Rapid and accurate quantification of low-abundance protein biomarkers in biofluids can transform the diagnosis of a range of pathologies, including infectious diseases. Here, we harness ultrabright plasmonic fluors as “digital nanolabels” and demonstrate the detection and quantification of subfemtomolar concentrations of human IL-6 and SARS-CoV-2 alpha and variant proteins in clinical nasopharyngeal swab and saliva samples from COVID-19 patients. The resulting digital plasmonic fluor-linked immunosorbent assay (digital p-FLISA) enables detection of SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein, both in solution and in live virions. Digital p-FLISA outperforms the “gold standard” enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), having a nearly 7000-fold lower limit-of-detection, and outperforms a commercial antigen test, having over 5000-fold improvement in analytical sensitivity. Detection and quantification of very low concentrations of target proteins holds potential for early detection of pathological conditions, treatment monitoring, and personalized medicine.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-237
Number of pages9
JournalNano Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 10 2024


  • antigen test
  • digital immunoassay
  • fluorescent nanolabels
  • plasmon-enhanced fluorescence
  • protein detection


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