Uptake and localisation of small-molecule fluorescent probes in living cells: a critical appraisal of QSAR models and a case study concerning probes for DNA and RNA
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Small-molecule fluorochromes are used in biology and medicine to generate informative microscopic and macroscopic images, permitting identification of cell structures, measurement of physiological/physicochemical properties, assessment of biological functions and assay of chemical components. Modes of uptake and precise intracellular localisation of a probe are typically significant factors in its successful application. These processes and localisations can be predicted using quantitative structure activity relations (QSAR) models, which correlate aspects of the physicochemical properties of the probes (expressed numerically) with the uptake/localisation. Pay-offs of such modelling include better understanding and trouble-shooting of current and novel probes, and easier design of future probes (“guided synthesis”). Uptake models discussed consider adsorptive (to lipid or protein domains), phagocytic and pinocytotic endocytosis, as well as passive diffusion. Localisation models discussed include those for cytosol, endoplasmic reticulum, Golgi apparatus, lipid droplets, lysosomes, mitochondria, nucleus and plasma membrane. A case example illustrates how such QSAR modelling of probe interactions can clarify localisation and mode of binding of probes to intracellular nucleic acids of living cells, including not only eukaryotic chromatin DNA and ribosomal RNA, but also prokaryote chromosomes.