Improved Cathepsin Probes for Sensitive Molecular Imaging

Yonit Yitzhak, Hanmant Gaikwad, Tommy Weiss-Sadan, Emmanuelle Merquiol, Boris Turk, Galia Blum*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cysteine cathepsin proteases are found under normal conditions in the lysosomal compart-ments of cells, where they play pivotal roles in a variety of cellular processes such as protein and lipid metabolism, autophagy, antigen presentation, and cell growth and proliferation. As a consequence, aberrant localization and activity contribute to several pathologic conditions such as a variety of malignancies, cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis, and other diseases. Hence, there is a resurgence of interest to expand the toolkit to monitor intracellular cathepsin activity and better ascertain their functions under these circumstances. Previous fluorescent activity-based probes (ABPs) that target cathepsins B, L, and S enabled detection of their activity in intact cells as well as non-invasive detection in animal disease models. However, their binding potency is suboptimal compared to the cathepsin inhibitor on which they were based, as the P1 positive charge was capped by a reporter tag. Here, we show the development of an improved cathepsin ABP that has a P1 positive charge by linking the tag on an additional amino acid at the end of the probe. While enhancing potency towards recombinant cathepsins, the new probe had reduced cell permeability due to additional peptide bonds. At a second phase, the probe was trimmed; the fluorophore was linked to an extended carbobenzoxy moiety, leading to enhanced cell permeability and superb detection of cathepsin activity in intact cells. In conclusion, this work introduces a prototype design for the next generation of highly sensitive ABPs that have excellent detection of cellular cathepsin activity.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number842
Issue number3
StatePublished - 27 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

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© 2022 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Activity-based probes
  • Cathepsin
  • Cell permeability


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