Targeting Fluorescent Nanodiamonds to Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Receptors in Tumor

Bioconjug Chem. 2019 Mar 20;30(3):604-613. doi: 10.1021/acs.bioconjchem.8b00803. Epub 2019 Jan 31.


The increased expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and its receptors is associated with angiogenesis in a growing tumor, presenting potential targets for tumor-selective imaging by way of targeted tracers. Though fluorescent tracers are used for targeted in vivo imaging, the lack of photostability and biocompatibility of many current fluorophores hinder their use in several applications involving long-term, continuous imaging. To address these problems, fluorescent nanodiamonds (FNDs), which exhibit infinite photostability and excellent biocompatibility, were explored as fluorophores in tracers for targeting VEGF receptors in growing tumors. To explore FND utility for imaging tumor VEGF receptors, we used click-chemistry to conjugate multiple copies of an engineered single-chain version of VEGF site-specifically derivatized with trans-cyclooctene (scVEGF-TCO) to 140 nm FND. The resulting targeting conjugates, FND-scVEGF, were then tested for functional activity of the scVEGF moieties through biochemical and tissue culture experiments and for selective tumor uptake in Balb/c mice with induced 4T1 carcinoma. We found that FND-scVEGF conjugates retain high affinity to VEGF receptors in cell culture experiments and observed preferential accumulation of FND-scVEGF in tumors relative to untargeted FND. Microspectroscopy provided unambiguous determination of FND within tissue by way of the unique spectral shape of nitrogen-vacancy induced fluorescence. These results validate and invite the use of targeted FND for diagnostic imaging and encourage further optimization of FND for fluorescence brightness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Click Chemistry
  • Female
  • Fluorescent Dyes / chemistry*
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Nude
  • Models, Molecular
  • Nanodiamonds / chemistry*
  • Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Optical Imaging / methods
  • Receptors, Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor / analysis*
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / chemistry*


  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Nanodiamonds
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A
  • Receptors, Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor