In situ formation of tetraphenylethylene nano-structures on microgels inside living cells via reduction-responsive self-assembly†
Controlling the assembly of synthetic molecules in living systems is of significance for their adaptive applications. However, it is difficult to achieve, especially for composite self-assemblies, due to the complexity and dynamic change of the intracellular environment, and there exist technical difficulties for the direct visualization of organic and polymer self-assemblies. Herein, we demonstrate a novel strategy for the in situ formation of self-assembled micro–nano composite structures in a cell milieu using reduction-responsive microgels (MGs) as a platform. The MGs were prepared by a templating and crosslinking method using a synthetic amphiphlic polymer as the basic material and porous CaCO3 microparticles as the template. The aggregation-induced emission (AIE) tetraphenylethylene moieties and reduction-labile disulfide bonds in the MGs were employed as the self-assembly building blocks and triggering sites for the intracellular self-assembly, respectively. In the presence of reductive agents such as glutathione, nano-spikes were gradually formed on the MGs. After the MGs were internalized by cells, the in situ formation of microgel/nano-spike composite structures was evidenced by the enhanced fluorescence intensity and was further confirmed by direct transmission electron microscopy observation. This work provides an effective strategy to cope with the challenging task of achieving and probing controlled self-assembly in a cell milieu, leading to new insights into investigating biological self-assembly and promoting the development of micro-/nanomaterials by learning from nature.
- This article is part of the themed collection: 2021 Nanoscale HOT Article Collection