Real-time detection and monitoring of cancer-related biomolecular interactions in live cells are of paramount importance for disease diagnostics and drug screening. Herein, we developed a target-specific fluorescent light-up probe for cellular detection of Mdm2, the key negative regulator of the p53 tumour suppressor protein. Conjugation of a uniquely designed fluorogen (TPECM) with aggregation induced- emission properties, to a specific p53-derived peptide (12.1Pep) targeting Mdm2, yielded a cell-permeable probe (TPECM–12.1Pep) with turn-on fluorescence properties for real-time live cell imaging of Mdm2. This specific light-up probe is almost non-fluorescent in its isolated state but is highly emissive upon binding to Mdm2, enabling quantitative detection of both Mdm2 and its antagonism. Using a model compound (Nutlin-3a), we demonstrate that the as-developed probes can be used to screen p53–Mdm2 inhibiting drug candidates, both in vitro and in cells. Furthermore, the probe activity can be accurately monitored in cells using a fluorescently activated cell sorting machine. These features will expedite research in the areas of drug discovery, clinical diagnostics and fundamental cell biology.
The authors would like to acknowledge the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Singapore, for the financial support under the JCO CDA grant 13302FG063 and Singapore National Research Foundation (R-279-444-381).