Carbon dots: A future blood–brain barrier penetrating nanomedicine and drug nanocarrier

Wei Zhang, Ganesh Sigdel, Keenan J. Mintz, Elif S. Seven, Yiqun Zhou, Chunyu Wang, Roger M. Leblanc

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Drug delivery across the blood–brain barrier (BBB) is one of the biggest challenges in modern medicine due to the BBB’s highly semipermeable property that limits most therapeutic agents of brain diseases to enter the central nervous system (CNS). In recent years, nanoparticles, especially carbon dots (CDs), exhibit many unprecedented applications for drug delivery. Several types of CDs and CD-ligand conjugates have been reported successfully penetrating the BBB, which shows a promising progress in the application of CD-based drug delivery system (DDS) for the treatment of CNS diseases. In this review, our discussion of CDs includes their classification, preparations, structures, properties, and applications for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, especially Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and brain tumor. Moreover, abundant functional groups on the surface, especially amine and carboxyl groups, allow CDs to conjugate with diverse drugs as versatile drug nanocarriers. In addition, structure of the BBB is briefly described, and mechanisms for transporting various molecules across the BBB and other biological barriers are elucidated. Most importantly, recent developments in drug delivery with CDs as BBB-penetrating nanodrugs and drug nanocarriers to target CNS diseases especially Alzheimer’s disease and brain tumor are summarized. Eventually, future prospects of the CD-based DDS are discussed in combination with the development of artificial intelligence and nanorobots.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5003-5016
Number of pages14
JournalInternational journal of nanomedicine
StatePublished - 2021


  • Blood–brain barrier
  • Brain tumor
  • Carbon dots
  • Central nervous system diseases
  • Drug delivery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomaterials
  • Pharmaceutical Science
  • Drug Discovery
  • Organic Chemistry


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