DNA-gold nanoparticle probes are implemented in a simple strategy for direct microRNA (miRNA) quantification. Fluorescently labeled DNA-probe strands are immobilized on PEGylated gold nanoparticles (AuNPs). In the presence of target miRNA, DNA-RNA heteroduplexes are formed and become substrate for the endonuclease DSN (duplex-specific nuclease). Enzymatic hydrolysis of the DNA strands yields a fluorescence signal due to diffusion of the fluorophores away from the gold surface. We show that the molecular design of our DNA-AuNP probes, with the DNA strands immobilized on top of the PEG-based passivation layer, results in nearly unaltered enzymatic activity toward immobilized heteroduplexes compared to substrates free in solution. The assay, developed in a real-time format, allows absolute quantification of as little as 0.2 fmol of miR-203. We also show the application of the assay for direct quantification of cancer-related miR-203 and miR-21 in samples of extracted total RNA from cell cultures. The possibility of direct and absolute quantification may significantly advance the use of microRNAs as biomarkers in the clinical praxis.
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