Fluorescent biosensors of intracellular targets from genetically encoded reporters to modular polypeptide probes

Cell Biochem Biophys. 2010;56(1):19-37. doi: 10.1007/s12013-009-9070-7.


With the escalation of drug discovery programmes, it has become essential to visualize and monitor biological activities in healthy and pathological cells, with high spatial and temporal resolution. To this aim, the development of probes and sensors, which can report on the levels and activities of specific intracellular targets, has become essential. Together with the discovery of the Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP), and the development of GFP-based reporters, recent advances in the synthesis of small molecule fluorescent probes, and the explosion of fluorescence-based imaging technologies, the biosensor field has witnessed a dramatic expansion of fluorescence-based reporters which can be applied to complex biological samples, living cells and tissues to probe protein/protein interactions, conformational changes and posttranslational modifications. Here, we review recent developments in the field of fluorescent biosensor technology. We describe different varieties and categories of fluorescent biosensors together with an overview of the technologies commonly employed to image biosensors in cellulo and in vivo. We discuss issues and strategies related to the choice of synthetic fluorescent probes, labelling, quenching, caging and intracellular delivery of biosensors. Finally, we provide examples of some well-characterized genetically encoded FRET reporter systems, peptide and protein biosensors and describe biosensor applications in a wide variety of fields.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biosensing Techniques / methods*
  • Fluorescent Dyes / chemical synthesis
  • Fluorescent Dyes / chemistry
  • Fluorescent Dyes / metabolism*
  • Genes, Reporter / genetics*
  • Genetic Engineering*
  • Humans
  • Intracellular Space / metabolism*
  • Molecular Imaging
  • Peptides / chemical synthesis
  • Peptides / chemistry
  • Peptides / genetics*
  • Peptides / metabolism*


  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Peptides