We describe the development and application of a co-functionalized nanoprobe and biodelivery platform combining a nuclear targeting peptide (NTP) for improved cellular uptake and intracellular targeting with p-mercaptobenzoic acid (pMBA) as a surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) reporter for tracking and imaging. The nuclear targeting peptide, an HIV-1 protein-derived TAT sequence, has been previously shown to aid entry of cargo through the cell membrane via normal cellular processes, and furthermore, to localize small cargo to the nucleus of the cell. Previous work in our lab has verified cell uptake and distribution of the nanoprobes in clinically relevant mouse and human cell lines. In this work, two-dimensional SERS mapping was used to track the spatial and temporal progress of nanoparticle uptake in PC-3 human prostate cells and to characterize localization at various time points, demonstrating the potential for an intracellularly targeted multiplexed nanobiosensing system with excellent sensitivity and specificity. Silver nanoparticles co-functionalized with the TAT peptide showed greatly enhanced cellular uptake over the control nanoparticles lacking the targeting moiety. The ability to detect and monitor nanoprobe trafficking using SERS spectroscopy offers an improved alternative over previous tracking and detection methods such as light microscopy and fluorescence methods. The development of multifunctional nanoconstructs for intracellular delivery has potential clinical applications in early detection and selective treatment of disease in affected cells. Other applications include use in basic research aimed at understanding the inner workings of living cells and how they respond to chemical and biological stimuli.
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