Near-Infrared Afterglow Luminescent Aggregation-Induced Emission Dots with Ultrahigh Tumor-to-Liver Signal Ratio for Promoted Image-Guided Cancer Surgery

Afterglow imaging through the collection of persistent luminescence after the stopping of light excitation holds enormous promise for advanced biomedical uses. However, efficient near-infrared (NIR)-emitting afterglow luminescent materials and probes (particularly the organic and polymeric ones) are still very limited, and their in-depth biomedical applications such as precise image-guided cancer surgery are rarely reported. Here, we design and synthesize a NIR afterglow luminescent nanoparticle with aggregation-induced emission (AIE) characteristics (named AGL AIE dots). It is demonstrated that the AGL AIE dots emit rather-high NIR afterglow luminescence persisting over 10 days after the stopping of a single excitation through a series of processes occurring in the AIE dots, including singlet oxygen production by AIE luminogens (AIEgens), Schaap’s dioxetane formation, chemiexcitation by dioxetane decomposition, and energy transfer to NIR-emitting AIEgens. The animal studies reveal that the AGL AIE dots have the innate property of fast afterglow signal quenching in normal tissues, including the liver, spleen, and kidney. After the intravenous injection of AGL AIE dots into peritoneal carcinomatosis bearing mice, the tumor-to-liver ratio of afterglow imaging is nearly 100-fold larger than that for fluorescence imaging. The ultrahigh tumor-to-liver signal ratio, together with low afterglow background noise, enables AGL AIE dots to give excellent performance in precise image-guided cancer surgery.