Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Gao, Yong


In this dissertation, research efforts mainly focused on exploring the applications of superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIONs) in MR imaging and nanocatalysis via surface functionalization. A dopamine-based surface-functionalization strategy was established. The Simanek dendrons (G1 to G3), oligonucleotides and amino acids were loaded onto SPION surfaces via this approach to develop pH-sensitive MRI contrast agents, specific-DNA MR probes and a biomimetic hydrolysis catalyst. Dendron-SPION conjugates (G1 to G3) have good aqueous solubilities and high transverse relaxivities (>300 s-1*mM-1). They also showed interesting strong pH-sensitive R2 and R2* relaxivities, which were governed by the clustering states of dendron-SPIONs in different pH environments. Values of R2m and R2* m/R2m varied by over an order of magnitude around pH 5. The efficient cell-uptake (~3 million/cell) and low cytotoxicity of G1 to G3-SPIONs were demonstrated on HeLa cell cultures. The strong R2* effects were observed indicating the SPION clustering in HeLa cells. Two SPION-oligonuleotide conjugates were synthesized by coupling two half-match oligonucleotides onto domapine-capped SPIONs via SPDP linkers. They served as MR probes to detect a single-strand DNA with the same sequence to miRNA-21 based on the change of R2 values due to the DNA-bridged SPION clustering. The detection limit of the DNA could reach to 16.5 nM. A biomimetic hydrolysis nanocatalyst (i.e., Fe2O3-Asp-His complex) was developed by loading Asp and His-dopamine derivatives onto SPIONs. Paraoxon and nitrophenyl acetate were hydrolyzed under a mild condition (neutral pH, 37 °C) catalyzed by the Fe2O3-Asp-His complex. The two amino acids Asp and His cooperated with each other on the SPION surfaces to catalyze hydrolysis reactions. This catalyst could be recycled by a magnet and reused for four times without a significant loss of catalytic activity.




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