18F-Branched-Chain Amino Acids: Structure-Activity Relationships and PET Imaging Potential

J Nucl Med. 2019 Jul;60(7):1003-1009. doi: 10.2967/jnumed.118.220483. Epub 2019 Jan 25.


The large, neutral L-type amino acid transporters (LAT1-LAT4) are sodium-independent transporters that are widely distributed throughout the body. LAT expression levels are increased in many types of cancer, and their expression increases as cancers progress, leading to high expression levels in high-grade tumors and metastases. Because of the key role and overexpression of LAT in many types of cancer, radiolabeled LAT substrates are promising candidates for nuclear imaging of malignancies that are not well revealed by conventional radiotracers. The goal of this study was to examine the structure-activity relationships of a series of 18F-labeled amino acids that were predicted to be substrates of the LAT transport system. Methods: Using a photocatalytic radical fluorination, we prepared a series of 11 fluorinated branched-chain amino acids and evaluated them and their nonfluorinated parents in a cell-based LAT affinity assay. We radiofluorinated selected branched-chain amino acids via the same radical fluorination reaction and evaluated tumor uptake in U-87 glioma xenograft-bearing mice. Results: Structure-activity relationship trends observed in a LAT affinity assay were maintained in further in vitro studies, as well as in vivo using a U-87 xenograft model. LAT1 uptake was tolerant of fluorinated amino acid stereochemistry and chain length. PET imaging and biodistribution studies showed that the tracer (S)-5-18F-fluorohomoleucine had rapid tumor uptake, favorable in vivo kinetics, and good stability. Conclusion: By using an in vitro affinity assay, we could predict LAT-mediated cancer cell uptake in a panel of fluorinated amino acids. These predictions were consistent when applied to different cell lines and murine tumor models, and several new tracers may be suitable for further development as oncologic PET imaging agents.

Keywords: 18F radical fluorination; LAT transport; structure–activity relationships.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain / chemistry*
  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain / metabolism
  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain / pharmacokinetics
  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic
  • Fluorine Radioisotopes*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Positron-Emission Tomography*
  • Radiochemistry
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain
  • Fluorine Radioisotopes
  • Fluorine-18