Optimizing protein coordination to quantum dots with designer peptidyl linkers

Kelly Boeneman Gemmill, Jeffrey R Deschamps, James B Delehanty, Kimihiro Susumu, Michael H Stewart, Richard H Glaven, George P Anderson, Ellen R Goldman, Alan L Huston, Igor L Medintz
Bioconjugate Chemistry 2013 February 20, 24 (2): 269-81
Semiconductor quantum dots (QDs) demonstrate select optical properties that make them of particular use in biological imaging and biosensing. Controlled attachment of biomolecules such as proteins to the QD surface is thus critically necessary for development of these functional nanobiomaterials. QD surface coatings such as poly(ethylene glycol) impart colloidal stability to the QDs, making them usable in physiological environments, but can impede attachment of proteins due to steric interactions. While this problem is being partially addressed through the development of more compact QD ligands, here we present an alternative and complementary approach to this issue by engineering rigid peptidyl linkers that can be appended onto almost all expressed proteins. The linkers are specifically designed to extend a terminal polyhistidine sequence out from the globular protein structure and penetrate the QD ligand coating to enhance binding by metal-affinity driven coordination. α-Helical linkers of two lengths terminating in either a single or triple hexahistidine motif were fused onto a single-domain antibody; these were then self-assembled onto QDs to create a model immunosensor system targeted against the biothreat agent ricin. We utilized this system to systematically evaluate the peptidyl linker design in functional assays using QDs stabilized with four different types of coating ligands including poly(ethylene glycol). We show that increased linker length, but surprisingly not added histidines, can improve protein to QD attachment and sensor performance despite the surface ligand size with both custom and commercial QD preparations. Implications for these findings on the development of QD-based biosensors are discussed.

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