Tracing upconversion nanoparticle penetration in human skin

Zahra Khabir, Anna E. Guller, Vlada S. Rozova, Liuen Liang, Yi-Jen Lai, Ewa M. Goldys, Honghua Hu, Karen Vickery, Andrei V. Zvyagin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Due to their unique optical properties upconversion nanoparticles (UCNPs) provide exceptionally high contrast for imaging of true nanoparticle distribution in excised human skin. It makes possible to show penetration of solid nanoparticles in skin treated with chemical enhancers. We demonstrated tracing upconversion nanoparticles in excised human skin by means of optical microscopy at the discrete particle level sensitivity to obtain their penetration profiles, which was validated by laser-ablation inductively-coupled-plasma mass-spectrometry. To demonstrate utilities of our method, UCNPs were coated with polymers, formulated in water and chemical enhancers, and applied on excised human skin mounted on Franz cells, followed by imaging using a custom-built laser-scanning microscope. To evaluate the toxicity impact on skin by polymer-coated UCNPs, we introduced a tissue engineering model of viable epidermis made of decellularized chick embryo skin seeded with keratinocytes. UCNPs formulated in water stopped in stratum corneum, whereas UCNPs formulated in ethanol-water solution crossed stratum corneum and reached viable epidermis – hence, the enhancement effect for solid nanoparticles was detected by optical microscopy. All polymer-coated UCNPs were found nontoxic within the accepted safety levels. The keratinocyte resilience to polyethyleneimine-coated UCNPs was surprising considering cytotoxicity of polyethyleneimine to two-dimensional cell cultures.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110480
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalColloids and Surfaces B: Biointerfaces
Early online date5 Sept 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019


  • Background-free optical imaging
  • Cytotoxicity
  • Penetration enhancer
  • Tissue engineering
  • Transdermal delivery
  • Upconversion nanoparticles


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