Direct Kinetic Fingerprinting for High-Accuracy Single-Molecule Counting of Diverse Disease Biomarkers

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ConspectusMethods for detecting and quantifying disease biomarkers in biofluids with high specificity and sensitivity play a pivotal role in enabling clinical diagnostics, including point-of-care tests. The most widely used molecular biomarkers include proteins, nucleic acids, hormones, metabolites, and other small molecules. While numerous methods have been developed for analyzing biomarkers, most techniques are challenging to implement for clinical use due to insufficient analytical performance, high cost, and/or other practical shortcomings. For instance, the detection of cell-free nucleic acid (cfNA) biomarkers by digital PCR and next-generation sequencing (NGS) requires time-consuming nucleic acid extraction steps, often introduces enzymatic amplification bias, and can be costly when high specificity is required. While several amplification-free methods for detecting cfNAs have been reported, these techniques generally suffer from low specificity and sensitivity. Meanwhile, the quantification of protein biomarkers is generally performed using immunoassays such as enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA); the analytical performance of these methods is often limited by the availability of antibodies with high affinity and specificity as well as the significant nonspecific binding of antibodies to assay surfaces. To address the drawbacks of existing biomarker detection methods and establish a universal diagnostics platform capable of detecting different types of analytes, we have developed an amplification-free approach, named single-molecule recognition through equilibrium Poisson sampling (SiMREPS), for the detection of diverse biomarkers with arbitrarily high specificity and single-molecule sensitivity. SiMREPS utilizes the transient, reversible binding of fluorescent detection probes to immobilized target molecules to generate kinetic fingerprints that are detected by single-molecule fluorescence microscopy. The analysis of these kinetic fingerprints enables nearly perfect discrimination between specific binding to target molecules and any nonspecific binding. Early proof-of-concept studies demonstrated the in vitro detection of miRNAs with a limit of detection (LOD) of approximately 1 fM and >500-fold selectivity for single-nucleotide polymorphisms. The SiMREPS approach was subsequently expanded to the detection of rare mutant DNA alleles from biofluids at mutant allele fractions of as low as 1 in 1 million, corresponding to a specificity of >99.99999%. Recently, SiMREPS was generalized to protein quantification using dynamically binding antibody probes, permitting LODs in the low-femtomolar to attomolar range. Finally, SiMREPS has been demonstrated to be suitable for the in situ detection of miRNAs in cultured cells, the quantification of small-molecule toxins and drugs, and the monitoring of telomerase activity at the single-molecule level. In this Account, we discuss the principles of SiMREPS for the highly specific and sensitive detection of molecular analytes, including considerations for assay design. We discuss the generality of SiMREPS for the detection of very disparate analytes and provide an overview of data processing methods, including the expansion of the dynamic range using super-resolution analysis and the improvement of performance using deep learning algorithms. Finally, we describe current challenges, opportunities, and future directions for the SiMREPS approach.




Mandal, S., Li, Z., Chatterjee, T., Khanna, K., Montoya, K., Dai, L., … Walter, N. G. (2021). Direct Kinetic Fingerprinting for High-Accuracy Single-Molecule Counting of Diverse Disease Biomarkers. Accounts of Chemical Research, 54(2), 388–402.

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