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Advances in nanotechnology have provided new opportunities for the design of next-generation nucleic acid biosensors and diagnostics. Indeed, combining advances in functional nanoparticles, DNA nanotechnology, and nuclease-enzyme-based amplification can give rise to new assays with advantageous properties. In this work, we developed a microRNA (miRNA) assay using bright fluorescent quantum dots (QDs), simple DNA probes, and the enzyme duplex-specific nuclease. We employed an isothermal target-recycling mechanism, where a single miRNA target triggers the cleavage of many DNA signal probes. The incorporation of DNA-functionalized QDs enabled a quantitative fluorescent readout, mediated by Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET)-based interaction with the DNA signal probes. Our approach splits the reaction in two, performing the enzyme-mediated amplification and QD-based detection steps separately such that each reaction could be optimized for performance of the active components. Target recycling gave ca. 3 orders of magnitude amplification, yielding highly sensitive detection with a limit of 42 fM (or 1.2 amol) of miR-148, with excellent selectivity versus mismatched sequences and other miRNAs. Furthermore, we used an alternative target (miR-21) and FRET pair for direct and absolute quantification of miR-21 in RNA extracts from human cancer and normal cell lines.

Original publication




Journal article


ACS Appl Mater Interfaces

Publication Date





28290 - 28300


FRET, biosensing, isothermal amplification, miRNA, quantum dots, target-recycling, Biosensing Techniques, DNA Probes, Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer, Humans, MicroRNAs, Quantum Dots