Ultraviolet phototoxicity of upconversion nanoparticles illuminated with near-infrared light
Recently introduced upconversion nanoparticles (UCNPs) have pushed the depth of photodynamic therapy (PDT) treatment to the centimetre range by converting deeply-penetrating near-infrared (NIR) radiation to visible radiation for photoexcitation of PDT drugs. Here we demonstrate that the direct exposure of the cancer tissue to phototoxic ultraviolet radiation generated by NIR-photoexcited UCNPs enabled successful PDT. To this aim, core/shell UCNPs of the formula NaYF4:Yb3+Tm3+/NaYF4featuring an enhanced band in the ultraviolet UV-A and UV-B spectral bands were rationally designed and synthesised. Coupling UCNPs to the recombinant modules of the Designed Ankyrin Repeat Protein (DARPin) fused to a fluorescent protein mCherry allowed the target delivery of DARPin-mCherry/UCNP to human breast adenocarcinoma SK-BR-3 cells overexpressing HER2/neu receptors, as confirmed by fluorescence microscopy. DARPin-mCherry/UCNPs were demonstrated to be phototoxic to SK-BR-3 cells under 975 nm laser irradiation at a dose of 900 J cm-2due to the UV photoexcitation of endogenous photosensitizers and concomitant generation of reactive oxygen species. The Lewis lung cancer mouse model was employed to demonstrate the feasibility of PDT using UCNP-mediated UV excitation of endogenous photosensitizers in the tumor tissue at a NIR dose of 1200 J cm-2. This study paves the way for exploring and harnessing UV photoexcitation processes in deep tissues in vivo.