Multimodal Molecular Imaging Detects Early Responses to Immune Checkpoint Blockade

Cancer Res. 2021 Jul 1;81(13):3693-3705. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-20-3182. Epub 2021 Apr 9.


Immune checkpoint blockade (ICB) has become a standard therapy for several cancers, however, the response to ICB is inconsistent and a method for noninvasive assessment has not been established to date. To investigate the capability of multimodal imaging to evaluate treatment response to ICB therapy, hyperpolarized 13C MRI using [1-13C] pyruvate and [1,4-13C2] fumarate and dynamic contrast enhanced (DCE) MRI was evaluated to detect early changes in tumor glycolysis, necrosis, and intratumor perfusion/permeability, respectively. Mouse tumor models served as platforms for high (MC38 colon adenocarcinoma) and low (B16-F10 melanoma) sensitivity to dual ICB of PD-L1 and CTLA4. Glycolytic flux significantly decreased following treatment only in the less sensitive B16-F10 tumors. Imaging [1,4-13C2] fumarate conversion to [1,4-13C2] malate showed a significant increase in necrotic cell death following treatment in the ICB-sensitive MC38 tumors, with essentially no change in B16-F10 tumors. DCE-MRI showed significantly increased perfusion/permeability in MC38-treated tumors, whereas a similar, but statistically nonsignificant, trend was observed in B16-F10 tumors. When tumor volume was also taken into consideration, each imaging biomarker was linearly correlated with future survival in both models. These results suggest that hyperpolarized 13C MRI and DCE MRI may serve as useful noninvasive imaging markers to detect early response to ICB therapy. SIGNIFICANCE: Hyperpolarized 13C MRI and dynamic contrast enhanced MRI in murine tumor models provide useful insight into evaluating early response to immune checkpoint blockade therapy.See related commentary by Cullen and Keshari, p. 3444.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Colonic Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Colonic Neoplasms / immunology
  • Colonic Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Colonic Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Female
  • Glycolysis*
  • Humans
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Melanoma, Experimental / drug therapy
  • Melanoma, Experimental / immunology
  • Melanoma, Experimental / metabolism
  • Melanoma, Experimental / pathology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Molecular Imaging / methods*
  • Pyruvic Acid / metabolism*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors
  • Pyruvic Acid