Pattern-based sensing of triple negative breast cancer cells with dual-ligand cofunctionalized gold nanoclusters

Biomaterials. 2017 Feb:116:21-33. doi: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2016.11.050. Epub 2016 Nov 25.


Early detection of breast cancer is a critical component in patient prognosis and establishing effective therapy regimens. Here, we developed an easily accessible yet potentially powerful sensor to detect cancer cell targets by utilizing seven dual-ligand cofunctionalized gold nanoclusters (AuNCs) as both effective cell recognition elements and signal transducers. On the basis of this AuNC multichannel sensor, we have successfully distinguished healthy, cancerous and metastatic human breast cells with excellent reproducibility and high sensitivity. Triple negative breast cancer cells (TNBCs), which exhibit low expression of the estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor, and human epidermal growth factor receptor-2, were identified. The high accuracy of the blind breast cell sample tests further validates the practical application of the sensor array. In addition, the versatility of the sensor array is further justified by identifying amongst distinct cell types, different cell concentrations and cell mixtures. Notably, the drug-resistant cancer cells can also be efficiently discriminated. Furthermore, the dual-ligand cofunctionalized AuNCs can efficiently differentiate different cells from the peripheral blood of tumor-free and tumor-bearing mice. Taken together, this fluorescent AuNCs based array provides a powerful cell analysis tool with potential applications in biomedical diagnostics.

Keywords: Array-based sensing; Gold nanoclusters; Multi-drug resistance; Triple negative breast cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Gold / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Metal Nanoparticles / chemistry*
  • Nanoconjugates / chemistry*
  • Pattern Recognition, Automated
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Spectrometry, Fluorescence*
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / chemistry*
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Ligands
  • Nanoconjugates
  • Gold