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Amplified fluorescence sensing of protease activity with conjugated polyelectrolytes

  • Mauricio R. Pinto
  • Kirk S. Schanze
National Academy of Sciences
Publication Date
May 10, 2004
  • Biology


Fluorescent conjugated polyelectrolytes with pendant ionic sulfonate and carboxylate groups are used to sense protease activity. Inclusion of the fluorescent conjugated polyelectrolyte into the assay scheme leads to amplification of the sensory response. The sensing mechanism relies on an electrostatic interaction between the conjugated polyelectrolyte and a peptide substrate that is labeled with a fluorescence quencher. Enzyme activity and hydrolysis kinetics are measured in real time by using fluorescence spectroscopy. Two approaches are presented. In the first approach, a fluorescence turn-on sensor was developed that is based on the use of p-nitroanilide-labeled peptide substrates. In this system enzyme-catalyzed peptide hydrolysis is signaled by an increase in the fluorescence from the conjugated polyelectrolyte. The turn-on system was used to sense peptidase and thrombin activity when the concentrations of the enzyme and substrate are in the nanomolar regime. Kinetic parameters were recovered from real-time assays. In the second approach, a fluorescence turn-off sensor was developed that relies on a peptide-derivatized rhodamine substrate. In the turn-off system enzyme-catalyzed peptide hydrolysis is signaled by a decrease in the fluorescence intensity of the conjugated polyelectrolyte.

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