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Stability of quantum dots in live cells

Abstract

Quantum dots are highly fluorescent and photostable, making them excellent tools for imaging. When using these quantum dots in cells and animals, however, intracellular biothiols (such as glutathione and cysteine) can degrade the quantum dot monolayer, compromising function. Here, we describe a label-free method to quantify the intracellular stability of monolayers on quantum dot surfaces that couples laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry with inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. Using this new approach we have demonstrated that quantum dot monolayer stability is correlated with both quantum dot particle size and monolayer structure, with appropriate choice of both particle size and ligand structure required for intracellular stability.

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Figure 1: Quantification of quantum dot stability in cells using integrated ICP-MS and LDI-MS.
Figure 2: LDI-MS measurements of monolayer amounts on quantum dots.
Figure 3: Measurement of monolayer release from quantum dots in cells.
Figure 4: Quantum dot monolayer stability as a function of intracellular GSH concentration.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported in part by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (grants R21 ES017871-01 and GM077173-05) and through the Center for Hierarchical Manufacturing (National Science Foundation grant DMI-0531171). The authors thank J.F. Tyson for access to the ICP-MS instrumentation, and B. Creran for assistance with transmission electron microscopy.

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Contributions

Z.J.Z., V.M.R. and R.W.V. conceived and designed the experiments. Z.J.Z., Y.C.Y., R.T., B.Y. and J.T. performed the experiments. All authors analysed and discussed the data. Z.J.Z. wrote the manuscript, with revisions by V.M.R. and R.W.V.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Richard W. Vachet or Vincent M. Rotello.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Zhu, ZJ., Yeh, YC., Tang, R. et al. Stability of quantum dots in live cells. Nature Chem 3, 963–968 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1038/nchem.1177

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