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Tryptophan carbon dots and their ability to cross the blood-brain barrier

Mintz, Keenan J., Mercado, Guillaume, Zhou, Yiqun, Ji, Yiwen, Hettiarachchi, Sajini D., Liyanage, Piumi Y., Pandey, Raja R., Chusuei, Charles C., Dallman, Julia, Leblanc, Roger M.
Colloids and surfaces 2019 v.176 pp. 488-493
Alzheimer disease, Danio rerio, blood-brain barrier, brain, brain neoplasms, carbon quantum dots, colloids, drug carriers, drugs, endocytosis, image analysis, nitrogen, toxicity, tryptophan, urea
Drug traversal across the blood-brain barrier has come under increasing scrutiny recently, particularly concerning the treatment of sicknesses, such as brain cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Most therapies and medicines are limited due to their inability to cross this barrier, reducing treatment options for maladies affecting the brain. Carbon dots show promise as drug carriers, but they experience the same limitations regarding crossing the blood-brain barrier as many small molecules do. If carbon dots can be prepared from a precursor that can cross the blood-brain barrier, there is a chance that the remaining original precursor molecule can attach to the carbon dot surface and lead the system into the brain. Herein, tryptophan carbon dots were synthesized with the strategy of using tryptophan as an amino acid for crossing the blood-brain barrier via LAT1 transporter-mediated endocytosis. Two types of carbon dots were synthesized using tryptophan and two different nitrogen dopants: urea and 1,2-ethylenediamine. Carbon dots made using these precursors show excitation wavelength-dependent emission, low toxicity, and have been observed inside the central nervous system of zebrafish (Danio rerio). The proposed mechanism for these carbon dots abilities to cross the blood-brain barrier concerns residual tryptophan molecules which attach to the carbon dots surface, enabling them to be recognized by the LAT1 transporter. The role of carbon dots for transport open promising avenues for drug delivery and imaging in the brain.