Molecular therapy. Nucleic acids

A cancer cell-activatable aptamer-reporter system for one-step assay of circulating tumor cells.

PMID 25118170


The current antibody-mediated numeration assays of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) require multiple steps and are time-consuming. To overcome these technical limitations, a cancer cell-activatable aptamer-reporter was formulated by conjugating a biomarker-specific aptamer sequence with paired fluorochrome-quencher molecules. In contrast to the antibody probes, the intact aptamer-reporter was optically silent in the absence of cells of interest. However, when used in an assay, the aptamer selectively targeted cancer cells through interaction with a specific surface biomarker, which triggered internalization of the aptamer-reporter and, subsequently, into cell lysosomes. Rapid lysosomal degradation of the aptamer-reporter resulted in separation of the paired fluorochrome-quencher molecules. The released fluorochrome emitted bright fluorescent signals exclusively within the targeted cancer cells, with no background noise in the assay. Thus, the assays could be completed in a single step within minutes. By using this one-step assay, CTCs in whole blood and marrow aspirate samples of patients with lymphoma tumors were selectively highlighted and rapidly detected with no off-target signals from background blood cells. The development of the cancer cell-activatable aptamer-reporter system allows for the possibility of a simple and robust point-of-care test for CTC detection, which is currently unavailable.