Neoplasia (New York, N.Y.)

The transferrin receptor: a potential molecular imaging marker for human cancer.

PMID 14965443


Noninvasive imaging of differences between the molecular properties of cancer and normal tissue has the potential to enhance the detection of tumors. Because overexpression of endogenous transferrin receptor (TfR) has been qualitatively described for various cancers and is presumably due to malignant transformation of cells, TfR may represent a suitable target for application of molecular imaging technologies to increase detection of smaller tumors. In the work reported here, investigation into the biology of this receptor using electron microscopy has demonstrated that iron oxide particles targeted to TfR are internalized and accumulate in lysosomal vesicles within cells. Biochemical analysis of the interaction of imaging probes with cells overexpressing the TfR demonstrated that the extent of accumulation, and therefore probe efficacy, is dependent on the nature of the chemical cross-link between transferrin and the iron oxide particle. These data were utilized to design and synthesize an improved imaging probe. Experiments demonstrate that the novel magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) probe is sensitive enough to detect small differences in endogenous TfR expression in human cancer cell lines. Quantitative measurement of TfR overexpression in a panel of 27 human breast cancer patients demonstrated that 74% of patient cancer tissues overexpressed the TfR and that the sensitivity of the new imaging agent was suitable to detect TfR overexpression in greater than 40% of these cases. Based on a biochemical and cell biological approach, these studies have resulted in the synthesis and development of an improved MRI probe with the best in vitro and in vivo imaging properties reported to date.