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How Saliva Interferes with Colorimetric Gold Nanoparticle Aptasensors: Understanding and Mitigating Surface Interactions

Abstract

Colorimetric gold-nanoparticle-based biosensors are an attractive platform for the detection of small-molecule analytes. Taking advantage of the adsorption of DNA aptamer probes on AuNPs, these sensors can be simple, rapid, sensitive, selective, and cost-effective. These properties are important for rapid detection of drugs like methamphetamine in biological matrices. Saliva is a highly desirable matrix for development of diagnostic tests because saliva sampling is minimally invasive and drug levels relate to recent use rather than accumulation from historical use. However, saliva is a complex fluid that presents a multitude of challenges when applying colorimetric aggregation assays. Here, we show that the contents of saliva interfere with the sensor in two main ways: (i) suppressing color change signals due to proteins nonspecifically adsorbing to nanoparticles and (ii) blocking aggregation and generating false signals due to specific electrolytes that induce aggregation. With this knowledge, we examine strategies to mitigate these effects, including sample collection and pretreatment procedures. These measures ultimately result in a sensor that can detect methamphetamine spiked into saliva samples and suggest immense promise for the feasibility of these platforms for on-site diagnostic applications.

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