Hydroxy-terminated conjugated polymer nanoparticles have near-unity bright fraction and reveal cholesterol-dependence of IGF1R nanodomains.
Koner AL., Krndija D., Hou Q., Sherratt DJ., Howarth M.
Fluorescent nanoparticles have enabled many discoveries regarding how molecular machines function. Quantum dots have been the dominant class of fluorescent nanoparticles but suffer from blinking and from a substantial dark fraction--particles where the fluorescence is never seen--complicating any analysis of biological function. Nanoparticles composed of conjugated fluorescent polymers (Pdots) have recently been shown to have high brightness and no blinking. Here we develop a robust and efficient means to measure the dark fraction of Pdots, conjugating Atto dyes to the nanoparticles and testing fluorescence colocalization of dye and Pdot puncta. This established that the Pdots we generated had minimal dark fraction: ∼3%. The application of nanoparticles in biological environments is highly sensitive to surface functionalization. For Pdots we found that passivation with uncharged hydroxy-terminated polyethylene glycol caused a dramatic reduction in nonspecific cell binding and aggregation compared to a charged coating. Using carbonyl di-imidazole the hydroxy-Pdots were functionalized efficiently with streptavidin for high stability targeting, allowing specific labeling of mammalian cells. Type I insulin-like growth factor receptor (IGF1R) regulates cell survival and development, with roles in aging, heart disease, and cancer. We used hydroxy-Pdots to track the dynamics of IGF1R on a breast cancer cell-line, determining the diffusion characteristics and showing cholesterol-containing membrane nanodomains were important for receptor mobility at the plasma membrane. The near-unity bright fraction and low nonspecific binding of hydroxy-Pdots, combined with Pdot photostability and lack of blinking, provides many advantages for investigations at the single molecule level.