Dextran-Mimetic Quantum Dots for Multimodal Macrophage Imaging In Vivo, Ex Vivo, and In Situ

Hongping Deng, Christian J. Konopka, Suma Prabhu, Suresh Sarkar, Natalia Gonzalez Medina, Muhammad Fayyaz, Opeyemi H. Arogundade, Hashni Epa Vidana Gamage, Sayyed Hamed Shahoei, Duncan Nall, Yeoan Youn, Iwona T. Dobrucka, Christopher O. Audu, Amrita Joshi, William J. Melvin, Katherine A. Gallagher, Paul R. Selvin, Erik R. Nelson, Lawrence W. Dobrucki, Kelly S. SwansonAndrew M. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Macrophages are white blood cells with diverse functions contributing to a healthy immune response as well as the pathogenesis of cancer, osteoarthritis, atherosclerosis, and obesity. Due to their pleiotropic and dynamic nature, tools for imaging and tracking these cells at scales spanning the whole body down to microns could help to understand their role in disease states. Here we report fluorescent and radioisotopic quantum dots (QDs) for multimodal imaging of macrophage cells in vivo, ex vivo, and in situ. Macrophage specificity is imparted by click-conjugation to dextran, a biocompatible polysaccharide that natively targets these cell types. The emission spectral band of the crystalline semiconductor core was tuned to the near-infrared for optical imaging deep in tissue, and probes were covalently conjugated to radioactive iodine for nuclear imaging. The performance of these probes was compared with all-organic dextran probe analogues in terms of their capacity to target macrophages in visceral adipose tissue using in vivo positron emission tomography/computed tomography (PET/CT) imaging, in vivo fluorescence imaging, ex vivo fluorescence, post-mortem isotopic analyses, and optical microscopy. All probe classes exhibited equivalent physicochemical characteristics in aqueous solution and similar in vivo targeting specificity. However, dextran-mimetic QDs provided enhanced signal-to-noise ratio for improved optical quantification, long-term photostability, and resistance to chemical fixation. In addition, the vascular circulation time for the QD-based probes was extended 9-fold compared with dextran, likely due to differences in conformational flexibility. The enhanced photophysical and photochemical properties of dextran-mimetic QDs may accelerate applications in macrophage targeting, tracking, and imaging across broad resolution scales, particularly advancing capabilities in single-cell and single-molecule imaging and quantification.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1999-2012
Number of pages14
JournalACS Nano
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 22 2022


  • PET
  • infrared
  • molecular imaging
  • optical
  • phagocyte

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Materials Science(all)
  • Engineering(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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