The efficient transport of micron-sized beads into cells, via a non-endocytosis mediated mechanism, has only recently been described. As such there is considerable scope for optimization and exploitation of this procedure to enable imaging and sensing applications to be realized. Herein, we report the design, synthesis and characterization of fluorescent microsphere-based cellular delivery agents that can also carry biological cargoes. These core-shell polymer microspheres possess two distinct chemical environments; the core is hydrophobic and can be labeled with fluorescent dye, to permit visual tracking of the microsphere during and after cellular delivery, whilst the outer shell renders the external surfaces of the microspheres hydrophilic, thus facilitating both bioconjugation and cellular compatibility. Cross-linked core particles were prepared in a dispersion polymerization reaction employing styrene, divinylbenzene and a thiol-functionalized co-monomer. These core particles were then shelled in a seeded emulsion polymerization reaction, employing styrene, divinylbenzene and methacrylic acid, to generate orthogonally functionalized core-shell microspheres which were internally labeled via the core thiol moieties through reaction with a thiol reactive dye (DY630-maleimide). Following internal labeling, bioconjugation of green fluorescent protein (GFP) to their carboxyl-functionalized surfaces was successfully accomplished using standard coupling protocols. The resultant dual-labeled microspheres were visualized by both of the fully resolvable fluorescence emissions of their cores (DY630) and shells (GFP). In vitro cellular uptake of these microspheres by HeLa cells was demonstrated conventionally by fluorescence-based flow cytometry, whilst MTT assays demonstrated that 92% of HeLa cells remained viable after uptake. Due to their size and surface functionalities, these far-red-labeled microspheres are ideal candidates for in vitro, cellular delivery of proteins, as described in the accompanying paper.
© 2013 Behrendt et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Funding: EPSRC (EP/D038197/1, EP/D038057/1); Advantage West Midlands; European Regional Development Fund.