Cadmium telluride quantum dots induce apoptosis in human breast cancer cell lines

Toxicol Ind Health. 2018 May;34(5):339-352. doi: 10.1177/0748233718763517. Epub 2018 Mar 28.


Introduction: Semiconductor quantum dots (QDs), especially those containing cadmium, have undergone marked improvements and are now widely used nanomaterials in applicable biological fields. However, great concerns exist regarding their toxicity in biomedical applications. Because of the lack of sufficient data regarding the toxicity mechanism of QDs, this study aimed to evaluate the cytotoxicity of three types of QDs: CdTe QDs, high yield CdTe QDs, and CdTe/CdS core/shell QDs on two human breast cancer cell lines MDA-MB468 and MCF-7.

Methods: The breast cancer cells were treated with different concentrations of QDs, and cell viability was evaluated via MTT assay. Hoechst staining was applied for observation of morphological changes due to apoptosis. Apoptotic DNA fragmentation was visualized by the agarose gel electrophoresis assay. Flow cytometric annexin V/propidium iodide (PI) measurement was used for apoptosis detection.

Results: A significant decrease in cell viability was observed after QDs treatment ( p < 0.05). Apoptotic bodies and chromatin condensation was observed by Hoechst staining. DNA fragmentation assay demonstrated a DNA ladder profile in the exposed cells and also annexin V/PI flow cytometry confirmed apoptosis in a dose-dependent manner.

Conclusion: Our results revealed that CdTe, high yield CdTe, and CdTe/CdS core/shell QDs induce apoptosis in breast cancer cell lines in a dose-dependent manner. This study would help realizing the underlying cytotoxicity mechanism, at least partly, of CdTe QDs and may provide information for the development of nanotoxicology and safe use of biological applications of QDs.

Keywords: Apoptosis; CdTe quantum dots; breast cancer; cytotoxicity; nanoparticle.

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Cadmium Compounds / toxicity*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • DNA Fragmentation / drug effects
  • Humans
  • MCF-7 Cells
  • Quantum Dots / toxicity*
  • Tellurium / toxicity*


  • Cadmium Compounds
  • Tellurium
  • cadmium telluride