Light-Controlled Recruitable Hybridization Chain Reaction on Exosome Vehicles for Highly Sensitive MicroRNA Imaging in Living Cells

Anal Chem. 2022 Jul 12;94(27):9665-9673. doi: 10.1021/acs.analchem.2c00974. Epub 2022 Jun 27.


Sensitive imaging of intracellular microRNA (miRNA) in living cells is of great significance. Isothermal hybridization chain reaction (HCR)-based methods, although have been widely used to monitor intracellular low-abundance miRNA, are still subjected to the challenges of limited signal amplification efficiency and compromised imaging resolution. In this work, we design a light-controlled recruitable HCR (LCR-HCR) strategy that enables us to well overcome these limitations. Exosomes as delivery and recruitment vehicles are modified with three cholesterol-modified hairpins (H1, H2, and H3), in which H1 is for anchoring target miRNA and H2 and H3 with photocleavable linkers (PC-linkers) are designed for spatiotemporal HCR. By controllably releasing probes with high local concentrations to efficiently trigger HCR and further recruiting the generated double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) polymers instead of dispersion in the cytoplasm, the LCR-HCR method can significantly improve the imaging contrast by confining all of the reactants on exosome vehicles. For a proof-of-concept demonstration, the miR-21 was analyzed by LCR-HCR with a limit of detection (LOD) down to 3.3 pM (corresponding to 165 amol per 50 μL) in vitro and four times higher response than traditional HCR in vivo. In general, the LCR-HCR method provides a powerful tool for sensitive miRNA imaging in living cells and cancer diagnosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biosensing Techniques*
  • DNA / genetics
  • Exosomes*
  • Limit of Detection
  • MicroRNAs* / genetics
  • Nucleic Acid Hybridization


  • MicroRNAs
  • DNA