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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Fluorescent CdSe/ZnS nanocrystal-peptide conjugates for long-term, nontoxic imaging and nuclear targeting in living cells

  • Author(s): Chen, Fanqing
  • Gerion, Daniele
  • et al.

One of the biggest challenges in cell biology is the imaging of living cells. For this purpose, the most commonly used visualization tool is fluorescent markers. However, conventional labels, such as organic fluorescent dyes or green fluorescent proteins (GFP), lack the photostability to allow the tracking of cellular events that happen over minutes to days. In addition, they are either toxic to cells (dyes), or difficult to construct and manipulate (GFP). We report here the use of a new class of fluorescent labels, silanized CdSe/ZnS nanocrystal-peptide conjugates, for imaging the nuclei of living cells. CdSe/ZnS nanocrystals, or so called quantum dots (qdots), are extremely photostable, and have been used extensively in cellular imaging of fixed cells. However, most of the studies about living cells so far have been concerned only with particle entry into the cytoplasm or the localization of receptors on the cell membrane. Specific targeting of qdots to the nucleus of living cells has not been reported in previous studies, due to the lack of a targeting mechanism and proper particle size. Here we demonstrate for the first time the construction of a CdSe/ZnS nanocrystal-peptide conjugate that carries the SV40 large T antigen nuclear localization signal (NLS), and the transfection of the complex into living cells. By a novel adaptation of commonly used cell transfection techniques for qdots, we were able to introduce and retain the NLS-qdots conjugate in living cells for up to a week without detectable negative cellular effects. Moreover, we can visualize the movement of the CdSe/ZnS nanocrystal-peptide conjugates from cytoplasm to the nucleus, and the accumulation of the complex in the cell nucleus, over a long observation time period. This report opens the door for using qdots to visualize long-term biological events that happen in the cell nucleus, and provides a new nontoxic, long-term imaging platform for cell nuclear processes.

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