Research ArticleBIOSENSORS

Time-gated FRET nanoassemblies for rapid and sensitive intra- and extracellular fluorescence imaging

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Science Advances  10 Jun 2016:
Vol. 2, no. 6, e1600265
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1600265


Time-gated Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) using the unique material combination of long-lifetime terbium complexes (Tb) and semiconductor quantum dots (QDs) provides many advantages for highly sensitive and multiplexed biosensing. Although time-gated detection can efficiently suppress sample autofluorescence and background fluorescence from directly excited FRET acceptors, Tb-to-QD FRET has rarely been exploited for biomolecular imaging. We demonstrate Tb-to-QD time-gated FRET nanoassemblies that can be applied for intra- and extracellular imaging. Immunostaining of different epitopes of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) with Tb- and QD-conjugated antibodies and nanobodies allowed for efficient Tb-to-QD FRET on A431 cell membranes. The broad usability of Tb-to-QD FRET was further demonstrated by intracellular Tb-to-QD FRET and Tb-to-QD-to-dye FRET using microinjection as well as cell-penetrating peptide–mediated endocytosis with HeLa cells. Effective brightness enhancement by FRET from several Tb to the same QD, the use of low nanomolar concentrations, and the quick and sensitive detection void of FRET acceptor background fluorescence are important advantages for advanced intra- and extracellular imaging of biomolecular interactions.

  • quantum dots
  • terbium
  • immunostaining
  • nanobodies
  • cell penetrating peptides
  • FRET relays
  • cytosol
  • endocytosis
  • microinjection

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