We report a bottom-up fabrication strategy to prepare ultrasensitive SERS substrates, first, by functionalizing chemically synthesized gold triangular nanoprisms (Au TNPs) with poly(ethylene glycol)-thiolate in the solid state to avoid protein fouling and second, by generating flexible plasmonic patches to enhance SERS sensitivity via the formation of high-intensity electromagnetic hot spots.
Surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) is an ultrasensitive analytical technique, which is capable of providing high specificity; thus, it can be used for toxicological drug assay (detection and quantification). However, SERS-based drug analysis directly in human biofluids requires mitigation of fouling and nonspecificity effects that commonly appeared from unwanted adsorption of endogenous biomolecules present in biofluids (e.g., blood plasma and serum) onto the SERS substrate. Poly(ethylene glycol)-thiolate-functionalized Au TNPs in the form of flexible plasmonic patches show a twofold-improved signal-to-noise ratio in comparison to triethylamine (TEA)-passivated Au TNPs. Furthermore, the plasmonic patch displays a SERS enhancement factor of 4.5 ×107. Utilizing the Langmuir adsorption model, we determine the adsorption constant of drugs for two different surface ligands and observe that the drug molecules display stronger affinity for poly(ethylene glycol) ligands than TEA. Our density functional theory calculations unequivocally support the interaction between drug molecules and poly(ethylene glycol) moieties. Furthermore, the universality of the plasmonic patch for SERS-based drug detection is demonstrated for cocaine, JWH-018, and opioids (fentanyl, despropionyl fentanyl, and heroin) and binary mixture (trace amount of fentanyl in heroin) analyses. We demonstrate the applicability of flexible plasmonic patches for the selective assay of fentanyl at picogram/milliliter concentration levels from drug-of-abuse patients’ blood plasma. The fentanyl concentration calculated in the patients’ blood plasma from SERS analysis is in excellent agreement with the values determined using the paper spray ionization mass spectrometry technique. We believe that the flexible plasmonic patch fabrication strategy would be widely applicable to any plasmonic nanostructure for SERS-based chemical sensing for clinical toxicology and therapeutic drug monitoring. (Publisher Abstract)
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