In vivo electron transfer processes are closely related to the activation of signaling pathways, and, thus, affect various life processes. Indeed, the signaling pathway activation of key molecules may be associated with certain diseases. For example, epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) activation is related to the occurrence and development of tumors. Hence, monitoring the activation of EGFR-related signaling pathways can help reveal the progression of tumor development. However, it is challenging for current detection methods to monitor the activation of specific signaling pathways in complex biochemical reactions. Here we designed a highly sensitive and specific nanoprobe that enables in vivo imaging of electronic transfer over a broad range of spatial and temporal scales. By using the ferrocene-DNA polymer "wire", the electrons transferred in a biochemical reaction can flow to persistent luminescent nanoparticles and change their electron distribution, thereby altering the optical signal of the particles. This electron transfer-triggered imaging probe enables mapping the activation of EGFR-related signaling pathways in a temporally and spatially precise manner. By offering precise visualization of signaling activity, this approach may offer a general platform not only for understanding molecular mechanisms in various biological processes but also for promoting disease therapies and drug evaluation.
© 2022. The Author(s).