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Langmuir. 2007 Feb 13;23(4):1974-80. Epub 2007 Jan 12.

Long-term exposure to CdTe quantum dots causes functional impairments in live cells.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, McGill University, Montréal, QC Canada.


Several studies suggested that the cytotoxic effects of quantum dots (QDs) may be mediated by cadmium ions (Cd2+) released from the QDs cores. The objective of this work was to assess the intracellular Cd2+ concentration in human breast cancer MCF-7 cells treated with cadmium telluride (CdTe) and core/shell cadmium selenide/zinc sulfide (CdSe/ZnS) nanoparticles capped with mercaptopropionic acid (MPA), cysteamine (Cys), or N-acetylcysteine (NAC) conjugated to cysteamine. The Cd2+ concentration determined by a Cd2+-specific cellular assay was below the assay detection limit (<5 nM) in cells treated with CdSe/ZnS QDs, while in cells incubated with CdTe QDs, it ranged from approximately 30 to 150 nM, depending on the capping molecule. A cell viability assay revealed that CdSe/ZnS QDs were nontoxic, whereas the CdTe QDs were cytotoxic. However, for the various CdTe QD samples, there was no dose-dependent correlation between cell viability and intracellular [Cd2+], implying that their cytotoxicity cannot be attributed solely to the toxic effect of free Cd2+. Confocal laser scanning microscopy of CdTe QDs-treated cells imaged with organelle-specific dyes revealed significant lysosomal damage attributable to the presence of Cd2+ and of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which can be formed via Cd2+-specific cellular pathways and/or via CdTe-triggered photoxidative processes involving singlet oxygen or electron transfer from excited QDs to oxygen. In summary, CdTe QDs induce cell death via mechanisms involving both Cd2+ and ROS accompanied by lysosomal enlargement and intracellular redistribution.

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