Specific binding and internalization: an investigation of fluorescent aptamer-gold nanoclusters and cells with fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy
Fluorescent gold nanoclusters show promising properties for biological applications. We biofunctionalized fluorescent 11-mercaptoundecanoic-acid stabilized gold nanoclusters (AuNCs) with an aptamer to target the interleukin-6-receptor expressed on BaF3 cells specifically. Although the fluorescence emission of the AuNCs (535 nm) is in the same wavelength region as the autofluorescence of the cell, we are able to distinguish between nanoclusters and cells using the fluorescence decay time, which is much longer for the AuNCs (100 ns) than for the autofluorescence. After a first short incubation period we detected AuNCs specifically bound to the cell membrane by using two fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM) methods: gated and direct FLIM. After a second incubation period the previously bound AuNCs are internalized by the cells, as could be resolved solely by the direct FLIM. This proves the superior sensitivity of this method compared to gated FLIM. We find that the optical properties of AuNCs do not change upon binding to the cells, but exhibit a change when internalized into the cells, induced by an interaction between the AuNCs and cells.
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