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Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence


Environmental sciences

Publication Details

Analyst, 2012

DOI: 10.1039/C2AN15977E


Raman microscopy is employed to spectroscopically image biological cells previously exposed to fluorescently labelled polystyrene nanoparticles and, in combination with K-means clustering and Principal Component Analysis (PCA), is demonstrated to be capable of localising the nanoparticles and identifying the subcellular environment based on the molecular spectroscopic signatures. The neutral nanoparticles of 50 nm or 100 nm, as characterised by dynamic light scattering, are shown to be non-toxic to a human lung adenocarcinoma cell-line (A549), according to a range of cytotoxicity assays including Neutral Red, Alamar Blue, Coomassie Blue and (3-(4,5-Dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide (MTT). Confocal fluorescence microscopy identifies intracellular fluorescence due to the nanoparticle exposure, but the fluorescence distribution is spatially diffuse, potentially due to detachment of the dye from the nanoparticles, and the technique fails to unambiguously identify the distribution of the nanoparticles within the cells. Raman spectroscopic mapping of the cells in combination with K-means cluster analysis is used to clearly identify and localise the polystyrene nanoparticles in exposed cells, based on their characteristic spectroscopic signatures. PCA identifies the local environment as rich in lipidic signatures which are associated with localisation of the nanoparticles in the endoplasmic reticulum. The importance of optimised cell growth conditions and fixation processes is highlighted. The preliminary study demonstrates the potential of the technique to unambiguously identify and locate nonfluorescent nanoparticles in cells and to probe not only the local environment but also changes to the cell metabolism which may be associated with cytotoxic responses.


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