Integration of exonuclease III-powered three-dimensional DNA walker with single-molecule detection for multiple initiator caspases assay†
Initiator caspases are important components of cellular apoptotic signaling and they can activate effector caspases in extrinsic and intrinsic apoptotic pathways. The simultaneous detection of multiple initiator caspases is essential for apoptosis mechanism studies and disease therapy. Herein, we develop a sensitive nanosensor based on the integration of exonuclease III (Exo III)-powered three-dimensional (3D) DNA walker with single-molecule detection for the simultaneous measurement of initiator caspase-8 and caspase-9. This assay involves two peptide–DNA detection probe-conjugated magnetic beads and two signal probe-conjugated gold nanoparticles (signal probes@AuNPs). The presence of caspase-8 and caspase-9 can induce the cleavage of peptides in two peptide–DNA detection probes, releasing two trigger DNAs from the magnetic beads, respectively. The two trigger DNAs can serve as the walker DNA to walk on the surface of the signal probes@AuNPs powered by Exo III digestion, liberating numerous Cy5 and Texas Red fluorophores which can be quantified by single-molecule detection, with Cy5 indicating caspase-8 and Texas Red indicating caspase-9. Notably, the introduction of the AuNP-based 3D DNA walker greatly reduces the background signal and amplifies the output signals, and the introduction of single-molecule detection further improves the detection sensitivity. This nanosensor is very sensitive with a detection limit of 2.08 × 10−6 U μL−1 for caspase-8 and 1.71 × 10−6 U μL−1 for caspase-9, and it can be used for the simultaneous screening of caspase inhibitors and the measurement of endogenous caspase activity in various cell lines at the single-cell level. Moreover, this nanosensor can be extended to detect various proteases by simply changing the peptide sequences of the detection probes.