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Water-Soluble Tetraphenylethene Derivatives as Fluorescent “Light-Up” Probes for Nucleic Acid Detection and Their Applications in Cell Imaging

Authors

  • Dr. Yuning Hong,

    1. Department of Chemistry, Institute for Advanced Study, Division of Biomedical Engineering and Institute of Molecular Functional Materials, The Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, Clear Water Bay, Kowloon, Hong Kong (China), Fax: (+852) 2358-1594
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  • Sijie Chen,

    1. Department of Chemistry, Institute for Advanced Study, Division of Biomedical Engineering and Institute of Molecular Functional Materials, The Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, Clear Water Bay, Kowloon, Hong Kong (China), Fax: (+852) 2358-1594
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  • Chris Wai Tung Leung,

    1. Department of Chemistry, Institute for Advanced Study, Division of Biomedical Engineering and Institute of Molecular Functional Materials, The Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, Clear Water Bay, Kowloon, Hong Kong (China), Fax: (+852) 2358-1594
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  • Dr. Jacky Wing Yip Lam,

    1. Department of Chemistry, Institute for Advanced Study, Division of Biomedical Engineering and Institute of Molecular Functional Materials, The Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, Clear Water Bay, Kowloon, Hong Kong (China), Fax: (+852) 2358-1594
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  • Prof. Ben Zhong Tang

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Chemistry, Institute for Advanced Study, Division of Biomedical Engineering and Institute of Molecular Functional Materials, The Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, Clear Water Bay, Kowloon, Hong Kong (China), Fax: (+852) 2358-1594
    2. Guangdong Innovative Research Team, SCUT-HKUST Joint Research Laboratory, State Key Laboratory of Luminescent Materials and Devices, South China University of Technology, Guangzhou 510640 (China)
    3. HKUST Shenzhen Research Institute, Nanshan, Shenzhen 518057 (China)
    • Department of Chemistry, Institute for Advanced Study, Division of Biomedical Engineering and Institute of Molecular Functional Materials, The Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, Clear Water Bay, Kowloon, Hong Kong (China), Fax: (+852) 2358-1594

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Abstract

The detection of nucleic acids, such as DNA and RNA, plays a significant role in genetic engineering, forensics, and bioinformatics. Traditional nucleic acid probes are mainly intercalators, which are potential mutagens, or groove binders that show high preference only for double-stranded DNA. We herein present two versatile fluorescent probes for nucleic acid detection and visualization. The nonemissive tetraphenylethene derivatives (TTAPE) are induced by DNA/RNA to emit, thereby showing a novel phenomenon of aggregation-induced emission (AIE). This kind of “light-up” property enables the quantitation and visualization of nucleic acids in aqueous solution and electrophoretic gels, respectively. The cationic TTAPE can penetrate cells with a compromised plasma membrane easily but cannot enter live cells with an intact membrane, thus making them useful for the differentiation between dead and live cells. On account of the high binding affinity to DNA, TTAPE can selectively label the chromosomes and nuclei in fixed cells, which provides a simple and fast method for the observation of cell mitosis. Owing to their AIE characteristics, the dye molecules aggregate in DNA-rich regions and exert appreciable quantum efficiency as well as superior photostability.

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