In vitro targeting and imaging the translocator protein TSPO 18-kDa through G(4)-PAMAM-FITC labeled dendrimer

Nunzio Denora, Valentino Laquintana, Antonio Lopalco, Rosa Maria Iacobazzi, Angela Lopedota, Annalisa Cutrignelli, Giuliano Iacobellis, Cosimo Annese, Mariafrancesca Cascione, Stefano Leporatti, Massimo Franco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mitochondria represent an attractive subcellular target due to its function particularly important for oxidative damage, calcium metabolism and apoptosis. However, the concept of mitochondrial targeting has been a neglected area so far. The translocator protein (TSPO) represents an interesting subcellular target not only to image disease states overexpressing this protein, but also for a selective mitochondrial drug targeting. Recently, we have delivered in vitro and in vivo small molecule imaging agents into cells overexpressing TSPO by using a family of high-affinity conjugable ligands characterized by 2-phenyl-imidazo[1,2-a]pyridine acetamide structure. As an extension, in the present work we studied the possibility to target and image TSPO with dendrimers. These nano-platforms have unique features, in fact, are prepared with a level of control not reachable with most linear polymers, leading to nearly monodisperse, globular macromolecules with a large number of peripheral groups. As a consequence, they are an ideal delivery vehicle candidate for explicit study of the effects of polymer size, charge, composition, and architecture on biologically relevant properties such as lipid bilayer interactions, cytotoxicity, cellular internalization, and subcellular compartments and organelles interactions. Here, we present the synthesis, characterization, cellular internalization, and mitochondria labeling of a TSPO targeted fourth generation [G(4)-PAMAM] dendrimer nanoparticle labeled with the organic fluorescent dye fluorescein. We comprehensively studied the cellular uptake behavior of these dendrimers, into glioma C6 cell line, under the influence of various endocytosis inhibitors. We found that TSPO targeted-G(4)-PAMAM-FITC dendrimer is quickly taken up by these cells by endocytosis pathways, and moreover specifically targets the mitochondria as evidenced from subcellular fractionation experiments and co-localization studies performed with CAT (Confocal-AFM-TIRF) microscopy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1111-1125
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Controlled Release
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Confocal microscopy
  • Imaging
  • PAMAM dendrimer
  • Subcellular fractionation
  • Subcellular targeting
  • TSPO

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmaceutical Science


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