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Nanoscale. 2012 Jul 7;4(13):3901-9. doi: 10.1039/c2nr30804e. Epub 2012 May 31.

High-sensitivity in vivo imaging for tumors using a spectral up-conversion nanoparticle NaYF4: Yb3+, Er3+ in cooperation with a microtubulin inhibitor.

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MOE Key Laboratory of Laser Life Science & Institute of Laser Life Science, College of Biophotonics, South China Normal University, Guangzhou 510631, China.


Fluorescein has been used for in vivo imaging to identify tumors. However, this technique presents several limitations, mainly due to its limited targeting efficiency, tissue autofluorescence and poor light penetration in tissue. In the present study, an alternative fluorescence imaging technique to localize tumors has been developed by using up-conversion nanoparticles (UCNs) and enhanced targeting approaches. A folic acid molecule is conjoined with UCNs (NaYF(4): Yb(3+), Er(3+)) to improve the tumor-specificity; the UCN is also loaded with the microtubule inhibitor CA4P, to further improve the local delivery of particles in the tumor. The proposed imaging technique combines several well-established individual concepts into one novel integrated procedure and significantly improves its tumor-imaging capability: the near-infrared excitation for UCNs minimizes tissue autofluorescence and allows imaging into deeper tissue; the improvement in the signal to noise ratio (SNR) is at least a magnitude better than that of a conventional fluorescence imaging technique, and the modification of UCNs with folic acid significantly improves the tumor targeting efficiency by utilizing its affinity for the folic acid receptor that is often over expressed in tumors. The loading of CA4P further helps UCNs to cross blood vessel walls to reach tumor cells by depolymerizing the microtubules of endothelial cells. The integrated nanoparticle possesses the near-infrared-identical optical properties of UCNs alone, thus achieving a highly effective fluorescence imaging probe. The results demonstrated that the proposed method provides an excellent alternative for tumor localization and a potential traceable vehicle for highly efficient drug delivery.

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