lactide-co-glycolide) NPs containing up to 500 dyes are brighter than quantum dots and exhibit photo-induced reversible on/off fluorescence switching, never reported for dye-doped NPs. We show that this collective switching of hundreds of dyes is due to ultrafast excitation energy transfer and can be used for super-resolution imaging. These NPs, being spontaneously endocytosed by living cells, feature high signal-to-noise ratio and absence of toxicity. The counterion-based concept opens the way to a new class of nanomaterials for sensing, imaging and light harvesting.

DOI: 10.1038/ncomms5089