A nanobody-based nuclear imaging tracer targeting dipeptidyl peptidase 6 to determine the mass of human beta cell grafts in mice

Diabetologia. 2020 Apr;63(4):825-836. doi: 10.1007/s00125-019-05068-5. Epub 2019 Dec 23.


Aims/hypothesis: Type 1 diabetes is characterised by a progressive decline in beta cell mass. This is also observed following implantation of pancreatic islet allografts, but there is no reliable information regarding the time course of beta cell loss. This is due to the limited availability of non-invasive pancreatic islet imaging techniques. We have previously described that dipeptidyl peptidase 6 (DPP6) is an alpha and beta cell-specific biomarker, and developed a camelid antibody (nanobody '4hD29') against it. We demonstrated the possibility to detect DPP6-expressing cells by single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT)/ computed tomography (CT), but the correlation between the number of cells grafted and the SPECT signal was not assessed. Here, we investigate whether the 4hD29 nanobody allows us to detect different amounts of human pancreatic islets implanted into immune-deficient mice. In addition, we also describe the adaptation of the probe for use with positron emission tomography (PET).

Methods: DPP6 expression was assessed in human samples using tissue arrays and immunohistochemistry. The effect of the 4hD29 nanobody on cell death and glucose-stimulated insulin secretion was measured in EndoC-βH1 cells and in human islets using Hoechst/propidium iodide staining and an anti-insulin ELISA, respectively. We performed in vivo SPECT imaging on severe combined immunodeficient (SCID) mice transplanted with different amounts of EndoC-βH1 cells (2 × 106, 5 × 106 and 10 × 106 cells), human islets (1000 and 3000) or pancreatic exocrine tissue using 99mTc-labelled 4hD29 nanobody. This DPP6 nanobody was also conjugated to N-chlorosuccinimide (NCS)-1,4,7-triazacyclononane-1,4,7-triacetic acid (NOTA), radiolabelled with either 67Ga (SPECT) or 68Ga (PET) and used in a proof-of-principle experiment to detect DPP6-expressing cells (Kelly neuroblastoma) grafted in SCID mice.

Results: The DPP6 protein is mainly expressed in pancreatic islets. Importantly, the anti-DPP6 nanobody 4hD29 allows non-invasive detection of high amounts of EndoC-βH1 cells or human islets grafted in immunodeficient mice. This suggests that the probe must be further improved to detect lower numbers of islet cells. The 4hD29 nanobody neither affected beta cell viability nor altered insulin secretion in EndoC-βH1 cells and human islets. The conversion of 4hD29 nanobody into a PET probe was successful and did not alter its specificity.

Conclusions/interpretation: These findings suggest that the anti-DPP6 4hD29 nanobody may become a useful tool for the quantification of human islet grafts in mice and, pending future development, islet mass in individuals with diabetes.

Keywords: Human islet imaging; PET; Pancreatic beta cell imaging; Pancreatic beta cells; SPECT; Type 1 diabetes.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Count
  • Cell Tracking / methods*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Dipeptidyl-Peptidases and Tripeptidyl-Peptidases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Dipeptidyl-Peptidases and Tripeptidyl-Peptidases / immunology*
  • Female
  • Gallium Radioisotopes / analysis
  • Gallium Radioisotopes / pharmacokinetics
  • Heterografts
  • Humans
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / cytology
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / metabolism*
  • Islets of Langerhans / cytology
  • Islets of Langerhans / diagnostic imaging*
  • Islets of Langerhans / metabolism
  • Islets of Langerhans Transplantation*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, SCID
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Molecular Imaging / methods
  • Organotechnetium Compounds / chemistry
  • Organotechnetium Compounds / pharmacokinetics
  • Radioactive Tracers
  • Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography Computed Tomography / methods
  • Single-Domain Antibodies / analysis
  • Single-Domain Antibodies / chemistry
  • Single-Domain Antibodies / pharmacology*


  • Gallium Radioisotopes
  • Organotechnetium Compounds
  • Radioactive Tracers
  • Single-Domain Antibodies
  • Gallium-67
  • DPP6 protein, mouse
  • Dipeptidyl-Peptidases and Tripeptidyl-Peptidases