Explanatory sketch of the plasma membrane anchored nanosensor. (Credit: Kanazawa University)

Researchers have developed a sensor for measuring concentrations of H2O2 in the vicinity of cell membranes, with nanometer-resolution. The biosensor consists of a gold nanoparticle with organic molecules attached to it. The whole cluster is designed so that it anchors easily to the outside of a cell’s membrane, which is exactly where the hydrogen peroxide molecules to be detected are. As attachment molecules, the scientists used a compound called 4MPBE, known to have a strong Raman scattering response: when irradiated by a laser, the molecules consume some of the laser light’s energy.

By measuring the frequency change of the laser light and plotting the signal strength as a function of this change, a unique spectrum is obtained — a signature of the 4MPBE molecules. When a 4MPBE molecule reacts with a H2O2 molecule, its Raman spectrum changes. Based on this principle, by comparing Raman spectra, the researchers were able to obtain an estimate of the H 2O2 concentration near the biosensor.

After developing a calibration procedure for their nanosensor — relating the H2O 2 concentration to a change in Raman spectrum in a quantitative way is not straightforward — the scientists were able to produce a concentration map with a resolution of about 700 nm for lung cancer cell samples. Finally, they also succeeded in extending their technique to obtain measurements of the H2O2 concentration variation across cell membranes.

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