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An optical chemosensor for nano-level determination of Pb2+ and Cu2+ in aqueous media and its application in cell imaging

Nasibeh Azizi Khereshki, Asadollah Mohammadi, Hassan Zavvar Mousavi, Nina Alizadeh, and Mehdi Evazalipour

Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Sciences, University of Guilan, Rasht, Iran



Received: 12 November 2022  Accepted: 4 March 2023


In this work, a colorimetric chemosensor containing thiazolidinedione as a biologically active molecule (NTCS) was successfully used for the highly selective and ultra-sensitive detection of Pb2+ and Cu2+ ions in different water samples as well as in a living cell both visually and optically. The characterization of the probe was confirmed by NMR, FT-IR spectroscopy, and UV–Visible absorption techniques prior to experiments. Probe NTCS exhibits an obvious color change because of a ligand to metal charge transfer (LMCT) complex that transforms it from colorless to yellow in the presence of Cu2+ and from colorless to peach in complexation with Pb2+ in aqueous methanol–water solutions that could make it a suitable ‘naked-eye’ indicator for Cu2+ and Pb2+. Based on Job’s plot analysis, the interaction binding mode of probe NTCS with Cu2+ (NTCS-Cu2+) and Pb2+ (NTCS-Ni2+) was found to be 1:1 stoichiometry complex. The stability of probe-ligand in different pH ranges (9–11) was concerned with determination of the optimum pH for the detection of Cu2+, and Pb2+ ions, which provides NTCS chemosensor suitable for quantitative analysis of the above-mentioned ions under physiological state. The results illustrated that the low detection limits (LOD) for Cu2+ and Pb2+ were calculated as 27.7 nM and 0.79 nM, respectively. In order to quick and convenient “naked-eye” detection of the Cu2+ and Pb2+ ions in pure aqueous media, low-cost NTCS-based test paper strips were successfully handed-down. MTT assay and bioimaging results indicated the probe has low toxicity, biocompatibility, and successful cellular absorption; hence, the probe can be used in Cu2+ and Pb2+ recognition in living cells with high selectivity and sensitivity compared to other chemosensors being researched in recent years.

Graphical abstract

Keywords: Colorimetric chemosensor; Thiazolidinone; 2-Hydroxy-1-naphthaldehyde; Cu2+ and Pb2+ ions; Cell imaging

Full paper is available at

DOI: 10.1007/s11696-023-02770-y


Chemical Papers 77 (8) 4201–4215 (2023)

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