Hyaluronic acid-based carbon dots for efficient gene delivery and cell imaging
A strategy that uses hyaluronic acid (HA) as a carbon source and polyethylenimine (PEI) as a passivant to construct carbon dots (HA-Cds) was proposed. The synthetic method is simple and green and no additive was required. These carbon dots could emit strong blue fluorescence under UV light. FT-IR and 1H NMR spectra confirmed that part of characteristic residues of HA and PEI remained in the HA-Cds structure. These materials had much lower cytotoxicity than PEI and high serum tolerance. Up to 50 times higher transfection efficiency than that of PEI was obtained in the presence of 10% serum. BSA protein adsorption, flow cytometry, and confocal microscopy assays also supported their good performance with serum. Furthermore, as multifunctional materials, HA-Cds had good intracellular imaging ability and displayed tunable fluorescence emission under varying excitation wavelengths. An HA competition assay showed that they may have target cell imaging ability in CD44 overexpressed cells. These materials with fluorescence activity also facilitated co-localization experiments by CLSM, which revealed that the DNA cargo could be effectively released into the cytosol, leading to effective gene transfection. These properties make the carbon dots promising candidates for in vivo diagnosis and gene therapy.