Delivery and tracking of quantum dot peptide bioconjugates in an intact developing avian brain

ACS Chem Neurosci. 2015 Mar 18;6(3):494-504. doi: 10.1021/acschemneuro.5b00022. Epub 2015 Mar 5.


Luminescent semiconductor ∼9.5 nm nanoparticles (quantum dots: QDs) have intrinsic physiochemical and optical properties which enable us to begin to understand the mechanisms of nanoparticle mediated chemical/drug delivery. Here, we demonstrate the ability of CdSe/ZnS core/shell QDs surface functionalized with a zwitterionic compact ligand to deliver a cell-penetrating lipopeptide to the developing chick embryo brain without any apparent toxicity. Functionalized QDs were conjugated to the palmitoylated peptide WGDap(Palmitoyl)VKIKKP9GGH6, previously shown to uniquely facilitate endosomal escape, and microinjected into the embryonic chick spinal cord canal at embryo day 4 (E4). We were subsequently able to follow the labeling of spinal cord extension into the ventricles, migratory neuroblasts, maturing brain cells, and complex structures such as the choroid plexus. QD intensity extended throughout the brain, and peaked between E8 and E11 when fluorescence was concentrated in the choroid plexus before declining to hatching (E21/P0). We observed no abnormalities in embryonic patterning or embryo survival, and mRNA in situ hybridization confirmed that, at key developmental stages, the expression pattern of genes associated with different brain cell types (brain lipid binding protein, Sox-2, proteolipid protein and Class III-β-Tubulin) all showed a normal labeling pattern and intensity. Our findings suggest that we can use chemically modified QDs to identify and track neural stem cells as they migrate, that the choroid plexus clears these injected QDs/nanoparticles from the brain after E15, and that they can deliver drugs and peptides to the developing brain.

Keywords: Nanoparticles; choroid plexus; normal embryonic chick brain development; peptidyl delivery; quantum dots; zwitterion.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • 8,11,14-Eicosatrienoic Acid / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Brain* / drug effects
  • Brain* / embryology
  • Brain* / metabolism
  • Chick Embryo
  • Drug Delivery Systems
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / drug effects
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / physiology
  • Microinjections
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Peptides / chemistry
  • Peptides / genetics
  • Peptides / metabolism*
  • Quantum Dots / chemistry
  • Quantum Dots / metabolism*
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Spinal Cord / drug effects
  • Spinal Cord / embryology
  • Spinal Cord / metabolism


  • Peptides
  • RNA, Messenger
  • 8,11,14-Eicosatrienoic Acid