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PURPOSE - Apoptosis, or programmed cell death, can be leveraged as a surrogate measure of response to therapeutic interventions in medicine. Cysteine aspartic acid-specific proteases, or caspases, are essential determinants of apoptosis signaling cascades and represent promising targets for molecular imaging. Here, we report development and in vivo validation of [(18)F]4-fluorobenzylcarbonyl-Val-Ala-Asp(OMe)-fluoromethylketone ([(18)F]FB-VAD-FMK), a novel peptide-based molecular probe suitable for quantification of caspase activity in vivo using positron emission tomography (PET).
EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN - Supported by molecular modeling studies and subsequent in vitro assays suggesting probe feasibility, the labeled pan-caspase inhibitory peptide, [(18)F]FB-VAD-FMK, was produced in high radiochemical yield and purity using a simple two-step, radiofluorination. The biodistribution of [(18)F]FB-VAD-FMK in normal tissue and its efficacy to predict response to molecularly targeted therapy in tumors was evaluated using microPET imaging of mouse models of human colorectal cancer.
RESULTS - Accumulation of [(18)F]FB-VAD-FMK was found to agree with elevated caspase-3 activity in response to Aurora B kinase inhibition as well as a multidrug regimen that combined an inhibitor of mutant BRAF and a dual PI3K/mTOR inhibitor in (V600E)BRAF colon cancer. In the latter setting, [(18)F]FB-VAD-FMK PET was also elevated in the tumors of cohorts that exhibited reduction in size.
CONCLUSIONS - These studies illuminate [(18)F]FB-VAD-FMK as a promising PET imaging probe to detect apoptosis in tumors and as a novel, potentially translatable biomarker for predicting response to personalized medicine.