Synthesis of ZnAl2O4:(Er3+,Yb3+) spinel-type nanocrystalline upconverting luminescent marker in HeLa carcinoma cells, using a combustion aerosol method route†
Efficiently upconverting, spherical ZnAl2O4 nanoparticles (NPs), doped with erbium and ytterbium, were synthesized by a combustion aerosol method (CAM) and transported to cytosol of carcinoma cell line (HeLa) for the first time. Spherical, 82–140 nm spinels were obtained at various concentrations of substrates. The nanoparticles were optimized to emit in the red luminescence range (Er3+, 661 nm, 4F9/2 → 4I15/2) when excited with near infrared light. Lower absorption and scattering by aqueous biological samples, compared to the green emission (Er3+, 550 nm, 2H11/2 → 4I15/2, 2S3/2 → 4I15/2), was responsible for the preferred upconversion. In addition, the application of the near infrared light significantly reduced the cellular autofluorescence and light scattering. X-ray diffraction, transmission electron microscopy, scanning electron microscopy, and photoluminescence spectroscopy were employed to characterize the synthesized samples. Energy dispersive X-ray microanalysis was used to confirm the composition and distribution of the nanoparticles through the spectrum and elemental mapping. The hydrophilic, spherical NPs, coated with PVP (polyvinylpyrrolidone) in the presence of a liposomal transfection factor, lipofectamine, were endocytosed into living HeLa cells and followed as luminescent markers by confocal laser scanning microscopy. We present the optimized protocols for the NPs synthesis and delivery of the spinels to cancer cells for bioimaging.