Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) are a family of zinc-dependent enzymes capable of degrading extracellular matrix components. Previous studies have shown that the upregulation of MMP-2 is closely related to metastatic cancers. While Western blotting, zymography, and Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assays (ELISA) can be used to measure the amount of MMP-2 activity, it is not possible to visualize the dynamic MMP-2 activities of cancer cells using these techniques. In this study, MMP-2-activated poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) with polyethylenimine (MMP-2-PLGA-PEI) nanoparticles were developed to visualize time-dependent MMP-2 activities. The MMP-2-PLGA-PEI nanoparticles contain MMP-2-activated probes that were detectable via fluorescence microscopy only in the presence of MMP-2 activity, while the Rhodamine-based probes in the nanoparticles were used to continuously visualize the location of the nanoparticles. This approach allowed us to visualize MMP-2 activities in cancer cells and their microenvironment. Our results showed that the MMP-2-PLGA-PEI nanoparticles were able to distinguish between MMP-2-positive (HaCat) and MMP-2-negative (MCF-7) cells. While the MMP-2-PLGA-PEI nanoparticles gave fluorescent signals recovered by active recombinant MMP-2, there was no signal recovery in the presence of an MMP-2 inhibitor. In conclusion, MMP-2-PLGA-PEI nanoparticles are an effective tool to visualize dynamic MMP-2 activities of potential metastatic cancer cells.
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