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Mol Pharm. 2012 Dec 3;9(12):3586-94. doi: 10.1021/mp3005269. Epub 2012 Nov 16.

Positron emission tomography imaging of vascular endothelial growth factor receptor expression with (61)Cu-labeled lysine-tagged VEGF121.

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Department of Medical Physics, University of Wisconsin-Madison , Wisconsin, United States.


Overexpression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and VEGF receptors (VEGFRs) indicates poor prognosis for cancer patients in a variety of clinical studies. Our goal is to develop a tracer for positron emission tomography (PET) imaging of VEGFR expression using recombinant human VEGF121 with three lysine residues fused to the N-terminus (denoted as K3-VEGF121), which can facilitate radiolabeling without affecting its VEGFR binding affinity. K3-VEGF121 was conjugated with 1,4,7-triazacyclononane-1,4,7-triacetic acid (NOTA) and labeled with (61)Cu (t1/2: 3.3 h; 62% β(+)). The IC50 value of NOTA-K3-VEGF121 for VEGFR-2 was comparable to that of K3-VEGF121 (1.50 and 0.65 nM, respectively) based on a cell binding assay. (61)Cu labeling was achieved with good yield (55 ± 10%) and specific activity (4.2 GBq/mg). Serial PET imaging showed that the 4T1 tumor uptake of (61)Cu-NOTA-K3-VEGF121 was 3.4 ± 0.5, 4.9 ± 1.0, 5.2 ± 1.0, and 4.8 ± 0.8%ID/g (n = 4) at 0.5, 2, 4, and 8 h postinjection, respectively, which was consistent with biodistribution data measured by γ counting. Blocking experiments and ex vivo histology confirmed the VEGFR specificity of (61)Cu-NOTA-K3-VEGF121. Extrapolated human dosimetry calculation showed that liver was the organ with the highest radiation dose. The use of (61)Cu as the radiolabel is desirable for small proteins such as K3-VEGF121, which has a much higher β(+) branching ratio than the commonly used (64)Cu (62% vs 17%), thereby offering stronger signal intensity and lower tracer dose for PET imaging.

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