The excellent photoluminescent properties of graphenequantumdots (GQD) makes them suitable candidates for biomedical applications, but their cytotoxicity has not been extensively studied. Here we show that electrochemically produced GQD irradiated with blue light (470 nm, 1 W) generate reactive oxygen species, including singlet oxygen, and kill U251 human glioma cells by causing oxidative stress. The cell death induced by photoexcited GQD displayed morphological and/or biochemical characteristics of both apoptosis (phosphatidylserine externalization, caspase activation, DNA fragmentation) and autophagy (formation of autophagic vesicles, LC3-I/LC3-II conversion, degradation of autophagic target p62). Moreover, a genetic inactivation of autophagy-essential LC3B protein partly abrogated the photodynamic cytotoxicity of GQD. These data indicate potential usefulness of GQD in photodynamic therapy, but also raise concerns about their possible toxicity.

This paper was originally published in Biomaterials (2012) 33, 7084-7092.

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