Controlled functionalization of carbon nanodots for targeted intracellular production of reactive oxygen species†
Controlled intracellular release of exogenous reactive oxygen species (ROS) is an innovative and efficient strategy for cancer treatment. Well-designed materials, which can produce ROS in targeted cells, minimizing side effects, still need to be explored as new generation nanomedicines. Here, red-emissive carbon nanodots (CNDs) with intrinsic theranostic properties are devised, and further modified with folic acid (FA) ligand through a controlled covalent functionalization for targeted cell imaging and intracellular production of ROS. We demonstrated that covalent functionalization is an effective strategy to prevent the aggregation of the dots, leading to superior colloidal stability, enhanced luminescence and ROS generation. Indeed, the functional nanodots possess a deep-red emission and good dispersibility under physiological conditions. Importantly, they show excellent targeting properties and generation of high levels of ROS under 660 nm laser irradiation, leading to efficient cell death. These unique properties enable FA-modified carbon nanodots to act as a multifunctional nanoplatform for simultaneous targeted imaging and efficient photodynamic therapy to induce cancer cell death.