Imaging mRNA expression levels in living cells with PNADNA binary FRET probes delivered by cationic shell-crosslinked nanoparticles.
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Optical imaging of gene expression through the use of fluorescent antisense probes targeted to the mRNA has been an area of great interest. The main obstacles to developing highly sensitive antisense fluorescent imaging agents have been the inefficient intracellular delivery of the probes and high background signal from unbound probes. Binary antisense probes have shown great promise as mRNA imaging agents because a signal can only occur if both probes are bound simultaneously to the mRNA target site. Selecting an accessible binding site is made difficult by RNA folding and protein binding in vivo and the need to bind two probes. Even more problematic, has been a lack of methods for efficient cytoplasmic delivery of the probes that would be suitable for eventual applications in vivo in animals. Herein we report the imaging of iNOS mRNA expression in live mouse macrophage cells with PNADNA binary FRET probes delivered by a cationic shell crosslinked knedel-like nanoparticle (cSCK). We first demonstrate that FRET can be observed on in vitro transcribed mRNA with both the PNA probes and the PNADNA hybrid probes. We then demonstrate that the FRET signal can be observed in live cells when the hybrid probes are transfected with the cSCK, and that the strength of the FRET signal is sequence specific and depends on the mRNA expression level.