Plasmon-Triggered Upconversion Emissions and Hot Carrier Injection for Combinatorial Photothermal and Photodynamic Cancer Therapy

Subin Yu, Dohyub Jang, Hong Yuan, Wen Tse Huang, Minju Kim, Filipe Marques Mota, Ru Shi Liu, Hyukjin Lee, Sehoon Kim, Dong Ha Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Despite the unique ability of lanthanide-doped upconversion nanoparticles (UCNPs) to convert near-infrared (NIR) light to high-energy UV-vis radiation, low quantum efficiency has rendered their application unpractical in biomedical fields. Here, we report anatase titania-coated plasmonic gold nanorods decorated with UCNPs (Au NR@aTiO2@UCNPs) for combinational photothermal and photodynamic therapy to treat cancer. Our novel architecture employs the incorporation of an anatase titanium dioxide (aTiO2) photosensitizer as a spacer and exploits the localized surface plasmon resonance (LSPR) properties of the Au core. The LSPR-derived near-field enhancement induces a threefold boost of upconversion emissions, which are re-absorbed by neighboring aTiO2 and Au nanocomponents. Photocatalytic experiments strongly infer that LSPR-induced hot electrons are injected into the conduction band of aTiO2, generating reactive oxygen species. As phototherapeutic agents, our hybrid nanostructures show remarkable in vitro anticancer effect under NIR light [28.0% cancer cell viability against Au NR@aTiO2 (77.3%) and UCNP@aTiO2 (98.8%)] ascribed to the efficient radical formation and LSPR-induced heat generation, with cancer cell death primarily following an apoptotic pathway. In vivo animal studies further confirm the tumor suppression ability of Au NR@aTiO2@UCNPs through combinatorial photothermal and photodynamic effect. Our hybrid nanomaterials emerge as excellent multifunctional phototherapy agents, providing a valuable addition to light-triggered cancer treatments in deep tissue.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58422-58433
Number of pages12
JournalACS Applied Materials and Interfaces
Issue number49
StatePublished - 15 Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea Grant funded by the Korean Government (NRF-2020R 1A 2C 3003958, 2020R 1A 2C 2004364, and 2021R 1A 2C 2005418), by Basic Science Research Program (Priority Research Institute) through the NRF funded by the Ministry of Education (2021R1A6A1A10039823), by Korea Basic Science Institute (National Research Facilities and Equipment Center) grant funded by the Ministry of Education (2-2020-1094-001-1), by KIST intramural program, and by Creative Materials Discovery Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) funded by the Ministry of Science and ICT (2018M3D1A1058536). R.S.L. acknowledges the support by the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST 109-2113-M-002-020-MY3).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 American Chemical Society.


  • localized surface plasmon resonance
  • photosensitizer
  • phototherapy
  • titanium dioxide
  • upconversion


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