Tracking metastatic tumor cell extravasation with quantum dot nanocrystals and fluorescence emission-scanning microscopy

Nat Med. 2004 Sep;10(9):993-8. doi: 10.1038/nm1096. Epub 2004 Aug 29.


Metastasis is an impediment to the development of effective cancer therapies. Our understanding of metastasis is limited by our inability to follow this process in vivo. Fluorescence microscopy offers the potential to follow cells at high resolution in living animals. Semiconductor nanocrystals, quantum dots (QDs), offer considerable advantages over organic fluorophores for this purpose. We used QDs and emission spectrum scanning multiphoton microscopy to develop a means to study extravasation in vivo. Although QD labeling shows no deleterious effects on cultured cells, concern over their potential toxicity in vivo has caused resistance toward their application to such studies. To test if effects of QD labeling emerge in vivo, tumor cells labeled with QDs were intravenously injected into mice and followed as they extravasated into lung tissue. The behavior of QD-labeled tumor cells in vivo was indistinguishable from that of unlabeled cells. QDs and spectral imaging allowed the simultaneous identification of five different populations of cells using multiphoton laser excitation. Besides establishing the safety of QDs for in vivo studies, our approach permits the study of multicellular interactions in vivo.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cadmium
  • Cell Movement*
  • Crystallization
  • Diagnostic Imaging / instrumentation
  • Diagnostic Imaging / methods*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods*
  • Nanotechnology / methods
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / physiopathology*
  • Photons
  • Quantum Dots*
  • Selenium
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Cadmium
  • Selenium