Cell-in-Shell Hybrids: Chemical Nanoencapsulation of Individual Cells

Ji Hun Park, Daewha Hong, Juno Lee, Insung S. Choi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

138 Scopus citations


ConspectusNature has developed a fascinating strategy of cryptobiosis (secret life′) for counteracting the stressful, and often lethal, environmental conditions that fluctuate sporadically over time. For example, certain bacteria sporulate to transform from a metabolically active, vegetative state to an ametabolic endospore state. The bacterial endospores, encased within tough biomolecular shells, withstand the extremes of harmful stressors, such as radiation, desiccation, and malnutrition, for extended periods of time and return to a vegetative state by breaking their protective shells apart when their environment becomes hospitable for living. Certain ciliates and even higher organisms, for example, tardigrades, and others are also found to adopt a cryptobiotic strategy for survival. A common feature of cryptobiosis is the structural presence of tough sheaths on cellular structures. However, most cells and cellular assemblies are not spore-forming′ and are vulnerable to the outside threats. In particular, mammalian cells, enclosed with labile lipid bilayers, are highly susceptible to in vitro conditions in the laboratory and daily life settings, making manipulation and preservation difficult outside of specialized conditions. The instability of living cells has been a main bottleneck to the advanced development of cell-based applications, such as cell therapy and cell-based sensors. A judicious question arises: can cellular tolerance against harmful stresses be enhanced by simply forming cell-in-shell hybrid structures? Experimental results suggest that the answer is yes. A micrometer-sized Iron Man′ can be generated by chemically forming an ultrathin (<100 nm) but durable shell on a non-spore-forming′ cell.Since the report on silica nanoencapsulation of yeast cells, in which cytoprotective yeast-in-silica hybrids were formed, several synthetic strategies have been developed to encapsulate individual cells in a cytocompatible fashion, mimicking the cryptobiotic cell-in-shell structures found in nature, for example, bacterial endospores. Bioinspired silicification and phenolics-based coatings are, so far, the main approaches to the formation of cytoprotective cell-in-shell hybrids, because they ensure cell viability during encapsulations and also generate durable nanoshells on cell surfaces. The resulting cell-in-shell hybrids extrinsically possess enhanced resistance to external aggressors, and more intriguingly, the encapsulation alters their metabolic activity, exemplified by retarded or suppressed cell cycle progression. In addition, recent developments in the field have further advanced the synthetic tools available to the stage of chemical sporulation and germination of mammalian cells, where cytoprotective shells are formed on labile mammalian cells and broken apart on demand. For example, individual HeLa cells are coated with a metal-organic complex of ferric ion and tannic acid, and cellular adherence and proliferation are controlled by the programmed shell formation and degradation. Based on these demonstrations, the (degradable) cell-in-shell hybrids are anticipated to find their applications in various biomedical and bionanotechnological areas, such as cytotherapeutics, high-throughput screening, sensors, and biocatalysis, as well as providing a versatile research platform for single-cell biology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)792-800
Number of pages9
JournalAccounts of Chemical Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - 17 May 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Basic Science Research Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) funded by the Ministry of Science, ICT & Future Planning (MSIP) (Grant 2012R1A3A2026403).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 American Chemical Society.


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