DNA aptamers are a powerful class of molecules for sensing targets, but have been limited when applied to imaging in living animals because most aptamer probes are fluorescence-based, which limits imaging penetration depth. Photoacoustic (PA) imaging emerged as an alternative to MRI and X-ray tomography in biomedical imaging, due to its ability to afford high-resolution images at depths in the cm range. Despite its promise, PA imaging is limited by a lack of strategies to design selective and activatable probes for targets. To overcome this limitation, we report design and demonstration of PA probes based on DNA aptamers that can hybridize to DNA strands conjugated to a near-infrared fluorophore/quencher pair (IRDye 800CW/IRDye QC-1) with efficient contact quenching. Binding of the target triggered a release of the DNA strand with the quencher and thus relief of the contact quenching, resulting in a change of the PA signal ratio at 780/725 nm. Using thrombin as a model, a relationship was established between the thrombin concentrations and the PA ratio, with a dynamic range of 0-1000 nM and a limit of detection of 112 nM. Finally, in vivo PA imaging studies showed that the PA ratio increased significantly 45 min after injection of thrombin but not with injection of PBS as a vehicle control, demonstrating the first aptamer-based activatable PA probe for advanced molecular imaging in living mice. Since in vitro selection can obtain aptamers selective for many targets, the design demonstrated can be applied for PA imaging of a number of targets.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Colloid and Surface Chemistry