Ratiometric cell-penetrating-peptides (RACPP) are hairpin-shaped molecules that undergo cleavage by tumor-associated proteases resulting in measurable Cy5:Cy7 fluorescence ratiometric change to label cancer in vivo. We evaluated an MMP cleavable RACPP for use in the early detection of malignant lesions in a carcinogen-induced rodent tumor model.
Wild-type immune-competent mice were given 4-nitroquinoline-oxide (4NQO) for 16weeks. Oral cavities from live mice that had been intravenously administered MMP cleavable PLGC(Me)AG-RACPP were serially imaged from week 11 through week 21 using white-light reflectance and Cy5:Cy7 ratiometric fluorescence.
In an initial study we found that at week 21 nearly all mice (13/14) had oral cavity lesions, of which 90% were high-grade dysplasia or invasive carcinoma. These high-grade lesions were identifiable with white light reflectance and RACPP Cy5:Cy7 ratiometric fluorescence with similar detectability, Area Under Curve (AUC) for RACPP detection was 0.97 (95% Confidence interval (CI)=0.92-1.02, p<0.001), sensitivity=89%, specificity=100%. In a follow up study, oral cavity lesions generated by 4NQO were imaged and histologically analyzed at weeks 16, 18 and 21. In this study we showed that RACPP-fluorescence detection positively identified 15 squamous cell carcinomas (in 6 separate mice) that were poorly visible or undetectable by white light reflectance.
RACPP ratiometric fluorescence can be used to accurately detect carcinogen-induced carcinoma in immunocompetent mice that are poorly visible or undetectable by white light reflectance.