Development of sensitive and selective methods of determination for biothiols is important because of their significant roles in biological systems. We present a new optical sensor using Ellman's reagent (DTNB)-adsorbed gold nanoparticles (Au-NPs) (DTNB-Au-NP) in a colloidal solution devised to selectively determine biologically important thiols (biothiols) from biological samples and pharmaceuticals. 5,5'-Dithio-bis(2-nitrobenzoic acid) (DTNB), a versatile water-soluble compound for quantitating free sulfhydryl groups in solution, was adsorbed through non-covalent interaction onto Au-NPs, and the absorbance changes associated with the formation of the yellow-colored 5-thio-2-nitrobenzoate (TNB2-) anion as a result of reaction with biothiols was measured at 410 nm. The sensor gave a linear response over a wide concentration range of standard biothiols comprising cysteine, glutathione, homocysteine, cysteamine, dihydrolipoic acid and 1,4-dithioerythritol. The calibration curves of individual biothiols were constructed, and their molar absorptivities and linear concentration ranges determined. The cysteine equivalent thiol content (CETC) values of various biothiols using the DTNB-Au-NP assay were comparable to those of the conventional DTNB assay, showing that the immobilized DTNB reagent retained its reactivity toward thiols. Common biological sample ingredients like amino acids, flavonoids, vitamins, and plasma antioxidants did not interfere with the proposed sensing method. This assay was validated through linearity, additivity, precision and recovery, demonstrating that the assay is reliable and robust. DTNB-adsorbed Au-NPs probes provided higher sensitivity (i.e., lower detection limits) in biothiol determination than conventional DTNB reagent. Under optimized conditions, cysteine (Cys) was quantified by the proposed assay, with a detection limit (LOD) of 0.57 mu M and acceptable linearity ranging from 0.4 to 29.0 mu M (r = 0.998). (C) 2013 Elsevier B. V. All rights reserved.