A versatile platform for bioimaging based on colominic acid-decorated upconversion nanoparticles†
Lanthanide-doped upconversion nanoparticles (UCNPs) are promising bioimaging agents that emit light under near infra-red excitation, capable of penetrating deep in biotissues with a high signal-to-noise ratio. Their successful implementation is principally associated with surface functionalization. Here, we report on UCNP surface modification with highly hydrophilic, endogenous, non-toxic, non-immunogenic colominic acid, conferring “stealth” properties. We proposed surface functionalization of UCNPs based on a two-step strategy, which consists of hydrophilization with polyethyleneimine and attachment of colominic acid by electrostatic or covalent bond formation. Analysis revealed that regardless of the nature of the bond, colominic acid acted as a non-cytotoxic UCNP surface coating with low nonspecific blood protein adsorption. UCNP-colominic acid nanocomplexes exhibited low uptake by macrophages in vitro, which plays an active role in inflammatory reactions. We demonstrated the superiority of colominic acid compared to polyethylene glycol coating in terms of the prolonged circulation time in the bloodstream of small animals when injected intravenously. The colominic acid coating made it possible to prolong the UCNP circulation time up to 3 h. This led to the efficient UCNP accumulation in the inflammation site due to microvascular remodeling, accompanied by an enhanced uptake and retention effect. UCNP-assisted imaging of inflammation in the whole-body mode as well as local visualization of blood vessels were acquired in vivo. These collective findings validate the functional significance of UCNP decoration with colominic acid for their application in bioimaging.