Bioinspired Small-Molecule Tools for the Imaging of Redox Biology

Amandeep Kaur, Elizabeth J. New

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


ConspectusThe availability of electrons to biological systems underpins the mitochondrial electron transport chain (ETC) that powers living cells. It is little wonder, therefore, that the sufficiency of electron supply is critical to cellular health. Considering mitochondrial redox activity alone, a lack of oxygen (hypoxia) leads to impaired production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the major energy currency of the cell, whereas excess oxygen (hyperoxia) is associated with elevated production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) from the interaction of oxygen with electrons that have leaked from the ETC. Furthermore, the redox proteome, which describes the reversible and irreversible redox modifications of proteins, controls many aspects of biological structure and function. Indeed, many major diseases, including cancer and diabetes, are now termed "redox diseases", spurring much interest in the measurement and monitoring of redox states and redox-active species within biological systems.In this Account, we describe recent efforts to develop magnetic resonance (MR) and fluorescence imaging probes for studying redox biology. These two classes of molecular imaging tools have proved to be invaluable in supplementing the structural information that is traditionally provided by MRI and fluorescence microscopy, respectively, with highly sensitive chemical information. Importantly, the study of biological redox processes requires sensors that operate at biologically relevant reduction potentials, which can be achieved by the use of bioinspired redox-sensitive groups. Since oxidation-reduction reactions are so crucial to modulating cellular function and yet also have the potential to damage cellular structures, biological systems have developed highly sophisticated ways to regulate and sense redox changes. There is therefore a plethora of diverse chemical structures in cells with biologically relevant reduction potentials, from transition metals to organic molecules to proteins. These chemical groups can be harnessed in the development of exogenous molecular imaging agents that are well-tuned to biological redox events.To date, small-molecule redox-sensitive tools for oxidative stress and hypoxia have been inspired from four classes of cellular regulators. The redox-sensitive groups found in redox cofactors, such as flavins and nicotinamides, can be used as reversible switches in both fluorescent and MR probes. Enzyme substrates that undergo redox processing within the cell can be modified to provide fluorescence or MR readout while maintaining their selectivity. Redox-active first-row transition metals are central to biological homeostasis, and their marked electronic and magnetic changes upon oxidation/reduction have been used to develop MR sensors. Finally, redox-sensitive amino acids, particularly cysteine, can be utilized in both fluorescent and MR sensors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)623-632
Number of pages10
JournalAccounts of Chemical Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 19 Mar 2019
Externally publishedYes

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