Surface enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) nanoparticles are an attractive alternative to fluorescent probes for biological labeling because of their photostability and multiplexing capabilities. However, nanoparticle size, shape, and surface properties are known to affect nanoparticle-cell interactions. Other issues such as the formation of a protein corona and antibody multivalency interfere with the labeling properties of nanoparticle-antibody conjugates. Hence, it is important to consider these aspects in order to validate such conjugates for live cell imaging applications. Using SERS nanoparticles that target HER2 and CD44 in breast cancer cells, we demonstrate labeling of fixed cells with high specificity that correlates well with fluorescent labels. However, when labeling live cells to monitor surface biomarker expression and dynamics, the nanoparticles are rapidly uptaken by the cells and become compartmentalized into different cellular regions. This behavior is in stark contrast to that of fluorescent antibody conjugates. This study highlights the impact of nanoparticle internalization and trafficking on the ability to use SERS nanoparticle-antibody conjugates to monitor cell dynamics.
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