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Nat Chem Biol. 2006 Jul;2(7):375-80. Epub 2006 May 28.

Visualization of nitric oxide in living cells by a copper-based fluorescent probe.

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Department of Chemistry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA.


Nitric oxide (NO) serves as a messenger for cellular signaling. To visualize NO in living cells, we synthesized a turn-on fluorescent probe for use in combination with microscopy. Unlike existing fluorescent sensors, the construct--a Cu(II) complex of a fluorescein modified with an appended metal-chelating ligand (FL)--directly and immediately images NO rather than a derivative reactive nitrogen species. Using spectroscopic and mass spectrometric methods, we established that the mechanism of the reaction responsible for the NO-induced fluorescence involves reduction of the complex to Cu(I) with release of the nitrosated ligand, which occurs irreversibly. We detected NO produced by both constitutive and inducible NO synthases (cNOS and iNOS, respectively) in live neurons and macrophages in a concentration- and time-dependent manner by using the Cu(II)-based imaging agent. Both the sensitivity to nanomolar concentrations of NO and the spatiotemporal information provided by this complex demonstrate its value for numerous biological applications.

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