Cholecystokinin-B/Gastrin receptor-targeting peptides for staging and therapy of medullary thyroid cancer and other cholecystokinin-B receptor-expressing malignancies

Semin Nucl Med. 2002 Apr;32(2):97-109. doi: 10.1053/snuc.2002.31028.


The high sensitivity of the pentagastrin stimulation test in detecting primary or metastatic medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) suggests a widespread expression of the corresponding receptor type on human MTC. Indeed, autoradiographic studies demonstrated cholecystokinin (CCK)-B/gastrin receptors not only in more than 90% of MTCs, but also in a high percentage of small-cell lung cancers, stromal ovarian tumors, and potentially a variety of other tumors, including gastrointestinal adenocarcinomas, neuroendocrine tumors, and malignant glioma. The aim of our work was to develop and systematically optimize suitable radioligands for targeting CCK-B receptors in vivo and to investigate their role in the staging and therapy of MTC and other CCK-B receptor expressing malignancies. For this purpose, a variety of CCK/gastrin-related peptides, all having in common the C-terminal CCK-receptor binding tetrapeptide sequence-Trp-Met-Asp-PheNH(2) or derivatives thereof, were investigated. They were members of the gastrin or cholecystokinin families or possessed characteristics of both, which differ by the intramolecular position of a tyrosyl moiety. Their stability and affinity were studied and optimized in vitro and in vivo; their biodistribution and therapeutic efficacy were tested in preclinical models. Best tumor uptake and tumor to nontumor ratios were obtained with members of the gastrin family, because of their superior selectivity and affinity for the CCK-B receptor subtype. Radiometal-labeled derivates of minigastrin showed excellent targeting of CCK-B receptor expressing tissues in animals and healthy human volunteers. Preclinical therapy experiments in MTC-bearing animals showed significant antitumor efficacy. In a subsequent clinical study, 45 MTC patients with metastatic MTC were investigated; 23 had known and 22 had occult disease. CCK-B receptor scintigraphy was performed with (111)In-diethylenetriamine pentaacetic acid-d-Glu(1)-minigastrin. The normal organ uptake was essentially confined to the stomach (and, to a lesser extent, to the gallbladder and, in premenopausal women, to normal breast tissue) as a result of CCK-B receptor specific binding and to the kidneys, as excretory organs. All tumor manifestations known from conventional imaging were visualized as early as 1 hour postinjection, with increasing tumor to background ratios over time; at least 1 lesion was detected in 20 of 22 patients with occult disease (patient-based sensitivity, 91%). Among them were local recurrences and lymph node, pulmonary, hepatic, splenic, and bone (marrow) metastases. Eight patients with advanced metastatic disease were injected in a dose-escalation study with potentially therapeutic activities of a (90)Y-labeled minigastrin derivative at 4 to 6-week intervals (30-50 mCi/m(2) per injection for a maximum of 4 injections). Hematologic and renal toxicities were identified as the dose-limiting toxicities at the 40 and 50 mCi/m(2) levels. Two patients experienced partial remissions, and 4 experienced stabilization of their previously rapidly progressing disease. These data suggest that CCK-B receptor ligands may be a useful new class of receptor-binding peptides for diagnosis and therapy of a variety of (CCK-B receptor expressing) tumor types. They allow for sensitive and reliable staging of patients with metastatic MTC. Initial therapeutic results are promising, but nephrotoxicity is a major concern to be solved.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinoma, Medullary / chemistry
  • Carcinoma, Medullary / diagnostic imaging*
  • Carcinoma, Medullary / radiotherapy*
  • Cholecystokinin* / analogs & derivatives
  • Gastrins* / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Neuroendocrine Tumors / diagnostic imaging
  • Neuroendocrine Tumors / radiotherapy
  • Radionuclide Imaging
  • Radiopharmaceuticals*
  • Receptor, Cholecystokinin B
  • Receptors, Cholecystokinin / analysis*
  • Receptors, Somatostatin / analysis
  • Somatostatin / analogs & derivatives
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / chemistry
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / radiotherapy*


  • Gastrins
  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Receptor, Cholecystokinin B
  • Receptors, Cholecystokinin
  • Receptors, Somatostatin
  • Somatostatin
  • Cholecystokinin
  • pentetreotide