Imaging fibrosis in inflammatory diseases: targeting the exposed extracellular matrix

Theranostics. 2019 Apr 13;9(10):2868-2881. doi: 10.7150/thno.28892. eCollection 2019.


In a variety of diseases, from benign to life-threatening ones, inflammation plays a major role. Monitoring the intensity and extent of a multifaceted inflammatory process has become a cornerstone in diagnostics and therapy monitoring. However, the current tools lack the ability to provide insight into one of its most crucial aspects, namely, the alteration of the extracellular matrix (ECM). Using a radiolabeled platelet glycoprotein VI-based ECM-targeting fusion protein (GPVI-Fc), we investigated how binding of GPVI-Fc on fibrous tissue could uncover the progression of several inflammatory disease models at different stages (rheumatoid arthritis, cutaneous delayed-type hypersensitivity, lung inflammation and experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis). Methods: The fusion protein GPVI-Fc was covalently linked to 1,4,7-triazacyclononane-1,4,7-triacetic acid (NOTA) and subsequently labeled with 64Cu. We analyzed noninvasively in vivo 64Cu-GPVI-Fc accumulation in murine cutaneous delayed-type hypersensitivity, anti-glucose-6-phosphate isomerase serum-induced rheumatoid arthritis, lipopolysaccharide-induced lung inflammation and an experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis model. Static and dynamic Positron Emission Tomography (PET) of the radiotracer distribution was performed in vivo, with ex vivo autoradiography confirmation, yielding quantitative accumulation and a distribution map of 64Cu-GPVI-Fc. Ex vivo tissue histological staining was performed on harvested samples to highlight the fusion protein binding to collagen I, II and III, fibronectin and fibrinogen as well as the morphology of excised tissue. Results: 64Cu-GPVI-Fc showed a several-fold increased uptake in inflamed tissue compared to control tissue, particularly in the RA model, with a peak 24 h after radiotracer injection of up to half the injected dose. Blocking and isotype control experiments indicated a target-driven accumulation of the radiotracer in the case of chronic inflammation. Histological analysis confirmed a prolonged accumulation at the inflammation site, with a pronounced colocalization with the different components of the ECM (collagen III and fibronectin notably). Binding of the fusion protein appeared to be specific to the ECM but unspecific to particular components. Conclusion: Imaging of 64Cu-GPVI-Fc accumulation in the ECM matrix appears to be a promising candidate for monitoring chronic inflammation. By binding to exposed fibrous tissue (collagen, fibronectin, etc.) after extravasation, a new insight is provided into the fibrotic events resulting from a prolonged inflammatory state.

Keywords: fibrosis; glycoprotein VI; positron emission tomography.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / complications
  • Copper Radioisotopes / metabolism
  • Dermatitis / complications
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Encephalomyelitis, Autoimmune, Experimental / complications
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism*
  • Fibrosis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Glycoproteins / genetics
  • Glycoproteins / metabolism*
  • Heterocyclic Compounds, 1-Ring / metabolism
  • Immunoglobulin Fc Fragments / genetics
  • Immunoglobulin Fc Fragments / metabolism*
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Pneumonia / complications
  • Positron-Emission Tomography / methods*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Staining and Labeling / methods*


  • Copper Radioisotopes
  • Glycoproteins
  • Heterocyclic Compounds, 1-Ring
  • Immunoglobulin Fc Fragments
  • Revacept
  • 1,4,7-triazacyclononane-N,N',N''-triacetic acid