Light-up bioprobe with aggregation-induced emission characteristics for real-time apoptosis imaging in target cancer cells†
Specific bioprobes that are capable of real-time and targeted monitoring and imaging of cancer cell apoptosis are highly desirable for cancer diagnosis and the evaluation of cancer therapy efficacy. In this work, an asymmetric fluorescent light-up bioprobe with aggregation-induced emission (AIE) characteristics was designed and synthesized by the conjugation of two different hydrophilic peptides, caspase-specific Asp-Glu-Val-Asp (DEVD) and cyclic Arg-Gly-Asp (cRGD), onto a typical AIE luminogen of a tetraphenylsilole (TPS) unit. The asymmetric probe is almost non-emissive in aqueous solution and its fluorescence is significantly switched on in the presence of caspase-3. The fluorescence turn-on is due to the cleavage of the DEVD moiety by caspase-3, and the aggregation of released TPS-cRGD residues, which restricts the intramolecular rotations of TPS phenyl rings and populates the radiative decay channels. Application of the asymmetric light-up probe for real-time targeted imaging of cancer cell apoptosis is successfully demonstrated using integrin αvβ3 receptor overexpressing U87MG human glioblastoma cells as an example. The probe shows specific targeting capability to U87MG cancer cells by virtue of the efficient binding between cRGD and integrin αvβ3 receptors and is able to real-time monitor and image cancer cell apoptosis in a specific and sensitive manner.