Tracers for Fluorescence-Guided Surgery: How Elongation of the Polymethine Chain in Cyanine Dyes Alters the Pharmacokinetics of a Dual-Modality c[RGDyK] Tracer

J Nucl Med. 2018 Jun;59(6):986-992. doi: 10.2967/jnumed.117.205575. Epub 2018 Feb 15.


The potential of receptor-mediated fluorescence-based image-guided surgery tracers is generally linked to the near-infrared emission profile and good-manufacturing-production availability of fluorescent dyes. Surprisingly, little is known about the critical interaction between the structural composition of the dyes and the pharmacokinetics of the tracers. In this study, a dual-modality tracer design was used to systematically and quantitatively evaluate the influence of elongation of the polymethine chain in a fluorescent cyanine dye on the imaging potential of a targeted tracer. Methods: As a model system, the integrin marker αvβ3 was targeted using arginylglycylaspartisc acid [RGD]-based vectors functionalized with a 111In-diethylenetriaminepentaacetic acid (DTPA) chelate and a fluorescent dye: (Cy3-(SO3)methyl-COOH [emission wavelength (λem), 580 nm], Cy5-(SO3)methyl-COOH [λem, 680 nm], or Cy7-(SO3)methyl-COOH [λem, 780 nm]). Tracers were analyzed for differences in photophysical properties, serum protein binding, chemical or optical stability, and signal penetration through tissue. Receptor affinities were evaluated using saturation and competition experiments. In vivo biodistribution (SPECT imaging and percentage injected dose per gram of tissue) was assessed in tumor-bearing mice and complemented with in vivo and ex vivo fluorescence images obtained using a clinical-grade multispectral fluorescence laparoscope. Results: Two carbon-atom-step variations in the polymethine chain of the fluorescent cyanine dyes were shown to significantly influence the chemical and photophysical characteristics (e.g., stability, brightness, and tissue penetration) of the hybrid RGD tracers. DTPA-Cy5-(SO3)methyl-COOH-c[RGDyK] structurally outperformed its Cy3 and Cy7 derivatives. Radioactivity-based evaluation of in vivo tracer pharmacokinetics yielded the lowest nonspecific uptake and highest tumor-to-background ratio for DTPA-Cy5-(SO3)methyl-COOH-c[RGDyK] (13.2 ± 1.7), with the Cy3 and Cy7 analogs trailing at respective tumor-to-background ratios of 5.7 ± 0.7 and 4.7 ± 0.7. Fluorescence-based assessment of tumor visibility revealed a similar trend. Conclusion: These findings underline that variations in the polymethine chain lengths of cyanine dyes have a profound influence on the photophysical properties, stability, and in vivo targeting capabilities of fluorescent imaging tracers. In a direct comparison, the intermediate-length dye (Cy5) yielded a superior c[RGDyK] tracer, compared with the shorter (Cy3) and longer (Cy7) analogs.

Keywords: bimodal; cyanine dyes; dual-modality; fluorescence; fluorescence-guided surgery; hybrid.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carbocyanines / chemistry*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Fluorescent Dyes / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Oligopeptides / chemistry*
  • Oligopeptides / pharmacokinetics*
  • Optical Imaging*
  • Radioactive Tracers
  • Surgery, Computer-Assisted*
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed, Single-Photon


  • Carbocyanines
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Oligopeptides
  • Radioactive Tracers
  • arginyl-glycyl-aspartic acid