A sensitive and specific nanosensor for monitoring extracellular potassium levels in the brain

Jianan Liu, Fangyuan Li, Yi Wang, Limin Pan, Peihua Lin, Bo Zhang, Yanrong Zheng, Yingwei Xu, Hongwei Liao, Giho Ko, Fan Fei, Cenglin Xu, Yang Du, Kwangsoo Shin, Dokyoon Kim, Sung Soo Jang, Hee Jung Chung, He Tian, Qi Wang, Wei GuoJwa Min Nam, Zhong Chen, Taeghwan Hyeon, Daishun Ling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Extracellular potassium concentration affects the membrane potential of neurons, and, thus, neuronal activity. Indeed, alterations of potassium levels can be related to neurological disorders, such as epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease, and, therefore, selectively detecting extracellular potassium would allow the monitoring of disease. However, currently available optical reporters are not capable of detecting small changes in potassium, in particular, in freely moving animals. Furthermore, they are susceptible to interference from sodium ions. Here, we report a highly sensitive and specific potassium nanosensor that can monitor potassium changes in the brain of freely moving mice undergoing epileptic seizures. An optical potassium indicator is embedded in mesoporous silica nanoparticles, which are shielded by an ultrathin layer of a potassium-permeable membrane, which prevents diffusion of other cations and allows the specific capturing of potassium ions. The shielded nanosensor enables the spatial mapping of potassium ion release in the hippocampus of freely moving mice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)321-330
Number of pages10
JournalNature Nanotechnology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • General Materials Science
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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