Surface Modification of CdSe(ZnS) quantum dots for biomedical applications
Quantum dots are inorganic nanocrystals of semiconductor metals that have unique light emitting properties. Due to their tunable and narrow emission profile, broad absorption spectra, resistance to photobleaching and high level of brightness they have emerged as inorganic fluorophores and numerous applicabilities for in vitro, in situ as well as in vivo studies are present. The chemical nature of the quantum dot surface needs to be altered in order to make the inorganic nanoparticles applicable to biological systems. Water soluble and biocompatible particles that limit unspecific binding to proteins can be obtained through functionalization of the surface coating with appropriate molecules.
In this pilot study, two surface modification strategies were performed upon two commercially available quantum dots in order to attach the zwitterionic molecules L-cysteine and thiolated sulfobetaine methacrylate, both shown to create non-fouling and biocompatible surfaces.
A biphasic exchange method was successfully used to perform ligand exchange of Qdot® ITK™ Organic Quantum Dots (QD-Organic) in order to exchange the structurally unknown, native lipophilic coating to one consisting of the amino acid L-cysteine (QD-Cysteine). The quantum dots transferred from the organic to the aqueous phase after the natively hydrophobic coating was changed to the hydrophilic L-cysteine. A characteristic mass fragment of protonated trioctylphosphine oxide (TOPO) was found for QD-Organic, using TOF-SIMS, suggesting TOPO is a part of the native coating. Further, the mentioned mass fragment was no longer present after the exchange. The C (1s) XPS-spectrum showed a new peak for carboxylic carbon, characteristic for L-cysteine, and expected changes in elemental composition were consistent with measured changes for all relevant elements. Large amounts of buffer remained after purification, suggesting the purification protocol needs further evaluation. Traces of the native coating were found in the C (1s) XPS-spectrum for QD-Cysteine, indicating not all ligands were exchange.
Additionally, a strategy for surface functionalization of Qdot® 655 ITK™ amino (PEG) quantum dots (QD-PEG-NH2) with L-cysteine and thiolated sulfobetaine methacrylate was outlined and performed, using Michael addition and the heterobifunctional linker 3-Maleimidobenzoic acid N-hydroxysuccinimide ester. Unfortunately, no indications of successful attachment of the linker to the quantum dot have been found, neither by TOF-SIMS nor XPS, and thus functionalization with L-cysteine and tSBMA was not achieved. In theory, the proposed coupling chemistry used during the pilot study is promising, but further experiments are needed to obtain a successful and optimized protocol for the functionalization.
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