The Pivotal Role of Validation in Optical Probe Development

Underlying every successful clinical application of fluorescent probes is a rigorous, strategic probe validation process. Previous blog posts have discussed the importance of probe specificity, binding affinity, and distribution, and the validation process is where these and other parameters are determined. Given the time and expenses involved in clinical translation, efficient and accurate probe validation is essential.

A Systematic Approach to Developing and Validating Optical Imaging Contrast Agents

In a foundational 2007 article published in Analytical Biochemistry, Kovar et.al. demonstrated the principal steps involved in developing fluorescent optical probes suitable for human clinical use. The authors began with a comprehensive review of NIR fluorochromes, such as IRDye® 800CW, and targets and ligands for fluorescent optical probes, including monoclonal antibodies, tumor surface proteins, peptides, and small molecules. Steps for development and validation described in the remainder of the article are “applicable to any dye-conjugated optical agent,” demonstrating the versatility of this systematic approach [1].

STEP 1: CONJUGATION

The first step in probe development is the conjugation of target and NIR fluorochrome. In this study, the authors conjugated IRDye 800CW to five commercial epidermal growth factor (EGF) sources in equivalent ratios and evaluated signal intensity via the In-Cell Western™ (ICW) assay method. ICW imaging demonstrated variation between the signal strength of each EGF source. Because “Variations in signal strength measured in this fashion have the potential to predict probe performance in vivo,” choosing the correct target for conjugation is a critical first step [1].

STEP 2: SPECIFICITY AND BINDING AFFINITY VALIDATION IN VITRO

Prior to animal imaging, probe specificity and binding affinity are validated in vitro. Here, the authors again chose the In-Cell Western (cytoblot) method to evaluate IRDye 800CW EGF for binding specificity. Specifically, PC3M-LN4 and 22Rv1 human prostate adenocarcinoma cells were cultured in microtiter plates and were “treated with serial dilutions of labeled EGF to verify a high affinity binding of EGFR-targeted dye” [1]. Specificity was then determined by blocking access of EGF to the EGF receptor with an anti-EGFR monoclonal antibody, and by competition with unlabeled EGF [1]. The authors concluded that “Characterization of the targeting agent in a cell-based assay can simplify probe development,” and that although “success in a cell-based assay format does not guarantee performance in vivo, failure at this step is generally predictive of failure in the animal” [1].

Learn more about the In-Cell Western Method.

STEP 3: SPECIFICITY, DISTRIBUTION, AND CLEARANCE VALIDATION IN VIVO

Next, the authors validated probe specificity and clearance in vivo in living mice. This is the process of determining probe uptake by the target vs surrounding tissues, the rate at which the probe is expelled from the organism, and the probe to background ratio in the body of mice. First, clearance kinetics of unconjugated IRDye 800CW were established. Then, clearance measurements for IRDye 800CW-anti-EGFR antibody conjugates were established in mice bearing PC3M-LN4 subcutaneous or orthotopic tumors to ensure the conjugate did not accumulate non-specifically in the mouse. This interaction between clearance kinetics and specificity can impact in vivo analysis by falsely indicating tumor tissue in pooled optical probe in the liver or kidneys.

STEP 4: EX VIVO VALIDATION IN EXCISED TISSUE SAMPLES

Lastly, the PC3M-LN4 tumors were excised and injected intravenously with IRDye 800CW EGF or pre-injected with C225 anti-EGFR monoclonal antibody prior to dosing with IRDye 800CW EGF for ex vivo analysis. After imaging, the distribution of the IRDye probe was assessed and fluorescence signal area was determined against a control, optical agent only, and C225 competition.

The authors ultimately concluded that “Fluorochrome-labeled molecular probes are valuable tools for non-invasive longitudinal study of tumorigenesis and metastasis, preclinical studies of the effects of therapeutic agents, and pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic studies of drug-target interactions” [1]. Since this paper was published over a decade ago, IRDye labeled molecular probes have been featured in more than 20 clinical trials around the world.

EGFR-Specific Optical Probes Improve EGFRvIII-Targeted Molecular Imaging

In a 2014 study published in Cancer Biology & Therapy, Gong et.al. demonstrated an application of structured probe validation. In this investigative study, the authors created and validated the specificity, binding affinity, distribution, and clearance of three EFGRvIII-targeted fluorescent optical probes. An EFGR-specific affibody, the therapeutic antibody panitumumab, and an EGF ligand were conjugated with IRDye 800CW to create three probes: Aff800, Pan800, and EGF800. The experimental target was rat glioma cell line F98, a known over-expresser of EGFR. A control assay contained EGFR expression-devoid F98 parent (F98-p) cells, and two experimental assays contained F98-derived transgenic cells expressing EGFR or EGFR-vIII. Each probe was compared with each cell-based assay and imaged for comparison, creating a total of nine experimental conditions.

Comparison of specificity and binding affinity between the experimental conditions was performed in cell-based assays using the In-Cell Western method. All three probes successfully bound to F98-EGFR, and Pan800 and Aff800 bound to F-98vIII. Signal intensity was also compared in the nine conditions to assess if binding was dose-dependent. The authors concluded “Little signal was detected when Aff800 and Pan800 were incubated with F98-p [the expression-devoid parent cells], indicating that their interactions with F98-EGFR and F98-vIII is highly specific” [2].

Next, probe target specificity to EGFR- and EGFRvIII-expressing tumors and clearance profiles were assessed in vivo. Mice with F98-p, F98-EGFR, and F98-vIII xenograft tumors were injected with the three probes and imaged with the Pearl® Impulse Small Animal Imaging System (LI-COR Biosciences). Fluorescent signal to background ratio for each of the nine probe-tumor conditions were assessed, again revealing highly specific interactions between Aff800 and Pan800 with F98-EGFR and F98-vIII expressing tumors. EGF-800 signal was high in F98-EGFR tumors, corroborating cell based assay results.

Lastly, tumor-containing organs were dissected and imaged ex vivo, validating the previously-measured fluorescence signals and assessing probe distribution in targets. This last step in validation was consistent with in vitro scans, again demonstrating Aff800 and Pan800 affinity to F98-EGFR and F98-vIII tumors. Based on these results, Aff800 and Pan800 may be valuable in “imaging of heterogenous tumors containing both versions of receptors” (EGFR, EGFRvIII) [2]. Alternatively, due to optimal clearance kinetics, Aff800 EGF800 is preferable in scenarios where imaging must be performed within a short time after probe administration” [2].

Conclusion

This example from Gong et.al. demonstrates how different optical probes may be used to assess different tumor properties. Additionally, the authors showed how structured approach to optical probe validation successively builds proof of probe parameters and provides several spots for go/no-go decision-making. Proof of probe parameters are critical for clinical application, and clear decision points provide efficiency and allow for early determination if a probe is worth exploring further.

Do you think IRDye dye-labeled probes could be used in your research? LI-COR Custom Services include chemistry and probe conjugation, biological assay services, translational services, and manufacturing, including cGMP manufacturing. Request a free project evaluation today.

REFERENCES

  1. Kovar, J. L., Simpson, M. A., Geschwender, A., & Olive, D. M. (2007, August 1). A Systematic Approach to the Development of Fluorescent Contrast Agents for Optical Imaging of Mouse Cancer Models. Analytical Biochemistry, 367(1), 1-12. doi:10.1016/j.ab.2007.04.011
  2. Gong, H., Kovar, J. L., Cheung, L., Rosenthal, E. L., & Olive, D. M. (2014, February). A Comparative Study of Affibody, Panitumumab, and EGF for Near-Infrared Fluorescence Imaging of EGFR- and EGFRvIII-expressing Tumors. Cancer Biology & Therapy, 15(2), 185-193. doi:10.4161/cbt.26719

Use Near-Infrared Fluorescent Probes for Pharmacokinetics and Biodistribution Studies

In Vivo Imaging with NIR Fluorescent ProbesNon-invasive preclinical imaging methods are critical for development of imaging agents and targeted therapeutics. Pharmacokinetics is the study of what the body does to a drug with respect to biodistribution and clearance. Traditionally-used radiolabeled probes have limitations such as cost, access, and safety. Near-infrared (NIR) fluorescence imaging offers a powerful alternative to radiolabeled probes for pharmacokinetics and biodistribution studies. NIR fluorescent optical imaging agents can be used to image the whole animal over time. And, more than one agent can be tracked in the same animal if each agent is labeled with a spectrally-distinct fluorophore.

In this webinar, Dr Amy Geschwender examines several case studies from the literature, and discusses:

  • Why NIR fluorescent probes are widely used for in vivo imaging
  • How fluorescence imaging of excised tissues and tissue sections is used to examine biodistribution in more detail
  • How to measure serum half-life and % injected dose per gram with NIR fluorescent probes


This webinar features data from the Pearl® Small Animal Imaging System, which was recently honored by Frost & Sullivan, in addition to advancements in NIR technology. Click here to learn more about this award.

Visit our website to learn more about BrightSite™ Optical Imaging Agents and IRDye® infrared dyes that can be used for your pharmacokinetic and biodistribution studies.

Journal Articles Citing Use of Odyssey® or Pearl® Imaging Systems and Near-Infrared Fluorescence

The following are 4 journal references citing the use of either Odyssey or Pearl Imaging Systems.

Affibody-DyLight Conjugates for in vivoAssessment of HER2 Expression by Near-Infrared Optical Imaging.

Zielinski R, M Hassan, I Lyakhov, D Needle, V Chernomordik, A Garcia-Glaessner, Y Ardeshirpour, J Capala and A Gandjbakhche
Radiation Oncology Branch, Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA
PLoS ONE 7(7): e41016 (2012). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0041016

The HER2/neu gene is overexpressed in ~20% of invasive breast carcinomas. in vivo assessment of HER2 levels would aid development of HER2-targeted therapies and perhaps assist in selection of appropriate treatment strategies. This study describes HER2-specific probes for in vivo monitoring of receptor levels by near-infrared (NIR) optical imaging. Affibody molecules were labeled with DyLight750 dye, and affinity and specificity were confirmed in vitro. in vivo, Affibody-DyLight probes accumulated in HER2-positive breast cancer xenografts, but not in HER2-negative xenografts.

Fluorescent images were acquired at different time intervals after probe injection.
Fluorescent images were acquired at different time intervals after probe injection. Mouse bearing BT-474 xenograft tumor was injected with 10 µg HER2-Affibody-DyLight750 conjugate. Images were acquired every second for 1 minute with Pearl Impulse Imager (LI-COR Biosciences). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0041016.s004

Animals were imaged with a custom NIR fluorescence-lifetime imaging system. The Pearl® Impulse Imager (LI-COR Biosciences) was used to monitor real-time accumulation of the Affibody probe in HER2-positive tumors during very early time points. Probe was injected during image acquisition, and images were captured every second for 1 minute. Probe accumulation in the kidney first, followed by tumor accumulation. Tumor fluorescence could still be detected 5 days after probe injection. This Affibody conjugate is useful for preclinical monitoring of HER2 status, and may have clinical utility.


Disruption of Kv1.3 Channel Forward Vesicular Trafficking by Hypoxia in Human T Lymphocytes

AA Chimote, Z Kuras, and L Conforti
Departments of Internal Medicine and Molecular & Cellular Physiology, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio
Journal of Biological Chemistry 287(3): 2055-67 (2012) DOI 10.1074/jbc.M111.274209

In solid tumors, hypoxia decreases immune surveillance. Kv1.3 channels on T lymphocytes are down-regulated by an unknown mechanism, inhibiting T cell function. The authors hypothesize that changes in membrane trafficking cause reduced expression of Kv1.3 at the cell surface. On-Cell Western cell based assays (Odyssey® Imager, LI-COR Biosciences) were extensively used to measure cell surface expression of Kv1.3.

Chronic hypoxia decreased cell surface expression of Kv1.3 in Jurkat cells. Inhibition of protein synthesis, degradation, or endocytosis did not block this effect. However, inhibition of forward trafficking in the trans-Golgi with brefeldin A (BFA) prevented hypoxia-induced reduction of Kv1.3 cell surface expression. Confocal microscopy confirmed retention of Kv1.3 in the trans-Golgi. Quantitative fluorescent Westerns (Odyssey Imager) demonstrated that expression of AP-1, which is required for clathrin-coated vesicle formation, is downregulated by hypoxia. These data indicate that chronic hypoxia disrupts clathrin-mediated forward trafficking of Kv1.3, thereby reducing immune surveillance by T cells.


Sequential Application of Anticancer Drugs Enhances Cell Death by Rewiring Apoptotic Signaling Networks

M Lee, A Ye, A Gardino, A Hheijink, P Sorger, G MacBeath, and M Yaffe
Dept of Biology, David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
Cell 149:780-794 (2012). doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2012.03.031

Historically, standard treatments for human malignancies have been single drug therapies that cause DNA damage. Systems-based approaches and network analysis are now being used to examine how signaling can be re-wired by drug treatments that target dynamic network states. This study suggests that the timing and order of administration of certain drug combinations increases treatment effectiveness. Lee et al. pre-treated cells with epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) inhibitors, prior to DNA-damaging chemotherapy drugs.

Pre-treatment with erlotinib (an EGFR inhibitor) sensitized triple-negative breast cancers (TNBCs) to the DNA damage agent doxorubicin, and cell death increased by nearly 500%. Sensitization occurred only if the drugs were given sequentially. Transcriptional, proteomic, and computational analysis of signaling networks showed that dynamic network re-wiring was responsible for sensitization. Quantitative Westerns (Odyssey Imager; high-density, 48-sample blots) were used to monitor systems-level signaling dynamics. Erlotinib treatment made cells more susceptible to DNA damage by reactivating an apoptotic pathway that had been suppressed.


Investigation of Ovarian Cancer Associated Sialylation Changes in N-linked Glycopeptides by Quantitative Proteomics

V Shetty, J Hafner, P Shah, Z Nickens, and R Philip
Immunotope, Inc., Doylestown, Pennsylvania, USA
Clinical Proteomics 9:10 (2012) doi:10.1186/1559-0275-9-10.

CA125 is currently used as a biomarker for ovarian cancer, but is ineffective for detection of early stage disease. Previous research indicates that the level of sialic acid in total serum of ovarian cancer patients is elevated. Based on that idea, the authors suggest using N-linked sialyated glycopeptides as potential targets for early stage ovarian cancer biomarker discovery.

Shetty et al. used Lectin-directed Tandem Lableing (LTL) and iTRAQ quantitative proteomics to investigate N-linked sialyated glycopeptides, and identified 10 that were up-regulated in serum from ovarian cancer patients. Quantitative Western blot analysis of lectin-enriched glycoproteins (Odyssey Imager) was used to confirm the proteomic analysis. In ovarian cancer, increased sialylation of haptoglobin, PON1, and Zinc-alpha-2-glycoprotein was observed. Cancer-specific sialylation of glycopeptides may be a target for biomarker discovery.


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