Fluorescent nanodiamonds (FNDs) are promising tools to image cells, bioanalytes and physical quantities such as temperature, pressure, and electric or magnetic fields with nanometer resolution. To exploit their potential for intracellular applications, the FNDs have to be brought into contact with cell culture media. The interactions between the medium and the diamonds crucially influence sensitivity as well as the ability to enter cells. The authors demonstrate that certain proteins and salts spontaneously adhere to the FNDs and may cause aggregation. This is a first investigation on the fundamental questions on how (a) FNDs interact with the medium, and (b) which proteins and salts are being attracted. A differentiation between strongly binding and weakly binding proteins is made. Not all proteins participate in the formation of FND aggregates. Surprisingly, some main components in the medium seem to play no role in aggregation. Simple strategies to prevent aggregation are discussed. These include adding the proteins, which are naturally present in the cell culture to the diamonds first and then inserting them in the full medium. Graphical abstractSchematic of the interaction of nanodiamonds with cell culture medium. Certain proteins and salts adhere to the diamond surface and lead to aggregation or to formation of a protein corona.
Keywords: Aggregation; Cellular uptake; Corona formation; Fluorescent nanodiamonds; Imaging; Microscopy; Nanoscale sensing; Proteins; Surface analysis.