MicroRNAs (miRNAs), as key regulators in gene expression networks, have participated in many biological processes, including cancer initiation, progression, and metastasis, indicative of potential diagnostic biomarkers and therapeutic targets. To tackle the low abundance of miRNAs in a single cell, we have developed programmable nanodevices with MNAzymes to realize stringent recognition and in situ amplification of intracellular miRNAs for multiplexed detection and controlled drug release. As a proof of concept, miR-21 and miR-145, respectively up- and down-expressed in most tumor tissues, were selected as endogenous cancer indicators and therapy triggers to test the efficacy of the photothermal nanodevices. The sequence programmability and specificity of MNAzyme motifs enabled the fluorescent turn-on probes not only to sensitively profile the distributions of miR-21/miR-145 in cell lysates of HeLa, HL-60, and NIH 3T3 (9632/0, 14147/0, 2047/421 copies per cell, respectively) but also to visualize trace amounts of miRNAs in a single cell, allowing logic operation for graded cancer risk assessment and dynamic monitoring of therapy response by confocal microscopy and flow cytometry. Furthermore, through general molecular design, the MNAzyme motifs could serve as three-dimensional gatekeepers to lock the doxorubicin inside the nanocarriers. The drug nanocarriers were exclusively internalized into the target tumor cells via aptamer-guided recognition and reopened by the endogenous miRNAs, where the drug release rates could be spatial-temporally controlled by the modulation of miRNA expression. Integrated with miRNA profiling techniques, the designed nanodevices can provide general strategy for disease diagnosis, prognosis, and combination treatment with chemotherapy and gene therapy.
Keywords: DNAzyme; drug delivery; intracellular imaging; logic operation; microRNAs.