• self-assembly;
  • luminescent nanoclusters;
  • amphiphilic polymer carriers;
  • composite materials;
  • biomedical applications


Multifunctional theranostic systems with good biocompatibility, strong clinical imaging capability, and target specificity are the desired features of future medicine. Here, the design of a theranostic nanocomposite capable of simultaneous targeting and imaging of the cancer cells is presented. It releases its drug payload by a controlled release mechanism. The nanocomposite contains luminescent gold nanocluster (L-AuNC) photostable and biocompatible diagnostic probes conjugated to a folic acid (FA)-modified pH-responsive amphiphilic polymeric system for controlled drug release. The nanocomposite uses a core-satellite structure to encapsulate hydrophobic drugs and releases the drug payload in mildly acidic endosomal/lysosomal compartments by the action of the pH-labile linkages in the polymer. In vivo studies show the selective accumulation of the FA-conjugated nanocomposite in tumor tissues by folate-receptor-mediated endocytosis. These findings demonstrate the potential of the nanocomposite as a nontoxic, folate-targeting, pH-responsive drug carrier that is useful for the early detection and therapy of folate-overexpressing cancerous cells.