Proteases are key signalling molecules for many physiological processes and their dysregulation is implicated in the progression of a range of diseases. Sensitive methods to measure protease activities in complex biological samples are critical for rapid disease diagnoses. The proteolytic activity of plasmin reflects the fibrinolysis state of blood and its deregulation can indicate pathologies such as bleeding events. While Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer (BRET) is a powerful and sensitive method for the detection of protease activity, the commonly applied blue-shifted BRET2 system, consisting of the Renilla luciferase Rluc2 and the large-stokes shift fluorescent protein GFP2, suffers from light absorption and light scattering in human plasma samples. To address this challenge, we developed a red-shifted BRET-based plasmin sensor by substituting BRET2 with the BRET6 system. BRET6 is composed of the red-shifted RLuc8.6 luciferase linked to the red light emitting fluorescent protein TurboFP635. The BRET6 biosensor exhibited 3-fold less light absorption in plasma samples compared to the BRET2 sensor leading to an up to a 5-fold increase in sensitivity for plasmin detection in plasma. The limits of detection for plasmin were determined to be 11.90 nM in 7.5% (v/v) plasma with a 10 min assay which enables biologically relevant plasmin activities of thrombolytic therapies to be detected. While a colorigenic plasmin activity assay achieved a similar detection limit of 10.91 nM in 7.5% (v/v) human plasma, it required a 2 h incubation period. The BRET6 sensor described here is faster and more specific than the colorigenic assay as it did not respond to unspiked human plasma samples.
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