Photoactivated Spatiotemporally-Responsive Nanosensors of in Vivo Protease Activity.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


ACS Nano, Volume 9, Issue 12, p.11708-17 (2015)


Proteases play diverse and important roles in physiology and disease, including influencing critical processes in development, immune responses, and malignancies. Both the abundance and activity of these enzymes are tightly regulated and highly contextual; thus, in order to elucidate their specific impact on disease progression, better tools are needed to precisely monitor in situ protease activity. Current strategies for detecting protease activity are focused on functionalizing synthetic peptide substrates with reporters that emit detection signals following peptide cleavage. However, these activity-based probes lack the capacity to be turned on at sites of interest and, therefore, are subject to off-target activation. Here we report a strategy that uses light to precisely control both the location and time of activity-based sensing. We develop photocaged activity-based sensors by conjugating photolabile molecules directly onto peptide substrates, thereby blocking protease cleavage by steric hindrance. At sites of disease, exposure to ultraviolet light unveils the nanosensors to allow proteases to cleave and release a reporter fragment that can be detected remotely. We apply this spatiotemporally controlled system to probe secreted protease activity in vitro and tumor protease activity in vivo. In vitro, we demonstrate the ability to dynamically and spatially measure metalloproteinase activity in a 3D model of colorectal cancer. In vivo, veiled nanosensors are selectively activated at the primary tumor site in colorectal cancer xenografts to capture the tumor microenvironment-enriched protease activity. The ability to remotely control activity-based sensors may offer a valuable complement to existing tools for measuring biological activity.