Introduction: Neutrophils are part of the innate immune system and function as a first line of defense against invading microorganisms. Overactivity of the immune system may result in a devastating immuno-inflammation with extensive damage to tissue leading to organ damage and/or failure. The literature suggests several human diseases in which neutrophil elastase (NE) is postulated to be important in the pathophysiology including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA), breast and lung cancer, and recently also in Sars-cov-2 virus infection (Covid-19). In particular, the lungs are affected by the destructive power of the protease neutrophil elastase (NE). In this paper, we report the pre-clinical development of a selective and specific positron emission tomography (PET) tracer, [11C]GW457427, as an in vivo biomarker for the study of NE, now available for human studies.
Methods: [11C]GW457427 was produced by methylation of GW447631 using [11C]methyl triflate and GMP validated production and quality control methods were developed. Chemical purity was high with no traces of the precursor GW611437 or other uv-absorbing compounds. A method for the determination of intact [11C]GW457427 in plasma was developed and the binding characteristics were evaluated in vitro and in vivo. An animal model for lung inflammation was used to investigate the specificity and sensitivity of the [11C]GW457427 tracer for neutrophil elastase (NE) in pulmonary inflammation, verified by blockade using two structurally different elastase inhibitors.
Results: [11C]GW457427 was obtained in approximately 45% radiochemical yield and with a radiochemical purity higher than 98%. Molar activity was in the range 130-360 GBq/μmol. Binding to NE was shown to be highly specific both in vitro and in vivo and a significantly higher uptake of tracer was found in a lipopolysaccharide mouse model of pulmonary inflammation compared with control animals. The uptake in lung tissue measured as standardized uptake value (SUV) strongly correlated with tissue NE content as measured by ELISA. In vitro studies also showed specific tracer binding in aortic tissue of patients with abdominal aorta aneurysm (AAA). The rate of metabolism in rats was appropriate considering the critical balance between available tracer for binding and requirement for blood clearance with about 40% and 20% intact [11C]GW457427 in plasma at 5 and 40 min, respectively. Radioactivity was cleared from blood and organs in control animals with mainly hepatobiliary excretion with distribution in the intestines and the urinary bladder; but without retention of the tracer in healthy organs of interests such as the lung, liver, kidneys or in the cardiovascular system. A dosimetry study in rat indicated that the whole-body effective dose was 2.2 μSv/MBq with bone marrow as the limiting organ. It is estimated that up to five PET-CT investigations could be performed in humans without exceeding a total dose of 10 mSv.
Conclusion: [11C]GW457427 is a promising in vivo PET-biomarker for NE with high specific binding demonstrated both in vitro and in vivo. A GMP validated production method including quality control has been developed and a microdosing toxicity study performed with no adverse signs. [11C]GW457427 is currently being evaluated in a First-In-Man PET study.
Keywords: Immuno-inflammation; Neutrophil elastase; PET; Preclinical-PET.
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