Crossing the blood-brain-barrier with transferrin conjugated carbon dots: A zebrafish model study

Shanghao Li, University of Miami
Zhili Peng, University of Miami
Julia Dallman, University of Miami
James Baker, University of Miami
Abdelhameed M. Othman, Taibah University
Patrica L. Blackwelder, University of Miami
Roger M. Leblanc, University of Miami


Drug delivery to the central nervous system (CNS) in biological systems remains a major medical challenge due to the tight junctions between endothelial cells known as the blood-brain-barrier (BBB). Here we use a zebrafish model to explore the possibility of using transferrin-conjugated carbon dots (C-Dots) to ferry compounds across the BBB. C-Dots have previously been reported to inhibit protein fibrillation, and they are also used to deliver drugs for disease treatment. In terms of the potential medical application of C-Dots for the treatment of CNS diseases, one of the most formidable challenges is how to deliver them inside the CNS. To achieve this in this study, human transferrin was covalently conjugated to C-Dots. The conjugates were then injected into the vasculature of zebrafish to examine the possibility of crossing the BBB in vivo via transferrin receptor-mediated endocytosis. The experimental observations suggest that the transferrin-C-Dots can enter the CNS while C-Dots alone cannot.