VIPER nano: Improved Live Cell Intracellular Protein Tracking

ACS Appl Mater Interfaces. 2019 Oct 9;11(40):36383-36390. doi: 10.1021/acsami.9b12679. Epub 2019 Oct 1.


Tracking intracellular proteins in live cells has many challenges. The most widely used method, fluorescent protein fusions, can track proteins in their native cellular environment and has led to significant discoveries in cell biology. Fusion proteins add steric bulk to the target protein and can negatively affect native protein function. The use of exogenous probes such as antibodies or protein labels is problematic because these cannot cross the plasma membrane on their own and thus cannot label intracellular targets in cells. We developed a labeling platform, VIPERnano, for live cell imaging of intracellular proteins using a peptide fusion tag (CoilE) to the protein of interest and delivery of a fluorescently labeled probe peptide (CoilR). CoilR and CoilE form an α-helical heterodimer with the protein of interest, rendering a labeled protein. Delivery of CoilR into the cell uses hollow gold nanoshells (HGNs) as the primary delivery vehicle. The technology relies on the conjugation and light-activated release of the CoilR peptide on the surface of the HGNs. We demonstrate light-activated VIPERnano delivery and labeling with two intracellular proteins, localized either in the mitochondria or the nucleus. This technology has the ability to study intracellular protein dynamics and spatial tracking while lessening the steric bulk of tags associated with the protein of interest.

Keywords: coiled coil; hollow gold nanoshells; live cell imaging; peptide delivery; protein tagging.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Survival
  • Drug Liberation
  • Endocytosis
  • Fluorescent Dyes / metabolism
  • Gold / chemistry
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Intracellular Space / metabolism*
  • Lasers
  • Nanoshells / chemistry
  • Particle Size
  • Peptides / metabolism
  • Protein Transport
  • Staining and Labeling / methods*


  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Peptides
  • Gold