Detection of early malignant tumors remains clinically difficult; developing ultrasensitive imaging agents is therefore highly demanded. Owing to the unusual magnetic and optical properties associated with f-electrons, rare-earth elements are very suitable for creating functional materials potentially useful for tumor imaging. Nanometer-sized particles offer such a platform with which versatile unique properties of the rare-earth elements can be integrated. Yet the development of rare-earth nanoparticle-based tumor probes suitable for imaging tiny tumors in vivo remains difficult, which challenges not only the physical properties of the nanoparticles but also the rationality of the probe design. Here we report new approaches for size control synthesis of magnetic/upconversion fluorescent NaGdF 4 :Yb,Er nanocrystals and their applications for imaging tiny tumors in vivo. By independently varying F - :Ln 3+ and Na + :Ln 3+ ratios, the size and shape regulation mechanisms were investigated. By replacing the oleic acid ligand with PEG2000 bearing a maleimide group at one end and two phosphate groups at the other end, PEGylated NaGdF 4 :Yb,Er nanoparticles with optimized size and upconversion fluorescence were obtained. Accordingly, a dual-modality molecular tumor probe was prepared, as a proof of concept, by covalently attaching antitumor antibody to PEGylated NaGdF 4 :Yb,Er nanoparticles through a "click" reaction. Systematic investigations on tumor detections, through magnetic resonance imaging and upconversion fluorescence imaging, were carried out to image intraperitoneal tumors and subcutaneous tumors in vivo. Owing to the excellent properties of the molecular probes, tumors smaller than 2 mm was successfully imaged in vivo. In addition, pharmacokinetic studies on differently sized particles were performed to disclose the particle size dependent biodistributions and elimination pathways.
- dual-modal molecular probes
- in vivo tumor imaging
- magnetic/upconversion fluorescent nanoparticles
- tiny tumor