Ten-Atom Silver Cluster Signaling and Tempering DNA Hybridization

ACS Citation

Petty, J. T.; Sergev, O. O.; Kantor, A. G.; Rankine, I. J.; Ganguly, M.; David, F. D.; Wheeler, S. K.; Wheeler, J. F. Ten-Atom Silver Cluster Signaling and Tempering DNA Hybridization. Anal. Chem. 2015, 87(10), 5302–5309.


Silver clusters with ∼10 atoms are molecules, and specific species develop within DNA strands. These molecular metals have sparsely organized electronic states with distinctive visible and near-infrared spectra that vary with cluster size, oxidation, and shape. These small molecules also act as DNA adducts and coordinate with their DNA hosts. We investigated these characteristics using a specific cluster-DNA conjugate with the goal of developing a sensitive and selective biosensor. The silver cluster has a single violet absorption band (λmax = 400 nm), and its single-stranded DNA host has two domains that stabilize this cluster and hybridize with target oligonucleotides. These target analytes transform the weakly emissive violet cluster to a new chromophore with blue-green absorption (λmax = 490 nm) and strong green emission (λmax = 550 nm). Our studies consider the synthesis, cluster size, and DNA structure of the precursor violet cluster-DNA complex. This species preferentially forms with relatively low amounts of Ag+, high concentrations of the oxidizing agent O2, and DNA strands with ≳20 nucleotides. The resulting aqueous and gaseous forms of this chromophore have 10 silvers that coalesce into a single cluster. This molecule is not only a chromophore but also an adduct that coordinates multiple nucleobases. Large-scale DNA conformational changes are manifested in a 20% smaller hydrodynamic radius and disrupted nucleobase stacking. Multidentate coordination also stabilizes the single-stranded DNA and thereby inhibits hybridization with target complements. These observations suggest that the silver cluster-DNA conjugate acts like a molecular beacon but is distinguished because the cluster chromophore not only sensitively signals target analytes but also stringently discriminates against analogous competing analytes.

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Analytical Chemistry

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