Single-molecule imaging is an important tool for understanding the mechanisms of biomolecular function and for visualizing the spatial and temporal heterogeneity of molecular behaviors that underlie cellular biology (1-4). To image an individual molecule of interest, it is typically conjugated to a fluorescent tag (dye, protein, bead, or quantum dot) and observed with epifluorescence or total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) microscopy. While dyes and fluorescent proteins have been the mainstay of fluorescence imaging for decades, their fluorescence is unstable under high photon fluxes necessary to observe individual molecules, yielding only a few seconds of observation before complete loss of signal. Latex beads and dye-labeled beads provide improved signal stability but at the expense of drastically larger hydrodynamic size, which can deleteriously alter the diffusion and behavior of the molecule under study. Quantum dots (QDs) offer a balance between these two problematic regimes. These nanoparticles are composed of semiconductor materials and can be engineered with a hydrodynamically compact size with exceptional resistance to photodegradation (5). Thus in recent years QDs have been instrumental in enabling long-term observation of complex macromolecular behavior on the single molecule level. However these particles have still been found to exhibit impaired diffusion in crowded molecular environments such as the cellular cytoplasm and the neuronal synaptic cleft, where their sizes are still too large (4,6,7). Recently we have engineered the cores and surface coatings of QDs for minimized hydrodynamic size, while balancing offsets to colloidal stability, photostability, brightness, and nonspecific binding that have hindered the utility of compact QDs in the past (8,9). The goal of this article is to demonstrate the synthesis, modification, and characterization of these optimized nanocrystals, composed of an alloyed HgxCd1-xSe core coated with an insulating CdyZn1-yS shell, further coated with a multidentate polymer ligand modified with short polyethylene glycol (PEG) chains (Figure 1). Compared with conventional CdSe nanocrystals, HgxCd1-xSe alloys offer greater quantum yields of fluorescence, fluorescence at red and near-infrared wavelengths for enhanced signal-to-noise in cells, and excitation at non-cytotoxic visible wavelengths. Multidentate polymer coatings bind to the nanocrystal surface in a closed and flat conformation to minimize hydrodynamic size, and PEG neutralizes the surface charge to minimize nonspecific binding to cells and biomolecules. The end result is a brightly fluorescent nanocrystal with emission between 550-800 nm and a total hydrodynamic size near 12 nm. This is in the same size range as many soluble globular proteins in cells, and substantially smaller than conventional PEGylated QDs (25-35 nm).
"Different types of interactions between small molecules and the QD surface greatly modify its optical properties; thus, this phenomenon may be used as a sensor or indicator of the presence of a specific analyte in the sample   . Biomolecules labeled with QDs have potential for use in numerous applications, including fluoroimmunoassays and biological imaging     . "
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Hydrophilic functional semiconductor nanocrystals that are also compact provide greatly promising platforms for use in bioinspired applications and are thus highly needed. To address this, we designed a set of metal coordinating ligands where we combined two lipoic acid groups, bis(LA)-ZW, (as a multicoordinating anchor) with a zwitterion group for water compatibility. We further combined this ligand design with a new photoligation strategy, which relies on optical means instead of chemical reduction of the lipoic acid, to promote the transfer of CdSe-ZnS QDs to buffer media. In particular, we found that the QDs photoligated with this zwitterion-terminated bis(lipoic) acid exhibit great colloidal stability over a wide range of pHs, to an excess of electrolytes, and in the presence of growth media and reducing agents, in addition to preserving their optical and spectroscopic properties. These QDs are also stable at nanomolar concentrations and under ambient conditions (room temperature and white light exposure), a very promising property for fluorescent labeling in biology. In addition, the compact ligands permitted metal-histidine self-assembly between QDs photoligated with bis(LA)-ZW and two different His-tagged proteins, maltose binding protein and fluorescent mCherry protein. The remarkable stability of QDs capped with these multicoordinating and compact ligands over a broad range of conditions and at very small concentrations, combined with the compatibility with metal-histidine conjugation, could be very useful for a variety of applications, ranging from protein tracking and ligand-receptor binding to intracellular sensing using energy transfer interactions.
Journal of the American Chemical Society 09/2013; 135(37). DOI:10.1021/ja405010v · 12.11 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Semiconductor nanocrystals are tiny fluorescent particles that have recently made a major impact in the biological and medical sciences by enabling high-sensitivity imaging of biomolecules, cells, and tissues. Spherical quantum dots are the prototypical material for these applications but recent synthetic advances have led to a diverse range of nanostructures with controllable sizes, shapes, and materials combinations that offer new dimensions of optical and structural tunability. Uniform anisotropic shapes with linearly polarized light emission allow optical imaging of particle orientation, planar structures have large flexible surfaces and ultra-narrow electronic transitions, and compact nanoparticles have enhanced diffusion in crowded biological environments. These properties are providing unique opportunities to probe basic biological processes, cellular structures, and organismal physiology.
Current Opinion in Chemical Engineering 05/2014; 4:137–143. DOI:10.1016/j.coche.2014.01.013
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