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Bioconjug Chem. 2007 Mar-Apr;18(2):379-88. Epub 2007 Feb 14.

Peptide-based pharmacomodulation of a cancer-targeted optical imaging and photodynamic therapy agent.

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Departments of Chemistry and Radiology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, USA.


We designed and synthesized a folate receptor-targeted, water-soluble, and pharmacomodulated photodynamic therapy (PDT) agent that selectively detects and destroys the targeted cancer cells while sparing normal tissue. This was achieved by minimizing the normal organ uptake (e.g., liver and spleen) and by discriminating between tumors with different levels of folate receptor (FR) expression. This construct (Pyro-peptide-Folate, PPF) is composed of three components: (1) pyropheophorbide a (Pyro) as an imaging and therapeutic agent, (2) peptide sequence as a stable linker and modulator improving the delivery efficiency, and (3) Folate as a homing molecule targeting FR-expressing cancer cells. We observed an enhanced accumulation of PPF in KB cancer cells (FR+) compared to HT 1080 cancer cells (FR-), resulting in a more effective post-PDT killing of KB cells over HT 1080 or normal CHO cells. The accumulation of PPF in KB cells can be up to 70% inhibited by an excess of free folic acid. The effect of Folate on preferential accumulation of PPF in KB tumors (KB vs HT 1080 tumors 2.5:1) was also confirmed in vivo. In contrast to that, no significant difference between the KB and HT 1080 tumor was observed in case of the untargeted probe (Pyro-peptide, PP), eliminating the potential influence of Pyro's own nonspecific affinity to cancer cells. More importantly, we found that incorporating a short peptide sequence considerably improved the delivery efficiency of the probe--a process we attributed to a possible peptide-based pharmacomodulation--as was demonstrated by a 50-fold reduction in PPF accumulation in liver and spleen when compared to a peptide-lacking probe (Pyro-K-Folate, PKF). This approach could potentially be generalized to improve the delivery efficiency of other targeted molecular imaging and photodynamic therapy agents.

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