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Acta Radiol. 2009 Dec;50(10):1095-103. doi: 10.3109/02841850903008800.

Characterizing breast cancer xenograft epidermal growth factor receptor expression by using near-infrared optical imaging.

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Department of Medical Imaging and Nuclear Medicine, Fourth Affiliated Hospital, Harbin Medical University, Harbin, China.



Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) overexpression is associated with several key features of cancer development and growth. Therefore, EGFR is a very promising biological target for tumor diagnosis and anticancer therapy. Characterization of EGFR expression is important for clinicians to select patients for EGFR-targeted therapy and evaluate therapeutic effects.


To investigate whether near-infrared (NIR) fluorescent dye Cy5.5-labeled anti-EGFR monoclonal antibody Erbitux can characterize EGFR expression level in MDA-MB-231 and MCF-7 breast cancer xenografts using an in vivo NIR imaging method.


A fluorochrome probe was designed by coupling Cy5.5 to Erbitux through acidylation, and the fluorescence property of the Erbitux-Cy5.5 conjugate was characterized by fluorospectroscopy. Flow cytometry and laser confocal microscopy were used to test the EGFR specificity of the antibody probe in vitro. Erbitux-Cy5.5 was also injected intravenously into immune-deficient mice bearing MDA-MB-231 or MCF-7 tumors. Whole-body and region-of-interest fluorescence images were acquired and analyzed. The EGFR expression was also analyzed and confirmed by immunohistochemical assay.


The maximum excitation/emission wavelength for the Erbitux-Cy5.5 probe was 674/697 nm, similar to that of free Cy5.5 (674/712 nm). Confocal microscopy confirmed receptor-specific uptake in MDA-MB-231 and MCF-7 cells. In flow cytometry probe specificity assay, Erbitux-Cy5.5 showed a 9.32-fold higher affinity for MDA-MB-231 than MCF-7 cells. In vivo NIR imaging also indicated specific uptake in EGFR-positive tumors. Probe uptake rate and maximum intake dose in MDA-MB-231 were significantly higher than those in MCF-7 xenografts (P < 0.001). Immunohistochemical staining confirmed the in vivo imaging results, showing differentiated EGFR expression in MDA-MB-231 (+ + +) and MCF-7 (+) tumor tissues.


Erbitux-Cy5.5 may be used as a specific NIR contrast agent for the noninvasive characterization of EGFR expression level in breast cancer xenografts.

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