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

Zihua Zeng, Ching Hsuan Tung, Youli Zu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


The current antibody-mediated numeration assays of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) require multiple steps and are timeconsuming. 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-ofcare test for CTC detection, which is currently unavailable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere184
Pages (from-to)e184
JournalMolecular Therapy - Nucleic Acids
StatePublished - May 8 2014


  • Aptamer-reporter
  • Cell-activatable
  • Circulating tumor cell detection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Drug Discovery


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