Nucleic acid fluorescent probes are playing increasingly important roles in biological sensing in recent years. In addition to the conventional functions of single-stranded DNA/RNA to hybridize with their complementary strands, affinity nucleic acids (aptamers) with specific target binding properties have also been developed, which has greatly broadened the application of nucleic acid fluorescent probes to the detection of a large variety of analytes, including small molecules, proteins, ions, and even whole cells. Another chemical property of nucleic acids is to act as substrates for various nucleic acid enzymes. This property can be utilized not only to detect those enzymes and screen their inhibitors, but also employed to develop effective signal amplification systems, which implies extensive applications. This review mainly covers the biosensing methods based on the above three types of nucleic acid fluorescent probes. The most widely used intensity-based biosensing assays are covered first, including nucleic acid probe-based signal amplification methods. Then fluorescence lifetime, fluorescence anisotropy, and fluorescence correlation spectroscopy assays are introduced, respectively. As a rapidly developing field, fluorescence imaging approaches are also briefly summarized.
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