Gold Nanourchins Improve Virus Targeting and Plasmonic Coupling for Virus Diagnosis on a Smartphone Platform

ACS Sens. 2022 Dec 23;7(12):3741-3752. doi: 10.1021/acssensors.2c01552. Epub 2022 Dec 1.


Point-of-care detection of pathogens is critical to monitor and combat viral infections. The plasmonic coupling assay (PCA) is a homogeneous assay and allows rapid, one-step, and colorimetric detection of intact viruses. However, PCA lacks sufficient sensitivity, necessitating further mechanistic studies to improve the detection performance of PCA. Here, we demonstrate that gold nanourchins (AuNUs) provide significantly improved colorimetric detection of viruses in PCA. Using respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) as a target, we demonstrate that the AuNU-based PCA achieves a detection limit of 1400 PFU/mL, or 17 genome equivalent copies/μL. Mechanistic studies suggest that the improved detection sensitivity arises from the higher virus-binding capability and stronger plasmonic coupling at long distances (∼10 nm) by AuNU probes. Furthermore, we demonstrate the virus detection with a portable smartphone-based spectrometer using RSV-spiked nasal swab clinical samples. Our study uncovers important mechanisms for the sensitive detection of intact viruses in PCA and provides a potential toolkit at the point of care.

Keywords: homogeneous immunoassays; plasmonic coupling; point-of-care diagnostics; respiratory syncytial virus; smartphone reader.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Gold
  • Humans
  • Point-of-Care Systems
  • Smartphone
  • Virus Diseases*
  • Viruses*


  • Gold