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Bioconjug Chem. 2010 Jul 21;21(7):1297-304. doi: 10.1021/bc1000998.

Optical imaging of bacterial infection in living mice using deep-red fluorescent squaraine rotaxane probes.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Notre Dame Integrated Imaging Facility, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana 46556, USA.


Two structurally related fluorescent imaging probes allow optical imaging of bacterial leg infection models in living athymic and immunocompetent mice. Structurally, the probes are comprised of a deep-red fluorescent squaraine rotaxane scaffold with two appended bis(zinc(II)-dicolylamine) (bis(Zn-DPA)) targeting ligands. The bis(Zn-DPA) ligands have high affinity for the anionic phospholipids and related biomolecules that reside within the bacterial envelope, and they are known to selectively target bacterial cells over the nearly uncharged membrane surfaces of healthy mammalian cells. Planar, whole-animal optical imaging studies showed that intravenous dosing of either probe (10 nmol) allowed imaging of localized infections of Gram-positive Staphylococcus aureus and Gram-negative Salmonella enterica serovar typhimurium. High selectivity for the infected target leg (T) over the contralateral nontarget leg (NT) was reflected by T/NT ratios up to six. The infection imaging signal was independent of mouse humoral immune status, and there was essentially no targeting at a site of sterile inflammation induced by injection of lambda-carrageenan. Furthermore, the fluorescent probe imaging signal colocalized with the bioluminescence signal from a genetically engineered strain of S. enterica serovar typhimurium. Although not highly sensitive (the localized infection must contain at least approximately 10(6) colony forming units for fluorescence visualization), the probes are remarkably selective for bacterial cells considering their low molecular weight (<1.5 kDa) and simple structural design. The more hydrophilic of the two probes produced a higher T/NT ratio in the early stages of the imaging experiment and washed out more rapidly from the blood clearance organs (liver, kidney). Therefore, it is best suited for longitudinal studies that require repeated dosing and imaging of the same animal. The results indicate that fluorescent probes based on squaraine rotaxanes should be broadly useful for in vivo animal imaging studies, and they further validate the ability of imaging probes with bis(Zn-DPA) ligands to selectively target bacterial infections in living animals.

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