Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Irvine

UC Irvine Previously Published Works bannerUC Irvine

Aptamer technology for tracking cells’ status & function


In fields such as cancer biology and regenerative medicine, obtaining information regarding cell bio-distribution, tropism, status, and other cellular functions are highly desired. Understanding cancer behaviors including metastasis is important for developing effective cancer treatments, while assessing the fate of therapeutic cells following implantation is critical to validate the efficacy and efficiency of the therapy. For visualization purposes with medical imaging modalities (e.g. magnetic resonance imaging), cells can be labeled with contrast agents (e.g. iron-oxide nanoparticles), which allows their identification from the surrounding environment. Despite the success of revealing cell biodistribution in vivo, most of the existing agents do not provide information about the status and functions of cells following transplantation. The emergence of aptamers, single-stranded RNA or DNA oligonucleotides of 15 to 60 bases in length, is a promising solution to address this need. When aptamers bind specifically to their cognate molecules, they undergo conformational changes which can be transduced into a change of imaging contrast (e.g. optical, magnetic resonance). Thus by monitoring this signal change, researchers can obtain information about the expression of the target molecules (e.g. mRNA, surface markers, cell metabolites), which offer clues regarding cell status/function in a non-invasive manner. In this review, we summarize recent efforts to utilize aptamers as biosensors for monitoring the status and function of transplanted cells. We focus on cancer cell tracking for cancer study, stem cell tracking for regenerative medicine, and immune cell (e.g. dendritic cells) tracking for immune therapy.

Many UC-authored scholarly publications are freely available on this site because of the UC's open access policies. Let us know how this access is important for you.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View