A planar waveguide (PW) immunosensor working as a polarisation interferometer was developed for the detection of mycotoxin zearalenone (ZON). The main element of the sensor is an optical waveguide consisting of a thin silicon nitride layer between two thicker silicon dioxide layers. A combination of a narrow waveguiding core made by photolithography with an advanced optical set-up providing a coupling of circular polarised light into the PW via its slanted edge allowed the realization of a novel sensing principle by detection of the phase shift between the p- and s-components of polarised light propagating through the PW. As the p-component is sensitive to refractive index changes at the waveguide interface, molecular events between the sensor surface and the contacting sample solution can be detected. To detect ZON concentrations in the sample solution, ZON-specific antibodies were immobilised on the waveguide via an electrostatically deposited polyelectrolyte layer, and protein A was adsorbed on it. Refractive index changes on the surface due to the binding of ZON molecules to the anchored antibodies were detected in a concentration-dependent manner up to 1000 ng/mL of ZON, allowing a limit of detection of 0.01 ng/mL. Structurally unrelated mycotoxins such as aflatoxin B1 or ochratoxin A did not exert observable cross-reactivity.
Keywords: label-free detection; limit of detection; mycotoxin; planar waveguide sensor; polarisation interferometer; zearalenone.