Cathepsin S-cleavable, multi-block HPMA copolymers for improved SPECT/CT imaging of pancreatic cancer

Wei Fan, Wen Shi, Wenting Zhang, Yinnong Jia, Zhengyuan Zhou, Susan K. Brusnahan, Jered C. Garrison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


This work continues our efforts to improve the diagnostic and radiotherapeutic effectiveness of nanomedicine platforms by developing approaches to reduce the non-target accumulation of these agents. Herein, we developed multi-block HPMA copolymers with backbones that are susceptible to cleavage by cathepsin S, a protease that is abundantly expressed in tissues of the mononuclear phagocyte system (MPS). Specifically, a bis-thiol terminated HPMA telechelic copolymer containing 1,4,7,10-tetraazacyclododecane-1,4,7,10-tetraacetic acid (DOTA) was synthesized by reversible addition−fragmentation chain transfer (RAFT) polymerization. Three maleimide modified linkers with different sequences, including cathepsin S degradable oligopeptide, scramble oligopeptide and oligo ethylene glycol, were subsequently synthesized and used for the extension of the HPMA copolymers by thiol–maleimide click chemistry. All multi-block HPMA copolymers could be labeled by 177Lu with high labeling efficiency and exhibited high serum stability. In vitro cleavage studies demonstrated highly selective and efficient cathepsin S mediated cleavage of the cathepsin S-susceptible multi-block HPMA copolymer. A modified multi-block HPMA copolymer series capable of Förster Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET) was utilized to investigate the rate of cleavage of the multi-block HPMA copolymers in monocyte-derived macrophages. Confocal imaging and flow cytometry studies revealed substantially higher rates of cleavage for the multi-block HPMA copolymers containing the cathepsin S-susceptible linker. The efficacy of the cathepsin S-cleavable multi-block HPMA copolymer was further examined using an in vivo model of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. Based on the biodistribution and SPECT/CT studies, the copolymer extended with the cathepsin S susceptible linker exhibited significantly faster clearance and lower non-target retention without compromising tumor targeting. Overall, these results indicate that exploitation of the cathepsin S activity in MPS tissues can be utilized to substantially lower non-target accumulation, suggesting this is a promising approach for the development of diagnostic and radiotherapeutic nanomedicine platforms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-115
Number of pages15
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016


  • Cathepsin S
  • FRET imaging
  • HPMA
  • Mononuclear phagocyte system
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • SPECT/CT imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Biomaterials
  • Mechanics of Materials


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