Recent advances in fluorescence microscopy have enabled high-resolution imaging and tracking of single proteins and biomolecules in cells. To achieve high spatial resolutions in the nanometer range, bright and photostable fluorescent probes are critically required. From this view, there is a strong need for development of advanced fluorescent probes with molecular-scale dimensions for fluorescence imaging. Polymer-based dendrimer nanoconjugates hold strong potential to serve as versatile fluorescent probes due to an intrinsic capacity for tailored spectral properties such as brightness and emission wavelength. In this work, we report a new, to our knowledge, class of molecular probes based on dye-conjugated dendrimers for fluorescence imaging and single-molecule fluorescence microscopy. We engineered fluorescent dendritic nanoprobes (FDNs) to contain multiple organic dyes and reactive groups for target-specific biomolecule labeling. The photophysical properties of dye-conjugated FDNs (Cy5-FDNs and Cy3-FDNs) were characterized using single-molecule fluorescence microscopy, which revealed greatly enhanced photostability, increased probe brightness, and improved localization precision in high-resolution fluorescence imaging compared to single organic dyes. As proof-of-principle demonstration, Cy5-FDNs were used to assay single-molecule nucleic acid hybridization and for immunofluorescence imaging of microtubules in cytoskeletal networks. In addition, Cy5-FDNs were used as reporter probes in a single-molecule protein pull-down assay to characterize antibody binding and target protein capture. In all cases, the photophysical properties of FDNs resulted in enhanced fluorescence imaging via improved brightness and/or photostability.
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