Water-soluble fluorescent probe shows potential for early cancer detection

A research team in Finland has discovered a new water-soluble fluorescent detection system that is extremely sensitive to pyrophosphate (PPi), which has a key role in energy transduction, DNA replication, and other metabolic processes that are dysregulated in cancer cells.

May 6th, 2014

A research team led by Academy Professor Kari Rissanen at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland has discovered a new water-soluble fluorescent detection system that is extremely sensitive to pyrophosphate (PPi), which has a key role in energy transduction, DNA replication, and other metabolic processes that are dysregulated in cancer cells. The discovery might lead to the development of a method for early detection of cancer cells.

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The team developed a simple metal probe, which shows an intense orange fluorescent color in the presence of very low concentration of PPi in water. The probe had almost 1000 times higher level of response than earlier methods and an unprecedented sensitivity to detect PPi at a sub-nanomolar level (LOD ~ 0.8 nM). The discovery represents the first water-soluble fluorescent probe that can detect PPi at this sensitivity level under physiological conditions.

The highly sensitive probes that are able to report the PPi level could lead to improved cancer diagnostics because PPi plays a key role in energy transduction, DNA replication, and other metabolic processes that misbehave in cancer cells. All earlier PPi-selective sensor molecules or probes have suffered from poor water solubility and low sensitivity in water. They can reach only micromolar levels and, thus, researchers have had to rely on protein-based probes that have their own limitations.

The researchers were able to show that the probe can image the pyrophosphate in the nuclei of living (HeLa) cells, making it an excellent probe for live cell pyrophosphahe imaging. The HeLa cells, originally from Henrietta Lack’s cervix carcinoma, are the most long-lived human cancer cell line and are often used as a cancer cell model. In addition to their applicability in water, they can easily be formulated into a hydrogel and coated onto paper strips for low-cost pyrophosphate detection.

Full details of the work appear in the Journal of the American Cancer Society; for more information, please visit http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/ja5035039.

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