Nanotheranostics 2020; 4(3):173-183. doi:10.7150/ntno.42786

Research Paper

Biodistribution and acute toxicity of cadmium-free quantum dots with different surface functional groups in mice following intratracheal inhalation

Guimiao Lin1, Ting Chen2, Yongning Pan3, Zhiwen Yang1, Li Li1,2, Ken-tye Yong4, Xiaomei Wang1, Jie Wang1, Yajing Chen1, Wenxiao Jiang1, Shuting Weng1, Xiaorui Huang1, Jiajie Kuang1, Gaixia Xu2✉

1. Base for International Science and Technology Cooperation: Carson Cancer Stem Cell Vaccines R&D Center, Shenzhen Key Lab of Synthetic Biology, Department of Physiology, School of Basic Medical Sciences Shenzhen University, Shenzhen 518060, China.
2. Guangdong Key Laboratory for Biomedical Measurements and Ultrasound Imaging, Department of Biomedical Engineering, School of Medicine, Shenzhen University, Shenzhen, 518060, China.
3. Center for Disease Control and Prevention of Ban'an district, Shenzhen 518101, China.
4. School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Nanyang Technological University, 639798, Singapore

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( See for full terms and conditions.
Lin G, Chen T, Pan Y, Yang Z, Li L, Yong Kt, Wang X, Wang J, Chen Y, Jiang W, Weng S, Huang X, Kuang J, Xu G. Biodistribution and acute toxicity of cadmium-free quantum dots with different surface functional groups in mice following intratracheal inhalation. Nanotheranostics 2020; 4(3):173-183. doi:10.7150/ntno.42786. Available from

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Indium phosphide/zinc sulfate (InP/ZnS) quantum dots (QDs) are presumed to be less hazardous than those that contain cadmium. However, the toxicological profile has not been established. The present study investigated the acute toxicity of InP/ZnS QDs with different surface modifications (COOH, NH2, and OH) in mice after pulmonary aerosol inhalation. InP/ZnS QDs were able to pass through the blood-gas barrier and enter the circulation, and subsequently accumulated in major organs. No obvious changes were observed in the body weight or major organ coefficients. Red blood cell counts and platelet-related indicators were in the normal range, but the proportion of white blood cells was altered. The InP/ZnS QDs caused varying degrees of changes in some serum markers, but no histopathological abnormalities related to InP/ZnS QDs treatment was observed in major organs except that hyperemia in alveolar septa was found in lung sections. These results suggested that the effects of respiratory exposure to InP/ZnS QDs on the lungs need to be fully considered in future biomedical application although the overall toxicity of quantum dots is relatively low.

Keywords: InP/ZnS quantum dot, biodistribution, nanotoxicity, nanoparticles, biocompatibility