Continuous small-molecule monitoring with a digital single particle switch

Junhong Yan (Corresponding author), Laura van Smeden, Maarten Merkx, Peter Zijlstra, Menno W.J. Prins (Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)
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The ability to continuously measure concentrations of small molecules is important for biomedical, environmental and industrial monitoring. However, due to their low molecular mass it is difficult to quantify concentrations of such molecules, particularly at low concentrations. Here we describe a small-molecule sensor that is generalizable, sensitive, specific, reversible, and suited for continuous monitoring over long durations. The sensor consists of particles attached to a sensing surface via a double stranded DNA tether. The particles transiently bind to the sensing surface via single molecular affinity interactions and the transient binding is optically detected as digital binding events via the Brownian motion of the particles. The rate of binding events decreases with increasing analyte concentration, because analyte molecules inhibit binding of the tethered particle to the surface. The sensor enables continuous measurements of analyte concentrations due to the reversibility of the inter-molecular bonds and digital read-out of particle motion. We show results for the monitoring of short single-stranded DNA sequences and creatinine, a small-molecule biomarker (113 Da) for kidney function, demonstrating a temporal resolution of a few minutes. The precision of the sensor is determined by the statistics of the digital switching events, which means that the precision is tunable by the number of particles and the measurement time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1168-1176
Number of pages9
JournalACS Sensors
Issue number4
Early online date19 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 24 Apr 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Human Gesellschaft für Biochemica und Diagnostica mbH for kindly providing the anti-creatinine antibody. We acknowledge support from NWA Startimpuls Meten en Detecteren, Metropoolregio Eindhoven project “Biosensor voor continu monitoren”, and the Safe-N-Medtech H2020 project under grant agreement no. 814607. P.Z. acknowledges financial support from The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO VIDI).

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2020 American Chemical Society.


  • affinity binder
  • continuous monitoring
  • digital signal
  • reversible interaction
  • single-molecule resolution
  • small molecule


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