Use of fluorescent labeled anti-epidermal growth factor receptor antibody to image head and neck squamous cell carcinoma xenografts

Mol Cancer Ther. 2007 Apr;6(4):1230-8. doi: 10.1158/1535-7163.MCT-06-0741.


Physicians and surgeons rely on subtle tissue changes to detect the extent of tumors and the presence of residual disease in the clinical setting. The development of a cancer-specific fluorescent contrast agent has the potential to provide real-time tumor imaging in the clinic or operating room. Because epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is highly overexpressed on the surface of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), we sought to determine if fluorescently labeled anti-EGFR antibody could be used to image HNSCC xenografts in vivo. Cetuximab or control isotype-matched IgG1 was conjugated with the Cy5.5 fluorochrome and systemically injected into mice bearing human split thickness skin grafts, tumor cell line xenografts, transplanted human tumor xenografts, or mouse mesothelioma tumors. Xenografts were imaged by time-domain fluorescence imaging or fluorescence stereomicroscopy. Both imaging modalities detected specific uptake of cetuximab-Cy5.5 in HNSCC xenografts with significantly higher fluorescence levels relative to control IgG1-Cy5.5. Tumor xenograft fluorescence was higher compared with background (before injection), human split thickness skin grafts, or mouse mesothelioma tumors at 24, 48, and 72 h. Fluorescence was detected in multiple HNSCC tumor cell lines with variable EGFR expression levels. Mock resections of flank tumors using fluorescence stereomicroscopy showed that small (2 mm) specimens could be detected in the surgical wound bed. These results show the feasibility of using fluorescently labeled anti-EGFR antibody to detect human tumors in the surgical setting.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / pharmacology*
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cetuximab
  • ErbB Receptors / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Fluorescent Dyes / metabolism*
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, SCID
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Skin Transplantation
  • Transplantation, Heterologous*
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • ErbB Receptors
  • Cetuximab