Beilstein J. Nanotechnol. 2014, 5, 546–553. doi:10.3762/bjnano.5.64
In this work, we investigated the cytotoxicity, colloidal stability and optical property of gold nanorods before and after functionalizing them with thiolated PEG and Pluronic triblock copolymer (PEO–PPO–PEO) molecules. The morphology of functionalized gold nanorods was characterized by UV–visible absorption spectroscopy, transmission electron microscopy, and dynamic light scattering. Solution phase synthesis of gold nanorods has remained the method of choice for obtaining varying shapes and aspect ratios of rod nanoparticles. This method typically involves the use of cetyltrimethylammonium bromide (CTAB) surfactants as directing agents to grow gold nanorods in the solution phase. The as-synthesized gold nanorods surfaces are terminated with CTAB molecules and this formulation gives rise to adverse toxicity in vitro and in vivo. To employ the gold nanorods for biological studies, it is important to eliminate or minimize the exposure of CTAB molecules from the gold nanorods surface to the local environment such as cells or tissues. Complete removal of CTAB molecules from the gold nanorods surface is unfeasible as this will render the gold nanorods structurally unstable, causing the aggregation of particles. Here, we investigate the individual use of thiolated PEG and PEO–PPO–PEO as capping agents to reduce the cytotoxicity of gold nanorods formulation, while maintaining the optical, colloidal, and structural properties of gold nanorods. We found that encapsulating gold nanorods with the thiolated PEG or PEO–PPO–PEO molecules guarantees the stability and biocompatibility of the nanoformulation. However, excessive use of these molecules during the passivation process leads to a reduction in the overall cell viability. We also demonstrate the use of the functionalized gold nanorods as scattering probes for dark-field imaging of cancer cells thereby demonstrating their biocompatibility. Our results offer a unique solution for the future development of safe scattering color probes for clinical applications such as the long term imaging of cells and tissues.