• cellular internalization;
  • cytotoxicity;
  • distribution;
  • graphene quantum dots


Graphene quantum dots (GQDs), owing to their unique morphology, ultra-small lateral sizes, and exceptional properties, hold great promise for many applications, especially in the biomedical field. In this work, the cellular internalization, distribution, and cytotoxicity of the GQDs are explored complementarily using transmission electron microscopy, confocal laser scanning microscopy, UV-vis, and fluorescence spectroscopies, and flow cytometry with human gastric cancer MGC-803 and breast cancer MCF-7 cells. It is demonstrated that the GQDs are internalized primarily through caveolae-mediated endocytosis. The effects of GQDs on the cell viability, internal cellular reactive oxygen species (ROS) level, mitochondrial membranes potential, and cell cycles show that the cytotoxicity of GQDs is lower than that of the micrometer-sized graphene oxide (GO). The low cytotoxicity and size consistence render GQDs appropriate for biomedical application.