Direct Real-Time Monitoring of Prodrug Activation by Chemiluminescence

Angew Chem Int Ed Engl. 2018 Jul 16;57(29):9033-9037. doi: 10.1002/anie.201804816. Epub 2018 Jun 19.


The majority of theranostic prodrugs reported so far relay information through a fluorogenic response generated upon release of the active chemotherapeutic agent. A chemiluminescence detection mode offers significant advantages over fluorescence, mainly due to the superior signal-to-noise ratio of chemiluminescence. Here we report the design and synthesis of the first theranostic prodrug monitored by a chemiluminescence diagnostic mode. As a representative model, we prepared a prodrug from the chemotherapeutic monomethyl auristatin E, which was modified for activation by β-galactosidase. The activation of the prodrug in the presence of β-galactosidase is accompanied by emission of a green photon. Light emission intensities, which increase with increasing concentration of the prodrug, were linearly correlated with a decrease in the viability of a human cell line that stably expresses β-galactosidase. We obtained sharp intravital chemiluminescent images of endogenous enzymatic activity in β-galactosidase-overexpressing tumor-bearing mice. The exceptional sensitivity achieved with the chemiluminescence diagnostic mode should allow the exploitation of theranostic prodrugs for personalized cancer treatment.

Keywords: chemiluminescence; fluorescence probes; molecular imaging; prodrugs; theranostics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemical synthesis
  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Screening Assays, Antitumor
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Luminescent Measurements*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Molecular Structure
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / pathology
  • Oligopeptides / chemical synthesis
  • Oligopeptides / chemistry
  • Oligopeptides / pharmacology*
  • Optical Imaging
  • Prodrugs / chemical synthesis
  • Prodrugs / chemistry
  • Prodrugs / pharmacology*
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Time Factors


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Oligopeptides
  • Prodrugs
  • monomethyl auristatin E