NaV1.7 targeted fluorescence imaging agents for nerve identification during intraoperative procedures

bioRxiv [Preprint]. 2024 Apr 6:2024.04.06.588368. doi: 10.1101/2024.04.06.588368.


Surgeries and trauma result in traumatic and iatrogenic nerve damage that can result in a debilitating condition that approximately affects 189 million individuals worldwide. The risk of nerve injury during oncologic surgery is increased due to tumors displacing normal nerve location, blood turbidity, and past surgical procedures, which complicate even an experienced surgeon's ability to precisely locate vital nerves. Unfortunately, there is a glaring absence of contrast agents to assist surgeons in safeguarding vital nerves. To address this unmet clinical need, we leveraged the abundant expression of the voltage-gated sodium channel 1.7 (NaV1.7) as an intraoperative marker to access peripheral nerves in vivo, and visualized nerves for surgical guidance using a fluorescently-tagged version of a potent NaV1.7-targeted peptide, Tsp1a, derived from a Peruvian tarantula. We characterized the expression of NaV1.7 in sensory and motor peripheral nerves across mouse, primate, and human specimens and demonstrated universal expression. We synthesized and characterized a total of 10 fluorescently labeled Tsp1a-peptide conjugates to delineate nerves. We tested the ability of these peptide-conjugates to specifically accumulate in mouse nerves with a high signal-to-noise ratio in vivo. Using the best-performing candidate, Tsp1a-IR800, we performed thyroidectomies in non-human primates and demonstrated successful demarcation of the recurrent laryngeal and vagus nerves, which are commonly subjected to irreversible damage. The ability of Tsp1a to enhance nerve contrast during surgery provides opportunities to minimize nerve damage and revolutionize standards of care across various surgical specialties.

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