Bioluminescent Magnetic Nanoparticles as Potential Imaging Agents for Mammalian Spermatozoa

Erick S. Vasquez, University of Dayton
Jean M. Feugang, Mississippi State University
Scott T. Willard, Mississippi State University
Peter L. Ryan, Mississippi State University
Keisha B. Walters, Mississippi State University

© 2016 Vasquez et al. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.


Background: Nanoparticles have emerged as key materials for developing applications in nanomedicine, nanobiotechnology, bioimaging and theranostics. Existing bioimaging technologies include bioluminescent resonance energy transfer-conjugated quantum dots (BRET-QDs). Despite the current use of BRET-QDs for bioimaging, there are strong concerns about QD nanocomposites containing cadmium which exhibits potential cellular toxicity.

Results: In this study, bioluminescent composites comprised of magnetic nanoparticles and firefly luciferase (Photinus pyralis) are examined as potential light-emitting agents for imaging, detection, and tracking mammalian spermatozoa. Characterization was carried out using infrared spectroscopy, TEM and cryo-TEM imaging, and ζ-potential measurements to demonstrate the successful preparation of these nanocomposites. Binding interactions between the synthesized nanoparticles and spermatozoon were characterized using confocal and atomic/magnetic force microscopy. Bioluminescence imaging and UV–visible-NIR microscopy results showed light emission from sperm samples incubated with the firefly luciferase-modified nanoparticles. Therefore, these newly synthesized luciferase-modified magnetic nanoparticles show promise as substitutes for QD labeling, and can potentially also be used for in vivo manipulation and tracking, as well as MRI techniques.

Conclusions: These preliminary data indicate that luciferase-magnetic nanoparticle composites can potentially be used for spermatozoa detection and imaging. Their magnetic properties add additional functionality to allow for manipulation, sorting, or tracking of cells using magnetic techniques.