New Insight Into The Fluorescence Quenching Of Nitrogen-Containing Carbonaceous Quantum Dots—From Surface Chemistry To Biomedical Applications
Carbon-based quantum dots are widely suggested as fluorescent carriers of drugs, genes or other bioactive molecules. In this work, we thoroughly examine the easy-to-obtain, biocompatible, nitrogen-containing carbonaceous quantum dots (N-CQDs) with stable fluorescent properties that are resistant to wide-range pH changes. Moreover, we explain the mechanism of fluorescence quenching at extreme pH conditions. Our in vitro results indicate that N-CQDs penetrate the cell membrane; however, fluorescence intensity measured inside the cells was lower than expected from carbonaceous dots extracellular concentration decrease. We studied the mechanism of quenching and identified reduced form of β-nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH) as one of the intracellular quenchers. We proved it experimentally that the elucidated redox process triggers the efficient reduction of amide functionalities to non-fluorescent amines on carbonaceous dots surface. We determined the 5 nm–wide reactive redox zone around the N-CQD surface. The better understanding of fluorescence quenching will help to accurately quantify and dose the internalized carbonaceous quantum dots for biomedical applications.