Gold nanoparticles conjugated with DNA aptamer for photoacoustic detection of human matrix metalloproteinase-9

Matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9) plays major roles in extracellular matrix (ECM) remodeling and membrane protein cleavage, suggesting a high correlation with cancer cell invasion and tumor metastasis. Here, we present a contrast agent based on a DNA aptamer that can selectively target human MMP-9 in the tumor microenvironment (TME) with high affinity and sensitivity. Surface modification of plasmonic gold nanospheres with the MMP-9 aptamer and its complementary sequences allows the nanospheres to aggregate in the presence of human MMP-9 through DNA displacement and hybridization. Aggregation of gold nanospheres enhances the optical absorption in the first near-infrared window (NIR-I) due to the plasmon coupling effect, thereby allowing us to detect the aggregated gold nanospheres within the TME via ultrasound-guided photoacoustic (US/PA) imaging. Selective and sensitive detection of human MMP-9 via US/PA imaging is demonstrated in solution of nanosensors with the pre-treatment of human MMP-9, in vitro in cell culture, and in vivo in a xenograft murine model of human breast cancer.

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