Back to Journals » International Journal of Nanomedicine » Volume 11

Cytotoxicity of CdTe quantum dots in human umbilical vein endothelial cells: the involvement of cellular uptake and induction of pro-apoptotic endoplasmic reticulum stress

Authors Yan M, Zhang Y, Qin H, Liu K, Guo M, Ge Y, Xu M, Sun Y, Zheng X

Received 2 August 2015

Accepted for publication 9 November 2015

Published 2 February 2016 Volume 2016:11 Pages 529—542


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewers approved by Dr Xiaoyi Xu

Peer reviewer comments 4

Editor who approved publication: Dr Lei Yang

Ming Yan,1,* Yun Zhang,2,* Haiyan Qin,3 Kezhou Liu,1 Miao Guo,1 Yakun Ge,1 Mingen Xu,1 Yonghong Sun,4 Xiaoxiang Zheng4

1Department of Biomedical Engineering, College of Life Information Science and Instrument Engineering, Hangzhou Dianzi University, Hangzhou, 2Basic Medical Sciences, College of Medicine, Shaoxing University, Shaoxing, 3Department of Chemistry, Zhejiang University, 4Zhejiang Provincial Key Laboratory of Cardio-Cerebral Vascular Detection Technology and Medicinal Effectiveness Appraisal, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, People’s Republic of China

*These authors contributed equally to this work

Abstract: Cadmium telluride quantum dots (CdTe QDs) have been proposed to induce oxidative stress, which plays a crucial role in CdTe QDs-mediated mitochondrial-dependent apoptosis in human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs). However, the direct interactions of CdTe QDs with HUVECs and their potential impairment of other organelles like endoplasmic reticulum (ER) in HUVECs are poorly understood. In this study, we reported that the negatively charged CdTe QDs (–21.63±0.91 mV), with good dispersity and fluorescence stability, were rapidly internalized via endocytosis by HUVECs, as the notable internalization could be inhibited up to 95.52% by energy depletion (NaN3/deoxyglucose or low temperature). The endocytosis inhibitors (methyl-β-cyclodextrin, genistein, sucrose, chlorpromazine, and colchicine) dramatically decreased the uptake of CdTe QDs by HUVECs, suggesting that both caveolae/raft- and clathrin-mediated endocytosis were involved in the endothelial uptake of CdTe QDs. Using immunocytochemistry, a striking overlap of the internalized CdTe QDs and ER marker was observed, which indicates that QDs may be transported to ER. The CdTe QDs also caused remarkable ER stress responses in HUVECs, confirmed by significant dilatation of ER cisternae, upregulation of ER stress markers GRP78/GRP94, and activation of protein kinase RNA-like ER kinase-eIF2α-activating transcription factor 4 pathway (including phosphorylation of both protein kinase RNA-like ER kinase and eIF2α and elevated level of activating transcription factor 4). CdTe QDs further promoted an increased C/EBP homologous protein expression, phosphorylation of c-JUN NH2-terminal kinase, and cleavage of ER-resident caspase-4, while the specific inhibitor (SP600125, Z-LEVD-fmk, or salubrinal) significantly attenuated QDs-triggered apoptosis, indicating that all three ER stress-mediated apoptosis pathways were activated and the direct participation of ER in the CdTe QDs-caused apoptotic cell death in HUVECs. Our findings provide important new insights into QDs toxicity and reveal potential cardiovascular risks for the future applications of QDs.

Keywords: quantum dots, human umbilical vein endothelial cells, endocytosis, ER stress, apoptosis

Creative Commons License This work is published and licensed by Dove Medical Press Limited. The full terms of this license are available at and incorporate the Creative Commons Attribution - Non Commercial (unported, v3.0) License. By accessing the work you hereby accept the Terms. Non-commercial uses of the work are permitted without any further permission from Dove Medical Press Limited, provided the work is properly attributed. For permission for commercial use of this work, please see paragraphs 4.2 and 5 of our Terms.

Download Article [PDF]  View Full Text [HTML][Machine readable]