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Labelling proteins with gallium-68 using bifunctional chelators is often problematic because of unsuitably harsh labelling conditions such as low pH or high temperature and may entail post-labelling purification. To determine whether tris(hydroxypyridinone) (THP) bifunctional chelators offer a potential solution to this problem, we have evaluated the labelling and biodistribution of a THP conjugate with a new single-chain antibody against the prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA), an attractive target for staging prostate cancer (PCa). A single-chain variable fragment (scFv) of J591, a monoclonal antibody that recognises an external epitope of PSMA, was prepared in order to achieve biokinetics matched to the half-life of gallium-68. The scFv, J591c-scFv, was engineered with a C-terminal cysteine.
J591c-scFv was produced in HEK293T cells and purified by size-exclusion chromatography. A maleimide THP derivative (THP-mal) was coupled site-specifically to the C-terminal cysteine residue. The THP-mal-J591c-scFv conjugate was labelled with ammonium acetate-buffered gallium-68 from a 68Ge/68Ga generator at room temperature and neutral pH. The labelled conjugate was evaluated in the PCa cell line DU145 and its PSMA-overexpressing variant in vitro and xenografted in SCID mice.
J591c-scFv was produced in yields of 4–6 mg/l culture supernatant and efficiently coupled with the THP-mal bifunctional chelator. Labelling yields > 95% were achieved at room temperature following incubation of 5 μg conjugate with gallium-68 for 5 min without post-labelling purification. 68Ga-THP-mal-J591c-scFv was stable in serum and showed selective binding to the DU145-PSMA cell line, allowing an IC50 value of 31.5 nM to be determined for unmodified J591c-scFv. Serial PET/CT imaging showed rapid, specific tumour uptake and clearance via renal elimination. Accumulation in DU145-PSMA xenografts at 90 min post-injection was 5.4 ± 0.5%ID/g compared with 0.5 ± 0.2%ID/g in DU145 tumours (n = 4).
The bifunctional chelator THP-mal enabled simple, rapid, quantitative, one-step room temperature radiolabelling of a protein with gallium-68 at neutral pH without a need for post-labelling purification. The resultant gallium-68 complex shows high affinity for PSMA and favourable in vivo targeting properties in a xenograft model of PCa.