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Real-Time Monitoring of Cell Apoptosis and Drug Screening Using Fluorescent Light-Up Probe with Aggregation-Induced Emission Characteristics

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Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, 4 Engineering Drive 4, National University of Singapore, Singapore 117576
# Department of Chemistry, Institute for Advanced Study, Division of Biomedical Engineering, State Key Laboratory of Molecular Neuroscience and Institute of Molecular Functional Materials, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Clear Water Bay, Kowloon, Hong Kong, China
Guangdong Innovative Research Team, State Key Laboratory of Luminescent Materials and Devices, South China University of Technology, Guangzhou 510640, China
§ Institute of Materials Research Engineering, 3 Research Link, Singapore 117602
Division of Chemistry and Biological Chemistry, School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore 637371
Cite this: J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2012, 134, 43, 17972–17981
Publication Date (Web):October 8, 2012
Copyright © 2012 American Chemical Society

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    Abstract Image

    Real-time monitoring of cell apoptosis could provide valuable insights into early detection of therapy efficiency and evaluation of disease progression. In this work, we designed and synthesized a new live-cell-permeable, fluorescent light-up probe for real-time cell apoptosis imaging. The probe is comprised of a hydrophilic caspase-specific Asp-Glu-Val-Asp (DEVD) peptide and a hydrophobic tetraphenylethene (TPE) unit, a typical fluorogen with aggregation-induced emission characteristics. In aqueous solution, the probe is almost nonfluorescent but displays significant fluorescence enhancement in response to caspase-3/-7, which are activated in the apoptotic process and able to cleave the DEVD moieties. This fluorescence “turn-on” response is ascribed to aggregation of cleaved hydrophobic TPE residues, which restricts the intramolecular rotations of TPE phenyl rings and populates the radiative decay channels. The light-up nature of the probe allows real-time monitoring of caspase-3/-7 activities both in solutions and in living cells with a high signal-to-noise ratio. The probe provides a new opportunity to screen enzyme inhibitors and evaluate the apoptosis-associated drug efficacy.

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    Experimental procedures for intermediates; structural characterization data for TPE-N3 and Ac-DEVDK-TPE; particle size distribution of TPE-N3 and K-TPE; absorption spectra of TPE-N3 and Ac-DEVDK-TPE; movie showing the dynamic process of cell apoptosis imaging. This material is available free of charge via the Internet at

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