The increased proteolytic activity of membrane-bound and secreted proteases on the surface of cancer cells and in the transformed stroma is a common characteristic of aggressive metastatic prostate cancer. We describe here the development of an active site-specific probe for detecting a secreted peritumoral protease expressed by cancer cells and the surrounding tumor microenvironment. Using a human fragment antigen-binding phage display library, we identified a human antibody termed U33 that selectively inhibited the active form of the protease urokinase plasminogen activator (uPA, PLAU). In the full-length immunoglobulin form, U33 IgG labeled with near-infrared fluorophores or radionuclides allowed us to noninvasively detect active uPA in prostate cancer xenograft models using optical and single-photon emission computed tomography imaging modalities. U33 IgG labeled with (111)In had a remarkable tumor uptake of 43.2% injected dose per gram (%ID/g) 72 hours after tail vein injection of the radiolabeled probe in subcutaneous xenografts. In addition, U33 was able to image active uPA in small soft-tissue and osseous metastatic lesions using a cardiac dissemination prostate cancer model that recapitulated metastatic human cancer. The favorable imaging properties were the direct result of U33 IgG internalization through an uPA receptor-mediated mechanism in which U33 mimicked the function of the endogenous inhibitor of uPA to gain entry into the cancer cell. Overall, our imaging probe targets a prostate cancer-associated protease, through a unique mechanism, allowing for the noninvasive preclinical imaging of prostate cancer lesions.
©2015 American Association for Cancer Research.