SCIENCE CHINA Chemistry, Volume 60, Issue 6: 799-805(2017) https://doi.org/10.1007/s11426-016-0409-4

Mesoporous silica nanoparticles-assisted ruthenium(II) complexes for live cell staining

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  • ReceivedOct 5, 2016
  • AcceptedDec 13, 2016
  • PublishedFeb 27, 2017


Ruthenium complexes which can bind to DNA via electrostatic and intercalation interactions producing strong luminescence have become ideal candidates for DNA staining. However, some of them such as Ru(phen)3Cl2 and Ru(phen)2(dppz)Cl2 could hardly cross the cellular membrane of live cells which limited their further interaction with DNA in live cells. To solve this problem, a potential approach is to find a proper vehicle for loading and delivery of these ruthenium complexes into live cells. Mesoporous silica nanoparticles (MSNs) with non-toxicity and good biocompatibility can be good candidates. More importantly, ruthenium complexes with positively charge could be loaded on negatively charged MSNs via electrostatic attractions to form MSNs-Ru hybrid. In vitro test demonstrated that MSNs had no side effects on the interactions between Ru complexes and DNA. Furthermore, it is found that the MSNs-Ru hybrid can enter into living human cervical cancer cells HeLa and stain the DNA while the corresponding ruthenium complexes alone could hardly cross the cellular membrane in the control experiment, demonstrating MSNs can be employed to be an efficient ruthenium complexes delivery nanomaterial for live cell staining.


This work was supported by the Scientific Research Foundation of Northwest A&F University (Z111021103, Z111021107), and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (21472016, 21272030, 21476185).

Interest statement

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


The supporting information is available online at http://chem.scichina.com and http://link.springer.com/journal/11426. The supporting materials are published as submitted, without typesetting or editing. The responsibility for scientific accuracy and content remains entirely with the authors.


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  • Figure 1

    The structure of Ru(phen)3Cl2 and Ru(phen)2(dppz)Cl2 (color online).

  • Scheme 1

    Schematic demonstration of MSNs-Ru hybrid for live cell imaging (color online).

  • Figure 2

    SEM micrographs of (a) MSNs and (b) MR-1. Scale bar, 200 nm. TEM micrographs of (c) MSN and (d) MR-1. Scale bar, 200 nm.

  • Figure 3

    Luminescence titration studies of MR-1 and MR-2 upon addition of ct-DNA. (a) Luminescence spectra of MR-1 (3 mL, 1 μM) upon addition of ct-DNA in Tris-HCl buffer (10 mM, pH 7.4) at room temperature. (b) The linear relationship between the luminescent intensity and ct-DNA concentration. λex=465 nm, λem=588 nm. (c) Luminescence spectra of MR-2 (3 mL, 5 μM) upon addition of ct-DNA in Tris-HCl buffer (10 mM, pH 7.4) at room temperature. (d) The linear relationship between the luminescent intensity and ct-DNA concentration. λex=465 nm, λem=605 nm (color online).

  • Figure 4

    (a) CLSM images of HeLa cells incubated with Ru(phen)3Cl2 and MR-1 for 3, 6 and 9 h respectively; (b) CLSM images of HeLa cells incubated with Ru(phen)2(dppz)Cl2 and MR-2 for 3, 6 and 9 h respectively. The concentrations of the dyes are all 10 μM. Scale bar: 10 μm (color online).

  • Figure 5

    (a) Cytotoxicity of Ru(phen)3Cl2 and MR-1 at different concentrations on HeLa cells for 24 h; (b) cytotoxicity of Ru(phen)2(dppz)Cl2 and MR-2 at different concentrations on HeLa cells for 24 h (color online).

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