Development of fluorescent probes targeting Caspase-3 for detecting apoptosis
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The design and development of fluorescent reporters focussed on highly sensitive, specific, and selective imaging of cancer targets is described. These novel optical molecular probes were synthesised with the aim of creating bio-imaging breakthroughs that will aid the clinical analysis of cancer. A specific target of the project was to develop fluorescent reporters for Caspases; intracellular endopeptidases that play an essential role in apoptosis. Lack of activation of the ‘Caspase Cascade’ causes uncontrolled proliferation of cells and has been deemed a ‘Hallmark of Cancer’. In particular, low Caspases-3/7 activities have been associated with a range of cancers, thus molecular detection of Caspases-3/7 activities could therefore lead to advances in oncology. A 14-member FRET library, based upon Caspases-3/7 specific peptide sequences, was initially developed. The cleavage rates and KM values were evaluated for Caspases-3/7, along with the cleavage rates for Cathepsin B, to determine the peptide with the greatest affinity and specificity for Caspase-3. Also developed was a set of internally quenched activity based molecular reporters constructed by attaching fluorophores to a tribranched dendron through the Caspase specific peptide, developed from the FRET Library. The KM values of the dendron probes with Caspase-3 were also evaluated. Furthermore, the dendron reporters were attached to cell penetrating peptides to enable delivery to intracellular Caspase and allow in situ detection of activated Caspase-3 within live cells. In addition, a new labelling moiety was developed enabling dual detection of reporters through fluorescence and MRI imaging. To achieve this, a perfluoro tag (C8F17) was tethered to a Cy5 dye to enable dual detection. The dual 19F-MRI/Cy5 dye was conjugated onto to a cell penetrating peptide to enable in vivo detection of the probe by 19F-MRI and fluorescent imaging.