Evaluation of apoptosis imaging biomarkers in a genetic model of cell death

Vessela Vassileva, Stephen M. Stribbling, Chris Barnes, Laurence Carroll, Marta Braga, Joel Abrahams, Kathrin Heinzmann, Caroline Haegeman, Marion MacFarlane, Kathryn L. Simpson, Caroline Dive, Jamie Honeychurch, Timothy M. Illidge, Eric O. Aboagye

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Purpose: We have previously developed the caspase-based radiotracer, 18 F-ICMT-11, for PET imaging to monitor treatment response. We further validated 18 F-ICMT-11 specificity in a murine melanoma death-switch tumour model with conditional activation of caspase-3 induced by doxycycline. Methods: Caspase-3/7 activity and cellular uptake of 18 F-ICMT-11, 18 F-ML-10 and 18 F-FDG were assessed in B16ova and B16ovaRevC3 cells after death-switch induction. Death-switch induction was confirmed in vivo in xenograft tumours, and 18 F-ICMT-11 and 18 F-ML-10 biodistribution was assessed by ex vivo gamma counting of select tissues. PET imaging was performed with 18 F-ICMT-11, 18 F-ML-10 and 18 F-FDG. Caspase-3 activation was confirmed by immunohistochemistry. Results: Significantly increased caspase-3/7 activity was observed only in B16ovaRevC3 cells after death-switch induction, accompanied by significantly increased 18 F-ICMT-11 (p < 0.001) and 18 F-ML-10 (p < 0.05) and decreased 18 F-FDG (p < 0.001) uptake compared with controls. B16ova and B16ovaRevC3 tumours had similar growth in vivo; however, B16ovaRevC3 growth was significantly reduced with death-switch induction (p < 0.01). Biodistribution studies showed significantly increased 18 F-ICMT-11 tumour uptake following death-switch induction (p < 0.01), but not for 18 F-ML-10. Tumour uptake of 18 F-ICMT-11 was higher than that of 18 F-ML-10 after death-switch induction. PET imaging studies showed that 18 F-ICMT-11 can be used to detect apoptosis after death-switch induction, which was accompanied by significantly increased expression of cleaved caspase-3. 18 F-FDG signal decreased in tumours after death-switch induction. Conclusions: We demonstrate that 18 F-ICMT-11 can be used to detect caspase-3 activation in a death-switch tumour model, independent of the confounding effects of cancer therapeutics, thus confirming its specificity and supporting the development of this radiotracer for clinical use to monitor tumour apoptosis and therapy response.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number18
JournalEJNMMI Research
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Apoptosis
  • Caspases
  • Death-switch
  • F-ICMT-11
  • Molecular imaging
  • PET
  • Radiotracer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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