Research Highlight

Dye probe to detect aluminium ions in living cells

doi:10.1038/nindia.2015.82 Published online 22 June 2015

Using a fluorescent dye, researchers have developed a fluorescent chemosensor that can detect minute traces of aluminium ions in living cells1. This sensor will be useful for measuring the cellular levels of aluminium ions; this is important since high aluminium levels are thought to make people more vulnerable to various diseases.

The researchers produced the chemosensor using a tricarbocyanine dye and an organic compound. They probed the efficacies of the chemosensor to detect aluminium ions in various solutions and human cervical cancer cells by tracking colour changes and fluorescence.

When they added a solution of aluminium ions to separately prepared sensor-containing solutions irradiated by visible and ultraviolet light, the sensor-containing solution changed from colourless to violet. The sensor selectively detected aluminium ions in mixtures containing ions of other metals, such as sodium, calcium, magnesium, cadmium, zinc and silver. The researchers found that the sensor formed a complex with aluminium ions by binding to them in solution.

The scientists detected bright red fluorescence from the cancer cells when sensor-treated cancer cells were exposed to aluminium ions. They attributed this fluorescence to the formation of a complex between the sensor and aluminium inside the cells, suggesting the sensor’s potential as an imaging probe.

The researchers also found that the sensor–aluminium complex was non-toxic to the cancer cells.


1. Datta, B. K. et al. A near-infrared emissive Al3+ sensing platform for specific detection in solution, cells and probing DNase activity. Anal. Chim. Acta 882, 76–82 (2015)