Imaging of transfection and intracellular release of intact, non-labeled DNA using fluorescent nanodiamonds†
Efficient delivery of stabilized nucleic acids (NAs) into cells and release of the NA payload are crucial points in the transfection process. Here we report on the fabrication of a nanoscopic cellular delivery carrier that is additionally combined with a label-free intracellular sensor device, based on biocompatible fluorescent nanodiamond particles. The sensing function is engineered into nanodiamonds by using nitrogen-vacancy color centers, providing stable non-blinking luminescence. The device is used for monitoring NA transfection and the payload release in cells. The unpacking of NAs from a poly(ethyleneimine)-terminated nanodiamond surface is monitored using the color shift of nitrogen-vacancy centers in the diamond, which serve as a nanoscopic electric charge sensor. The proposed device innovates the strategies for NA imaging and delivery, by providing detection of the intracellular release of non-labeled NAs without affecting cellular processing of the NAs. Our system highlights the potential of nanodiamonds to act not merely as labels but also as non-toxic and non-photobleachable fluorescent biosensors reporting complex molecular events.