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



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.