A long-lasting particle-based fluorescent label is designed for extended cell imaging studies. This onion-like nanoprobe is constructed through layer-by-layer fabrication technology. The nanoprobes are assembled with multiple layers of optically quenched polyelectrolytes, the fluorescence signal of which can be released later by intracellular proteolysis. Upon incubation with cells, the assembled nanoprobes are taken up efficiently. The tight packing and layered assembly of the quenched polyelectrolytes slow subsequent intracellular degradation, and then result in a prolonged intracellular fluorescence signal for up to 3 weeks with no noticeable toxicity.