Am J Nucl Med Mol Imaging. 2019; 9(5): 230–242.
We evaluated a cysteine cathepsin-activatable optical imaging probe (LUM015) with improved kinetics relative to larger macromolecules for detection and characterization of colorectal cancer (CRC), and thereby assessed its potential use in fluorescence-guided colonoscopy. We showed that LUM015 is stable in plasma. In-vitro studies demonstrated selectivity of LUM015 for targeting cathepsins; there was robust increase in emitted fluorescence signal from the cathepsin overexpressing HT-29 CRC cells within 1-5 minutes after incubation with LUM015 compared to the cells incubated with combination of LUM015 and a pan-protease inhibitor (as negative control). Biodistribution, differential accumulation of the probe in the tumor and tumor-to-background fluorescence signal ratio of LUM015 were compared to ProSense680, a commercially available protease-activatable optical imaging probe, over 24 hours after intravenous injection of the probes in nude mice with subcutaneously implanted HT-29 tumors. LUM015 showed distinct kinetics compared to ProSense680 with time to peak signal for subcutaneous tumor-to-colon ratio of 3.3±0.3 (mean ± SD) at 4-8 hours compared to 2.9±0.2 at 24 hours, respectively (n=8 for each group). Near-infrared fluorescence imaging and dual channel colonoscopy of the mice with orthotopic colon tumors showed tumor-to-colon ratio of 3.7±0.2 in HT-29 tumors (n=4), 2.8±0.1 in genetically engineered mice with APCKOKrasLSL-G12Dp53flox/flox mutation (n=4), and 4.1±0.1 in mice with APCLoxP/LoxPMsh2LoxP/LoxP mutation (n=4) at 6 hours after LUM015 administration. Immunohistochemistry and laser confocal microscopy of the extracted tumors confirmed high expression of cysteine cathepsins in all colon tumor types tested. Optical imaging with cathepsin-activatable LUM015 in multiple models of CRC highlights its potential for increasing the efficacy of CRC screening and therapeutic procedures.