Although SERS spectroscopy, which is sensitive to molecular vibration states, offers label-free visualization of molecules, identification of molecules and their reliable large-area imaging remains to be developed. Limitation comes from difficulties in fabricating a SERS-active substrate with homogeneity over a large area. Here, we overcome this hurdle by utilizing a self-assembled nanostructure of boehmite that is easily achieved by a hydrothermal preparation of aluminum as a template for subsequent gold (Au) deposition. This approach brought about random arrays of Au-nanostructures with a diameter of ∼125 nm and a spacing of <10 nm, ideal for the hot-spots formation. The substrate, which we named gold nanocoral (GNC) after its coral reef-like shape, exhibited a small variability of signal intensities (coefficient value <11.2%) in detecting rhodamine 6G molecule when 121 spots were measured over an area of 10 × 10 mm2, confirming high uniformity. The transparent nature of boehmite enabled us to conduct the measurement from the back-side of the substrate as efficiently as that from the front-side. We then conducted tissue imaging using the mouse ischemic brain adhered on the GNC substrate. Through nontargeted construction of two-dimensional-Raman-intensity map using differential bands from two metabolically distinct regions, that is, ischemic core and contralateral-control areas, we found that mapping using the adenine ring vibration band at 736 cm-1 clearly demarcated ischemic core where high-energy adenine phosphonucleotides were degraded as judged by imaging mass spectrometry. Such a detection capability makes the GNC-based SERS technology especially promising for revealing acute energy derangement of tissues.
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