One-pot green synthesis of fluorescent nitrogen-doped carbon nanodots (CNDs) was developed by hydrothermal treatments of biocompatible polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP) and glycine. The fluorescent nitrogen-doped CNDs exhibited excellent water solubility, low cytotoxicity, and good salt stability for biological imaging. UV-vis spectroscopy, fluorescence spectroscopy, transmission electron microscopy (TEM), Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) spectroscopy, and Raman spectroscopy were applied to confirm the optical and structural characteristics of the CNDs. Fluorescence of the CNDs was tunable from 417 to 450 nm adjusted by different excitation energy. Fluorescent quantum yield of the CNDs (21.43 %) was significantly increased ~47.59 % in comparison to that of the CNDs (14.52 %) without nitrogen doping by glycine. In the in vivo imaging system (IVIS), fluorescence signal of the nitrogen-doped CNDs was obviously observed in the lungs at 12- and 24-h post-injection. Our work has shown the potential applications of the nitrogen-doped CNDs in fluorescence imaging in vivo.
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