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J Am Chem Soc. 2013 Sep 4;135(35):12952-5. doi: 10.1021/ja406252w. Epub 2013 Aug 21.

A targeted, self-delivered, and photocontrolled molecular beacon for mRNA detection in living cells.

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Molecular Science and Biomedicine Laboratory, State Key Laboratory of Chemo/Bio-Sensing and Chemometrics, Hunan University, Changsha 410082, China.


The spatiotemporal dynamics of specific mRNA molecules are difficult to image and detect inside living cells, and this has been a significant challenge for the chemical and biomedical communities. To solve this problem, we have developed a targeted, self-delivered, and photocontrolled aptamer-based molecular beacon (MB) for intracellular mRNA analysis. An internalizing aptamer connected via a double-stranded DNA structure was used as a carrier probe (CP) for cell-specific delivery of the MB designed to signal target mRNA. A light activation strategy was employed by inserting two photolabile groups in the CP sequence, enabling control over the MB's intracellular function. After the probe was guided to the target cell via specific binding of aptamer AS1411 to nucleolin on the cell membrane, light illumination released the MB for mRNA monitoring. Consequently, the MB is able to perform live-cell mRNA imaging with precise spatiotemporal control, while the CP acts as both a tracer for intracellular distribution of the MB before photoinitiation and an internal reference for mRNA ratiometric detection.

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