Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Intracellular chemistry

Bioorthogonal catalysts

Nature Chem. 7, 597–603 (2015)

The instability of catalysts in the complex environment within cells hampers the generation of intracellular molecules for imaging and therapeutic applications. Within this context, Vincent Rotello and colleagues now report supramolecular nanoparticles for the gated control of intracellular catalytic activity. The researchers encapsulated transition metal catalysts within the surface layer of polymer-functionalized gold nanoparticles, and used cucurbituril as a supramolecular surface coating to sterically inhibit catalytic turnover. Once endocytosed, the nanoparticles remain inert in cells until an adamantyl guest is added to trigger macrocycle displacement, exposing the catalytic metals. In the presence of an exogenous fluorophore precursor, the activated nanoparticles are able to catalytically produce a fluorescent measure of the intracellular catalytic reaction. They are also able to trigger cell death through the catalytic activation of a synthetic prodrug. This system may inspire further developments for the study and control of dysfunctional cells.


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Hennessy, J. Bioorthogonal catalysts. Nature Mater 14, 750 (2015).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing