A Single-Molecule Homogeneous Immunoassay by Counting Spatially “Overlapping” Two-Color Quantum Dots with Wide-Field Fluorescence Microscopy

We developed a single-molecule homogeneous immunoassay by counting spatially “overlapping” two-color quantum dots (QD) under a wide-field fluorescence microscope. QD 655 with red fluorescence and QD 565 with green fluorescence were modified with capture and detection antibodies, respectively. A capture antibody-modified QD 655 and a detection antibody-modified QD 565 were conjugated by a corresponding antigen molecule to form a “sandwich” immunocomplex. The conjugated QD 655 could not be distinguished from the conjugated QD 565 by fluorescent microscopy because the distance between them was smaller than the resolution of an optical microscope (approximately 200 nm). The immunocomplex color became yellow because of the spatial “overlap” of the red and green fluorescence. The number of the yellow spots was equal to the number of immunocomplex molecules, while the concentration of the antigen was related to the ratio of the yellow dots to the red dots. The successful quantification of two model proteins in the human plasma, namely, alpha-fetoprotein and carcinoembryonic antigen, demonstrated the accuracy and reliability of our approach.