Tumor hypoxia plays a major role in radio- and chemotherapy resistance in solid tumors. Carbonic Anhydrase IX (CAIX) is an endogenous hypoxia-related protein, which is associated with poor patient outcome. The quantitative assessment of CAIX expression of tumors may steer cancer treatment by predicting therapy response or patient selection for antihypoxia or CAIX-targeted treatment. Recently, the single-photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT) tracer [111In]In-DTPA-girentuximab-F(ab')2 was developed and validated for targeting CAIX. The aim of this study was to optimize quantitative microSPECT/CT of CAIX expression in vivo in head and neck tumor models. Athymic mice with subcutaneous SCCNij153 and SCCNij202 head and neck squamous cell carcinoma xenografts were injected with [111In]In-DTPA-girentuximab-F(ab')2. First, the protein dose, timing, and image acquisition settings were optimized. Tracer uptake was determined by quantitative SPECT, ex vivo radioactivity counting, and by autoradiography of tumor sections. The same tumor sections were immunohistochemically stained for CAIX expression and hypoxia. Highest tumor-normal-tissue contrast was obtained at 24 h after injection of the tracer. A protein dose of 10 μg resulted in the highest tumor-to-muscle ratio at 24 h p.i. Ex vivo biodistribution studies showed a tumor uptake of 3.0 ± 0.6%ID/g and a tumor-to-muscle ratio of 8.7 ± 1.4 (SCCNij153). Quantitative analysis of the SPECT images enabled us to distinguish CAIX antigen blocked from nonblocked tumors, fractions positive for CAIX expression: 0.22 ± 0.02 versus 0.08 ± 0.01 ( p < 0.01). Immunohistochemical, autoradiographic, and microSPECT/CT analyses showed a distinct intratumoral spatial correlation between localization of the radiotracer and CAIX expression. Here, we demonstrate that [111In]In-DTPA-girentuximab-F(ab')2 specifically targets CAIX-expressing cells in head and neck cancer xenografts. SPECT imaging with indium-labeled girentuximab-F(ab')2 allows quantitative assessment of the fraction of CAIX positive tissue in head and neck cancer xenografts. These results indicate that [111In]In-DTPA-girentuximab-F(ab')2 is a promising tracer to image hypoxia-related CAIX expression.
Keywords: CAIX imaging; Head and neck cancer; girentuximab; hypoxia; preclinical.