Using a newly developed near-infrared (NIR) dye that fluoresces at two different wavelengths (dichromic fluorescence, DCF), we discovered a new fluorescent substrate for Akt, also known as protein kinase B, and a method to quantitatively report this enzyme's activity in real time. Upon insulin activation of cellular Akt, the enzyme multi-phosphorylated a single serine residue of a diserine DCF substrate in a time-dependent manner, culminating in monophospho-to triphospho-serine products. The NIR DCF probe was highly selective for the Akt1 isoform, which was demonstrated using Akt1 knockout cells derived from MMTV-ErbB2 transgenic mice. The DCF mechanism provides unparalleled potential to assess the stimulation, sustainability, and reversibility of Akt activation longitudinally. Importantly, NIR fluorescence provides a pathway to translate findings from cells to living organisms, a condition that could eventually facilitate the use of these probes in humans.
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