Can quantum dots (Qdots) act as relevant intracellular probes to investigate routing of ligands in live cells? The intracellular trafficking of Qdots that were coupled to the plant toxin ricin, Shiga toxin, or the ligand transferrin (Tf) was studied by confocal fluorescence microscopy. The Tf:Qdots were internalized by clathrin-dependent endocytosis as fast as Tf, but their recycling was blocked. Unlike Shiga toxin, the Shiga:Qdot bioconjugate was not routed to the Golgi apparatus. The internalized ricin:Qdot bioconjugates localized to the same endosomes as ricin itself but could not be visualized in the Golgi apparatus. Importantly, we find that the endosomal accumulation of ricin:Qdots affects endosome-to-Golgi transport of both ricin and Shiga toxin: Transport of ricin was reduced whereas transport of Shiga toxin was increased. In conclusion, the data reveal that, although coupling of Qdots to a ligand does not necessarily change the endocytic pathway normally used by the ligands studied, it appears that the ligand-coupled Qdot nanoparticles can be arrested within endosomes and somehow perturb the normal endosomal sorting in cells. Thus, the results demonstrate that Qdots may have severe consequences on cell physiology.
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