DNA as sensors and imaging agents for metal ions

Yu Xiang, Yi Lu

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Increasing interest in detecting metal ions in many chemical and biomedical fields has created demands for developing sensors and imaging agents for metal ions with high sensitivity and selectivity. This review covers recent progress in DNA-based sensors and imaging agents for metal ions. Through both combinatorial selection and rational design, a number of metal-ion-dependent DNAzymes and metal-ion-binding DNA structures that can selectively recognize specific metal ions have been obtained. By attachment of these DNA molecules with signal reporters such as fluorophores, chromophores, electrochemical tags, and Raman tags, a number of DNA-based sensors for both diamagnetic and paramagnetic metal ions have been developed for fluorescent, colorimetric, electrochemical, and surface Raman detection. These sensors are highly sensitive (with a detection limit down to 11 ppt) and selective (with selectivity up to millions-fold) toward specific metal ions. In addition, through further development to simplify the operation, such as the use of "dipstick tests", portable fluorometers, computer-readable disks, and widely available glucose meters, these sensors have been applied for on-site and real-time environmental monitoring and point-of-care medical diagnostics. The use of these sensors for in situ cellular imaging has also been reported. The generality of the combinatorial selection to obtain DNAzymes for almost any metal ion in any oxidation state and the ease of modification of the DNA with different signal reporters make DNA an emerging and promising class of molecules for metal-ion sensing and imaging in many fields of applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1925-1942
Number of pages18
JournalInorganic Chemistry
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 17 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry


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