One way of determining whether they're succeeded is by monitoring key early players in apoptosis called caspases, a family of usually quiescent enzymes found inside every mammalian cell. Activated by various biochemical cues from within or outside of the cell, caspases commence a cascade of molecular steps that steer the cell to a clean, quiet, orderly death.
"Caspases have to be very tightly controlled, since they are regulating cell death. If they get turned on, the cell dies," said Bogyo. His team created probes by affixing fluorescent "tags" to small molecules that were engineered to bind and stay bound almost exclusively to caspases, and only when the caspases are in an active state. The resulting probes are excited by certain wavelengths of light that travel through skin without being absorbed. The probes respond by giving off their own light, which can be imaged by a special detector.
"Our probe can't bind to inactive caspases," Bogyo said. "It can go into cells, but it doesn't get stuck it just circulates back out. So the only cells that fluoresce are the ones approaching death."
In an early test of the probe, Bogyo and his colleagues gave mice a drug called dexamethosone, which preferentially induces apoptosis in certain immature immune cells residing primarily in the thymus. After systemically injecting a solution containing the probes, the investigators observed fluorescence in the thymus, as predicted. They confirmed by chemical methods that the fluorescent probes were indeed binding to caspases.
Next, the team performed experiments with a new, experimental monoclonal antibody that activates caspases, by a mechanism different from that of dexamethasone
|Contact: Bruce Goldman|
Stanford University Medical Center