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A multifunctional ribonuclease A-conjugated carbon dot cluster nanosystem for synchronous cancer imaging and therapy

Huiyang Liu1, Qin Wang1, Guangxia Shen13*, Chunlei Zhang1, Chao Li1, Weihang Ji2, Chun Wang3* and Daxiang Cui12*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Nano Biomedicine and Engineering, Key Laboratory for Thin Film and Microfabrication of Ministry of Education, Department of Instrument Science and Engineering, School of Electronic Information and Engineering, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai 200240, People's Republic of China

2 Research Institute of Translation Medicine, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai 200240, People's Republic of China

3 Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Minnesota (Twin Cities), Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA

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Nanoscale Research Letters 2014, 9:397  doi:10.1186/1556-276X-9-397

Published: 15 August 2014


Carbon dots exhibit great potential in applications such as molecular imaging and in vivo molecular tracking. However, how to enhance fluorescence intensity of carbon dots has become a great challenge. Herein, we report for the first time a new strategy to synthesize fluorescent carbon dots (C-dots) with high quantum yields by using ribonuclease A (RNase A) as a biomolecular templating agent under microwave irradiation. The synthesized RNase A-conjugated carbon dots (RNase A@C-dots) exhibited quantum yields of 24.20%. The fluorescent color of the RNase A@C-dots can easily be adjusted by varying the microwave reaction time and microwave power. Moreover, the emission wavelength and intensity of RNase A@C-dots displayed a marked excitation wavelength-dependent character. As the excitation wavelength alters from 300 to 500 nm, the photoluminescence (PL) peak exhibits gradually redshifts from 450 to 550 nm, and the intensity reaches its maximum at an excitation wavelength of 380 nm. Its Stokes shift is about 80 nm. Notably, the PL intensity is gradually decreasing as the pH increases, almost linearly dependent, and it reaches the maximum at a pH = 2 condition; the emission peaks also show clearly a redshift, which may be caused by the high activity and perfective dispersion of RNase A in a lower pH solution. In high pH solution, RNase A tends to form RNase A warped carbon dot nanoclusters. Cell imaging confirmed that the RNase A@C-dots could enter into the cytoplasm through cell endocytosis. 3D confocal imaging and transmission electron microscopy observation confirmed partial RNase A@C-dots located inside the nucleus. MTT and real-time cell electronic sensing (RT-CES) analysis showed that the RNase A@C-dots could effectively inhibit the growth of MGC-803 cells. Intra-tumor injection test of RNase A@C-dots showed that RNase A@C-dots could be used for imaging in vivo gastric cancer cells. In conclusion, the as-prepared RNase A@C-dots are suitable for simultaneous therapy and in vivo fluorescence imaging of nude mice loaded with gastric cancer or other tumors.

Carbon dots; RNase A; MGC-803 cell line; Microwave irradiation; Molecular imaging; MTT