Surface-enhanced Raman imaging of cell membrane by a highly homogeneous and isotropic silver nanostructure

Nanoscale. 2015 May 14;7(18):8593-606. doi: 10.1039/c5nr01341k.


Label-free chemical imaging of live cell membranes can shed light on the molecular basis of cell membrane functionalities and their alterations under membrane-related diseases. In principle, this can be done by surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) in confocal microscopy, but requires engineering plasmonic architectures with a spatially invariant SERS enhancement factor G(x, y) = G. To this end, we exploit a self-assembled isotropic nanostructure with characteristics of homogeneity typical of the so-called near-hyperuniform disorder. The resulting highly dense, homogeneous and isotropic random pattern consists of clusters of silver nanoparticles with limited size dispersion. This nanostructure brings together several advantages: very large hot spot density (∼10(4) μm(-2)), superior spatial reproducibility (SD < 1% over 2500 μm(2)) and single-molecule sensitivity (Gav ∼ 10(9)), all on a centimeter scale transparent active area. We are able to reconstruct the label-free SERS-based chemical map of live cell membranes with confocal resolution. In particular, SERS imaging is here demonstrated on red blood cells in vitro in order to use the Raman-resonant heme of the cell as a contrast medium to prove spectroscopic detection of membrane molecules. Numerical simulations also clarify the SERS characteristics of the substrate in terms of electromagnetic enhancement and distance sensitivity range consistently with the experiments. The large SERS-active area is intended for multi-cellular imaging on the same substrate, which is important for spectroscopic comparative analysis of complex organisms like cells. This opens new routes for in situ quantitative surface analysis and dynamic probing of living cells exposed to membrane-targeting drugs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anisotropy
  • Contrast Media / chemical synthesis
  • Erythrocyte Membrane / chemistry*
  • Erythrocyte Membrane / ultrastructure*
  • Image Enhancement / methods
  • Metal Nanoparticles / chemistry*
  • Metal Nanoparticles / ultrastructure
  • Molecular Imaging / methods*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Silver / chemistry*
  • Surface Plasmon Resonance / methods*


  • Contrast Media
  • Silver