Targeting cells specifically based on receptor expression levels remains an area of active research to date. Selective binding of receptors cannot be achieved by increasing the individual binding strength, as this does not account for differing distributions of receptor density across healthy and diseased cells. Engaging receptors above a threshold concentration would be desirable in devising selective diagnostics. Integrins are prime target candidates as they are readily available on the cell surface and have been reported to be overexpressed in diseases. Insights into their spatial organization would therefore be advantageous to design selective targeting agents. Here, we investigated the effect of activation method on integrin α5
clustering by immunofluorescence and modeled the global neighbor distances with input from an immuno-staining assay and image processing of microscopy images. This data was used to engineer spatially-controlled DNA-scaffolded bivalent ligands, which we used to compare trends in spatial-selective binding observed across HUVEC, CHO and HeLa in resting versus activated conditions in confocal microscopy images. For HUVEC and CHO, the data demonstrated an improved selectivity and localisation of binding for smaller spacings ~7 nm and ~24 nm, in good agreement with the model. A deviation from the mode predictions for HeLa was observed, indicative of a clustered, instead of homogeneous, integrin organization. Our findings demonstrate how low-technology imaging methods can guide the design of spatially controlled ligands to selectively differentiate between cell type and integrin activation state.
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