A nucleic acid strand displacement system for the multiplexed detection of tuberculosis-specific mRNA using quantum dots†
The development of rapid, robust and high performance point-of-care diagnostics relies on the advancement and combination of various areas of research. We have developed an assay for the detection of multiple mRNA molecules that combines DNA nanotechnology with fluorescent nanomaterials. The core switching mechanism is toehold-mediated strand displacement. We have used fluorescent quantum dots (QDs) as signal transducers in this assay, as they bring many benefits including bright fluorescence and multiplexing abilities. The resulting assay is capable of multiplexed detection of long RNA targets against a high concentration of background non-target RNA, with high sensitivity and specificity and limits of detection in the nanomolar range using only a standard laboratory plate reader. We demonstrate the utility of our QD-based system for the detection of two genes selected from a microarray-derived tuberculosis-specific gene expression signature. Levels of up- and downregulated gene transcripts comprising this signature can be combined to give a disease risk score, making the signature more amenable for use as a diagnostic marker. Our QD-based approach to detect these transcripts could pave the way for novel diagnostic assays for tuberculosis.