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ACS Nano. 2017 Jun 27;11(6):5598-5613. doi: 10.1021/acsnano.7b00954. Epub 2017 May 30.

Quantum Dot-Peptide-Fullerene Bioconjugates for Visualization of in Vitro and in Vivo Cellular Membrane Potential.

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Sotera Defense Solutions , Columbia, Maryland 21046, United States.
Fischell Department of Bioengineering, University of Maryland , College Park, Maryland 20742, United States.
Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, University of Maryland School of Medicine , Baltimore, Maryland 21201, United States.
Computational Materials Science Center, George Mason University , Fairfax, Virginia 22030, United States.
Department of Bioengineering, University of Texas at Dallas , Richardson, Texas 75080, United States.
Department of Chemistry, The Scripps Research Institute , La Jolla, California 92037, United States.


We report the development of a quantum dot (QD)-peptide-fullerene (C60) electron transfer (ET)-based nanobioconjugate for the visualization of membrane potential in living cells. The bioconjugate is composed of (1) a central QD electron donor, (2) a membrane-inserting peptidyl linker, and (3) a C60 electron acceptor. The photoexcited QD donor engages in ET with the C60 acceptor, resulting in quenching of QD photoluminescence (PL) that tracks positively with the number of C60 moieties arrayed around the QD. The nature of the QD-capping ligand also modulates the quenching efficiency; a neutral ligand coating facilitates greater QD quenching than a negatively charged carboxylated ligand. Steady-state photophysical characterization confirms an ET-driven process between the donor-acceptor pair. When introduced to cells, the amphiphilic QD-peptide-C60 bioconjugate labels the plasma membrane by insertion of the peptide-C60 portion into the hydrophobic bilayer, while the hydrophilic QD sits on the exofacial side of the membrane. Depolarization of cellular membrane potential augments the ET process, which is manifested as further quenching of QD PL. We demonstrate in HeLa cells, PC12 cells, and primary cortical neurons significant QD PL quenching (ΔF/F0 of 2-20% depending on the QD-C60 separation distance) in response to membrane depolarization with KCl. Further, we show the ability to use the QD-peptide-C60 probe in combination with conventional voltage-sensitive dyes (VSDs) for simultaneous two-channel imaging of membrane potential. In in vivo imaging of cortical electrical stimulation, the optical response of the optimal QD-peptide-C60 configuration exhibits temporal responsivity to electrical stimulation similar to that of VSDs. Notably, however, the QD-peptide-C60 construct displays 20- to 40-fold greater ΔF/F0 than VSDs. The tractable nature of the QD-peptide-C60 system offers the advantages of ease of assembly, large ΔF/F0, enhanced photostability, and high throughput without the need for complicated organic synthesis or genetic engineering, respectively, that is required of traditional VSDs and fluorescent protein constructs.


electron transfer; fullerene; membrane potential; neuron; peptide; quantum dot; voltage

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