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Surface modification to obtain high dispersion stability and biocompatibility is a key factor for bio-application of upconversion nanoparticles (UCNPs). A systematic study of UCNPs modified with four hydrophilic molecules, separately comparing their dispersion stability in biological buffers and cellular biocompatibility is reported here. The results show that carboxyl-functionalized UCNPs (modified by 3,4-dihydrocinnamic acid (DHCA) or poly(monoacryloxyethyl phosphate (MAEP)) with negative surface charge have superior even-distribution in biological buffers compared to amino-functionalized UCNPs (modified by (aminomethyl)phosphonic (AMPA) or (3-Aminopropyl)triethoxysilane (APTES)) with positive surface charge. Subsequent investigation of cellular interactions revealed high levels of non-targeted cellular uptake of the particles modified with either of the three small molecules (AMPA, APTES, DHCA) and high levels of cytotoxicity when used at high concentrations. The particles were seen to be trapped as particle-aggregates within the cellular cytoplasm, leading to reduced cell viability and cell proliferation, along with dysregulation of the cell cycle as assessed by DNA content measurements. The dramatically reduced proportion of cells in G phase and the slightly increased proportion in G phase indicates inhibition of M phase, and the appearance of sub-G phase reflects cell necrosis. In contrast, MAEP-modified UCNPs are bio-friendly with increased dispersion stability in biological buffers, are non-cytotoxic, with negligible levels of non-specific cellular uptake and no effect on the cell cycle at both low and high concentrations. MAEP-modified UCNPs were further functionalized with streptavidin for intracellular microtubule imaging, and showed clear cytoskeletal structures via their upconversion luminescence. Statement of Significance Upconversion nanoparticles (UCNP) are an exciting potential nanomaterial for bio-applications. Their anti-Stokes luminescence makes them especially attractive to use as imaging probes and thermal therapeutic reagents. Surface modification is the key to achieving stable and compatible hydrophilic-UCNPs. However, the lack of criteria to assess molecular ligands used for ligand exchange of nanoparticles has hampered the development of surface modification, and further limits UCNP's bio-application. Herein, we report a systematic comparative study of modified-UCNPs with four distinct hydrophilic molecules, assessing each particles' colloidal stability in biological buffers and their cellular biocompatibility. The protocol established here can serve as a potential guide for the surface modification of UCNPs in bio-applications.
This article was published in the following journal.
Name: Acta biomaterialia
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