Antibody self-assembly maximizes cytoplasmic immunostaining accuracy of compact quantum dots

Liang Ma, Junlong Geng, Vladimir L. Kolossov, Zhiyuan Han, Yi Pei, Sung Jun Lim, Kristopher Kilian, Andrew M. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Antibody conjugates of quantum dots (QDs) are expected to transform immunofluorescence staining by expanding multiplexed analysis and improving target quantification. Recently, a new generation of small QDs coated with multidentate polymers has improved QD labeling density in diverse biospecimens, but new challenges prevent their routine use. In particular, these QDs exhibit nonspecific binding to fixed cell nuclei and their antibody conjugates have random attachment orientations. This report describes four high-efficiency chemical approaches to conjugate antibodies to compact QDs. Methods include click chemistry and self-assembly through polyhistidine coordination, both with and without adaptor proteins that directionally orient antibodies. Specific and nonspecific labeling are independently analyzed after application of diverse blocking agent classes, and a new assay is developed to quantitatively measure intracellular labeling density based on microtubule stain connectivity. Results show that protein conjugation to the QD surface is required to simultaneously eliminate nonspecific binding and maintain antigen specificity. Of the four conjugation schemes, polyhistidine-based coordination of adaptor proteins with antibody self-assembly yields the highest intracellular staining density and the simplest conjugation procedure. Therefore, antibody and adaptor protein orientation, in addition to blocking optimization, are important determinants of labeling outcomes, insights that can inform translational development of these more compact nanomaterials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4877-4889
Number of pages13
JournalChemistry of Materials
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 13 2021
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Chemical Engineering
  • Materials Chemistry


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