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Several radiolabeled prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA) inhibitors based on the lysine-urea-glutamate (KuE) motif as the pharmacophore proved to be suitable tools for PET/SPECT imaging of the PSMA expression in prostate cancer patients. PSMA I&T, a theranostic tracer developed in our group, was optimized through alteration of the peptidic structure in order to increase the affinity to PSMA and internalization in PSMA-expressing tumor cells. However, further structural modifications held promise to improve the pharmacokinetic profile.
Among the investigated compounds 1–9, the PSMA inhibitors 5 and 6 showed the highest PSMA affinity (lowest IC50 values) after the introduction of a naphthylalanine modification. The affinity was up to three times higher compared to the reference PSMA I&T. Extended aromatic systems such as the biphenylalanine residue in 4 impaired the interaction with the lipophilic binding pocket of PSMA, resulting in a tenfold lower affinity. The IC50 of DOTAGA-conjugated 10 was slightly increased compared to the acetylated analog; however, efficient PSMA-mediated internalization and 80% plasma protein binding of 68Ga-10 resulted in effective tumor targeting and low uptake in non-target tissues of LNCaP tumor-bearing CD-1 nu/nu mice at 1 h p.i., as determined by small-animal PET imaging and biodistribution studies. For prolonged tumor retention, the plasma protein binding was increased by insertion of 4-iodo-d-phenylalanine resulting in 97% plasma protein binding and 16.1 ± 2.5% ID/g tumor uptake of 177Lu-11 at 24 h p.i.
Higher lipophilicity of the novel PSMA ligands 10 and 11 proved to be beneficial in terms of affinity and internalization and resulted in higher tumor uptake compared to the parent compound. Additional combination with para-iodo-phenylalanine in the spacer of ligand 11 elevated the plasma protein binding and enabled sustained tumor accumulation over 24 h, increasing the tumor uptake almost fourfold compared to 177Lu-PSMA I&T. However, high renal uptake remains a drawback and further studies are necessary to elucidate the responsible mechanism behind it.