Near-infrared (NIR) fluorescence imaging is promising due to the high penetration depths and minimal levels of autofluorescence in living systems. However, it suffers from low fluorescent quantum yield, and metal-enhanced fluorescence (MEF) is considered to be a promising technique to overcome this. Stimuli-responsive NIR fluorescence enhancement shows remarkable potential for applications in medical imaging and diagnosis. Herein, we successfully fabricated an enzyme-responsive near-infrared sensor based on MEF by functionalizing gold nanoparticles with NIR fluorophores and enzyme-responsive self-aggregation moieties. The NIR fluorescence of fluorophores on the gold nanoparticles was significantly enhanced due to increases both in the light scattering intensity and in the radiative decay rate (kr) of the NIR fluorophores, along with relatively small variation in the nonradiative decay rate. This novel strategy for NIR fluorescent sensors should be particularly promising for NIR fluorescence imaging of enzyme activities and early diagnosis based on rationally designed nanomaterials.
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