A precise imaging technique to evaluate osteogenesis, osteodifferentiation, and osseointegration following peri-implant surgery is in high clinical demand. Herein, we report the generation of two new, near-infrared (NIR) fluorescent probes for use in the molecular imaging of bone repair. The first probe aims to monitor the in vitro differentiation of human mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) into osteoblasts. A NIR fluorochrome was conjugated to a cyclic peptide that binds to integrin α5β1, a factor that promotes osteogenesis in MSCs and therefore functioned as an osteoblast-specific marker. The second probe aims to monitor osteogenesis, and was generated by conjugating the drug pamidronate to a NIR fluorescent gold nanocluster. Pamidronate specifically binds to hydroxyapatite (HA), a mineral present in bone that is produced by osteoblasts, and therefore provides a functional marker for new bone formation. Our results show that both probes bind to their specific targets in vitro-differentiated osteoblasts, and not to undifferentiated MSCs, and emit NIR fluorescence for functional detection. This in vitro work demonstrates the ability of these probes to bind to active osteoblasts and their mineral deposits and highlight their potential utility as clinical tools for the imaging of the osseointegration process at the molecular level.
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