Although researches until now have emphasized the influence of an oligonucleotide sequence on the fluorescence of oligonucleotide-stabilized silver nanoclusters (AgNCs), this influence has been explored as a novel ratiometric fluorescent signal transduction in this work. This study builds on our original discovery of a template-transformation phenomenon, which demonstrated that the connection of a special DNA fragment (5'-CACCGCTTT-3') with a green-emitting AgNC nucleation sequence (GNuS, 5'-TGCCTTTTGGGGACGGATA-3') creates a red-emitting AgNC nucleation sequence (RNuS, 5'-CACCGCTTTTGCCTTTTGGGGACGGATA-3'). Attempts to expand this idea and construct elegant ratiometric NanoCluster Beacons (NCBs) for DNA sequence detection are not straightforward, and, thus, we carried out a series of investigations with the goal of understanding the mechanism of this template-transformation phenomenon. Experimental results showed that the six-nucleotide fragment (5'-CACCGC-3') at the 5'-end of RNuS acts as a template convertor and takes full responsibility for the template transformation from GNuS to RNuS. Moreover, we found that the appropriate proximity of the convertor to GNuS also plays a significant role in the template transformation. We then show that the insights gained here for the template-transformation mechanism allow us to construct ratiometric NCBs by simply appending the convertor and the GNuS onto a rationally designed stem-loop probe. This new type of NCB emits intense red fluorescence without the addition of a target DNA and emerges as a new, bright green emission only when hybridized to its target DNA. By measuring the distinct variation in the fluorescence intensity ratios of green and red emission, this ratiometric NCB was demonstrated to sensitively detect Hepatitis-A virus gene sequences, a proof-of-concept target in this work, with good selectivity.
Keywords: DNA; NanoCluster Beacons; fluorescence biosensor; ratiometric probes; silver nanoclusters.