Synthesis, characterization and cytotoxicity of polyethylene glycol-encapsulated CdTe quantum dots

Magdy Ali
Dina Zayed
W. Ramadan
Ola A. Kamel
Mona Shehab
Shaker Ebrahim


Semiconductor quantum dots (QDs) offer tremendous scope to be used in the field of energy, imaging, sensors and optoelectronic devices. However, several issues regarding their hydrophilicity, stability and cytotoxicity remain unresolved. One of the methods to render CdTe QDs water-soluble is to functionalize the surface with carboxylate groups by the use of heterobifunctional ligands such as 3-mercaptopropionic acid (MPA). Following this motif, we report the synthesis of CdTe QDs using the non-aqueous organometallic route, ligand exchange with MPA was performed to replace the initial surface passivation ligands trioctylphosphine oxide (TOPO) and hexadecylamine, and finally, the prepared MPA-CdTe QDs were encapsulated into the biocompatible polyethylene glycol. Our results show that pegylation of CdTe QDs provided minimal cytotoxicity against baby hamster kidney (BHK 21) cells even at high levels. The IC50 values of pegylated CdTe QDs were higher than the non-pegylated ones with a % viability ranges from 89:90% at a concentration range of 0.01:0.03nM. Currently, available ligand exchange procedures lead to significant loss of quantum yields. In our study, the photoluminescence (PL) emission of the MPA capped CdTe QDs decreased gradually as the pH increased from 4 to 10 while after pegylation the prepared QDs exhibited significantly enhanced PL efficiency and storage stability.