Although number of stimuli-responsive drug delivery systems based on mesoporous silica nanoparticles (MSNs) have been developed, the simultaneous real-time monitoring of carrier in order to guarantee proper drug targeting still remains as a challenge. GQDs-MSNs nanocomposite nanoparticles composed of graphene quantum dots (GQDs) and MSNs are proposed as efficient doxorubicin delivery and fluorescent imaging agent, allowing to monitor intracellular localization of a carrier and drug diffusion route from the carrier.
Graphene quantum dots (average diameter 3.65 ± 0.81 nm) as a fluorescent agent were chemically immobilized onto mesoporous silica nanoparticles (average diameter 44.08 ± 7.18 nm) and loaded with doxorubicin. The structure, morphology, chemical composition, and optical properties as well as drug release behavior of doxorubicin (DOX)-loaded GQDs-MSNs were investigated. Then, the in vitro cytotoxicity, cellular uptake, and intracellular localization studies were carried out. Prepared GQDs-MSNs form stable suspensions exhibiting excitation-dependent photoluminescence (PL) behavior. These nanocomposite nanoparticles can be easily DOX-loaded and show pH- and temperature-dependent release behavior. Cytotoxicity studies proved that GQDs-MSNs nanocomposite nanoparticles are nontoxic; however, when loaded with drug, they enable the therapeutic activity of DOX via its active delivery and release. GQDs-MSNs owing to their fluorescent properties and efficient in vitro cellular internalization via caveolae/lipid raft-dependent endocytosis show a high potential for the optical imaging, including the simultaneous real-time optical tracking of the loaded drug during its delivery and release.