Purpose: Positron emission tomography (PET) imaging of apoptosis is very important for early evaluation of tumor therapeutic efficacy. A stimuli-responsive probe based on the peptide sequence Asp-Glu-Val-Asp (DEVD), [18F]DEVD-Cys(StBu)-PPG(CBT)-AmBF3 ([18F]1), for PET imaging of tumor apoptosis was designed and prepared. This study aimed to develop a novel smart probe using a convenient radiosynthesis method and to fully examine the sensitivity and specificity of the probe response to the tumor treatment. Methods: The radiolabelling precursor DEVD-Cys(StBu)-PPG(CBT)-AmBF3 (1) was synthesized through multistep reactions. The reduction together with caspase-controlled macrocyclization and self-assembly of 1 was characterized and validated in vitro. After [18F]fluorination in the buffer (pH= 2.5), the radiolabelling yield (RLY), radiochemical purity (RCP) and stability of the probe [18F]1 in PBS and mouse serum were investigated by radio-HPLC. The sensitivity and specificity of [18F]1 for detecting the drug-induced apoptosis was fully evaluated in vitro and in vivo. The effect of cold precursor 1 on the cell uptake and tumor imaging of [18F]1 was also assessed. The level of activated caspase-3 in Hela cells and tumors with or without apoptosis induction was analyzed and compared by western blotting and histological staining. Results: The whole radiosynthesis process of [18F]1 was around 25 min with RLY of 50%, RCP of over 99% and specific activity of 1.45 ± 0.4 Ci/μmol. The probe was very stable in both PBS and mouse serum within 4 h. It can be activated by caspase-3 and then undergo an intermolecular cyclization to form nanosized particles. The retained [18F]1 in DOX-treated HeLa cells was 2.2 folds of that in untreated cells. Within 1 h microPET imaging of the untreated Hela-bearing mice, the injection of [18F]1 resulted in the increase of the uptake ratio of tumor to muscle (T/M) only from 1.74 to 2.18, while in the DOX-treated Hela-bearing mice T/M increased from 1.88 to 10.52 and the co-injection of [18F]1 and 1 even led to the increase of T/M from 3.08 to 14.81. Conclusions: A caspase-responsive smart PET probe [18F]1 was designed and prepared in a kit-like manner. Co-injection of [18F]1 and 1 generated remarkably enhanced tumor uptake and signal-to-noise ratio in the tumor-bearing mice with drug-induced apoptosis, which correlated well with the expression level of activated caspase-3. This early readout of treatment response ensured that the probe [18F]1 could serve as a promising PET imaging probe for timely and noninvasive evaluation of tumor therapy.

Additional Metadata
Keywords Apoptosis, Caspase-responsive, Positron emission tomography (PET), Rapid [18F]fluorination, Smart molecular probe
Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.7150/thno.35084, hdl.handle.net/1765/119983
Journal Theranostics
Qiu, L. (Ling), Wang, W. (Wei), Li, K. (Ke), Peng, Y. (Ying), Lv, G. (Gaochao), Liu, Q. (Qingzhu), … Lin, J. (Jianguo). (2019). Rational design of caspase-responsive smart molecular probe for positron emission tomography imaging of drug-induced apoptosis. Theranostics, 9(23), 6962–6975. doi:10.7150/thno.35084