Sub-cellular trafficking and functionality of 2'-O-methyl and 2'-O-methyl-phosphorothioate molecular beacons
Molecular beacons (MBs) have shown great potential for the imaging of RNAs within single living cells; however, the ability to perform accurate measurements of RNA expression can be hampered by false-positives resulting from nonspecific interactions and/or nuclease degradation. These false-positives could potentially be avoided by introducing chemically modified oligonucleotides into the MB design. In this study, fluorescence microscopy experiments were performed to elucidate the subcellular trafficking, false-positive signal generation, and functionality of 2'-O-methyl (2Me) and 2'-O-methyl-phosphorothioate (2MePS) MBs. The 2Me MBs exhibited rapid nuclear sequestration and a gradual increase in fluorescence over time, with nearly 50% of the MBs being opened nonspecifically within 24 h. In contrast, the 2MePS MBs elicited an instantaneous increase in false-positives, corresponding to ~5–10% of the MBs being open, but little increase was observed over the next 24 h. Moreover, trafficking to the nucleus was slower. After 24 h, both MBs were localized in the nucleus and lysosomal compartments, but only the 2MePS MBs were still functional. When the MBs were retained in the cytoplasm, via conjugation to NeutrAvidin, a significant reduction in false-positives and improvement in functionality was observed. Overall, these results have significant implications for the design and applications of MBs for intracellular RNA measurement.