Quantum dots are fluorescent nanoparticles used to detect and image proteins and nucleic acids. Compared with organic dyes and fluorescent proteins, these nanocrystals have enhanced brightness, photostability, and wavelength tunability, but their larger size limits their use. Recently, multidentate polymer coatings have yielded stable quantum dots with small hydrodynamic dimensions (≤10 nm) due to high-affinity, compact wrapping around the nanocrystal. However, this coating technology has not been widely adopted because the resulting particles are frequently heterogeneous and clustered, and conjugation to biological molecules is difficult to control. In this article we develop new polymeric ligands and optimize coating and bioconjugation methodologies for core/shell CdSe/CdxZn1-xS quantum dots to generate homogeneous and compact products. We demonstrate that ligand stripping to rapidly displace nonpolar ligands with hydroxide ions allows homogeneous assembly with multidentate polymers at high temperature. The resulting aqueous nanocrystals are 7-12 nm in hydrodynamic diameter, have quantum yields similar to those in organic solvents, and strongly resist nonspecific interactions due to short oligoethylene glycol surfaces. Compared with a host of other methods, this technique is superior for eliminating small aggregates identified through chromatographic and single-molecule analysis. We also demonstrate high-efficiency bioconjugation through azide-alkyne click chemistry and self-assembly with hexa-histidine-tagged proteins that eliminate the need for product purification. The conjugates retain specificity of the attached biomolecules and are exceptional probes for immunofluorescence and single-molecule dynamic imaging. These results are expected to enable broad utilization of compact, biofunctional quantum dots for studying crowded macromolecular environments such as the neuronal synapse and cellular cytoplasm.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Colloid and Surface Chemistry