A dual-fluorophore sensor approach for ratiometric fluorescence imaging of potassium in living cells
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1039/d0sc03844j
Potassium is the most abundant intracellular metal in the body, playing vital roles in regulating intracellular fluid volume, nutrient transport, and cell-to-cell communication through nerve and muscle contraction. On the other hand, aberrant alterations in K+ homeostasis contribute to a diverse array of diseases spanning cardiovascular and neurological disorders to diabetes to kidney disease to cancer. There is an unmet need for studies of K+ physiology and pathology owing to the large differences in intracellular versus extracellular K+ concentrations ([K+]intra = 150 mM, [K+]extra = 3-5 mM). With a relative dearth of methods to reliably measure dynamic changes in intracellular K+ in biological specimens that meet the dual challenges of low affinity and high selectivity for K+, particularly over Na+, currently available fluorescent K+ sensors are largely optimized with high-affinity receptors that are more amenable for extracellular K+ detection. We report the design, synthesis, and biological evaluation of Ratiometric Potassium Sensor 1 (RPS-1), a dual-fluorophore sensor that enables ratiometric fluorescence imaging of intracellular potassium in living systems. RPS-1 links a potassium-responsive fluorescent sensor fragment (PS525) with a low-affinity, high-selectivity crown ether receptor for K+ to a potassium-insensitive reference fluorophore (Coumarin 343) as an internal calibration standard through ester bonds. Upon intracellular delivery, esterase-directed cleavage splits these two dyes into separate fragments to enable ratiometric detection of K+. RPS-1 responds to K+ in aqueous buffer with high selectivity over competing metal ions and is sensitive to potassium ions at steady-state intracellular levels and can respond to decreases or increases from that basal set point. Moreover, RPS-1 was applied for comparative screening of K+ pools across a panel of different cancer cell lines, revealing elevations in basal intracellular K+ in metastatic breast cancer cell lines vs. normal breast cells. This work provides a unique chemical tool for the study of intracellular potassium dynamics and a starting point for the design of other ratiometric fluorescent sensors based on two-fluorophore approaches that do not rely on FRET or related energy transfer designs.