Protein-Sized Bright Fluorogenic Nanoparticles Based on Cross-Linked Calixarene Micelles with Cyanine Corona

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Abstract

The key challenge in the field of fluorescent nanoparticles (NPs) for biological applications is to achieve superior brightness for sizes equivalent to single proteins (3–7 nm). We propose a concept of shell-cross-linked fluorescent micelles, in which PEGylated cyanine 3 and 5 bis-azides form a covalently attached corona on micelles of amphiphilic calixarene bearing four alkyne groups. The fluorescence quantum yield of the obtained monodisperse NPs, with a size of 7 nm, is a function of viscosity and reached up to 15 % in glycerol. In the on-state they are circa 2-fold brighter than quantum dots (QD-585), which makes them the smallest PEGylated organic NPs of this high brightness. FRET between cyanine 3 and 5 cross-linkers at the surface of NPs suggests their integrity in physiological media, organic solvents, and living cells, in which the NPs rapidly internalize, showing excellent imaging contrast. Calixarene micelles with a cyanine corona constitute a new platform for the development of protein-sized ultrabright fluorescent NPs.

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