Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is presently the method of choice for detection of brain tumors. However, MRI alone is not conclusive. As the commonly used contrast agents do not bind to the cells and are not taken up into the cells, they generally do accumulate in regions where the blood-brain-barrier is disrupted. While this can be brain tumors (WHO grade II-III and above), it can also be inflammations. A cell-directed contrast agent would be a great asset not only to avoid unnecessary brain biopsies, but also to achieve sharper tumor margins during intraoperative MRI.
The gastrin/cholecystockinin receptor found in the brain and the intestinal tract is a potential target for a cell-directed contrast agent. The receptor has already been found in human glioma cell lines and autocrine stimulation has also been demonstrated for the receptor and its ligand gastrin.
We coupled the correct and a mutant 17-amino-acid gastrin to gadolinium -1,4,7,10-tetraazacyclododecane-1,4,7,10- tetraacetic acid (an MRI contrast agent) and rhodamine isothiocyanate (a fluorescent dye).
Using confocal laser scanning microscopy and magnetic resonance relaxometry experiments we found cytoplasmic uptake of the correct gastrin conjugate into human U373 glioma cells. Surprisingly, the mutant conjugate was also taken up into the cells in a similar pattern, albeit to a lesser degree. Both conjugates showed no cytotoxicity.
These conjugates show potential for future use in magnetic resonance imaging studies of brain tumors after systemic or intraoperative local application.
The cytoplasm specificity of the conjugates also makes it a potential building block for the design of future cytoplasmdirected imaging and therapeutic conjugates.