Cancer Cell Targeting Via Selective Transferrin Receptor Labeling Using Protein-Derived Carbon Dots


Carbon dot (CD) nanoparticles offer tremendous advantages as fluorescent probes in bioimaging and biosensing; however, they lack specific affinity for biomolecules, limiting their practical applications in selective targeting. Nanoparticles with intrinsic affinity for a target have applications in imaging, cytometry, therapeutics, etc. Toward that end, we report the transferrin receptor (CD71) targeting CDs, synthesized for the first time. The formation of these particles is truly groundbreaking, as direct tuning of nanoparticle affinity was achieved by simple and careful precursor selection of a protein, which has the targeting characteristic of interest. We hypothesized that the retention of the original protein’s peptides on the nanoparticle surface provides the CDs with some of the function of the precursor protein, enabling selective binding to the protein’s receptor. This was confirmed with FTIR (Fourier transform infrared) data and subsequent affinity-based cell assays. These transferrin (Tf)-derived CDs have been shown to possess an affinity for CD71, a cancer biomarker that is ubiquitously expressed in nearly every cancer cell line due to its central role mediating the uptake of cellular iron. The CDs were tested using the human leukemia cell line HL60 and demonstrated the selective targeting of CD71 and specific triggering of transferrin-mediated endocytosis via clathrin-coated pits. The particle characterization results reflect a carbon-based nanoparticle with bright violet fluorescence and 7.9% quantum yield in aqueous solution. These unpresented CDs proved to retain the functional properties of the precursor protein. Indicating that this process can be repeated for other disease biomarkers for applications ranging from biosensing and diagnostic bioimaging to targeted therapeutics.


© 2024 The Authors. Published by American Chemical Society. cc-by-nc-nd



Strickland, S., Jorns, M., Fourroux, L., Heyd, L., & Pappas, D.. 2024. Cancer Cell Targeting Via Selective Transferrin Receptor Labeling Using Protein-Derived Carbon Dots. ACS Omega, 9(2).