Supramolecular Sensors for Opiates and Their Metabolites

J Am Chem Soc. 2017 Oct 25;139(42):14954-14960. doi: 10.1021/jacs.7b06371. Epub 2017 Sep 8.


The present study highlights a sensing approach for opiates using acyclic cucurbituril (aCBs) sensors comprising four glycouril units terminated on both ends with naphthalene fluorophore walls. The connectivity between the glycourils and naphthalene rings largely defines the opening size of the cucurbituril cavity and its diameter. The large hydrophobic binding cavity is flexible and is able to adapt to guests of various size and topology. The recognition event between the aCBs and guests results in modification of the fluorescence of the terminal walls, a fluorescence response that can be used to sense the drugs of abuse morphine, heroin, and oxycodone as well as their metabolites. Molecular dynamics is employed to understand the nature of the binding interactions. A simple three sensor cross-reactive array enables the determination of drugs and their metabolites in water with high fidelity and low error. Quantitative experiments performed in urine using a new three-way calibration model allows for determination of drugs and their metabolites using one sensor from a single fluorescence reading.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Calibration
  • Chemistry Techniques, Analytical*
  • Fluorescence
  • Heroin / analysis
  • Heroin / metabolism
  • Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic Interactions
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Morphine / analysis
  • Morphine / metabolism
  • Opiate Alkaloids / analysis*
  • Opiate Alkaloids / chemistry
  • Opiate Alkaloids / metabolism*
  • Oxycodone / analysis
  • Oxycodone / metabolism


  • Opiate Alkaloids
  • Heroin
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone