Single-cell and subcellular pharmacokinetic imaging allows insight into drug action in vivo

Nat Commun. 2013;4:1504. doi: 10.1038/ncomms2506.


Pharmacokinetic analysis at the organ level provides insight into how drugs distribute throughout the body, but cannot explain how drugs work at the cellular level. Here we demonstrate in vivo single-cell pharmacokinetic imaging of PARP-1 inhibitors and model drug behaviour under varying conditions. We visualize intracellular kinetics of the PARP-1 inhibitor distribution in real time, showing that PARP-1 inhibitors reach their cellular target compartment, the nucleus, within minutes in vivo both in cancer and normal cells in various cancer models. We also use these data to validate predictive finite element modelling. Our theoretical and experimental data indicate that tumour cells are exposed to sufficiently high PARP-1 inhibitor concentrations in vivo and suggest that drug inefficiency is likely related to proteomic heterogeneity or insensitivity of cancer cells to DNA-repair inhibition. This suggests that single-cell pharmacokinetic imaging and derived modelling improve our understanding of drug action at single-cell resolution in vivo.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Computer Simulation
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / chemistry
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacokinetics*
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Finite Element Analysis
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Models, Biological
  • Molecular Imaging / methods*
  • Neoplasms / blood supply
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerase Inhibitors
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases / metabolism
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Single-Cell Analysis / methods*
  • Small Molecule Libraries / pharmacology
  • Subcellular Fractions / drug effects
  • Subcellular Fractions / metabolism
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerase Inhibitors
  • Small Molecule Libraries
  • Poly(ADP-ribose) Polymerases

Associated data

  • PubChem-Substance/160709324