Compact, "clickable" Quantum Dots Photoligated with Multifunctional Zwitterionic Polymers for Immunofluorescence and in Vivo Imaging

Wentao Wang, Erna A. Van Niekerk, Yang Zhang, Liang Du, Xin Ji, Sisi Wang, James D. Baker, Kimberly Groeniger, Françisco M. Raymo, Hedi Mattoussi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


We detail the preparation of highly fluorescent quantum dots (QDs), surface-engineered with multifunctional polymer ligands that are compact and readily compatible with strain-promoted click conjugation, and the use of these nanocrystals in immunofluorescence and in vivo imaging. The ligand design combines the benefits of mixed coordination (i.e., thiol and imidazole) with zwitterion motifs, yielding sterically-stabilized QDs that present a controllable number of azide groups, for easy conjugation to biomolecules via the selective click chemistry. The polymer coating was characterized using NMR spectroscopy to extract estimates of the diffusion coefficient, hydrodynamic size, and ligand density. The azide-functionalized QDs were conjugated to anti-tropomyosin receptor kinase B antibody (α-TrkB) or to the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). These conjugates were highly effective for labeling the tropomyosin receptor kinase B (TrkB) in pyramidal neurons within cortical tissue and for monitoring the BDNF induced activation of TrkB signaling in live neuronal cells. Finally, the polymer-coated QDs were applied for in vivo imaging of Drosophila melanogaster embryos, where the QDs remained highly fluorescent and colloidally stable, with no measurable cytotoxicity. These materials would be of great use in various imaging applications, where a small size, ease of conjugation, and great colloidal stability for in vivo studies are needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1497-1509
Number of pages13
JournalBioconjugate Chemistry
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 20 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmaceutical Science
  • Organic Chemistry


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