Direct fluorescent labeling for efficient biological assessment of inhalable particles
Labeling of aerosol particles with a radioactive, magnetic, or optical tracer has been employed to confirm particle localization in cell compartments, which has provided useful evidence for correlating toxic effects of inhaled particles. However, labeling requires several physicochemical steps to identify functionalities of the inner or outer surfaces of particles, and moreover, these steps can cause changes in size, surface charge, and bioactivity of the particles, resulting in misinterpretations regarding their toxic effects. This study addresses this challenging issue with a goal of introducing an efficient strategy for constantly supplying labeled aerosol particles in a single-pass configuration without any pre- or post-physicochemical batch treatments of aerosol particles. Carbon black (CB, simulating combustion-generated soot) or calcium carbonate (CC, simulating brake-wear fragments) particles were constantly produced via spark ablation or bubble bursting, respectively. These minute particles were incorporated with fluorescein isothiocyanate-poly(ethylene glycol) 2-aminoethyl ether acetic acid solution at the orifice of a collison atomizer to fabricate hybrid droplets. The droplets successively entered a diffusion dryer containing 254-nm UV irradiation; therefore, the droplets were dynamically stiffened by UV to form fluorescent probes on particles during solvent extraction in the dryer. Particle size distributions, morphologies, and surface charges before and after labeling were measured to confirm fluorescence labeling without significant changes in the properties. In vitro assays, including confocal imaging, were conducted to confirm the feasibility of the labeling approach without inducing significant differences in bioactivity compared with untreated CB or CC particles.