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Biomaterials. 2012 Feb;33(5):1238-44. doi: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2011.10.070. Epub 2011 Nov 10.

The cytotoxicity of cadmium-based quantum dots.

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1
Laboratory of Physical Biology, Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai, China.

Abstract

Semiconductor Quantum dots (QDs) have raised great attention because of their superior optical properties and wide utilization in biological and biomedical studies. More recently, there have been intense concerns on cytotoxicity assessment of QDs. Most QDs are made of heavy metal ions (e.g., Cd(2+)), which may result in potential in vitro toxicity that hampers their practical applications. In this article, we aim to summarize recent progress on mechanistic studies of cytotoxicity of II-IV QDs. We have studied the cytotoxicity of a series of aqueous synthesized QDs (aqQDs), i.e. CdTe, CdTe/CdS core-shell structured and CdTe/CdS/ZnS core-shell-shell structured aqQDs. Our results suggested that released cadmium ions are responsible for the observed cytotoxicity of cadmium-based QDs. The fact that CdTe/CdS/ZnS core-shell-shell structured QDs are nearly nontoxic to cells further confirmed the role of released cadmium ions on cytotoxicity, and the effective protection of the ZnS shell. However, intracellular level of Cd(2+) ions cannot be the only reason since the comparison with CdCl(2)-treated cells suggests there are other factors contributed to the cytotoxicity of aqQDs. Our studies on genome-wide gene expression profiling and subcellular localization of aqQDs with synchrotron-based scanning transmission X-ray microscopy (STXM) further suggest that the cytotoxicity of CdTe QDs not only comes from the release of Cd(2+) ions but also intracellular distribution of QD nanoparticles in cells and the associated nanoscale effects.

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