B lymphocytes are a key pathologic feature of multiple sclerosis (MS) and are becoming an important therapeutic target for this condition. Currently, there is no approved technique to noninvasively visualize B cells in the central nervous system (CNS) to monitor MS disease progression and response to therapies. Here, we evaluated 64Cu-rituximab, a radiolabeled antibody specifically targeting the human B cell marker CD20, for its ability to image B cells in a mouse model of MS using PET. Methods: To model CNS infiltration by B cells, experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) was induced in transgenic mice that express human CD20 on B cells. EAE mice were given subcutaneous injections of myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein fragment1-125 emulsified in complete Freund adjuvant. Control mice received complete Freund adjuvant alone. PET imaging of EAE and control mice was performed 1, 4, and 19 h after 64Cu-rituximab administration. Mice were perfused and sacrificed after the final PET scan, and radioactivity in dissected tissues was measured with a γ-counter. CNS tissues from these mice were immunostained to quantify B cells or were further analyzed via digital autoradiography. Results: Lumbar spinal cord PET signal was significantly higher in EAE mice than in controls at all evaluated time points (e.g., 1 h after injection: 5.44 ± 0.37 vs. 3.33 ± 0.20 percentage injected dose [%ID]/g, P < 0.05). 64Cu-rituximab PET signal in brain regions ranged between 1.74 ± 0.11 and 2.93 ± 0.15 %ID/g for EAE mice, compared with 1.25 ± 0.08 and 2.24 ± 0.11 %ID/g for controls (P < 0.05 for all regions except striatum and thalamus at 1 h after injection). Similarly, ex vivo biodistribution results revealed notably higher 64Cu-rituximab uptake in the brain and spinal cord of huCD20tg EAE, and B220 immunostaining verified that increased 64Cu-rituximab uptake in CNS tissues corresponded with elevated B cells. Conclusion: B cells can be detected in the CNS of EAE mice using 64Cu-rituximab PET. Results from these studies warrant further investigation of 64Cu-rituximab in EAE models and consideration of use in MS patients to evaluate its potential for detecting and monitoring B cells in the progression and treatment of this disease. These results represent an initial step toward generating a platform to evaluate B cell-targeted therapeutics en route to the clinic.
Keywords: B cells; EAE; PET; multiple sclerosis; rituximab.
© 2017 by the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging.