Staff member


Silvia Pujals Riatós

Senior Researcher
Nanoscopy for Nanomedicine
spujals@ibecbarcelona.eu
+34 934 020 517
Staff member publications

Checa, Martí, Millan-Solsona, Ruben, Glinkowska Mares, Adrianna, Pujals, Silvia, Gomila, Gabriel, (2021). Dielectric imaging of fixed HeLa cells by In-liquid scanning dielectric force volume microscopy Nanomaterials 11, (6), 1402

Mapping the dielectric properties of cells with nanoscale spatial resolution can be an important tool in nanomedicine and nanotoxicity analysis, which can complement structural and mechanical nanoscale measurements. Recently we have shown that dielectric constant maps can be obtained on dried fixed cells in air environment by means of scanning dielectric force volume microscopy. Here, we demonstrate that such measurements can also be performed in the much more challenging case of fixed cells in liquid environment. Performing the measurements in liquid media contributes to preserve better the structure of the fixed cells, while also enabling accessing the local dielectric properties under fully hydrated conditions. The results shown in this work pave the way to address the nanoscale dielectric imaging of living cells, for which still further developments are required, as discussed here.

Keywords: Scanning probe microscopy (SPM), Electrostatic force microscopy (EFM), Scanning dielectric microscopy (SDM), Atomic force microscopy (AFM), Dielectric properties, Functional microscopy


Checa, Martí, Millan-Solsona, Ruben, Mares, Adrianna Glinkowska, Pujals, Silvia, Gomila, Gabriel, (2021). Fast label-free nanoscale composition mapping of eukaryotic cells via scanning dielectric force volume microscopy and machine learning Small Methods Early view, 2100279

Mapping the biochemical composition of eukaryotic cells without the use of exogenous labels is a long-sought objective in cell biology. Recently, it has been shown that composition maps on dry single bacterial cells with nanoscale spatial resolution can be inferred from quantitative nanoscale dielectric constant maps obtained with the scanning dielectric microscope. Here, it is shown that this approach can also be applied to the much more challenging case of fixed and dry eukaryotic cells, which are highly heterogeneous and show micrometric topographic variations. More importantly, it is demonstrated that the main bottleneck of the technique (the long computation times required to extract the nanoscale dielectric constant maps) can be shortcut by using supervised neural networks, decreasing them from weeks to seconds in a wokstation computer. This easy-to-use data-driven approach opens the door for in situ and on-the-fly label free nanoscale composition mapping of eukaryotic cells with scanning dielectric microscopy.


Delcanale, P., Porciani, D., Pujals, S., Jurkevich, A., Chetrusca, A., Tawiah, K. D., Burke, D. H., Albertazzi, L., (2020). Aptamers with tunable affinity enable single-molecule tracking and localization of membrane receptors on living cancer cells Angewandte Chemie - International Edition 59, (42), 18546-18555

Tumor cell-surface markers are usually overexpressed or mutated protein receptors for which spatiotemporal regulation differs between and within cancers. Single-molecule fluorescence imaging can profile individual markers in different cellular contexts with molecular precision. However, standard single-molecule imaging methods based on overexpressed genetically encoded tags or cumbersome probes can significantly alter the native state of receptors. We introduce a live-cell points accumulation for imaging in nanoscale topography (PAINT) method that exploits aptamers as minimally invasive affinity probes. Localization and tracking of individual receptors are based on stochastic and transient binding between aptamers and their targets. We demonstrated single-molecule imaging of a model tumor marker (EGFR) on a panel of living cancer cells. Affinity to EGFR was finely tuned by rational engineering of aptamer sequences to define receptor motion and/or native receptor density.

Keywords: Aptamers, Cell-surface receptors, Live-cell imaging, PAINT, Single-molecule tracking


Fuentes, E., Gerth, M., Berrocal, J. A., Matera, C., Gorostiza, P., Voets, I. K., Pujals, S., Albertazzi, L., (2020). An azobenzene-based single-component supramolecular polymer responsive to multiple stimuli in water Journal of the American Chemical Society 142, (22), 10069-10078

One of the most appealing features of supramolecular assemblies is their ability to respond to external stimuli due to their noncovalent nature. This provides the opportunity to gain control over their size, morphology, and chemical properties and is key toward some of their applications. However, the design of supramolecular systems able to respond to multiple stimuli in a controlled fashion is still challenging. Here we report the synthesis and characterization of a novel discotic molecule, which self-assembles in water into a single-component supramolecular polymer that responds to multiple independent stimuli. The building block of such an assembly is a C3-symmetric monomer, consisting of a benzene-1,3,5-tricarboxamide core conjugated to a series of natural and non-natural functional amino acids. This design allows the use of rapid and efficient solid-phase synthesis methods and the modular implementation of different functionalities. The discotic monomer incorporates a hydrophobic azobenzene moiety, an octaethylene glycol chain, and a C-terminal lysine. Each of these blocks was chosen for two reasons: to drive the self-assembly in water by a combination of H-bonding and hydrophobicity and to impart specific responsiveness. With a combination of microscopy and spectroscopy techniques, we demonstrate self-assembly in water and responsiveness to temperature, light, pH, and ionic strength. This work shows the potential to integrate independent mechanisms for controlling self-assembly in a single-component supramolecular polymer by the rational monomer design and paves the way toward the use of multiresponsive systems in water.


Fuentes, E., Bohá, Fuentes-Caparrós, A. M., Schweins, R., Draper, E. R., Adams, D. J., Pujals, S., Albertazzi, L., (2020). PAINT-ing fluorenylmethoxycarbonyl (Fmoc)-diphenylalanine hydrogels Chemistry - A European Journal 26, (44), 9869-9873

Self-assembly of fluorenylmethoxycarbonyl-protected diphenylalanine (FmocFF) in water is widely known to produce hydrogels. Typically, confocal microscopy is used to visualize such hydrogels under wet conditions, that is, without freezing or drying. However, key aspects of hydrogels like fiber diameter, network morphology and mesh size are sub-diffraction limited features and cannot be visualized effectively using this approach. In this work, we show that it is possible to image FmocFF hydrogels by Points Accumulation for Imaging in Nanoscale Topography (PAINT) in native conditions and without direct gel labelling. We demonstrate that the fiber network can be visualized with improved resolution (≈50 nm) both in 2D and 3D. Quantitative information is extracted such as mesh size and fiber diameter. This method can complement the existing characterization tools for hydrogels and provide useful information supporting the design of new materials.

Keywords: FmocFF, Hydrogels, Mesh size, PAINT, Super-resolution


Uroz, Marina, Garcia-Puig, Anna, Tekeli, Isil, Elosegui-Artola, Alberto, Abenza, Juan F., Marín-Llauradó, Ariadna, Pujals, Silvia, Conte, Vito, Albertazzi, Lorenzo, Roca-Cusachs, Pere, Raya, Ángel, Trepat, Xavier, (2019). Traction forces at the cytokinetic ring regulate cell division and polyploidy in the migrating zebrafish epicardium Nature Materials 18, 1015-1023

Epithelial repair and regeneration are driven by collective cell migration and division. Both cellular functions involve tightly controlled mechanical events, but how physical forces regulate cell division in migrating epithelia is largely unknown. Here we show that cells dividing in the migrating zebrafish epicardium exert large cell–extracellular matrix (ECM) forces during cytokinesis. These forces point towards the division axis and are exerted through focal adhesions that connect the cytokinetic ring to the underlying ECM. When subjected to high loading rates, these cytokinetic focal adhesions prevent closure of the contractile ring, leading to multi-nucleation through cytokinetic failure. By combining a clutch model with experiments on substrates of different rigidity, ECM composition and ligand density, we show that failed cytokinesis is triggered by adhesion reinforcement downstream of increased myosin density. The mechanical interaction between the cytokinetic ring and the ECM thus provides a mechanism for the regulation of cell division and polyploidy that may have implications in regeneration and cancer.


Pujals, S., Feiner-Gracia, N., Delcanale, P., Voets, I., Albertazzi, L., (2019). Super-resolution microscopy as a powerful tool to study complex synthetic materials Nature Reviews Chemistry 3, (2), 68-84

Understanding the relations between the formation, structure, dynamics and functionality of complex synthetic materials is one of the great challenges in chemistry and nanotechnology and represents the foundation for the rational design of novel materials for a variety of applications. Initially conceived to study biology below the diffraction limit, super-resolution microscopy (SRM) is emerging as a powerful tool for studying synthetic materials owing to its nanometric resolution, multicolour ability and minimal invasiveness. In this Review, we provide an overview of the pioneering studies that use SRM to visualize materials, highlighting exciting recent developments such as experiments in operando, wherein materials, such as biomaterials in a biological environment, are imaged in action. Moreover, the potential and the challenges of the different SRM methods for application in nanotechnology and (bio)materials science are discussed, aiming to guide researchers to select the best SRM approach for their specific purpose.

Keywords: Bioinspired materials, Imaging techniques


Pujals, S., Albertazzi, L., (2019). Super-resolution microscopy for nanomedicine research ACS Nano 13, (9), 9707-9712

Super-resolution microscopy, or nanoscopy, revolutionized the field of cell biology, enabling researchers to visualize cellular structures with nanometric resolution, single-molecule sensitivity, and in multiple colors. However, the impact of these techniques goes beyond biology as the fields of nanotechnology and nanomedicine can greatly benefit from them, as well. Nanoscopy can visualize nanostructures in vitro and in cells and can contribute to the characterization of their structures and nano-bio interactions. In this Perspective, we discuss the potential of super-resolution imaging for nanomedicine research, its technical challenges, and the future developments we envision for this technology.


Kolpe, A., Arista-Romero, M., Schepens, B., Pujals, S., Saelens, X., Albertazzi, L., (2019). Super-resolution microscopy reveals significant impact of M2e-specific monoclonal antibodies on influenza A virus filament formation at the host cell surface Scientific Reports 9, (1), 4450

Influenza A virions are highly pleomorphic, exhibiting either spherical or filamentous morphology. The influenza A virus strain A/Udorn/72 (H3N2) produces copious amounts of long filaments on the surface of infected cells where matrix protein 1 (M1) and 2 (M2) play a key role in virus filament formation. Previously, it was shown that an anti-M2 ectodomain (M2e) antibody could inhibit A/Udorn/72 virus filament formation. However, the study of these structures is limited by their small size and complex structure. Here, we show that M2e-specific IgG1 and IgG2a mouse monoclonal antibodies can reduce influenza A/Udorn/72 virus plaque growth and infectivity in vitro. Using Immuno-staining combined with super-resolution microscopy that allows us to study structures beyond the diffraction limit, we report that M2 is localized at the base of viral filaments that emerge from the membrane of infected cells. Filament formation was inhibited by treatment of A/Udorn/72 infected cells with M2e-specific IgG2a and IgG1 monoclonal antibodies and resulted in fragmentation of pre-existing filaments. We conclude that M2e-specific IgGs can reduce filamentous influenza A virus replication in vitro and suggest that in vitro inhibition of A/Udorn/72 virus replication by M2e-specific antibodies correlates with the inhibition of filament formation on the surface of infected cells.


Delcanale, Pietro, Miret-Ontiveros, Bernat, Arista-Romero, Maria, Pujals, Silvia, Albertazzi, Lorenzo, (2018). Nanoscale mapping functional sites on nanoparticles by Points Accumulation for Imaging in Nanoscale Topography (PAINT) ACS Nano 12, (8), 7629-7637

The ability of nanoparticles to selectively recognize a molecular target constitutes the key toward nanomedicine applications such as drug delivery and diagnostics. The activity of such devices is mediated by the presence of multiple copies of functional molecules on the nanostructure surface. Therefore, understanding the number and the distribution of nanoparticle functional groups is of utmost importance for the rational design of effective materials. Analytical methods are available, but to obtain quantitative information at the level of single particles and single functional sites, i.e., going beyond the ensemble, remains highly challenging. Here we introduce the use of an optical nanoscopy technique, DNA points accumulation for imaging in nanoscale topography (DNA-PAINT), to address this issue. Combining subdiffraction spatial resolution with molecular selectivity and sensitivity, DNA-PAINT provides both geometrical and functional information at the level of a single nanostructure. We show how DNA-PAINT can be used to image and quantify relevant functional proteins such as antibodies and streptavidin on nanoparticles and microparticles with nanometric accuracy in 3D and multiple colors. The generality and the applicability of our method without the need for fluorescent labeling hold great promise for the robust quantitative nanocharacterization of functional nanomaterials.


Feiner-Gracia, Natalia, Buzhor, Marina, Fuentes, Edgar, Pujals, S., Amir, Roey J., Albertazzi, Lorenzo, (2017). Micellar stability in biological media dictates internalization in living cells Journal of the American Chemical Society 139, (46), 16677-16687

The dynamic nature of polymeric assemblies makes their stability in biological media a crucial parameter for their potential use as drug delivery systems in vivo. Therefore, it is essential to study and understand the behavior of self-assembled nanocarriers under conditions that will be encountered in vivo such as extreme dilutions and interactions with blood proteins and cells. Herein, using a combination of fluorescence spectroscopy and microscopy, we studied four amphiphilic PEG–dendron hybrids and their self-assembled micelles in order to determine their structure–stability relations. The high molecular precision of the dendritic block enabled us to systematically tune the hydrophobicity and stability of the assembled micelles. Using micelles that change their fluorescent properties upon disassembly, we observed that serum proteins bind to and interact with the polymeric amphiphiles in both their assembled and monomeric states. These interactions strongly affected the stability and enzymatic degradation of the micelles. Finally, using spectrally resolved confocal imaging, we determined the relations between the stability of the polymeric assemblies in biological media and their cell entry. Our results highlight the important interplay between molecular structure, micellar stability, and cell internalization pathways, pinpointing the high sensitivity of stability–activity relations to minor structural changes and the crucial role that these relations play in designing effective polymeric nanostructures for biomedical applications.


Pujals, S., Tao, K., Terradellas, A., Gazit, E., Albertazzi, L., (2017). Studying structure and dynamics of self-Assembled peptide nanostructures using fluorescence and super resolution microscopy Chemical Communications 53, (53), 7294-7297

Understanding the formation and properties of self-Assembled peptide nanostructures is the basis for the design of new architectures for various applications. Here we show the potential of fluorescence and super resolution imaging to unveil the structural and dynamic features of peptide nanofibers with high spatiotemporal resolution.