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Cancer Res. 2000 Sep 1;60(17):4953-8.

In vivo imaging of proteolytic enzyme activity using a novel molecular reporter.

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  • 1Center for Molecular Imaging Research, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Charlestown 02129, USA.


The single biggest challenge facing in vivo imaging techniques is to develop biocompatible molecular beacons that are capable of specifically and accurately measuring in vivo targets at the protein, RNA, or DNA level. Our efforts have focused on developing activatable imaging probes to measure specific enzyme activities in vivo. Using cathepsin D as a model target protease, we synthesized a long-circulating, synthetic graft copolymer bearing near-infrared (NIR) fluorochromes positioned on cleavable substrate sequences. In its native state, the reporter probe was essentially nonfluorescent at 700 nm due to energy resonance transfer among the bound fluorochromes (quenching) but became brightly fluorescent when the latter were released by cathepsin D. NIR fluorescence signal activation was linear over at least 4 orders of magnitude and specific when compared with scrambled nonsense substrates. Using matched rodent tumor models implanted into nude mice expressing or lacking the targeted protease, it could be shown that the former generated sufficient NIR signal to be directly detectable and that the signal was significantly different compared with negative control tumors. The developed probes should find widespread applications for real-time in vivo imaging of a variety of clinically relevant proteases, for example, to detect endogenous protease activity in disease, to monitor the efficacy of protease inhibitors, or to image transgene expression.

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