Theranostics 2020; 10(4):1633-1648. doi:10.7150/thno.37674 This issue

Research Paper

Gold nanoclusters elicit homeostatic perturbations in glioblastoma cells and adaptive changes of lysosomes

Dusica Maysinger1#✉, Evan R. Gran1#, Franck Bertorelle2, Hussein Fakhouri2, Rodolphe Antoine2, Esha S. Kaul1, Dana M. Samhadaneh3, Ursula Stochaj3✉

1. McGill University, Pharmacology & Therapeutics, Montreal, Canada
2. Université Lyon, CNRS, Institut Lumière Matière, Lyon, France
3. McGill University, Physiology, Montreal, Canada
#Both authors contributed equally.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( See for full terms and conditions.
Maysinger D, Gran ER, Bertorelle F, Fakhouri H, Antoine R, Kaul ES, Samhadaneh DM, Stochaj U. Gold nanoclusters elicit homeostatic perturbations in glioblastoma cells and adaptive changes of lysosomes. Theranostics 2020; 10(4):1633-1648. doi:10.7150/thno.37674. Available from

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Graphic abstract

Unique physicochemical features place gold nanoclusters at the forefront of nanotechnology for biological and biomedical applications. To date, information on the interactions of gold nanoclusters with biological macromolecules is limited and restricts their use in living cells.

Methods: Our multidisciplinary study begins to fill the current knowledge gap by focusing on lysosomes and associated biological pathways in U251N human glioblastoma cells. We concentrated on lysosomes, because they are the intracellular destination for many nanoparticles, regulate cellular homeostasis and control cell survival.

Results: Quantitative data presented here show that gold nanoclusters (with 15 and 25 gold atoms), surface-modified with glutathione or PEG, did not diminish cell viability at concentrations ≤1 µM. However, even at sublethal concentrations, gold nanoclusters modulated the abundance, positioning, pH and enzymatic activities of lysosomes. Gold nanoclusters also affected other aspects of cellular homeostasis. Specifically, they stimulated the transient nuclear accumulation of TFEB and Nrf2, transcription factors that promote lysosome biogenesis and stress responses. Moreover, gold nanoclusters also altered the formation of protein aggregates in the cytoplasm. The cellular responses elicited by gold nanoclusters were largely reversible within a 24-hour period.

Conclusions: Taken together, this study explores the subcellular and molecular effects induced by gold nanoclusters and shows their effectiveness to regulate lysosome biology. Our results indicate that gold nanoclusters cause homeostatic perturbations without marked cell loss. Notably, cells adapt to the challenge inflicted by gold nanoclusters. These new insights provide a framework for the further development of gold nanocluster-based applications in biological sciences.

Keywords: nanomaterials, cell organelle, organellar pH, lysosome positioning, proteostasis, cellular stress response