Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is an auspicious strategy for cancer therapy by yielding reactive oxygen species (ROS) under light irradiation. Here, we have developed near-infrared (NIR) triggered polymer encapsulated upconversion nanoparticles (UCNPs) based on aggregation-induced emission (AIE) characteristics and mitochondria target ability for PDT. The coated AIE polymer as a photosensitizer can be photoactivated by the up-converted energy of UCNPs upon 980 nm laser irradiation, which could generate ROS efficiently in mitochondria and induce cell apoptosis. Moreover, a "sheddable" poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) layer was easily conjugated at the surface of NPs. The pH-responsive PEG layer shields the surface positive charges and shows stronger protein-resistance ability. In the acidic tumor environment, PEGylated NPs lose the PEG layer and show the mitochondria-targeting ability by responding to tumor acidity. A cytotoxicity study indicated that these NPs have good biocompatibility in the dark but exert severe cytotoxicity to cancer cells, with only 10% cell viability, upon being irradiated with an NIR laser. The AIE nanoparticles are a good candidate for effective mitochondria targeting photosensitizer for PDT.
Keywords: aggregation-induced emission; cancer cells; mitochondria; photodynamic therapy; upconversion nanoparticles.