A potent, minimally invasive and simple strategy of enhancing intracellular targeted delivery of Tat peptide-conjugated quantum dots: Organic solvent-based permeation enhancer

Xueqing Yong, Xuan Yang, Steven R. Emory, Jun Wang, Jie Dai, Xiaoya Yu, Ling Mei, Jinbing Xie, Gang Ruan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Targeted delivery of nanomaterials to specific intracellular locations is essential for the development of many nanomaterials-based biological applications. Thus far the targeting performance has been limited due to various intracellular transport barriers, especially intracellular vesicle trapping. Here we report the application of permeation enhancers based on organic solvents in small percentage to enhance the intracellular targeted delivery of nanomaterials. Previously permeation enhancers based on organic solvents and ionic liquids have been used in overcoming biological transport barriers at tissue, organ, and cellular levels, but this strategy has so far rarely been examined for its potential in facilitating transport of nanometer-scale entities across intracellular barriers, particularly intracellular vesicle trapping. Using the cell nucleus as a model intracellular target and Tat peptide-conjugated quantum dots (QDs-Tat) as a model nanomaterial-based probe, we demonstrate that a small percentage (e.g. 1%) of organic solvent greatly enhances nucleus targeting specificity as well as increasing endocytosis-based cellular uptake of QDs. We combine vesicle colocalization (DiO dye staining), vesicle integrity (calcein dye release), and single-particle studies (pair-correlation function microscopy) to investigate the process of organic solvent-enhanced vesicle escape of QDs-Tat. The organic solvent based vesicle escape-enhancing approach is found to be not only very effective but minimally invasive, resulting in high vesicle escape efficiency with no significant disruption to the membrane integrity of either intracellular vesicles or cells. This approach drastically outperforms the commonly used vesicle escape-enhancing agent (i.e., chloroquine, whose enhancement effect is based on disrupting vesicle integrity) in both potency and minimal invasiveness. Finally, we apply organic solvent-based targeting enhancement to improve the intracellular delivery of the anticancer drug doxorubicin (DOX).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3085-3095
Number of pages11
JournalBiomaterials Science
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018
Externally publishedYes

Cite this