Exploiting Directed Self-Assembly and Disassembly for off-to-on Fluorescence Responsive Live Cell Imaging


A bio-responsive nanoparticle was formed by the directed self-assembly (DSA) of a hydrophobic NIR-fluorophore with poloxamer P188. Fluorophore emission was switched off when part of the nanoparticle, however upon stimulus induced nanoparticle dis-assembly the emission switched on. The emission quenching was shown to be due to fluorophore hydration and aggregation within the nanoparticle and the turn on response attributable to nanoparticle disassembly with embedding of the fluorophore within lipophilic environments. This was exploited for temporal and spatial live cell imaging with a measurable fluorescence response seen upon intracellular delivery of the fluorophore. The first dynamic response, seen within minutes, was from lipid droplets with other lipophilic regions such as the endoplasmic reticulum, nuclear membranes and secretory vacuoles imageable after hours. The high degree of fluorophore photostability facilitated continuous imaging for extended periods and the off to on switching facilitated the real-time observation of lipid droplet biogenesis as they emerged from the endoplasmic reticulum. With an in-depth understanding of the principles involved, further assembly controlling functional responses could be anticipated.