Apoptosis is a form of programmed cell death that is essential for maintaining internal environmental stability. Disordered apoptosis can cause a variety of diseases; therefore, sensing apoptosis can provide help in study of mechanism of the relevant diseases and drug development. It is known that caspase-3 is a key enzyme involved in apoptosis and the expression of its activity is an indication of apoptosis. Here, we present a genetically encoded switch-on mNeonGreen2-based molecular biosensor. mNeonGreen2 is the brightest monomeric green fluorescent protein. The substrate of caspase-3, DEVD amino acid residues, is inserted in it, while cyclized by insertion of Nostoc punctiforme DnaE intein to abolish the fluorescence (inactive state). Caspase-3-catalyzed cleavage of DEVD linearizes mNeonGreen2 and rebuilds the natural barrel structure to restore the fluorescence (activated state). The characterization exhibited that the Caspase-3 biosensor has shortened response time, higher sensitivity, and prolonged functional shelf life in detection of caspase-3 amongst the existing counterparts. We also used the Caspase-3 biosensor to evaluate the effect of several drugs on the induction of apoptosis of HeLa and MCF-7 tumor cells and inhibition of Zika virus invasion.
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