Development of Red-Emissive Carbon Dots for Bioimaging through a Building Block Approach: Fundamental and Applied Studies

Keenan J. Mintz, Emel Kirbas Cilingir, Giacomo Nagaro, Suraj Paudyal, Yiqun Zhou, Durga Khadka, Sunxiang Huang, Regina M. Graham, Roger M. Leblanc

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In recent years, many researchers have struggled to obtain carbon dots (CDs) that possess strong photoluminescence in the red region of light. Success in this area has been limited, although the past few years have brought several promising reports on this topic. The most successful efforts in this area still seem to struggle from a lack of dispersibility/reduced emission in water. This work endeavors to understand the formation process of CDs that do not possess strong performance in an aqueous environment and to improve their capabilities in bioimaging. o-Phenylenediamine (o-PDA) is used along with various precursors in several different solvents (varying acidic and oxidative strengths) to understand the formation process behind the structure leading to red emission that is sensitive to water. These results showed that the combination of acid properties and oxidation is essential for this process, and the important reactions are oligomerization of o-PDA and the crosslinking of these oligomers to form aromatic structural segments of CDs. These CDs are shown to be capable of quantitatively detecting water in organic solvents. Additionally, we have shown that conjugation with transferrin remarkably enhances the biocompatibility of these CDs. Transferrin-conjugated CDs with better biocompatibility were applied to bioimaging studies of neuroblastoma cell lines with N-myc and non-N-myc gene amplification, for the first time. Furthermore, CDs showed versatile bioimaging capability toward a highly aggressive neuroblastoma subgroup of tumors. The importance of creating red-emissive CDs has been well established, and this work is an important step toward understanding their formation and realizing their use in biological systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)226-237
Number of pages12
JournalBioconjugate Chemistry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 19 2022
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmaceutical Science
  • Organic Chemistry


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