Maria Panagiotopoulou

Title: Organic-inorganic composite materials for specific recognition and optical detection of environmental, food  and biomedical analytes.


Date: 2016

National thesis number: 2016COMP2315


  • This thesis describes the state of the art in nanomaterials-based targeted bioimaging and introduces molecularly imprinted polymers, also termed plastic antibodies as novel biorecognition agents for labeling and imaging of cells and tissues. In fundamental biology and medical diagnostics, there is a constant need to localize and quantify specific molecular targets. Abnormal glycosylation levels or distributions of hyaluronan or sialic acids on cells are indicators of infection or malignancy. In general, bioimaging with fluorescent probes enables the localization and qualitative or quantitative determination of these pathological biomarkers. However, no reliable tools for the recognition of glycosylation sites on proteins exist, because the commercially available antibodies or lectins have poor affinity and selectivity for these targets. In this context, tailor-made molecularly imprinted polymers (MIPs) are promising synthetic receptor materials since they present a series of advantages over their natural counterparts such as the ease and low cost of preparation and their physical and chemical stability. Thus, MIPs could provide a robust and specific imaging tool for revealing the location/distribution, time of appearance and structure of glycosylation sites on/in cells, which would lead to a better insight of the tremendously diverse biological processes in which these molecules are involved. Herein, we describe the synthesis of water-compatible MIPs for the molecular imaging of hyaluronan and sialylation sites on cells and tissues. Since molecular imprinting of entire biomacromolecules like oligosaccharides is challenging, we opted for what is commonly called the epitope approach , which was inspired by nature. The monosaccharides, glucuronic acid and N-acetylneuraminic acid were imprinted, and the resulting MIPs were able to bind these molecules when present and accessible on the terminal unit of hyaluronan and sialylation sites. Fluorescent MIPs were synthesized as rhodamine-labeled nanoparticles and as MIP-coated InP/ZnS core-shell quantum dot (QD) particles. For the coating of the QDs, a novel versatile solubilization and functionalization strategy was proposed, which consists of creating polymer shells directly on QDs by photopolymerization using the particles as individual internal light sources. A standard immunostaining protocol was then successfully adapted for the application of the fluorescently labeled MIPs to image fixed and living human keratinocytes and skin tissues, by epifluorescence and confocal fluorescence microscopy. The results were comparable to those obtained with a reference method where staining was done with a biotinylated hyaluronic acid binding protein. Multiplexed and cancer cell imaging were also performed, demonstrating the potential of molecularly imprinted polymers as a versatile biolabeling and bioimaging tool. Although the MIPs were not cytotoxic at the concentrations used for bioimaging, in order to render them generally applicable in biomedicine, where toxicity of the polymerization precursors is a matter of concern, we suppressed the initiator, a toxic chemical. Initiator-free MIPs were thus synthesized by using monomers that can self-initiate under UV irradiation or heat. The specificity and selectivity of the obtained MIPs were as good as the ones prepared with initiators. In conclusion, we have demonstrated for the first time the great potential of MIPs as synthetic antibody mimics for bioimaging. The possibility to associate other functionalities such as QDs and additionally attach drugs to the same material appears rather straightforward due to the synthetic polymeric nature of MIPs, which paves the way to new potential applications in theranostics.

Link: 2016COMP2315

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