Investigation of cellular uptake mechanism of functionalised gold nanoparticles into breast cancer using SERS

Kapara, Anastasia and Brunton, Valerie and Graham, Duncan and Faulds, Karen (2020) Investigation of cellular uptake mechanism of functionalised gold nanoparticles into breast cancer using SERS. Chemical Science, 11 (22). pp. 5819-5829. ISSN 2041-6520 (

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Gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) are widely used in various applications such as cancer imaging and drug delivery. The functionalisation of AuNPs has been shown to affect their cellular internalisation, accumulation and targeting efficiency. The mechanism of cellular uptake of functionalised AuNPs by different cancer cells is not well understood. Therefore, a detailed understanding of the molecular processes is necessary to improve AuNPs for their selective uptake and fate in specific cellular systems. This knowledge can greatly help in designing nanotags with higher cellular uptake for more selective and specific targeting capabilities with less off-target effects. Here, we demonstrate for the first time a straightforward and non-destructive 3D surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) imaging approach to track the cellular uptake and localisation of AuNPs functionalised with an anti-ERα (estrogen receptor alpha) antibody in MCF-7 ERα-positive human breast cancer cells under different conditions including temperature and dynamin inhibition. 3D SERS enabled information rich monitoring of the intracellular internalisation of the SERS nanotags. It was found that ERα-AuNPs were internalised by MCF-7 cells in a temperature-dependent manner suggesting an active endocytosis-dependent mechanism. 3D SERS cell mapping also indicated that the nanotags entered MCF-7 cells using dynamin dependent endocytosis, since dynamin inhibition resulted in the SERS signal being obtained from, or close to, the cell surface rather than inside the cells. Finally, ERα-AuNPs were found to enter MCF-7 cells using an ERα receptor-mediated endocytosis process. This study addresses the role of functionalisation of SERS nanotags in biological environments and highlights the benefits of using 3D SERS for the investigation of cellular uptake processes.


Kapara, Anastasia, Brunton, Valerie, Graham, Duncan ORCID logoORCID: and Faulds, Karen ORCID logoORCID:;