Monitoring protease activity in biological tissues using antibody prodrugs as sensing probes

Sci Rep. 2020 Apr 3;10(1):5894. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-62339-7.


Proteases have been implicated in the development of many pathological conditions, including cancer. Detection of protease activity in diseased tissues could therefore be useful for diagnosis, prognosis, and the development of novel therapeutic approaches. Due to tight post-translational regulation, determination of the expression level of proteases alone may not be indicative of protease activities, and new methods for measuring protease activity in biological samples such as tumor biopsies are needed. Here we report a novel zymography-based technique, called the IHZTM assay, for the detection of specific protease activities in situ. The IHZ assay involves imaging the binding of a protease-activated monoclonal antibody prodrug, called a Probody® therapeutic, to tissue. Probody therapeutics are fully recombinant, masked antibodies that can only bind target antigen after removal of the mask by a selected protease. A fluorescently labeled Probody molecule is incubated with a biological tissue, thereby enabling its activation by tissue endogenous proteases. Protease activity is measured by imaging the activated Probody molecule binding to antigen present in the sample. The method was evaluated in xenograft tumor samples using protease specific substrates and inhibitors, and the measurements correlated with efficacy of the respective Probody therapeutics. Using this technique, a diverse profile of MMP and serine protease activities was characterized in breast cancer patient tumor samples. The IHZ assay represents a new type of in situ zymography technique that can be used for the screening of disease-associated proteases in patient samples from multiple pathological conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / genetics
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / metabolism
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / pharmacology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Molecular Imaging / methods*
  • Molecular Probes / genetics
  • Molecular Probes / metabolism*
  • Molecular Probes / pharmacology
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Peptide Hydrolases / analysis*
  • Peptide Hydrolases / metabolism
  • Prodrugs / metabolism*
  • Prodrugs / pharmacology
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational
  • Proteolysis
  • Recombinant Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Proteins / metabolism
  • Recombinant Proteins / pharmacology
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Molecular Probes
  • Prodrugs
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Peptide Hydrolases