Folic acid, Lysosomes, Two photon absorbing materials, Zinc ions


Two-photon fluorescence microscopy (2PFM) has become a powerful technique for bioimaging in non-invasive cancer diagnosis and also investigating the mechanization and original of a variety of diseases by tracking various biological processes. Because the fluorescence emission by two photon absorbing (2PA) is directly proportional to the square of the intensity of excitation light, this intrinsic property of 2PA provides 2PFM great advantages over traditional one-photon fluorescence microscopy (1PFM), including high 3D spatial localization, less photodamage and interference from biological tissue because of using longer wavelength excitation (700-1300 nm). However, most 2PA probes are hydrophobic and their photostabilities are questionable, severely limiting their biological and medical applications. In addition, probes with significant specificity for certain organelles for tracking cellular processes or metal ions for monitoring neural transmission are somewhat rare. Moreover, it is also very significant to deliver the probes to specific disease sites for early cancer diagnosis. In order to increase the water solubility of probes, polyethylene glycol (PEG) was introduced to a fluorene-based 2PA probe LT1 for lysosomal 2PFM cell imaging. The 2PFM bioimaging application of the novel two-photon absorbing fluorene derivative LT1, selective for the lysosomes of HCT 116 cancer cells is described in Chapter II. Linear and nonlinear photophysical and photochemical properties of the probe were investigated to evaluate the potential of the probe for 2PFM lysosomal imaging. After the investigation of the cytotoxicity of this new probe, colocalization studies of the probe with commercial lysosomal probe Lysotracker Red in HCT 116 cells were conducted. A high colocalization coefficient (0.96) was achieved and demonstrated the specific localization of the probe in lysosomes. A figure of merit, F[subscript M], was introduced by which all fluorescent probes for 2PFM can be compared. LT1 was demonstrated to have a number of properties that far exceed those of commercial lysotracker probes, including much higher 2PA cross sections, good fluorescence quantum yield, and, importantly, high photostability, all resulting in a superior figure of merit. Consequently, 2PFM was used to demonstrate lysosomal tracking with LT1. In addition to lysosomes, it is also very significant to investigate the physiological roles of free metal ions in biological processes, especially Zn²⁺, because Zn²⁺ normally serves either as the catalytic elements in enzymatic activity centers or as structural elements in enzymes and transcription factors. However, biocompatible and effective Zn²⁺ probes for 2PFM bioimaging are infrequent. In Chapter III, 2PFM bioimaging with a hydrophilic 2PA Zn²⁺ sensing fluorescent probe, bis(1,2,3-triazolyl)fluorene derivative, is described. 2PFM bioimaging of the probe in living HeLa cancer cells was demonstrated. The results revealed a significant fluorescence increase upon introduction of Zn²⁺ into the cancer cells, and a reversible Zn²⁺ binding to the probe was also demonstrated, providing a robust probe for two-photon fluorescence zinc ion sensing. Early cancer diagnosis is another critical application for 2PFM, but there are still huge challenges for this new technique in clinical areas. Most 2PA probes with large two-photon absorbing cross sections and fluorescence quantum efficiency are synthetically more accessible in hydrophobic forms. In order to increase the efficiency of the probes and minimize the effect of the probe on the human body, delivery of the probe specifically to cancer sites is desired. The synthesis and characterization of narrow dispersity organically modified silica nanoparticles (SiNPs), diameter ~30 nm, entrapping a hydrophobic two-photon absorbing fluorenyl dye, are reported in Chapter IV. The surface of the SiNPs was functionalized with folic acid to specifically deliver the probe to folate receptor (FR) over-expressing HeLa cells, making these folate 2PA dye-doped SiNPs potential candidates as probes for two-photon fluorescence microscopy (2PFM) bioimaging. In vitro studies using FR over-expressing HeLa cells demonstrated specific cellular uptake of the functionalized nanoparticles. However, when the concentration of the dye in SiNPs increased for higher signal output, the fluorescence quantum efficiency of a probe normally decreases because of self-quenching. In Chapter V, a near-infrared (NIR) emitting probe is reported to overcome this limitation through both aggregate-enhanced fluorescence emission and aggregate enhanced two-photon absorption. The dye was encapsulated in SiNPs and the surface of the nanoparticles was functionalized with PEG followed by a folic acid derivative to specifically target folate receptors. NIR emission is important for deep tissue imaging. In vitro studies using HeLa cells that upregulate folate receptors indicated specific cellular uptake of the folic acid functionalized SiNP nanoprobe. Meanwhile, the probe was also investigated for live animal imaging by employing mice bearing HeLa tumors for in vivo studies. Ex vivo 2PFM tumor imaging was then conducted to achieve high quality 3D thick tissue tumor images.


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Graduation Date





Belfield, Kevin D.


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Sciences










Release Date

May 2011

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)

Included in

Chemistry Commons