Boosting the Near-Infrared Emission of Ag2S Nanoparticles by a Controllable Surface Treatment for Bioimaging Applications

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Ag2S nanoparticles are the staple for high-resolution preclinical imaging and sensing owing to their photochemical stability, low toxicity, and photoluminescence (PL) in the second near-infrared biological window. Unfortunately, Ag2S nanoparticles exhibit a low PL efficiency attributed to their defective surface chemistry, which curbs their translation into the clinics. To address this shortcoming, we present a simple methodology that allows to improve the PL quantum yield from 2 to 10%, which is accompanied by a PL lifetime lengthening from 0.7 to 3.8 μs. Elemental mapping and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy indicate that the PL enhancement is related to the partial removal of sulfur atoms from the nanoparticle’s surface, reducing surface traps responsible for nonradiative de-excitation processes. This interpretation is further backed by theoretical modeling. The acquired knowledge about the nanoparticles’ surface chemistry is used to optimize the procedure to transfer the nanoparticles into aqueous media, obtaining water-dispersible Ag2S nanoparticles that maintain excellent PL properties. Finally, we compare the performance of these nanoparticles with other near-infrared luminescent probes in a set of in vitro and in vivo experiments, which demonstrates not only their cytocompatibility but also their superb optical properties when they are used in vivo, affording higher resolution images.
CRUE-CSIC (Acuerdos Transformativos 2022)