Mammalian Near-Infrared Image Vision through Injectable and Self-Powered Retinal Nanoantennae
Vision is an essential sensory modality for humans. Our visual system detects light between 400 and 700 nm (Dubois, 2009, Wyszecki and Stiles, 1982, Schnapf et al., 1988), so called visible light. In mammalian photoreceptor cells, light absorbing pigments, consisting of opsins and their covalently linked retinals, are known as intrinsic photon detectors. However, the detection of longer wavelength light, such as near-infrared (NIR) light, though a desirable ability, is a formidable challenge for mammals. This is because detecting longer wavelength light, with lower energy photons, requires opsins (e.g., human red cone opsins) to have much lower energy barriers. Consequently, this results in unendurable high thermal noise, thus making NIR visual pigments impractical (Ala-Laurila et al., 2003, Baylor et al., 1980, Luo et al., 2011, St George, 1952). This physical limitation means that no mammalian photoreceptor can effectively detect NIR light that exceeds 700 nm, and mammals are unable to see NIR light and to project a NIR image to the brain.
To this end, the successful integration of nanoparticles with biological systems has accelerated basic scientific discoveries and their translation into biomedical applications (Desai, 2012, Mitragotri et al., 2015). To develop abilities that do not exist naturally, miniature nanoscale devices and sensors designed to intimately interface with mammals including humans are of growing interest. Here, we report on an ocular injectable, self-powered, built-in NIR light nanoantenna that can extend the mammalian visual spectrum to the NIR range. These retinal photoreceptor-binding upconversion nanoparticles (pbUCNPs) act as miniature energy transducers that can transform mammalian invisible NIR light in vivo into short wavelength visible emissions (Liu et al., 2017, Wu et al., 2009). As sub-retinal injections are a commonly used ophthalmological practice in animals and humans (Hauswirth et al., 2008, Peng et al., 2017), our pbUCNPs were dissolved in PBS and then injected into the sub-retinal space in the eyes of mice. These nanoparticles were then anchored and bound to the photoreceptors in the mouse retina.