Cellular effect of high doses of silica-coated quantum dot profiled with high throughput gene expression analysis and high content cellomics measurements

Tingting Zhang, Jackie L. Stilwell, Daniele Gerion, Lianghao Ding, Omeed Elboudwarej, Patrick A. Cooke, Joe W. Gray, A. Paul Alivisatos, Fanqing Frank Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

324 Scopus citations


Quantum dots (Qdots) are now used extensively for labeling in biomedical research, and this use is predicted to grow because of their many advantages over alternative labeling methods. Uncoated Qdots made of core/shell CdSe/ZnS are toxic to cells because of the release of Cd 2+ ions Into the cellular environment. This problem has been partially overcome by coating Qdots with polymers, polyethylene glycol) (PEG), or other inert molecules. The most promising coating to date, for reducing toxicity, appears to be PEG. When PEG-coated silanized Qdots (PEG-silane-Qdots) are used to treat cells, toxicity is not observed, even at dosages above 10-20 nM, a concentration inducing death when cells are treated with polymer or mercaptoacid coated Qdots. Because of the Importance of Qdots in current and future biomédical and clinical applications, we believe it is essential to more completely understand and verify this negative global response from cells treated with PEG-silane-Qdots. Consequently, we examined the molecular and cellular response of cells treated with two different dosages of PEG-silane-Qdots. Human fibroblasts were exposed to 8 and 80 nM of these Qdots, and both phenotypic as well as whole genome expression measurements were made. PEG-silane-Qdots did not induce any statistically significant cell cycle changes and minimal apoptosis/necrosis in lung fibroblasts (IMR-90) as measured by high content image analysis, regardless of the treatment dosage. A slight increase in apoptosis/necrosis was observed in treated human skin fibroblasts (HSF-42) at both the low and the high dosages. We performed genome-wide expression array analysis of HSF-42 exposed to doses 8 and 80 nM to link the global cell response to a molecular and genetic phenotype. We used a gene array containing ∼22,000 total probe sets, containing 18,400 probe sets from known genes. Only -50 genes (∼0.2% of all the genes tested) exhibited a statistically significant change in expression level of greater than 2-fold. Genes activated in treated cells included those involved in carbohydrate binding, intracellular vesicle formation, and cellular response to stress. Conversely, PEG-silane-Qdots induce a down-regulation of genes involved in controlling the M-phase progression of mitosis, spindle formation, and cytokinesis. Promoter analysis of these results reveals that expression changes may be attributed to the down-regulation of FOXM and BHLB2 transcription factors. Remarkably, PEG-silane-Qdots, unlike carbon nanotubes, do not activate genes indicative of a strong immune and inflammatory response or heavy-metal-related toxicity. The experimental evidence shows that CdSe/ZnS Qdots, if appropriately protected, induce negligible toxicity to the model cell system studied here, even when exposed to high dosages. This study indicates that PEG-coated silanized Qdots pose minimal impact to cells and are a very promising alternative to uncoated Qdots.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)800-808
Number of pages9
JournalNano Letters
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • General Chemistry
  • General Materials Science
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanical Engineering


Dive into the research topics of 'Cellular effect of high doses of silica-coated quantum dot profiled with high throughput gene expression analysis and high content cellomics measurements'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this