Carbon dots as analytical tools for sensing of thioredoxin reductase and screening of cancer cells†
Thioredoxin Reductase (TrxR) is a redox regulating enzyme which is predestined for the maintenance of redox homeostasis of mammalian cells. However, the elevated level of TrxR is associated with the progress of various types of tumors and therefore, this is a significant target for the detection of cancer cells. Herein, an easily engineered ‘Turn ON’ fluorescent sensor probe has been synthesized for the detection of TrxR and cell imaging using carbon dots. The emission intensity of fCDs on complexation with Cu2+ ions was drastically quenched. Subsequently, the addition of TrxR to the solution of the fCDs-Cu2+ complex leads to the cleavage of the disulfide bond of the fCDs, which acclaim the release of 3-mercaptopropionic acid. 3-Mercaptopropionic acid, being a strong bi-dentate chelating agent for Cu2+ ions, extracted Cu2+ from the coordination sphere of fCDs and restored the original fluorescence intensity of fCDs. Thus, the probe is operating with a simple process of “ON–OFF” emission switching due to Cu2+ and “OFF–ON” switching with TrxR. The probe has been successfully used for real-time application to monitor TrxR activities in the complex biological system. The fluorescence images of MCF-7 and HeLa cells after incubation with the fCDs-Cu2+ complex were recorded under a confocal laser scanning microscope (CLSM) as a function of time. Enhancement in the emission intensity of cancer cells after 2 h of treatment demonstrates the potential application of the sensor probe for the bioimaging of endogenous TrxR in living cells and screening of cancer cells. Such fluorescent probes will open the door for the development of promising clinical devices for the diagnosis of cancer cells.