In the present work, we describe a facile and general method of fabricating fluorescent inorganic nanoparticles with diverse shapes for cell imaging application. The hematite (α-Fe₂O₃) nanoparticles (HNPs) with three different shapes (i.e., spindle shape, ellipsoidal shape and quasi-spherical shape) were first prepared as model systems in consideration of good biocompatibility and the controllable morphology of α-Fe₂O₃. Three fluorescent HNPs with different shapes were readily achieved via one-pot sol-gel reaction of AIE luminogen-functionalized siloxane (AIEgen-Si(OCH₃)₃) and TEOS in the presence of PVP-stabilized HNPs. Due to the fluorescence originating from the thin AIEgens-contained SiO₂ shell around the HNPs, their photoluminescent intensities can be tuned by changing the concentrations of TEOS and AIEgen-Si(OCH₃)₃ in feed prior to the sol-gel reaction. When the as-prepared fluorescent products were dispersed in water, they gave intense green light emission upon excitation at 360 nm with relatively high fluorescence quantum yield. Further, fluorescent HNPs exhibited low cytotoxicity and excellent photostability and, thus, were used as optical probes to preliminarily explore the effect of nanoparticle shapes on their cellular uptake behaviors. This work should open a facile way to prepare various fluorescent inorganic nanoparticles with specific morphology for various biological applications.
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