• conjugated polymers;
  • conjugated polyelectrolytes;
  • fluorescence lifetime imaging;
  • biosensors;
  • time-resolved photoluminescence techniques


The application of a time-resolved photoluminescence technique and fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy for biosensing and bioimaging based on phosphorescent conjugated polyelectrolytes (PCPEs) containing Ir(III) complexes and polyfluorene units is reported. The specially designed PCPEs form 50 nm nanoparticles with blue fluorescence in aqueous solutions. Electrostatic interaction between the nanoparticles and heparin improves the energy transfer between the polyfluorene units to Ir(III) complex, which lights up the red signal for naked-eye sensing. Good selectivity has been demonstrated for heparin sensing in aqueous solution and serum with quantification ranges of 0–70 μM and 0–5 μM, respectively. The signal-to-noise ratio can be further improved through time-resolved emission spectra, especially when the detection is conducted in complicated environment, e.g., in the presence of fluorescent dyes. In addition to heparin sensing, the PCPEs have also been used for specific labeling of live KB cell membrane with high contrast using both confocal fluorescent cellular imaging and fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopies. This study provides a new perspective for designing promising CPEs for biosensing and bioimaging applications.