Probing the dynamic effect of cys-CdTe quantum dots toward cancer cells in vitro

Chem Res Toxicol. 2010 Jan;23(1):82-8. doi: 10.1021/tx900291c.


The application of quantum dots (QDs) in various biomedical areas requires detailed studies of their toxicity. We report a new strategy for probing the biocompatibility of these nanocrystals, namely, a dynamic investigation of cellular uptake images, cell growth curves, metabolic activity changes, and apoptosis aspects of cadmium telluride QDs capped with cysteamine (Cys-CdTe QDs) on human hepatocellular carcinoma SMMC-7721 cells. We used a real-time cell electronic sensing (RT-CES) system in combination with fluorescence microscopy, 3-(4,5-dimethyl-thiazol-zyl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide assay, and flow cytometry (FCM) analysis. As observed from fluorescence images and RT-CES system results, Cys-CdTe QDs can readily bind on the cell plasma membrane and then enter into the cancer cell, causing decreased adherence of cancer cells during the initial 6-12 h, while the metabolic activity apparently decreased. After 24 h, the metabolic activity of the cancer cells was significantly reduced, with continued reduction in metabolic activity observed at even longer incubation times. Moreover, FCM observation and DNA fragmentation analysis clearly indicate apoptosis-related phenomena when SMMC-7721 cells were treated with the Cys-CdTe QDs. Thus, our study reveals details of the cellular aging and death process induced by Cys-CdTe QDs.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis
  • Cadmium / chemistry
  • Cadmium / toxicity*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Fluorescent Dyes / chemistry
  • Fluorescent Dyes / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Organometallic Compounds / chemistry
  • Organometallic Compounds / toxicity*
  • Quantum Dots*


  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Organometallic Compounds
  • Cadmium